Aztec VI │ The Fall Of The Aztec Empire


An Aztec poem rhetorically asked “Who could
conquer Tenochtitlan? Who could shake the foundation of heaven…?”. The answer to this poem had always been “nobody
could…” But the Aztecs would soon find out that no
city is impenetrable… Cortes arrived on the lake Tetzcoco. In the middle was the city of Tenochtitlan. The city had changed a lot since we last talked
about it. The city suffered from floods, so the Aztecs
had decided to go Dutch a few hundred years early and build a dam to prevent these floods. The city had grown so large it now held a
quarter of a million people. And the city had been connected to the mainland
with giant causeways. And it is on this causeway that Motecuhzoma
II came out to greet Cortes. And almost immediately the two sides suffered
from massive communication problems. Cortes tried to embrace the Aztec emperor… But touching the emperor was illegal and so
Cortes was restrained. Motecuhzoma II handed Cortes valuable gifts…This
was a normal custom where 2 equals would exchange gifts… But Cortes didn’t give anything in return,
insulting the Aztecs. Yet nonetheless, Motecuhzoma offered the Spanish
to live in his father’s, emperor Axayacatl’s, palace while they were in the city… inside
this palace, the Spanish found a large amount of treasure which was Axayacatl’s inheritance
to Moctuhzoma. While they couldn’t bring it back with them
yet, the Spanish did plan on stealing the inheritance as soon as possible. Things escalated even further when the Spanish
asked to put up a cross and a picture of the Virgin Mary, two important Christian symbols,
alongside the Aztec gods on top of the great pyramid. And just in case the significance of this
is lost on you. This would be like an Indian delegation asking
to put a giant golden statue of Buddha in the centre of Mecca or Vatican City. As you can imagine, the priests were furious
and the request denied. Then some Aztecs killed several Spanish soldiers
at Veracruz. And the Spanish response? Well, they held the emperor hostage to insure
their own safety. And this was just the first week in Tenochtitlan. And while the Aztecs wanted to attack the
Spanish and drive them from their soil, the emperor was afraid the Spanish would kill
or replace him. So, for half a year, Motecuhzoma II was the
puppet emperor of Cortes. And while they stayed in the capital, they
were getting a pretty good idea of how brutal their hosts were. So let’s take a closer look at how the Aztecs
were brutal by selecting three random gods: the rain god, fertility god, and fire god. The rain god required tears. So they would beat a child in front of their
friends and family. And only when the child and their loved ones
had cried enough, the child would be drowned. The tears would bring rain… obviously. Or maybe a priest decided a woman looked like
the fertility god. Then they would first get you drunk, force
you to dance your way to the nearest temple, to then remove your head. The blood that came out of the neck would
bring fertility to the crops. Try not to think about this next time you
go to a bar. Or perhaps the fire god needed another sacrifice. Then you’d first get drugged to anesthetize
you, then they will tie you up, and if you think that isn’t hot enough they would throw
you onto a fire. When you’re nice and crispy, but still alive,
they will take you out of the fire to finally remove your heart… While the Spanish probably didn’t witness
all these type of sacrifices, It does beg the question… How could the Spanish see them as anything
other than utter savages? How could these ‘good Christians’ approve
of such behaviour?! How could they not think they were superior
to the Aztecs? But the Aztec thought they were given a holy
duty. They believed that if they did not provide
enough blood to their gods then the world would come to an end, the sun would stop rising,
and the world would be covered in an endless long night. And it went deeper than that. The Aztecs simply couldn’t understand the
Spanish obsession with gold. They didn’t understand the very reason they
were there. This makes sense. When you don’t have a monetary system based
on gold, then gold has no more value than the jewellery you can make out of it… The Aztecs didn’t understand the Spanish
because they were stupid, they didn’t understand the Spanish because they had never even conceived
of the idea that something with little inherent value could be used as currency. The Aztecs had a currency based on cocoa beans…
which you can make chocolate out of… and chocolate has obvious value. I mean, look at this. Forget the gold standard, we need the chocolate
standard! But remember when I told you that if a Spaniard
wanted to conquer territory in the Americas then they would need a permit from their monarch? Well Cortes never got that permit. And by now Spain had sent an expedition to
reign Cortes back in. So Cortes left to solve this issue, taking
his most disciplined soldiers with him while leaving the least reliable ones back in Tenochtitlan… Which resulted in the remaining Spanish soldiers
deciding it was a good idea to massacre thousands of unarmed Aztec nobles. Not long after, the people gathered around
the palace where the Spanish had been living and put it to siege inside their own city. And for the only time in history, the Aztecs
chose a new emperor while the old one was still alive. They chose Cuitláhuac, the brother of Motecuhzoma
II. He was in strong opposition to letting Spaniards
in their city. So he seemed to be a good replacement. The Spanish, who still held onto ex-emperor
Motecuhzoma II, sent him to the balcony to persuade the people that they should let the
Spanish go back to the shore in peace. But remember what the Aztecs thought were
good emperors? They believed an emperor should be a strong
warrior, a brave leader, and the embodiment of their sungod Huitzilopochtli. Instead, they were spoken to by a man who
let himself be captured, let himself become a puppet, and now asked them to peacefully
let the Spanish go… we don’t know exactly what happened but Motecuhzoma was killed that
night. Both sides accusing the other of regicide. But regicide or no, the Spanish had to escape…
with all that gold of course. While sneaking out of the city, they were
spotted, and were forced to cut themselves through the Aztecs to make it out of the city. Many of them would drown in the canals as
their armour and stolen gold dragged them down. But while they were alive, the new emperor
wasn’t as diplomatic as Motecuhzoma had been. Cuitláhuac had the retreating Spanish forces
attacked until they arrived in Tlaxcala. And while they were seeking refuge in Tlaxcala,
the Spanish began to prepare for an invasion of Tenochtitlan. They received reinforcements from Cuba after
Cortes convinced everybody to join his side. And he received an estimated 100.000 soldiers
from Tlaxcala and various Aztec tributary states. And to top it off, Cortes managed to convince
almost everybody else to remain neutral. Meaning the Aztec couldn’t rely on their
tributaries for support. But while the Spanish had been preparing,
they also began to wonder why the great armies of Tenochtitlan didn’t they lay siege to
Tlaxcala and do away with the Spanish once and for all? Well, a smallpox epidemic started ravaging
the empire. An empire that had never even conceived of
the concept of a plague, was all of a sudden dealing with one of the worst diseases humanity
had ever seen… The plague killed tens of thousands… including
the emperor himself. The ravaged Aztec elected a new emperor, a
man named Cuauhtémoc, the eldest son of Emperor Ahuitzotl. The two sides would fight various battles. Sometimes the Aztec would win and often the
Spanish would win. For the Spanish and their allies managed to
get an army together that far outmatched that of the Aztecs. One by one the Spanish army managed to conquer
the surrounding cities of Tenochtitlan, with Cortes making the ancient city of Texcoco
his base of operations. It’s at Texcoco where the greatest works
of Aztec literature were being held… and it’s at Tetzcoco that the Spanish would burn
those libraries to the ground… Which is why we know so little about the Aztecs
and many of our sources come from after the conquest. The siege of Tenochtitlan lasted for nearly
8 months. The first problem was the city was only approachable
through the causeways. That meant that only a few warriors could
stand side-by-side and were vulnerable on their flanks by attack from canoes. After Spain lost the first battle on the causeway,
they scuttled their ships, dragged the individual pieces all the way to the lake, and then rebuilt
the ships at the lake. And spears and arrows were no match for bolts,
bullets, and cannonballs. They also destroyed the aquaduct, depriving
the people of sufficient fresh water, and they blocked all the causeways, depriving
people of sufficient food. And only when everything was against the Aztecs
did the Spanish manage to push the Aztecs back on their great causeway. The Aztecs fought on to the end. They fought in Texcoco and Tlacopan. They fought from the long causeway to the
narrow canals. They defended their island city, whatever
the cost. They fought on the streets, they fought at
their temples, they fought in their homes; they never surrendered… They were defeated. Even after the Spanish and their allies entered
the city, it would take another 3 weeks before the last of the Aztec forces were defeated. After which they sacked the city for 4 days. It is estimated that 100k-240k people died… Thousands of survivors were brought back to
Tlaxcala for sacrifice. But what happened to Mesoamerica after the
conquest. What happened to the Aztec? Afterall, despite the 100.000s of deaths,
there were still 10.000s Aztec people left. Well, their city was to become the new capital
of the new Spanish colony of New Spain, which the Spanish renamed Mexico City… Because the Aztecs referred to themselves
as Mexica. Their emperor was tortured and eventually
executed. The Aztec people were nearly wiped out, as
mostly children and the elderly survived the carnage. But parts of their civilization still endure
to this day in modern Mexican society, even though their empire was destroyed with their
capital. With Tenochtitlan defeated there wasn’t
really anyone left to pay tribute to… That was until the Spanish visited these tributary
states demanding they pay tribute. Having just faced down plagues, there was
no other alternative but to capitulate. They became part of the colony of New Spain. And over time this colony would conquer all
the surrounding civilizations… Mayan, Tarascan, and many more. On one hand, people weren’t being sacrificed
anymore, Cortes made this practise illegal. But the Spanish would slowly implement a system
of centralisation to make New Spain’s governmental structure similar to Europe’s. It would take away power from the individual
states and incorporate it into a single unified state, eroding many of the individual cultures
inhabiting Mesoamerica at the time. For example, The Aztecs had universal education. The Spanish replaced this system with church
teachings, limiting the amount of people with an education down to a handful. And that great pyramid in Tenochtitlan was
taken down to build a cathedral. This temple wasn’t rediscovered until the
20th century. And when silver was discovered, thousands
were sent to work to death. Their deaths would drive the economy of New
Spain and would, eventually, cause the Spanish inflation that would end Spain as a superpower. The Spanish would send missionaries to convert
the local peoples… with varying degrees of success. The locals and Spanish didn’t understand
each other’s religions due to the same communication issues mentioned earlier. With the locals creating hybrid religions
incorporating parts from both their own religion and christinity. Christianity was as incomprehensible to the
local population as the Aztec religion is incomprehensible to us today… At least… I hope nobody in my audience sacrifices their
neighbours to the sun. But that is not to say that all the civilizations
were worse off, not at all. Particularly the Tlaxcala were given a higher
status and were often given more prestigious roles. They supported the Spanish in various wars
and intermarried with the new Spanish colonists, creating an ethnically mixed nobility in New
Spain. And Afro-Eurasia gained access to chocolate…
for thousands of years people had to live without chocolate! But… we also got tobacco and tomatoes, so
it’s not all good. After the Spanish conquered the Aztec Empire,
the Spanish would soon forget their native allies when they would write the history books. The Spanish conquistadors would attribute
their victories mostly to Spanish might, Spanish Steel, and God’s will. They would in fact believe that their conquest
of the natives, their brutal treatment, and their forced conversions to Christianity were
a great benefit to the Native Americans. And this is somewhat understandable: when
you have been taught that your entire life that people who aren’t Christians will be
sent to eternal hellfire, if you are taught that your Christian civilization is the greatest
civilization to have ever existed, then it’s understandable that you think you’re spreading
goodness. Then you believe you’re spreading the greatest
way of life and saving their souls. And who could argue against that? And so for centuries the narrative of the
righteous Spanish was propagated throughout the world. But the greatest lesson of all is that the
Aztec Empire didn’t fall because they were invaded nor was it disease. Plague killed the people and the Spanish merely
gave the rebellious subjects a leader to unite behind. No, it was the Aztec who killed the Empire. It was their failed political system that
doomed them in the end. If they had centralised, if they had answered
problems not with weapons but with benevolent policy, if they had created a unifying culture
then the Spanish wouldn’t have found any allies and disease wouldn’t have been their
undoing. True, it is unlikely a colonial European country
would live in peace with a technologically inferior country. But while it’s likely the Aztec Empire would
have fallen anyway, their dawn did not need to come so soon, so suddenly, or so savagely
if the Aztec had put better leaders on the empire’s throne, a better culture in peoples’
minds, and a better political system as their government. But this did not happen. Instead, the Aztec gave the most convincing
argument against feudalism, brutality, and rule through fear. Because one day, your vassal will rebel, one
day your people will revolt, one day a government will no longer be feared. And when that happens, governments fall. From the earliest civilizations all the way
into the 21st century, governments failed to learn this lesson, thinking that THEY will
be different. But they’re not. Look at any government which rules through
these methods and they will follow a similar collapse as the Aztecs. Did you like this series and want MORE OF
IT? Then let me know in the comments whether you
want me to cover a Mayan City state, or the history of Teotihuacan, or perhaps you’d
like to learn more about other Mesoamerican states such as the Tarascan State? Tell me down below about that because otherwise
I’ll find other topics to cover if people don’t REALLY like videos like these.

50 thoughts on “Aztec VI │ The Fall Of The Aztec Empire

  1. We've all had a night where you drunkenly remove your head at a temple… Right?

  2. Olmecs please! I would like to know more why the Olmecs failed and why the successor states did not rise to the same level of development and sophistication.

  3. Just like the Romans, who had to have a religious sanction for every war (often very flimsy) when conquering the folks around them, the Spaniards didn't have to be particularly good or moral, they just had to be less evil than their foes. The Romans made great propaganda fodder out of Carthaginian infant sacrifice and Gallic 'wicker man' religious mass executions. They just had to paint these infrequent practices as more savage than their own funerary rituals (i.e. the tradition of having two damnati fight to the death at the funeral of a prominent man, later expanded into the infamous "Games").

  4. This is not really being fair to the Aztecs that it was their fault. it probably was somewhat, but just think about what he said about the Spanish empire where they were raised to believe Christianity was the best but replace Spain with the Aztecs and Christianity with the sungod and violence.

  5. 13:34 Where did you get that picture of me doing a ritual to get more videos?

  6. I couldn't wait for you to finish this video! I have been waiting for weeks, seen all your vids and oh boy here we are. Great work,great videos keep it up this way,but much faster! And ofc good luck with surviving! I wish you the best!

  7. Thanks for the content Avery, I like some of the suggested civilisations like the Olmecs or the Inca. I would like to see something on the Muisca people who inspired the legend of El Dorado

  8. At least you can visit the ruins of the Templo Mayor in Mexico City. The Aztecs are a fascinating part of the history of the Americas

  9. Nice touch with the Uyghur Concentration Camps in the end there 😉
    Any nation that relies on fear and control of its people ought not only to fall, but is destined to.

  10. Since, Christian and Western Civilization dominates the world more than any other culture, so doesn't that make it the best? By natural selection standards. all those horrific brutal religious practices we see as horrific and brutal are based off of Christian and Western standards for us to see them that way.

  11. "They believed that if they did not provide enough blood to their gods, the world would come to an end."

    Just like modern environmentalists, in other words.

  12. 0:30 “The Aztecs had decided to go Dutch a few hundred years early and build a dam” – great reference👍🏻

  13. I love this series but also love your variety to cover super wide historical topics. I think it would be great to revisit sometime in the future but not as the immediate next project. Great series!!

  14. Absolutely Amazing, its so cool!, See this New Album 'Monish Jasbird – Death Blow', channel link www.youtube.com/channel/UCv_x5rlxirO-WKjLIyk6okQ?sub_confirmation=1 , doo check 🙂

  15. What I learned from this episode is that the only good thing that the Aztec contributed to the world is chocolate.

  16. I would like another video about other Mesoamerican civilizations. But it does not need to be an entire series. Unless that is also very-very interesting. This was great. Thanks for making these.

  17. This is… astounding!..

    Great work, now my perception of the Aztecs is a lot bigger)

  18. Any idea of covering the other civilizations of non-Aztec culture?
    Just that their history in the region tend to make Aztec as "the new powerful guy on the block".

  19. 4:10 Had the Conquistadores perchance momentarily forgotten how the Spanish Inquisition was doing very similar things to so-called witches and heretics?

    I guess no one expects the Spanish Inquisition. Let alone think of what savagery they themselves committed back in the day…

  20. I would love to see some lama mountain action next so if you wouldn’t mind to do a series on that Incan folk that would be great

  21. The end of this video will probably mean I can never travel to China for publicly criticising their government 😀

  22. I really like your narrative and concise visual accompaniment 😉 Whatever topic you'll choose to cover I'll enjoy running my fantasy by it.

  23. This was by far the best and well informed series on YouTube.

    I loved your closing statement and whole heatedly agree with the failure of gov’ts not adjusting to the needs of its people.

    I’d like to throw my vote in for the Tarascan State!

  24. honestly you could deep dive into whatever subject and i'd be interested. but these topics that are not in traditionally discussed in western-culture are super interesting.

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