One topic I find really interesting the the Spanish conquest of Mexican Peninsula, specifically the campaign of Cortes. The first European to arrive in the Mexican territory was Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, who landed on the Yucatan Peninsula having sailed from Cuba with three ships and about 100 men in early 1517. The reports that Cordoba gave upon his return to Cuba prompted the Spanish governor there, Diego Velasquez, to send an evel larger force back to Mexico. This force was placed under the command of Hernan Cortes. In March of 1519, Cortes landed at the town of Tabasco, where he learned from the natives about the great Aztec civilization, then ruled by Montezuma II. Defying the authority of Velasquez, Cortes founded the city of Veracruz on the southeastern Mexican coast, where he stayed for some time while he trained his army into a disciplined fighting force. From there, Cortes and several hundred soldiers marched into Mexico. Their way was made with the help of a native woman who served as a translator (she would later be vilified by the natives as a betrayer of her people). Because of the somewhat instable structure within the Aztec empire, Cortes was able to form alliances with other native peoples, notably the Tlascalans, who were already at war with Montezuma.
In November of 1519, Cortes and his men arrived in Tenochtitlan, where Montezuma and his people greeted them as honored guests according to Aztec custom. There is also a case to be made that this was also partially due to Cortes’ physical resemblance to the light-skinned Quetzalcoatl. Cortes’ arrival apparently aligned with the prophesied coming of Quetzalcoatl according to aztec legend. Because the Aztecs did not immediately treat them as invaders, and Cortes was able to immediately take Montezuma and his entourage of lords hostage and gain control of Tenochtitla, despite the Aztecs having far superior numbers. The Spaniards then murdered thousands of Aztec nobles during a ritual dance ceremony, and Montezuma died under uncertain circumstances while in custody. Cuauhtemoc, his young nephew, took over as emperor, and the Aztecs drove the Spaniards from the city. With the help of the Aztecs’ native rivals, Cortes mounted an offensive against Tenochtitlan, finally defeating Cuauhtemoc’s resistance on August 13, 1521. In all, some 240,000 people were believed to have died in the city’s conquest, which effectively ended the Aztec civilization. After his victory, Cortes razed Tenochtitla and built Mexico City on its ruins; it quickly became the premier European center in the New World.