The Aztec Empire was a tribute empire, which extended its power throughout Mesoamerica in the late postclassic
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period. It originated in 1427 as a Triple Alliance between the city-states who allied to defeat the Tepanec state of Azcapotzalco, that had previously dominated the Basin of Mexico. Soon Texcoco and Tlacopan became junior partners in the alliance. The empire extended its power by a combination of trade and military conquest. It was never a true territorial empire controlling a territory by large military garrisons in conquered provinces, but rather controlled its client states primarily by installing friendly rulers in conquered cities or constructing marriage alliances between the ruling dynasties, and by extending an imperial ideology to its client states. Client states paid tribute to the Aztec emperor, in an economic strategy limiting communication and trade between outlying polities making them depend on the imperial center for the acquisition of luxury goods. The empirereached its maximal extent in 1519 just prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadorsled by Cortés who managed to topple the Aztec empire by allying with some of the traditional enemies of the Aztecs, the Nahuatl speaking Tlaxcalteca.


  • Migrational period.

The Nahua peoples began to migrate into Mesoamerica from northern Mexico in the 6th century. They populated Central Mexico as they spread their political influence south. As the former nomadic hunter-gatherer peoples mixed with the complex civilizations of Mesoamerica, adopting religious and cultural practices the foundation for later Aztec culture was laid. During the Postclassic period they rose to power at such sites as Tula, Hidalgo. In the 12th century the Nahua power center was in Azcapotzalco, from where the Tepanecs dominated the valley of Mexico. Around this time the Mexica tribe arrived in central Mexico.

  • Rise of the Triple Alliance.

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At the time of their arrival, the Valley of Mexico had many city-states, the most powerful of which were Culhuacan to the south and Azcapotzalco to the west.

In 1323, the Mexicas were shown a vision of an eagle perched on a prickly bear cactus, eating a snake. This vision indicated that this was the location where they were to build their home. In any event, the Mexicas eventually arrived on a small swampy island in Lake Texcoco where they founded the town of Tenochtitlan in 1325.
For the next 50 years, until 1427, the Mexica were a tributary of Azcapotzalco, which had become a regional power, perhaps the most powerful since the Toltecs, centuries earlier. The union of the three city-states was the foundation of the Aztec Triple Alliance, which defeated Azcapotzalco in 1428.
The Triple Alliance would, in the next 100 years, come to dominate the Valley of Mexico and extend its power to both the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific shore. Over this period, Tenochtitlan gradually became the dominant power in the alliance.

  • Colonial period population decline.

In 1520–1521, an outbreak of smallpox swept through the population of Tenochtitlan and was decisive in the fall of the city. It is estimated that between 10% and 50% of the population fell victim to this epidemic.Subsequently, the Valley of Mexico was hit with two more epidemics, smallpox (1545–1548) and typhus (1576–1581). The Spaniards, to consolidate the diminishing population, merged the survivors from small towns in the Valley of Mexico into bigger ones.The population before the time of the conquest is unknown and hotly contested, but disease is known to have ravaged the region; thus, the indigenous population of the Valley of Mexico is estimated to have declined by more than 80% in the course of about 60 years.

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