Explain the ways in which Cortes, with only a small number of men, was able to defeat the Aztec Empire.


There were many factors that allowed Cortes and the Spanish to conquer the Aztecs.  Among the most important of these factors were:

  • Technology.  The Spanish had their guns (which were not hugely effective) and their steel weapons and armor.  These (along with horses) gave them a huge advantage over the Aztecs.
  • Disease.  Diseases introduced by the Europeans killed many Aztecs.  This weakened their society as a whole, not least by killing an emperor during the time the Aztecs were fighting the Spanish.
  • Indian allies.  Perhaps the most important thing the Spanish had was large armies of Indian allies.  The Aztecs were not popular among the people they had conquered.  The Tlaxcalans, in particular, helped the Spanish defeat the Aztecs.

Many textbooks also talk about the advantage gained because the Aztecs thought the Spanish were gods or were at least connected to the gods.  This is a somewhat controversial idea in modern historiography.  

Aided by these factors, a small group of Spaniards were able to defeat the Aztecs.

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