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Conquistadors: The Rise and Fall, April 18, 2024, Nat Geo, “The Aztec Conquest”




Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador, embarks on a journey to conquer the Aztec Empire in the upcoming episode of Conquistadors: The Rise and Fall. This episode, titled “The Aztec Conquest,” airing on Nat Geo on Thursday April 18, examines the fall of one of the most powerful empires in Mesoamerica and the rise of Spanish dominance in the region.

The Aztec Empire, led by Moctezuma II, had established dominance over central Mexico through military conquests and intricate political alliances. Hernán Cortés, a Spanish conquistador, played a pivotal role in the empire’s downfall. In 1519, Cortés set sail from Cuba with a small army of soldiers and indigenous allies, including Geronimo de Aguilar, a Franciscan friar who served as an interpreter, and about 500 men. They arrived at the Yucatán Peninsula, where they encountered Mayan-speaking peoples.

Cortés was driven by his ambition to appropriate new land for the Spanish crown, convert the indigenous inhabitants to Christianity, and plunder the lands for gold and riches. He had heard about the Aztecs, also known as the Mexica, and knew that they were a primary force in Mexico. The Aztecs had a thriving society and ruled over a surrounding amalgam of various Native American groups with different languages and cultures.

Cortés and his men continued their journey westward, reaching Tabasco, where they encountered resistance from native warriors. They emerged victorious, and the natives surrendered, providing the Spaniards with food, supplies, and 20 women, including an interpreter named Malintzin, also known as La Malinche or Doña Marina. She played a crucial role in Cortés’ life and legacy, becoming his mistress and the mother of his son, Martín.


In July 1519, Cortés and his army took over Veracruz, dismissing the authority of the governor of Cuba and placing themselves under the orders of King Charles. To eliminate any possibility of retreat, Cortés scuttled his ships. He then marched towards Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, with 600 soldiers, 15 horsemen, 15 cannons, and hundreds of indigenous carriers and warriors. Along the way, they formed alliances with indigenous groups, such as the Totonacs of Cempoala and the Nahuas of Tlaxcala.

Upon reaching Tenochtitlán, Cortés was peacefully received by Moctezuma II, who deliberately allowed him to enter the city to gather information about their weaknesses. Moctezuma presented Cortés with lavish gifts of gold, which only fueled the Spaniards’ ambitions for plunder. Cortés took Moctezuma hostage and ruled Tenochtitlán through him. However, the Aztecs soon launched a major attack on the Spanish garrison, and in the ensuing chaos, Moctezuma was killed, with accounts differing on whether it was at the hands of his people or the Spaniards.

Cortés and his men fled the city but suffered significant losses during their retreat. With the help of the people of Tlaxcala, they regrouped and returned to Tenochtitlán on June 25, 2020. They found a city crumbling under disease and hunger, with a new leader, Cuauhtemoc, at the helm. A long siege ensued, and after 93 days, the Aztecs, weakened by disease, hunger, and heavy losses, surrendered. The fall of Tenochtitlán marked the beginning of Spanish rule in central Mexico, and they established their capital, Mexico City, on the ruins of the Aztec capital.

The conquest of the Aztec Empire by Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors was a pivotal event in the history of the Americas, reshaping the course of human civilization. It led to the cultural assimilation, subjugation, and decline of indigenous civilizations and the emergence of a new social hierarchy dominated by the Spanish conquerors.


Conquistadors: The Rise and Fall airs on National Geographic at 9:00 PM on Thursday, April 18, 2024.

Hey there! I'm Riley, the US TV Previews editor at I may have failed as a musician, but my love for Jeopardy knows no bounds. And let me tell you, The Wire is hands down the greatest TV show ever made. I've been writing about the entertainment biz since (mumble mumble). Stay tuned for all the latest TV news and previews!

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