North America 1521: Fall of Tenochtitlan
In June 1520 Moctezuma’s brother Cuitláhuac led the Aztecs in revolt against the Spanish, resulting in Moctezuma’s death and forcing Cortés to flee Tenochtitlan. Cuitláhuac died a few months later—perhaps from smallpox—and was succeeded by Cuauhtémoc, while the Spanish fell back on Tlaxcala to reorganize. In late 1520 Cortés was ready to return, gaining control of Lake Texcoco with a locally-constructed fleet of brigantines, and capturing Tenochtitlan itself in May–August 1521.
25 Jun–25 Nov 1520 Reign of Cuitláhuac▲
Facing a hostile Tenochtitlan, Cortés released Moctezuma’s brother Cuitláhuac in June 1520 to arrange the reopening of markets for the Spanish. Instead, Cuitláhuac began rallying the Aztecs to resistance, leading to a general revolt in which Moctezuma was killed and the Spanish forced to flee the city. Formally becoming emperor on 7 September 1520, Cuitláhuac’s reign came to an abrupt end in November when he died, most likely of smallpox.
30 Jun–1 Jul 1520 La Noche Triste▲
Besieged by the Aztecs in Tenoochtitlan and running short of food, Cortés realized that his Spaniards could no longer hold out. After the midnight of 30 June/1 July 1520, his following of an estimated 1,000 Spaniards and 20,000 native allies fled the city, making it to the Tacuba causeway—connecting the island of Tenochtitlan to the mainland—before being detected. Swarmed by countless Aztec attackers, several hundred Spaniards and thousands of their allies were killed or captured before Cortés made it to the temporary safety of Popotla.
7 Jul 1520 Battle of Otumba▲
As he retreated from Tenochtitlan to the safety of Tlaxcala, Cortés was hounded by the Aztecs. Eventually a large Aztec army of some 10–20 thousand warriors caught the battered Spanish forces as they were passing through the plain of Otumba. Despite being reduced to less than 500 Spaniards and a few hundred Tlaxcalans, Cortés stood his ground and routed the Aztecs with the help of his cavalry.
27 Dec 1520–13 Aug 1521 Lake Texcoco campaign▲
In October 1520 Cortés instructed shipwright Martín López to build thirteen 12 m (40 ft) brigantines, before advancing from Tlaxcala to capture the city of Texcoco, on the shores of Lake Texcoco, in late December. From Texcoco, Cortés mounted raids around the lake before, in February 1521, using his new brigantines to secure control over the waters. By 26 May 1521 Cortés had secured control over most of the cities around the Mexican lake system and laid siege to Tenochtitlan, which fell in August that year.
25 Jan–13 Aug 1521 Reign of Cuauhtémoc▲
Following Cuitláhuac’s death, he was eventually succeeded by Cuauhtémoc, the son of Ahuizotl and a cousin of Moctezuma. Formally becoming the Aztec emperor in January 1521, the 24-year-old Cuauhtémoc attempted to reorganize the Aztec army to face the Spanish but was defeated by Cortés in August. Captured while fleeing Tenochtitlan by canoe, Cuauhtémoc was executed by Cortés in 1525 for allegedly conspiring to kill him.
Mar–Jun 1521 Ponce de León’s last expedition▲
In early 1521 Juan Ponce de León departed Puerto Rico with some 200 men, 50 horses, and two ships on an expedition to establish a permanent settlement in Florida. Landing on the southwest coast, the colonists were attacked and driven off by the indigenous Calusa. Mortally wounded in the skirmish, probably by a poisoned arrow, Ponce de León withdrew to Havana, Cuba, where he soon died.
26 May–13 Aug 1521 Fall of Tenochtitlan▲
On 26 May 1521 Spanish forces under Alvarado and Olid destroyed the Aztec aqueducts at Chapultepec, cutting off Tenochtitlan’s water supply, while Cortés led an amphibious assault to secure the Acachinanco causeway and attack the capital from the south a few days later. Despite facing heavy opposition, the Spanish and their native allies completed the encirclement of Tenochtitlan in early June and began to advance on the city center, razing buildings to provide space for cavalry and artillery. Capturing the main pyramid on 27 July, the Spanish pushed on to crush the remaining Aztec enclave on 13 August. At the price of some 500 Spanish and 20,000 Tlaxcalan lives, not to mention several hundred thousand Aztecs, Cortés had secured Tenochtitlan and ended the Aztec Empire.