Geographical Barriers Of The Aztec Empire Amidst The Spanish Conquest

The Aztec empire had thrived for over a hundred years before it was conquered by Hernan Corona in 1521. Tenochtitlan was the capital, an island in Lake Texcoco. The Aztecs utilized the island for defensive purposes against invaders as well as to provide food through engineering. The Aztec Empire’s geography, which had helped it flourish before the Spanish invasion, would be instrumental in its fall.

Tenochtitlan was the Aztec Empire’s capital and its location was important for many reasons. Tenochtitlan could only been reached by boat from the mainland or the three causeways. There were only three ways to get to Tenochtitlan, which protected it from invasions. Only a sea invasion could be used to carry out an offensive that would cover the entire island. The Aztecs control the entire surrounding landmass. Anyone who attempted to invade without first compromising their plan would have a difficult time. When you attack from land, the only options were three narrow causeways. This meant that Aztecs could predictably counterattack. Each causeway was controlled by drawbridges that could easily be raised in order to defend against an invasion from the ground. To support its population and Aztec Warriors who led expansion efforts, the Aztecs needed a sufficient food supply. Chinampas were artificial islands that the Aztecs created in the lake. These islands were constructed by piling sticks and weeds atop a base of sticks. These Chinampas, which could grow several crops, were built on the shores of Lake Texcoco. Tenochtitlan’s chinampas were essential to its self-sufficiency and for the soldiers and empire that helped it grow.

It is believed that the Aztecs used the geography of the islands to protect them from invasion. But, when the Spanish Conquistadors arrived, the islands played a major role in their conquest. Moctezuma II welcomed the Spanish Conquistadors headed by HernanCortes to the Aztec capital. Within a few days, the conquistadors had arrested Moctezuma. Cortes used Moctezuma as a puppet leader, but the Aztecs rebelled after the Conquistadors disrupted a ritual of human sacrifice. Moctezuma II perished in the chaos. The conquistadors had to leave the island. Aztecs closed the causeways and forced the conquistadors into boats in order to escape. Conquistadors left behind were either captured, drowned, or killed. Cortes fought back with the assistance of thousands natives as well as the shipbuilder Martin Lopez.

Cortes then decided to block the causeways to the island and prevent food from reaching the island. Island geography, which had protected the capital against invaders, was now used to attack the Aztecs. Cortes used the locals to help him transport his newly-built ships to a lake, and then sail his men across to an island. Cuitlahuac was the new ruler of the Aztecs and he refused to negotiate. The 80 day siege led to the starvation and eventual capture of Tenochtitlan. Cuitlahuac, the Aztec Emperor who succeeded him, died of smallpox.

Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, was a major reason for the Aztec empire’s success. The Aztecs were able to feed their growing empire thanks to the chinampas they built in the lake. In search of gold, the Spanish conquistadors under Hernan Cortes invaded the Americas. Conquistadors seized the opportunity to turn the geographic advantage in their favor by laying siege against the Aztec capital. The siege had the effect of starving Tenochtitlan residents, who eventually fell to the Spanish.


  • nicholashopkins

    Nicholas Hopkins is a social media teacher, writer and educator. He has been blogging since 2009, and has since published over 20 articles and taught social media in high school and college. He is currently a social media teacher and blogger at Nicholas Hopkins Academy.