When the Spanish arrived, normally they would have been captured and sacrificed immediately. That's how the Aztecs did things. But, in the 1500s, when the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes, entered Aztec territory with a small band of his men, the Aztec misunderstood why they were there. The Aztecs through they were sent by their god, Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl, a very important god to the Aztecs, had vowed he would appear when the end of the world was near, to save the Aztec people. The Aztecs always believed the end of the world was near. That's why they scarified so many people. They were trying to keep their gods happy so the god would postpone the end of the world.
The Spanish had no idea at first how lucky they were to be alive after they entered the capital city. The Spanish were looking for people to convert to the Catholic religion, and gold to capture. Boy, did they people and gold! The city was clean and bustling. There were restaurants and hairdressers and shops galore! Artists were everywhere, painting and sculpting. About 60,000 people sold and bought in the shops each day. There was clear evidence of gold. There were many pieces of gold jewelry encrusted with jewels for sale in some of the shops. Other displayed gold statues. Spanish eyes grew wide with wonder.
The Spanish stayed for quite a while as guests of the emperor. Cortes later wrote a letter to the Spanish Emperor, back in Spain. In his letter, he said: “We lodged in the chief’s house, situated in the most refreshing gardens ever seen. In their midst flows a beautiful stream, beset with gay flower beds, an infinite number of different fruit trees, many herbs and fragrant flowers. Three hundred men had charge of these birds for their sole employment. Over each pool there were beautifully decorated galleries and corridors, where Moctezuma came to amuse himself by watching them. I do not mention the other diverting things Moctezuma had in the city, because they were so many and so various.”
The longer the Spanish stayed in the capital city, the more suspicious the Aztec leaders became. The Spanish did not act like gods. They did not attend the sacrifice ceremonies that were given in their honor. The Aztecs decided it was time for the Spanish to leave. They did not want to kill them because they might be gods after all, but the Aztecs wanted them to move along. The Spanish were secretly glad to leave. For some time, they had been wondering how to escape alive.
When the Spanish returned, they were prepared. They brought dogs and horses and weapons and many fighting men. They also had the help of other tribes in the area, who had no idea how cruel Spanish rule would become. The other tribes just wanted to get rid of the awful Aztecs. But it was disease that actually defeated the Aztecs. They had no protection against simple childhood diseases like measles that the Spanish brought with them. The Aztec Empire collapsed.