Tenochtitlan: A Retelling of The Conquest : Throughline In a sense, 1521 is Mexico's 1619. A foundational moment that has for a long time been shaped by just one perspective, a European one. The story of how Hernán Cortés and his small army of conquistadors conquered the mighty Aztec Empire, in the heart of what's now modern Mexico City, has become a foundational myth of European dominance in the Americas. This is the story that for centuries was largely accepted as the truth. But in recent decades researchers have pieced together a more nuanced, complicated version based on indigenous accounts, a version that challenges many of the bedrock assumptions about how European Christians came to control the Western Hemisphere. In this episode, the story of the fall of Tenochtitlán.

Tenochtitlan: A Retelling of The Conquest

Tenochtitlan: A Retelling of The Conquest

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Retreat of Hernando Cortes form Tenochtitlan, Mexico, 1520. Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images hide caption

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Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

Retreat of Hernando Cortes form Tenochtitlan, Mexico, 1520.

Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

In a sense, 1521 is Mexico's 1619. A foundational moment that has for a long time been shaped by just one perspective, a European one. The story of how Hernán Cortés and his small army of conquistadors conquered the mighty Aztec Empire, in the heart of what's now modern Mexico City, has become a foundational myth of European dominance in the Americas. This is the story that for centuries was largely accepted as the truth. But in recent decades researchers have pieced together a more nuanced, complicated version based on indigenous accounts, a version that challenges many of the bedrock assumptions about how European Christians came to control the Western Hemisphere. In this episode, the story of the fall of Tenochtitlán.


Aztecs and Mexicas

For centuries, we have referred to the ancient civilization of people who inhabited Tenochtitlán as the Aztecs. It's the more commonly known term, but it's not the most accurate. If you were living in Tenochtitlán 500 years ago, you would've probably thought of yourself as something else: Mexica. The term "Aztecs'' was popularized by a German explorer in the 19th century, and it's often used to describe people who migrated from the mythical homeland of Aztlán. In fact, the term Aztec refers to the broader Aztec civilization of Central Mexico, which broadly means all Mexicas were Aztec, but not all Aztecs were Mexica. The terms are not supposed to be interchangeable, although many use them as such. "This is the paradox, one of many but perhaps the biggest one, that accompanies a city, a nation, that only very recently has started to recognize it's multicultural and multilingual," writes Miguel de León-Portilla in his essay Los Aztecas: Disquisiciones de un Gentilicio (The Aztecs: Disquisitions Over a Demonym). So, in this episode, when referring to the people of Tenochtitlán, we used their word: Mexica.

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