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The Spanish and
the Aztecs
The Long Migration
The Aztec, who originally referred to
themselves as Mexicas, were one of several
Nahuatl-speaking groups who left the desertlike area of northern Mexico and migrated
southward over many, many years.
Aztec origin stories tell of their leaving their
homeland, Aztlan, an island city in the
middle of a lake, probably far northwest of
present-day Mexico City around 1100 CE.
For 200 years, they led a semi-nomadic
life looking for a sign that would tell them
where to settle. After a long and difficult
migration, they finally reached the Valley
of Mexico.
Throughout their migration they followed
what they believed were the orders of their
patron god, Huitzilopochtli, who spoke to
their priests.
On instructions from Huitzilopochtli, the
priests would force their followers to keep
moving. The Aztec followed these
instructions and continued their difficult
journey southward through the desert.
They believed they were the chosen
people of Huitzilopochtli, the god who
would lead them to the land of their
Their devotion to Huitzilopochtli often
created many hardships. When he told
them to move, they did so, even if there
was no time to harvest their crops.
Sometime during the 12th or 13th century,
after several generations of working their
way southward, the Aztec came to the
Valley of Mexico, led by their chieftain
The region was already occupied by a
large number of city-states. When the
Aztecs arrived in the valley, the best lands
were already taken.
The societies of the established city-states
considered the Aztecs to be a barbarous
and uncultured people. As a result, the
Aztecs would be in constant conflict and
driven from location to location and not
allowed to settle in one place.
Huitzilopochtli: The Patron God
The creation stories of the
origin of the Mexica and
their migration includes
stories of the birth of
Huitzilopochtli, the main
god of the Aztec.
The Aztec believed he
was the incarnation of the
sun and struggled against
the forces of night to keep
humans alive.
The Aztec Creation Story
The Aztec creation story
describes how the
goddess Coatlicue found
herself pregnant. Her
eldest daughter,
Coyolxauhqui, convinced
her 400 brothers to assist
her in killing their mother.
The unborn Huitzilopochtli
learned of the plot, and
just in time, burst from
Coatlicue’s belly full
grown and fully armed.
He killed Coyolxauhqui
and her brothers.
Coyolxauhqui rose to
become the moon and
the brothers rose to
become the stars. The
Aztec believed that
Huitzilopochtli became
the sun which battled
and overcame the
moon and the stars
each day as he rose
into the sky.
Tenochtitlan: The City of Tenoch
After being forced to keep moving for so many
years, the Aztec finally settled on a swampy
island in the middle of Lake Texcoco.
They knew this was the land of their destiny
for they saw an eagle perched on a cactus
holding a rattlesnake—the sign that had been
foretold to their leader, Tenoch, by the god
Huitzilopochtli. At that location, he and his
people were to build their city and honour
Take Home Points
• The Aztec migrated to the Valley of Mexico
in central Mexico in around 1100 CE.
• This region was already occupied by
several established societies, which were
organized as large city-states and were
hostile to the arrival of the Aztec.
• The Aztec were finally led by their
chieftain, Tenoch, to a swampy island in
the middle of Lake Texcoco sometime in
the 12th or 13th century.
• This area was said to have been their
destined land as foretold by their patron
god, Huitzilopochtli.
• The Aztec called the land Tenochtitlan and
over the next 200 years they transformed
the island into one of the greatest cities
the world has ever seen.