In July 1519, Cortes deliberately burned and sank, or scuttled, his ten ships. Cortes knew that the impending campaign would be difficult, and he didn’t want any of his men to mutiny and try to flee on their own. His message sent Cortes led an army of 1,000 Spanish and Indian allies into the mountains and jungles.
As Cortes’s army defeated Indian warriors and sacked several towns, Montezuma sent gifts, promising to pay tribute if the Spanish left the Aztec Empire. Cortes defied the emperor and by November, Cortes and his ragged army stood before the gates of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital and home to more than 60,000 people, a population larger than that in any Spanish city at the time.
At first, Montezuma and Cortes exchanged cordial greetings. Cortes and his men were stunned by the magnificence of the city, but they were also horrified by the Aztec religion, which sacrificed humans in rituals. When one of
Montezuma’s chiefs attacked a Spanish garrison, Cortes took Montezuma prisoner and forced him to acknowledge the Spanish king as his lord. When Cortes tried to change the Aztec temples into Christian churches, warfare broke out. Montezuma was killed, and Cortes and his men were forced to flee Tenochtitlan. Cortes raised an army and returned to lay siege to the great city.
On August 13, 1521, the Aztecs, starving and weakened by disease introduced by the Europeans, surrendered. Cortes was made governor and captain general of Nuevo Espana (New Spain), and established Mexico City on the ruins of Tenochtitlan.