Cuba and Puerto Rico were nice islands, but the Spanish had greater things in mind. They wanted a vast hoard of treasure, especially gold. They found it in Mexico.
In 1519, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes (1485-1547) sailed to Mexico, where he came upon a civilization grander than any yet seen in the New World. The Aztecs, or Mexicas, had dominated Mexico since the fourteenth century.
By the time of Cortes, they ruled over a society of millions. The capital city, Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), was built on an island. Causeways linked it to the mainland, and canals and aqueducts watered it. Impressive pyramids honored the Aztec gods.
Aztec astronomers studied the stars. Artists made sculptures and recorded history in pictographs, or picture writing. Large numbers of commoners served a small ruling class. Captives, especially prisoners of war, were sacrificed regularly to the gods.
By 1521, Cortes had conquered the Aztec civilization. He did it by superior arms and by playing rival groups of Native Americans against each other, especially against their emperor, Montezuma (or Montezuma) II (c. 1466-1520).
The Aztec calendar stone is a complicated representation of all of time, from the world’s beginning to its end. In the center is the Sun God, surrounded by jaguars, wind, fire, and flood, which the Aztecs believed had ended the four earlier stages of the world. A band of twenty rectangles surrounds these symbols, and represents the twenty days of the thirteen Aztec months.
Numerous other symbols represent north, east, west, and south; precious stones; and other elements of the world and time.