Wednesday, November 17, 2021

June 20, 1325 - Mexica Peoples See a Vision of Many Eagles

As summer dragged on, the Mexica peoples continued their migration seeking the vision described by the sun god Huitzilopochtli. It was said that they would find their homeland by the sign of an eagle eating a snake while perched on a cactus. Arriving in the Valley of Mexico, scouts reported seeing the vision, but several of the reports came from different places on Lake Texcoco. Arguments erupted about whether the proper place of settlement was an island on the west, the western shore, the eastern shore, or various locations in the north. Ultimately the Mexica issue was settled by the ruler of the old Toltec city Culhuacan in the south, who divided the lake into different regions and invited the Mexica to settle the area as landed mercenaries for their waning empire.

By Madman2001 - Self-published work by Madman2001, CC BY-SA 3.0

As Culhuacan weakened, the Mexica cities grew and prospered, adopting the “floating garden” agricultural techniques of the chinampas. The rich city of the west, Azcatpotzalco, determined to overthrow Culhuacan power and establish a new Mexica-led dominion. They invited the soldiers of the island city of Tenochtitlan to join them, but the bad blood from the old argument of the true site for Mexica settlement ran too deep for an alliance. Just as Azcatpotzalco grew, so did resentment among the other cities. In 1428, the other cities began raids that weakened Azcatpotzalco after a generation of attempts to manipulate politics and economics in the valley. Tenochtitlan became the new leader in population and wealth, but it, too, would suffer from attacks from nearby Tlacopan and Texcoco across the lake.

Upon the arrival of Spanish explorers in 1521, Mexico was a collection of warring nation-states. The expedition leader Hernan Cortes made contact with several of the cities, battling with several of them and establishing relations with Tlaxcalan trading goods. Smallpox broke out among the cities where the Spanish had traveled, finally unifying the indigenous people in the opinion that the outsiders were bad luck. A joint campaign of diplomacy and ongoing attacks finally drove Cortes back to Cuba.

Spain still laid claim to the area on European maps, but the local city-states maintained their own political identities. As populations recovered from smallpox and other diseases of the Columbian Exchange, trade blossomed for Spanish horses, steel, and firearms for spices and gold. Spanish merchants grew wealthy, but only for a few years until the seemingly endless stream of gold in the region brought the attention of the English, French, and Dutch. Naval warfare continued for centuries in the Caribbean with islands and European strongholds on the mainland trading hands numerous times. Several local chieftains carved out small empires for themselves by playing Europeans against one another for large caches of weapons. Ultimately, the Middle American states would be a collection of different people groups with different European allies and different degrees of independence in empires.

The economies of the Middle American states focused on agriculture, mining, and some industry until the canal-building boom of the late nineteenth century. Seeking an Atlantic-Pacific connection without having to sail around Cape Horn, there were several attempts at constructing a shortcut. The first was a canal that cut a channel to make Lake Nicaragua accessible from the Pacific Ocean, establishing a busy port on the eastern side of the lake that led to railways eastward to the Caribbean. Gradually, efforts expanded the navigability of the San Juan River to a full shipping lane with locks. In the meantime, rival rail-and-canal systems were constructed across Panama, Tehuantepec, and the Gulf of Urbana. The disparate shipping options hastened the invention of an internationally standardized shipping container by the 1890s.



In reality, the Mexica people settled the Valley of Mexico following the famed vision of an eagle eating a serpent atop a cactus, an emblem that today marks the flag of Mexico. A triple alliance led by Tenochtitlan enabled it to become the unquestioned center of the Aztec Empire in the 1400s, building an extensive area of control that stretched across the isthmus. Because it was so centralized, Cortes’s expedition saw potential to capture it in one swoop with support from the Aztecs’ enemies. The enormous treasure and political power seized there laid the groundwork for the Spanish Empire on the American mainland.

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