Prone to Wander

Mexico: A Quick History

Honestly, I wrote this more for myself than for you guys out in blogland. It helped me to organize all of those complicated dates and revolutions in my head. Hope you find this interesting or helpful!

olmecThe Olmecs. 15,000 BC – 800 BC
The Olmecs were probably descendants of Asian indigenous people who crossed over on the Bering Strait. They lived primarily along the edges of the Gulf coast and carved massive basalt heads.

teotihuacanThe Zapotecans at Monte Albán and the civilization at Teotihuacán. 600 BC – around 700 BC
These two different civilizations were based in Oaxaca and north of Mexico City. They were very powerful and ruled over large parts of Mexico. The pyramids at Teotihuacan are particularly impressive.

palenque2The Classic Mayans. AD 200 – 900
Mayans practiced many rituals and had sophisticated art and education. They also had very advanced knowledge in astronomy and mathematics. Once thought of as pacifist, they did engage in brutal fighting and human sacrifice.

tula-statueThe Toltecs. AD 900 – 1100
Centered in the city of Tula, north of Mexico City. They had a militarist culture, and they were famous for these tall statues. Quetzalcoatl “The Feathered Serpent” may have been a Toltec prince who migrated to the Yucatan area, and was later mythologized as a god.

tenochititlanThe Aztecs. 1300 – 1521
The Aztecs arrived in Mexico from a distant northern homeland “Aztlán,” the location of which is unknown. In around 1325, they were told by one of their gods that they should pitch their tents at the place where they saw an eagle on a cactus devouring a snake (now depicted on the Mexican flag). This omen was seen right in the middle of the swampy lake-island that became the great Aztec city of Tenochtitlan (and later, Mexico City). They eventually developed their culture based around an emperor, a strict hierarchy, and a warrior ethic. They were a warring and brutal people. They practiced human sacrifice – the gods needed the still-palpitating hearts of their enemies in order to be appeased on a daily basis. For example, when the Templo Mayor (under the main square in Mexico City) was rebuilt in 1487, it is said that over 20,000 prisoners had their hearts cut out in sacrifice.

cortesSpanish Rule. 1521 – 1821
You can imagine how terrified Cortez (Spanish conquistador, pictured at left) would have been when he met the Aztecs. But he won allies with other surrounding Indian tribes and defeated the Aztecs at Tenochtitlan through a bloody siege. After the conquest, diseases brought by the Spanish, including Smallpox, caused large numbers of deaths among the Indigenous. This was the period of Colonial Mexico, where many Spanish people moved in and built large homes and haciendas. Near the end of this time, several leaders of the people, such as Father Hidalgo and Father José Morelos, led uprisings that pushed toward independence.

mexican-flagMexican Republic. 1821 – 1864
Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on September 16.
Other important dates during this time:
alamoTexas broke away from Mexico in 1836, sparking a war with Mexico. This is when the battle at the Alamo happened (where Mexico won – thanks Benny!). Texas eventually won, though.
mexicanwarWhen Texas joined the United States 10 years later in 1846, Mexico and the United States went to war. The US invaded Mexico all the way to Chapultepec castle in Mexico City, and Mexico lost. As a result, Mexico lost nearly half of it’s territory to the United States, as shown in the image.

juarezThe Reform. 1857 – 1864.
The reformation period was a battle between liberals and conservatives over reforming the constitution and the government. Benito Juarez, a Mexican indigenous man, led the liberal reform of the constitution. The conservatives got the support and involvement of the French, who sent troops over to try to gain control. In a famous battle on May 5, 1862, the French were defeated (for the time being) in Puebla. We know this day as “Cinco de Mayo.” I’m not sure why it is so well known in the United States – it’s NOT independence day (as some believe).

maximilianoFrench Occupation. 1864 – 1867.
Maximilian from France was set up as the Emperor of Mexico for a short time. He remodeled the beautiful Chapultepec castle where he lived with his wife Carlotta. His rule was precarious and he relied on repression of the people in order to remain. The liberals wore down the conservatives and their French allies through guerrilla fighting, and Napoleon III removed his troops from Mexico in 1866. In 1867, Maximilian was captured and executed.

juarezportraitMexican Republic (Take 2). 1867 – 1910.
Benito Juarez became President of the republic after Maximilian was executed.
diaz2After his death in 1872, Porfidio Diaz gained control and was elected as president 16 times (that’s right, 16). Cities in Mexico prospered but the lower classes became disillusioned and alienated by Diaz’s policies.

villazapataThe Revolution. 1910 – 1917.
Revolution Day is celebrated on November 20.
After a new president, Madero, took over Díaz’s rule, revolutionary fighting broke out in many parts of the country. A northern resistance was led by Pancho Villa, and in the south, by Emiliano Zapata (both are shown in the image above). History gets a little more complicated here… lots of people were assassinated, including Villa, by the time things settled down a little more in 1917.

Mexican Republic (Take 3). 1917 – present
1917: A revolutionary constitution was put into place
1930’s : Economic depression, agrarian reform.
1938: President Cárdenas nationalized the foreign-owned oil industry.
1940’s – 1960’s : Sustained economic growth after the depression.
1968 : The ’68 Olympics, tarnished by bloody violence against student protesters at Tlatelolco.
1980’s – present : Economic recession?


  1. BenE

    Amy, as a I know you’re not a native Texan but the Mexicans defeated the Texans at the Alamo. Sam Houston finally beat the Mexicans at the battle of San Jacinto.

  2. Hi Amy,

    thank you for your interest and kind texts about Mexico. Glad to know that you like it.
    Just one comment: you say that Cortes was terrified when he met the Aztecs… well, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Remember the Spanish Inquisition? Or the brutalities commited against the indians once Cortes and his allies won? Sure enough, Cortes wore his pants well, as we say in Mexico, he was brave and daring. Imagine, coming to a place where they did not know what they were going to find. So, sure enough, the Spanish conquistadores were no blushing flowers, on the contrary, they were hard, seasoned men, a bunch of tough guys who had been to many places in the world. Yes, the bleeding hearts thing makes us shiver, but how brutal is this compared to what we witness today, FOR MONEY AND POWER?
    I’m not trying to justify their actions, but we can say that all they wanted was to please their gods, this was their religious belief, and you know how strong religions were, are and will be…
    Anyway, enjoy, keep up exploring small towns. I was born and have lived here most of my many years, and my fellow countrymen still amaze me with their energy and sense of humor.
    Un abrazo,

  3. Rick L

    Dear Amy, your post on the Revolution of 1910-1917 fails to consider the role of Alvaro Obregon. I think you should look into it, it makes the seemingly complex period make more sense. Thank you

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