Birthplace: Medellin, Spain
Best known as: The Spaniard who took Mexico from the Aztecs
Hernan Cortes (also Hernando Cortez) was a Spanish explorer who took Mexico from the Aztecs in 1521. He first sailed from Spain in 1504 on a voyage to Santo Domingo, where he lived until joining Diego Velazquez in conquering Cuba in 1511. Cortes led a force of 550 to the mainland in 1518, founded Veracruz and went inland to meet Montezuma II, leader of the Aztec empire. Montezuma was welcoming, thinking Cortes could possibly be a descendant of the god Quetzalcoatl, but Cortes seized the advantage and took Montezuma hostage. By 1521, Cortes had razed the capital city of Tenochtitlan and founded what is now Mexico City. He was named a Captain General and made governor of New Spain in 1522. There were those in Spain, however, who worried that Cortes was getting too big for his britches. He returned to Spain in 1528 to defend himself, and in the end Charles V kept him as a Captain General, but Cortes returned to New Spain in 1530 without the governorship. He continued exploring Central America and made it all the way to Baja California, then returned to Spain in 1541, where he died with neither power nor wealth.
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