In 1519, an explorer by the name of Hernan Cortes left his home in Cuba in order to explore Mexico. Cortes was convinced that he could obtain more riches on the mainland than was possible by remaining on the islands in the Caribbean.
Cortes and over 500 men arrived in Mexico, and began traveling towards the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. The Aztec Empire was wealthy and in many ways more advanced than any European nation. However, they did not have horses, nor did they have guns. This gave the Spaniards a huge advantage.
In addition, many of the peoples who had been conquered by the Aztecs were unhappy about the way they had been treated by them. The Aztecs were brutal and often sacrificed the people they conquered to their gods. As a result, many of these people were ready to join forces with Cortes and his men to overthrow the Aztec Empire.
At first the Aztecs did not fight back. They thought that the Europeans were the fulfillment of an ancient legend that spoke of white-bearded gods.
After seeing the wealth of their empire, Cortes set out to take control of it. Within just a few years, he and his small army were able to defeat one of the most advanced civilizations of the era, setting Cortes as the ruler of Mexico in behalf of Spain.