The importance of the pre-Columbian epoch in the history of humanity is linked to a simple fact: also "on the other side" existed real civilizations with a glorious and millenary past. These were peoples who had unique cultures and traditions capable of spreading throughout the great continent we know today as the “American”. A detail that seems banal, but just think a little more than a minute to appreciate the enormous depth. Before Columbus' discovery no one could even imagine that beyond the columns of Hercules there really were other lands. And other civilizations, too.
Although the pre-Columbian populations at the time of the historic impact had not reached a level of scientific and technological knowledge equal to the fragmented and lively Eurasian reality. That doesn’t mean they were as primitive as the early explorers surely believed. The level of astronomical, artistic and architectural notions reached by the Aztecs (or mexica, as they called themselves) was certainly remarkable and comparable to the glories of Ancient Egypt.
However, these civilizations at the end of the 15th century had remained materially at that stage, probably due to the absence of a melting pot of cultural exchange such as the Mediterranean, with its perennial wars in a confined space. A detail that perhaps, by forcing various civilizations to face military and commercial contacts forced and frequent, has led also to the development of these, providing the basis for the successive great empires and kingdoms of the Mediterranean basin. Later, that progress would produce the human and material tools to tempt the enterprise of enterprises: to sail the Atlantic.
The history of humanity is the history of peoples, but above all of their rulers. The excessive power of the rulers of the past has decreed the birth and cancellation of entire civilizations. A variable certainly not unknown to the Aztecs. At the top of the empire in question was the tlatoani, a kind of king who wielded power over his city-state. In fact, the very nature of the Aztec as an empire is discussed, because unlike the European realities themselves, the centre did not directly govern the periphery as a single entity. The Aztec territories were divided into individual city-states (altepetl).
A real expansion in the imperial sense took place only in the early part of the fifteenth century, with the triple alliance between the Aztec cities of Tenochtitlán (which dominated this situation), Texcoco and Tlacopán. In any case, the tlatoans reigned, a term which in the Nahuatl language indicates “the one who can speak”. They were elected by the nobility (pīpiltin) and were warriors from influential families; they had military and religious functions.
With the advent of the triple alliance in 1428 the prestige of sovereigns increased to the point that they were called Huey tlatoani, or “great orators”. The Empire controlled the area roughly corresponding to today’s Mexico, and was brutally defeated in 1521 by the conquistadors of Hernan Cortes. The Spanish commander was able to count on the support of the Tlaxcalteca kingdom, rival of the triple alliance. The last tlatoani was Cuauhtémoc, captured by Cortes' men, imprisoned and finally killed in 1525. The first tlatoani is thought to have been Tenoch, a mysterious figure who lived in the fourteenth century.