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Step pyramids in Tenochtitlán When the Spanish arrived in the Americas, the dominant power in Mexico was the Aztec Empire, founded by the Mexica people. The Mexica arrived in central Mexico in around 1250. They founded their capital, Tenochtitlán, on an island in Lake Texcoco in 1325. Together with their chief allies, the Acolhuas of Texcoco and the Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco, the Mexica controlled what is often known as the Aztec Empire. The Aztecs could be ruthless warriors and followed a particularly cruel religion in which, to appease the gods and avert natural disasters, humans were sacrificed once a month. But the Aztecs also insisted on high standards in education, medicine and sanitation.

The legend of the eagle and the cactus is depicted in the coat of arms that appears on the Mexican flag today.

The legend of the eagle and the cactus

According to legend, the Mexica people were told by the god Huitzilopochtli that the place where they saw an eagle resting on a prickly pear cactus was to be their home. This came to pass on a swampy island in the middle of Lake Texcoco, and it was on this spot that the Mexica people founded the city of Tenochtitlán. It would later be the capital of the Aztec Empire.

Aztec soldiers marching off to battle were often given chocolate beverages to fortify and sustain them during battle.

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