The Aztec Empire of 1519 was the most powerful Mesoamerican kingdom of all time. The multi-ethnic, multi-lingual realm stretched for more than 80,000 square miles through many parts of what is now central and southern Mexico. This enormous empire reached from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf coast and from central Mexico to the present-day Republic of Guatemala. Fifteen million people, living in thirty-eight provinces and residing in 489 communities, paid tribute to the Emperor Moctezuma II in Tenochtitlán, the capital city of the great empire.
The Mexica (pronounced "me-shee-ka") Indians, the dominant ethnic group ruling over the Aztec Empire from their capital city at Tenochtitlán in the Valley of Mexico, had very obscure and humble roots that made their rise to power even more remarkable. The Valley of Mexico, which became the heartland of the Aztec civilization, is a large internally-drained basin which is surrounded by volcanic mountains, some of which reach more than 3,000 meters in elevation.
My understanding of the Mexica Indians and the Aztec Empire has been greatly augmented by the works of the anthropologist Professor Michael E. Smith of the University of New York. Professor Smith has written several books about the central Mexican Indians, including The Aztecs and Aztec Imperial Strategies, which I have used as primary sources for this article.