Mexico was the site of some of the earliest and most advanced civilizations in
the western hemisphere. The Mayan culture, according to archaeological research,
attained its greatest development about the 6th century AD. Another group, the
Toltec, established an empire in the Valley of Mexico and developed a great
civilization still evidenced by the ruins of magnificent buildings and monuments.
The leading tribe, the Aztec, built great cities and developed an intricate
social, political, and religious organization. Their civilization was highly
developed, both intellectually and artistically. The first European explorer to
visit Mexican territory was Francisco Fernández de Córdoba, who in 1517
discovered traces of the Maya in Yucatán. In 1535, some years after the fall of
the Aztec capital, the basic form of colonial government in Mexico was
instituted with the appointment of the first Spanish viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza.
A distinguishing characteristic of colonial Mexico was the exploitation of the
Native Americans. Although thousands of them were killed during the Spanish
conquest, they continued to be the great majority of inhabitants of what was
referred to as New Spain, speaking their own languages and retaining much of
their native culture. Inevitably they became the laboring class. Their plight
was the result of the 'encomienda' system, by which Spanish nobles, priests, and
soldiers were granted not only large tracts of land but also jurisdiction over
all Native American residents. A second characteristic of colonial Mexico was
the position and power of the Roman Catholic church. Franciscan, Augustinian,
Dominican, and Jesuit missionaries entered the country with the conquistadores.
The Mexican church became enormously wealthy through gifts and bequests that
could be held in perpetuity. Before 1859, when church holdings were
nationalized, the church owned one-third of all property and land. A third
characteristic was the existence of rigid... [continues]
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"Mexico." StudyMode.com. 10, 1999. Accessed 10, 1999. http://www.studymode.com/essays/Mexico-3370.html.