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The Aztecs were indigenous peoples of central Mexico who established what has become known as the Aztec Empire during the 15th and early 16th Centuries. Many of the great temples built during this period – a period that would end with the arrival of European, mainly Spanish, explorers – still stand today and remain as a tribute to that once great civilization. The Aztecs had successfully spread their influence to numerous city-states throughout the region, consolidating their hold on vast concentrations of population. Not an identifiable ethnic group per se, they were rather a conglomeration of tribes and ethnicities native to central Mexico, the empire was ruled from the city of Tenochtitian by an emporer to whom tribute was paid by the outlying cities. As noted, the Aztec Empire ceased to exist with its conquest by the Spanish, in particular, by Hernan Cortes.
Among the Spanish explorers to the Americas was Francisco Pizarro, the illegitimate son of a Spanish army officer and a peasant woman and a survivor of the disastrous missions of his former superior, Alonso de Hojeda, to Cuba and Colombia in the late 15th Century. As leader of future expeditions to South America during the early 16th Century, he would be credited with conquering the Incan Empire of current day Peru. Founder of Spain’s first settlements in Peru, he discovered the city of Lima and established it as the capital of Spain’s colony. His efforts at conquering territory in South America involved overcoming considerable armed opposition from the indigenous tribes residing there, but by the 1530s he had succeeded, with the support of King Charles I, in launching a major expedition that finally succeeded in defeating the Incas. By the time he was assassinated in 1541 by the son of a former colleague he had condemned to death, Pizarro was enormously wealthy from the gold and silver he had plundered from those he conquered.
Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) was a native of Florence who would become a prominent figure in the Italian Renaissance and the author of a treatise, The Prince, still widely read for its insights and recommendations on leadership, although its application tends more towards autocratic forms of government than democratic ones. Machiavelli’s career included successful stints in the Florentine diplomatic and military communities. It was his observations of the House of Medici, a powerful and ruthless family that dominated Florentine politics and culture for hundreds of years, and whose use of violence and manipulation served as a successful model of how to retain power, that inspired Machiavelli’s most famous work, The Prince.
Finally, Peter the Great, born Peter Alexeyevich, (1672-1725) remains one of the most revered figures in Russian history. He is credited with forging the Russian Empire out of disparate competing blocs spread across the enormous expanse of Eurasia. While, as with most Russian czars and emperors, his period of rule did not lack for political intrigue and premature deaths, his greatest contribution was considered to be his efforts at opening up Russia to Western influences, especially Western technology. Recognizing Russia as a primitive backwater relative to the technological, social and cultural advances of Germany and France, Peter sought to incorporate into Russian society those Western attributes he believed most important for strengthening and modernizing Russia.
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