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Indigenous victims (likely smallpox), Florentine Codex (compiled 1540–1585) Source: Public Domain

The Mysterious Disease That Wiped Out the Aztecs (Video)


The Aztecs, a once-flourishing civilization in central Mexico, faced a devastating onslaught in the mid-16th century. While initially attributed to European diseases like smallpox, recent DNA analysis sheds new light on the mysterious illness that nearly obliterated them. Living amidst a cultural tapestry of nobility and commoners, the Aztecs thrived until the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, heralding a cascade of calamities.

Between 1545 and 1550, the Aztecs were besieged by a deadly outbreak of disease known as cocoliztli, claiming millions of lives in a matter of days. Characterized by fever and profuse bleeding, the epidemic left an indelible mark on Aztec history. Researchers identified a strain of salmonella, Paratyphi C, as a probable culprit, potentially introduced by European colonizers.

The devastation was compounded by climatic upheavals, with a prolonged drought exacerbating the death toll. Human sacrifice, a ritualistic practice, further depleted their ranks. Francisco Hernandez's detailed accounts depict a myriad of symptoms, yet no single disease aligns precisely with his descriptions.

While the salmonella hypothesis offers insight, it remains inconclusive, underscoring the complexity of unraveling the Aztec tragedy. Whether ravaged by disease, climate, or colonialism's fallout, the Aztecs' demise underscores the enduring impact of historical epidemics on indigenous populations, a somber chapter in human history.

Top image: Indigenous victims (likely smallpox), Florentine Codex (compiled 1540–1585) Source: Public Domain

By Robbie Mitchell

Robbie Mitchell's picture


I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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