Before the Spanish
Mexico was occupied by a large number of Indian groups with very different social and economic systems. In general the tribes in the north were relatively small groups of hunters and gatherers who roamed large areas of sparsely vegetated deserts and dry lands. These people are often called the Chichimecs, though they were a mixture of several cultural groups who spoke different languages.
In the rest of the country the natives were agriculturists, which helped to support the more dense populations. Some of these tribes were the Maya of the Yucatan, Totonac, Huastec, Otomi, Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Tlaxcalans, Tarascans, and Aztecs. Some of these groups made advanced civilizations with fancy buildings and temples used for religious, political, and commercial purposes. The Mayan cities of Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Palenque, the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, Tzintzuntzan of the Tarastec, and Monte Alban of the Zapotecs are a few examples.
By 1100 AD the Toltecs had taken over a lot of central and southern Mexico and had built their capital at Tula in the Mesa Central. They also built the city of Teotihuacan kind of by present-day Mexico City. At about the same time, the Zapotecs had control of the Oaxaca Valley and parts of the Southern Highlands. The cities they built at Mitla and Monte Alban are still here today, though they were taken over by the Mixtecs prior to the arrival of the Spanish.
When the Spanish came to central Mexico, the Aztecs controlled most of the central part of Mexico through a state payment system that got taxes and stopped them from being able to act independently from conquered tribal groups. The Aztecs moved into the central part of Mexico from the north and accomplished a tribal story by establishing a city where an eagle with a...