Civilization in Mexico traces its roots back to the Olmecs, a people who settled along the Gulf of Mexico near the modern-day state of Veracruz. The Olmec people controlled that area of Mexico from between 1200 B.C. and 600 B.C. Following the Olmecs came the Mayans and the Aztecs, two of the most prominent pre-Columbian empires.
In 1519, Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes arrived in the Veracruz area of Mexico. Two years layer, in May 1521, Cortes and his men attacked and defeated the Aztec empire, claiming most of the Aztec land, renaming it New Spain and enslaving the Aztec people. Spain controlled the territory of New Spain for nearly three centuries, until an uprising began in 1810 that eventually lead to Mexican independence in 1821.
In 1823, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna overthrew the emperor of Mexico and established a new constitution for the federal Mexican republic. He served as president of Mexico from 1823 until 1836, during which time he presided over the battle of the Alamo as Texas sought independence from Mexico. Santa Anna was later defeated during the Mexican-American War and went into exile.
Porfirio Diaz rose to power as Mexico's first leader following French occupation in the mid-1800s and served as president from 1876 until 1909. During his reign, Diaz assumed a dictatorial stance on governing and alienated the poor in Mexico. In 1910, the people rose up against Diaz's rule and began a 10-year civil war. Over the course of the war, more than 2 million Mexicans died. In 1934, following the end of the war, Lazaro Cardenas became president of Mexico, re-establishing the ejido system of shared farmland, quelling the rebellions of the Mexican poor and aiding the economy.