Mexico’s earliest known civilization was the Olmec in the second century BC, which reached its peak in about 1200 BC. The Olmec were a Mayan culture advanced in religion, architecture and mathematical systems. By AD 500, Teotihuacan (with a population of approximately 200,000) and Cholula, a religious center near Puebla that survived until the Spanish Conquest in 1521, merged. The height of Mayan civilization was reached around AD 600-900.
The Toltecs, whose capital was Tula, were the predominant civilization. Known for their fine architecture, elegant speech and intellectual pursuits, they were the ancestors of the famous Aztecs. The Aztec Empire once controlled vast territories from the Yucatan peninsula to the Pacific, with over 370 individual nations under their authority.
Once conquered and under Spanish rule, local culture was suppressed and native traditions were discouraged. Mexico achieved independence after the wars of 1810-21. In 1824, a constitution was adopted and Mexico’s first President, Guadalupe Victoria, was inaugurated and both Britain and the USA officially recognized the Republic of Mexico.
In 1847, Mexico was forced to surrender half of its territory to the USA. In 1861, Benito Jurez, a Zapotec Indian from the state of Oaxaca, was elected President. Faced with overwhelming debts (mainly owed to France, Spain and the UK), Jurez announced a two-year moratorium on payment of foreign debts. The French Emperor Napoleon III sent an army to Veracruz to enforce his claim to payment. A series of civil wars and conflicts with European governments and the USA punctuated the next 30 years. However, Jurez was elected to a third term and is now considered among Mexico’s most popular leaders.
Carlos Salinas de Gortari transformed Mexico during his term of office (which began in 1988). The new government embarked on a major economic reform program comprising a package of devaluation, tax reform, privatization and deregulation.