|Died||June 30, 1520 (aged 53–54)|
Mariana Leonor Moctezuma
Moctezuma Xocoyotzin (c. 1466 – 29 June 1520;
The first contact between the indigenous civilizations of
Though two other Aztec rulers succeeded Moctezuma after his death, their reigns were short-lived and the empire quickly collapsed under them. Historical portrayals of Moctezuma have mostly been colored by his role as ruler of a defeated nation, and many sources have described him as weak-willed, superstitious, and indecisive. Depictions of his person among his contemporaries, however, are divided; some depict him as one of the greatest leaders Mexico had, a great conqueror who tried his best to maintain his nation together at times of crisis, while others depict him as a tyrant who wanted to take absolute control over the whole empire. His story remains one of the most well-known conquest narratives from the history of European contact with Native Americans, and he has been mentioned or portrayed in numerous works of historical fiction and popular culture.
The Aztecs did not use regnal numbers; they were given retroactively by historians to more easily distinguish him from the first Moctezuma, referred to as Moctezuma I. The Aztec chronicles called him Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin, while the first was called Motecuhzoma Ilhuicamina or Huehuemotecuhzoma ("Old Moctezuma"). Xocoyotzin (IPA: [ʃokoˈjotsin]) means "honored young one" (from "xocoyotl" [younger son] + suffix "-tzin" added to nouns or personal names when speaking about them with deference).
Ancestry and early life
Moctezuma II was the great-grandson of
As was custom among Mexica nobles, Moctezuma was educated in the Calmecac, the educational institution for the nobility. He would've been enrolled into the institution at a very early age, likely at the age of five years, as the sons of the kings were expected to receive their education at a much earlier age than the rest of the population. According to some sources, Moctezuma stood out in his childhood for his discipline during his education, finishing his works correctly and being devout to the Aztec religion.
Moctezuma was an already famous warrior by the time he became the
One example of a celebrated campaign in which he participated before ascending to the throne was during the last stages of the conquest of Ayotlan, during Ahuizotl's reign in the late 15th century. During this campaign, which lasted 4 years, a group of Mexica pochteca merchants were put under siege by the enemy forces. This was important because the merchants were closely related to Ahuizotl and served as military commanders and soldiers themselves when needed. To rescue the merchants, Ahuizotl sent then-prince Moctezuma with many soldiers to fight against the enemies, though the fight didn't last long, as the people of Ayotlan surrendered to the Mexica shortly after he arrived.
Approximately in the year 1490, Moctezuma obtained the rank of tequihua, which is reached by capturing at least 4 enemy commanders.
The year in which Moctezuma was crowned is uncertain. Most historians suggest the year of 1502 to be most likely, though some have argued in favor of the year 1503. A work currently held at the Art Institute of Chicago known as the Stone of the Five Suns is an inscription written in stone representing the Five Suns and a date in the Aztec calendar, 1 crocodile 11 reed, which is the equivalent to 15 July 1503 in the Gregorian calendar. Some historians believe this to be the exact date in which the coronation took place, as it is also included in some primary sources. Other dates have been given from the same year; Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxóchitl states that the coronation took place on 24 May 1503. However, most documents say Moctezuma's coronation happened in the year 1502, and therefore most historians believe this to have been the actual date.
After his coronation, Moctezuma set up thirty-eight more provincial divisions, largely to centralize the empire. He sent out bureaucrats, accompanied by military garrisons, who made sure tax was being paid, national laws were being upheld, and served as local judges in case of disagreement.
Moctezuma's reign began with difficulties. In the year 1505, a major drought resulted in widespread
Policies and other events during his reign
During his government, he applied multiple policies that centered the government of the empire on his person, though it is difficult to tell exactly to which extent those policies were actually applied, as the records written about such policies tend to be affected by propaganda in favor of or against his person.[N.B. 2]
According to Alva Ixtlilxóchitl, among Moctezuma's policies were the replacement of a large portion of his court (including most of his advisors) with people he deemed preferable, and increasing the division between the commoner and noble classes, which included the refusal to offer certain honors to various politicians and warriors for being commoners.
Moctezuma's elitism can be attributed to a long conflict of interests between the nobility, merchants and warrior class. The struggle occurred as the result of the conflicting interests between the merchants and the nobility and the rivalry between the warrior class and the nobility for positions of power in the government. Moctezuma likely sought to resolve this conflict by installing despotist policies that would settle it. However, it is also true that many of his elitist policies were put in place because he did not want to "work with inferior people", and instead wanted to be served by and interact with people he deemed more prestigious, both to avoid giving himself and the government a bad reputation and to work with people he trusted better. However, some of his policies also affected the nobility, as he had intentions of reforming it so that it would not pose a potential threat to the government; among these policies was the obligation of the nobility to reside permanently in Tenochtitlan and abandon their homes if they lived elsewhere.
Regarding his economic policies, Moctezuma's rule was largely affected by the natural disasters in the early years. As mentioned before, the famine during his first years as tlatoani resulted in a temporary increase in tribute in some provinces to aid the population. Some provinces, however, ended up paying more tribute permanently, most likely as the result of his primary military focus shifting from territorial expansion to stabilization of the empire through the suppression of rebellions. Most of the provinces affected by these new tributary policies were in the
The famine at the beginning of his rule also resulted in the abolishment of the huehuetlatlacolli system, which was a system of
During his campaign against
Many of these policies were planned together with his uncle
Most of the policies implemented during his rule would not last long after his death, as the empire fell into Spanish control on 13 August 1521 as a result of the
Moctezuma, like many of his predecessors, built a tecpan (palace) of his own. This was a particularly large palace, which was a somewhat larger than the
The palace had a large courtyard which opened into the central plaza of the city to the north, where Templo Mayor was. This courtyard was a place where hundreds of courtiers would hold multiple sorts of activities, including feasts and waiting for royal business to be conducted. This courtyard had around it suites of rooms which surrounded smaller courtyards and gardens.
His residence had many rooms for various purposes. Aside from his own room, at the central part of the upper floor, there were two rooms beside it which were known as coacalli (guest house). One of these rooms was built for the lords of Tlacopan and Texcoco, the other two members of the Triple Alliance, who came to visit. The other room was for the lords of
As part of the construction of Moctezuma's palace, various projects were made which made it more prestigious by providing entertainment to the public.
One of the most famous among these projects was the
The section with animals other than birds, which was decorated with figures of gods associated with the wild, was also considerably varied, having
This place was highly prestigious, and all sorts of important people are said to had used to visit this place, including artists, craftsmen, government officials and blacksmiths.
The Totocalli, however, was burnt and destroyed, along with many other constructions, in the year 1521 during the
Another construction was the
Territorial expansion during his rule, military actions and foreign policy
At the beginning of his rule, he attempted to build diplomatic ties with Tlaxcala, Huexotzinco (today,
An important thing to note is that, contrary to popular belief, Tlaxcala wasn't Mexico's most powerful rival in the central Mexican region in this period, and it wouldn't be until the final years of pre-Hispanic Mexico in 1518—19. In the opening years of the 16th century, Huejotzingo was Mexico's actual military focus, and it proved itself to be one of the most powerful political entities until these final years, as a series of devastating wars weakened the state into being conquered by Tlaxcala.
During his reign, he married the queen of
Early military campaigns
The first military campaign during his rule, which was done in honor of his coronation, was the violent suppression of a rebellion in Nopala and Icpatepec. For this war, a force of over 60,000 soldiers from Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, Tepanec lands, Chalco and Xochimilco participated, and Moctezuma himself went to the frontlines. Approximately 5100 prisoners were taken after the campaign, many of whom were given to inhabitants of Tenochtitlan and Chalco as slaves, while the rest were sacrificed in his honor in the fourth day of his coronation. In Nopala, Mexica soldiers committed a massacre and burned down the temples and houses, going against Moctezuma's wishes. After the campaign, celebrations for his coronation continued in Tenochtitlan. Moctezuma's territorial expansion, however, would not truly begin until another rebellion was suppressed in Tlachquiauhco (today known as Tlaxiaco), where its ruler, Malinalli, was killed after trying to start the rebellion. In this campaign, all adults above the age of 50 within the city were killed under Moctezuma's orders as he blamed them for the rebellion. A characteristic fact about Moctezuma's wars was that a large portion of them had the purpose of suppressing rebellions rather than conquering new territory, contrary to his predecessors, whose main focus was territorial expansion.
During his reign, multiple rebellions were suppressed by use of force, and often ended with violent results. In fact, as mentioned previously, the first campaign during his reign, which was done in honor of his coronation, was the suppression of a rebellion in Nopallan (today known as
After Mexico suffered a humiliating defeat at
Another notable rebellion occurred in Atlixco (in modern-day Puebla), a city neighboring Tlaxcala which had previously been conquered by Ahuizotl. This rebellion occurred in 1508, which was repressed by a prince named Macuilmalinatzin. This wasn't the first conflict which occurred in this region, as its proximity with Tlaxcala and Huejotzingo would cause multiple conflicts to erupt in this area during Moctezuma's reign.
A large series of rebellions occurred in 1510, likely as a result of
The empire's expansion during Moctezuma's rule was mainly focused on southwestern Mesoamerican territories, in Oaxaca and modern-day Guerrero. The earliest conquests in this territory were held by Moctezuma I.
The first important conquest during Moctezuma's rule occurred in the year of 1504, when the city of Achiotlan (today known as San Juan Achiutla) was conquered. This war, according to some sources, was supposedly mainly caused by "a small tree which belonged to a lord of the place which grew such beautiful flowers Moctezuma's envy couldn't resist it," and when Moctezuma asked for it, the lord of the city refused to offer it, thus starting the war. After the conquest, this tree was supposedly taken to Tenochtitlan. The second conquest occurred in Zozollan, a place neighboring east of Achiutla, on 28 May 1506, during the campaign against the Yanhuitlan rebellion. This conquest had a particularly violent result, as a special sacrifice was held after the campaign where the prisoners captured in Zozollan were the victims. "The Mexicans killed many of the people from Zozola [sic] which they captured in war," according to old sources.
In the year of 1507, the year of the
The conquest of Tototepec formed part of the conquests of some of the last few
Quetzaltepec was conquered on the same campaign as Tototepec, as both reportedly murdered the merchants sent by Moctezuma in the area. The Mexica managed to raise an army of 400,000 and first conquered Tototepec. Quetzaltepec was also conquered, but it rebelled along with various sites across Oaxaca soon after when the Mexica lost the Battle of Atlixco against Huejotzingo. Being a fortified city with six walls, the Mexica put the city under siege for several days, with the each of groups of the Triple Alliance attacking from various locations and having over 200 wooden ladders constructed under Moctezuma's orders. The Mexica eventually emerged victorious, successfully conquering the city.
Several military defeats occurred in some of these expansionist campaigns, however, such as the invasion of Amatlan in 1509, where an unexpected series of snowstorms and blizzards killed many soldiers, making the surviving ones too low in numbers to fight.
An important campaign was the conquest of Xaltepec (today known as
After the campaigns in the Oaxaca region, Moctezuma began to move his campaigns into northern and eastern territories around 1514, conquering the site of
Among the final military campaigns carried out by Moctezuma, aside from the late stages of the war against Tlaxcala, were the conquests of Mazatzintlan and Zacatepec, which formed part of the Chichimec region.
The approximate number of military engagements during his rule before European contact was 73, achieving victory in approximately 43 sites (including territories already within the empire), making him one of the most active monarchs in pre-Hispanic Mexican history in terms of military actions.
However, his rule and policies suffered a very sudden interruption upon the news of the arrival of Spanish ships at the east in 1519 (see below).
One of the most controversial events during his reign was the supposed overthrowal of the legitimate government of Nezahualpilli in Texcoco. Historians like Alva Ixtlilxóchitl even went as far as referring to this action as "diabolical," though while also making claims that are not seen in other chronicles and are generally not trusted by modern historians.[N.B. 2]
The circumstances of Nezahualpilli's death are not clear, and many sources offer highly conflicting stories about the events that resulted in it.
According to Alva Ixtlilxóchitl, the issue began when Moctezuma sent an embassy to Nezahualpilli reprimanding him for not sacrificing any Tlaxcalan prisoners since the last 4 years, during the war with Tlaxcala (see below), threatening him saying that he was angering the gods. Nezahualpilli replied to this embassy stating that the reason he hadn't sacrificed them is because he simply didn't want to wage war because he and his population wanted to live peacefully for the time being, as the ceremonies that would be held in the following year, 1 reed, would make war inevitable, and that soon his wishes would be granted. Eventually Nezahualpilli launched a campaign against Tlaxcala, though he did not go himself, instead sending two of his sons, Acatlemacoctzin and Tecuanehuatzin, as commanders. Moctezuma then decided to betray Nezahualpilli by sending a secret embassy to Tlaxcala telling them about the incoming army. The Tlaxcalans then began to take action against the Texcoca while they were unaware of this betrayal. The Texcoco armies were ambushed in the middle of the night. Almost none of the Texcoca survived the fight. Upon receiving the news of Moctezuma's betrayal, understanding that nothing could be done about it and fearing for the future of his people, Nezahualpilli committed suicide in his palace.
This story, however, as mentioned before, is not generally trusted by modern historians, and much of the information given contradicts other sources.
Sources do agree, however, that Nezahualpilli's last years as ruler were mainly characterized by his attempts to live a peaceful life, likely as the result of his old age. He spent his last months mostly inactive in his rule and his advisors, on his own request, took most of the government's decisions during this period. He personally assigned two men (of whom details are mostly unknown) to take control of almost all government decisions. These sources also agree that he was found dead in his palace, but the cause of his death remains uncertain.
His death is recorded to have been mourned in Texcoco, Tenochtitlan, Tlacopan and even Chalco and Xochimilco, as all of these altepeme gave precious offerings, like jewelry and clothes, and sacrifices in his honor. Moctezuma himself was reported to have broken into tears upon receiving the news of his death. His death was mourned for 80 days. This was recorded as one of the largest funeral ceremonies in pre-Hispanic Mexican history.
Since Nezahualipilli died abruptly in the year 1516, he left no indication as to who his successor would be. He had six legitimate sons:
Shortly after the election, Ixtlilxochitl began to prepare his revolt by going to Metztitlán to raise an army, threatening civil war. Cacama went to Tenochtitlan to ask Moctezuma for help. Moctezuma, understanding Ixtlilxochitl's war-like nature, decided to support Cacamatzin with his military forces should a conflict begin and to try to talk Ixtlilxochitl into stopping the conflict, and also suggested taking Nezahualpilli's treasure to Tenochtitlan to prevent a sacking. According to Alva Ixtlilxóchitl, Cacamatzin asked Moctezuma for help after Ixtlilxochitl went to Metztitlán, while other sources claim that Ixtlilxochitl went to Metztitlán because of Cacamatzin's visit to Moctezuma.
Ixtlilxochitl first went to Tulancingo with 100,000 men, where he was received with many honors and recognized as the real king of Texcoco. He then accelerated his pace, possibly because he received worrying news from Texcoco, and advanced to the city of Tepeapulco, where he was also welcomed. He soon advanced to Otompan (today known as Otumba, State of Mexico), where he sent a message before his entrance in hopes of being received as a king there as well. However, the people of Otumba supported Cacamatzin and informed Ixtlilxochitl that such a demand would not be fulfilled. Ixtlilxochitl therefore sent his troops to invade the city, and after a long fight the troops began to gradually retreat and its ruler was killed. When the news of this fight were heard in Texcoco, all events, religious or not, were cancelled, soldiers were recruited, troops were sent from Tenochtitlan to the city and Cacamatzin and Coanacochtli fortified the city to avoid an invasion.
He eventually reached Texcoco and placed the city under siege, while also occupying the cities of Papalotlan, Acolman, Chicuhnautlan (today known as Santa María Chiconautla), Tecacman, Tzonpanco (Zumpango) and Huehuetocan in order to take every possible entrance Moctezuma could use to send his troops to Texcoco. Moctezuma, however, used his influence to enter the city of Texcoco and obtain access to the Acolhua cities not yet occupied by Ixtlilxochitl. Cacamatzin used this opportunity to send a commander from Iztapalapa named Xochitl to arrest Ixtlilxochitl as peacefully as possible. Moctezuma approved this decision and Xochitl was sent along with some troops. Ixtlilxochitl was quickly informed about this and, as per custom of war, informed Xochitl that he was going to fight him. A short battle occurred some time after in which Xochitl was captured and later publicly executed by burning. Once the news of this defeat were heard by Moctezuma, he ordered that no more military engagements shall be done for the moment to prevent further escalation, and that he wanted to rightfully punish Ixtlilxochitl for what he did in a more appropriate moment. In the mean time, the brothers agreed to try to reach a consensus through a peaceful debate, as Ixtlilxochitl did not want to fight either, as he claimed that he only sent the troops as a means of protest and not to actually wage war. However, this would only be done under the condition that Moctezuma wouldn't get involved by any means. The three brothers then agreed to divide the province of Acolhuacan (where Texcoco was the de facto capital) in three parts, one for each brother, and that Cacamatzin would continue to rule over Texcoco.
At some point, however, Ixtlilxochitl sought refuge outside of Texcoco to avoid facing a conflict with Cacamatzin.
This crisis would later become relevant again after the Spanish arrived at Tenochtitlan, when Cacamatzin, who initially welcomed the Spaniards when they first entered in November 1519, attempted to raise an army against them for imprisoning Moctezuma (
Ixtlilxochitl continued fighting for the Spaniards afterwards, became a personal friend of Cortés, converted to Christianity and participated in the Spanish conquest of Honduras in 1525. His figure has remained controversial in the historical record, as some have seen him as a man who betrayed his people for his own ambition, while others have seen him as a brave warrior who fought against the tyrannical rule of Moctezuma II and liberated the peoples he subjugated with the help of Hernán Cortés.
War with Tlaxcala, Huejotzingo and their allies
Though the first conflicts between Mexico and Tlaxcala, Huejotzingo and their allies began during the rule of Moctezuma I in the 1450s, it was during the reign of Moctezuma II when major conflicts broke through.
Battle of Atlixco
|Battle of Atlixco|
|Part of the |
The defeat suffered at the battle of Atlixco against Huejotzingo, according to the Durán Codex
|Commanders and leaders|
|100,000 warriors||Unknown (possibly 100,000 warriors)|
|Casualties and losses|
Possibly over 20,000 killed.|
Possibly over 20,000 killed.|
Planning and preparations
Approximately in the year of 1503 (or 1507, after the conquest of Tototepec, according to historian Diego Durán), a massive battle occurred in Atlixco which was fought mainly against Huejotzingo, a kingdom which used to be one of the most powerful ones in the Valley of Mexico. The war was provoked by Moctezuma himself, who wanted to go to war against Huejotzingo because it had been many months since the last war. The local rulers of the region accepted Moctezuma's proposal to wage this war. It was declared as a flower war, and the invitation to go to war was accepted by the people of Huejotzingo, Tlaxcala, Cholula and Tliliuhquitepec, a city-state nearby. The war was arranged to occur in the plains of Atlixco. Moctezuma went to the fight along with four or five of his brothers and a two of his nephews.
He named one of his brothers (or children, according to some sources), Tlacahuepan, as the main commander of the troops against the troops of Huejotzingo. He was assigned 100,000 troops to fight. Tlacahuepan decided to begin the fight by dividing the troops in three groups which would attack one after the other, the first being the troops from Texcoco, then from Tlacopan and lastly from Tenochtitlan.
He began by sending 200 troops to launch
Regardless, multiple prisoners were taken after the fight, who were later sacrificed in Moctezuma's honor. Tlacahuepan was remembered as a hero despite the loss, and many songs were dedicated to him to be remembered through poetry. In one song called Ycuic neçahualpilli yc tlamato huexotzinco. Cuextecayotl, Quitlali cuicani Tececepouhqui (The song of Nezahualpilli when he took captives in Huexotzinco. [It tells of] the Huastec themes, it was written down by the singer Tececepouhqui), he's referred as "the golden one, the Huastec lord, the owner of the sapota skirt," in reference to the god Xipe Totec, and also states "With the flowery liquor of war, he is drunk, my nobleman, the golden one, the Huastec Lord," in reference to his Huastec heritage, using the stereotype that the Huastecs were drunkards. Anyway, the defeat was a humiliating one, and Moctezuma is said to had cried in anguish upon hearing of the death of Tlacahuepan and the massive loss of soldiers. Moctezuma himself welcomed the soldiers who survived back into Mexico, while the population that welcomed them mourned.
The fact that the Huexotzinca also suffered massive casualties caused their military power to be highly weakened by this battle and various others, and so this could be seen as the beginning of the fall of Huejotzingo, as multiple military losses against Tlaxcala and Mexico in the following years eventually led to its fall, despite the victory in the fight.
Other battles against Huejotzingo and its allies
Various other battles occurred in the following years between Mexico and Huejotzingo, and though none of them were as big as the Battle of Atlixco, they still caused significant losses on both sides; high losses for Mexico and significant losses for Huejotzingo.
An engagement which occurred likely in the year of 1506. This fight was another flower war which was proposed by Cholula, with support from Huejotzingo, to be fought in Cuauhquechollan (today known as Huaquechula, in modern-day Puebla), near Atlixco. Though Moctezuma apparently did not want to fight as the result of the previous defeat in Atlixco, he saw no other option and prepared for the fight. In this fight, warriors from Texcoco, Tlacopan, Chalco, Xochimilco and mondern-day Tierra Caliente participated. This battle reportedly ended with 8200 Mexicas killed or captured. However, the Mexica are said to have dealt a similar number of casualties in this one-day battle. The result of this battle was indecisive, as some reported it as a victory, but it seems Moctezuma II took it as a defeat and was highly upset about it, to the point that he complained against the gods.
Fernando Alvarado Tezozómoc, however, reports that 10,000 Mexicas died in this fight, and that the Mexica were so angry about the fight that they called for reinforcements who committed a "cruel slaughter" and captured 800 more enemies. He lists the number of Huexotzinco-Cholula casualties as 5600 killed and 400 captured in one other engagement afterwards, which resulted in 8200 Mexicas killed or captured.
Invasion of Tlaxcala
It was approximately in the year of 1504 or 1505 when the first large-scale conflicts between Mexico and Tlaxcala began. In this period, Moctezuma thought about placing the entire country under siege, understanding that most of it was surrounded by territories belonging to the empire. The ruler of Huejotzingo, Tecayahuatzin, sympathized with Moctezuma despite their connections with Tlaxcala and conflicts in the past, and through bribes and propaganda attempted to form an alliance with Cholula and local Otomi populations to attack Tlaxcala, though with little success. The Tlaxcalans became greatly worried about this, and began to grow suspicious of all allies they had fearing a betrayal, as Huejotzingo was one of Tlaxcala's closest states, as proven by its support at the battle of Atlixco. Moctezuma, however, had the disadvantage that many of his dominions surrounding Tlaxcala did not want to fight them, as many of them used to be their allies in the past even with all the promises Moctezuma made, and therefore his support was actually quite limited.
One of the first battles occurred in Xiloxochitlan (today known as San Vicente Xiloxochitla), where multiple atrocities were committed. Despite this, the Tlaxcalan resistance managed to hold out, and after a great struggle the Huexotzinca armies were repelled, though during the fight the Ocotelolca commander Tizatlacatzin was killed. Many other smaller battles took place in other parts of the border, though none of them were successful.
In response, Tlaxcala launched a counter-invasion against Huejotzingo, knowing that the Huexotzinca had been severely weakened by their fights with the Mexica Empire;
With the Mexica forces to support Huejotzingo, the invasion continued from the west with the main force from the towns of Cuauhquechollan,
Approximately in the year of 1516, Huejotzingo abandoned its alliance with the empire.
The devastating wars that broke out against Huejotzingo caused this nation, which had been the most powerful nation in the Valley of Puebla in the opening years of the 16th century, to become weak enough to be conquered by Tlaxcala. This was the point in which Tlaxcala became Mexico's most powerful rival in the central Mexican area. The nation which used to be their main military focus was now the subject of a nation which would later bring the killing blow to the Mexica Empire.
The war between Mexico and Tlaxcala would eventually have devastating consequences, as the Tlaxcalans made a decision to form an alliance with Spain against Mexico on 23 September 1519 after a few battles proved that an alliance with this nation could help them destroy Moctezuma's reign.
Contact with the Spanish
First interactions with the Spanish
In 1518, Moctezuma received the first reports of Europeans landing on the east coast of his empire; this was the expedition of Juan de Grijalva who had landed on San Juan de Ulúa, which although within Totonac territory was under the auspices of the Aztec Empire. Moctezuma ordered that he be kept informed of any new sightings of foreigners at the coast and posted extra watch guards and watchtowers to accomplish this.
When Cortés arrived in 1519, Moctezuma was immediately informed and he sent emissaries to meet the newcomers; one of them was an Aztec noble named Tentlil in the Nahuatl language but referred to in the writings of Cortés and Bernal Díaz del Castillo as "Tendile". As the Spaniards approached Tenochtitlán they made an alliance with the Tlaxcalteca, who were enemies of the Aztec Triple Alliance, and they helped instigate revolt in many towns under Aztec dominion. Moctezuma was aware of this and sent gifts to the Spaniards, probably in order to show his superiority to the Spaniards and Tlaxcalteca.
On 8 November 1519, Moctezuma met Cortés on the causeway leading into Tenochtitlán and the two leaders exchanged gifts. Moctezuma gave Cortés the gift of an Aztec calendar, one disc of crafted gold and another of silver. Cortés later melted these down for their monetary value.
According to Cortés, Moctezuma immediately volunteered to cede his entire realm to Charles V, King of Spain. Though some indigenous accounts written in the 1550s partly support this notion, it is still unbelievable for several reasons. As Aztec rulers spoke an overly polite language that needed translation for his subjects to understand, it is difficult to find out what Moctezuma really said. According to an indigenous account, he said to Cortés: "You have come to sit on your seat of authority, which I have kept for a while for you, where I have been in charge for you, for your agents the rulers..." However, these words might be a polite expression that was meant to convey the exact opposite meaning, which was common in Nahua culture; Moctezuma might actually have intended these words to assert his own stature and multigenerational legitimacy. Also, according to Spanish law, the king had no right to demand that foreign peoples become his subjects, but he had every right to bring rebels to heel. Therefore, to give the Spanish the necessary legitimacy to wage war against the indigenous people, Cortés might just have said what the Spanish king needed to hear.
Host and prisoner of the Spaniards
Six days after their arrival, Moctezuma became a prisoner in his own house. Exactly why this happened is not clear from the extant sources.
According to the Spanish, the arrest was made as a result of an attack perpetrated by a tribute collector from
Moctezuma claimed innocence for this incident, claiming that though he was aware of the attack as Quetzalpopoca brought him the severed head of a Spaniard as a demonstration of his success, he never ordered it and was highly displeased by these events.
Around 20 days after his arrest, Quetzalpopoca was captured, together with his son and 15 nobles who allegedly participated in the attack, and after a brief interrogation he admitted that indeed Moctezuma was innocent. He was publicly executed by burning soon after, but Moctezuma remained prisoner regardless.
Despite his imprisonment, Moctezuma continued to live a somewhat comfortable life, being free to perform many of his daily activities and being respected as a monarch. Cortés himself even ordered for any soldiers who disrespected him to be physically and roughly punished regardless of rank or position. However, despite still being treated as a respected monarch, he had virtually lost most of his power as emperor as the Spaniards oversaw nearly all of his activities.
Moctezuma repeatedly protected the Spaniards against potential threats using the little power he had left, either under the threat of the Spanish or by his own will, such as during the succession crisis in Texcoco mentioned above, when he ordered for the ruler of Texcoco, Cacamatzin, to be arrested as he was planning to form an army to attack the Spaniards.
The Aztec nobility reportedly became increasingly displeased with the large Spanish army staying in Tenochtitlán, and Moctezuma told Cortés that it would be best if they left. Shortly thereafter, in April 1520, Cortés left to fight
In the subsequent battles with the Spaniards after Cortés' return, Moctezuma was killed. The details of his death are unknown, with different versions of his demise given by different sources.
In his Historia, Bernal Díaz del Castillo states that on 29 June 1520, the Spanish forced Moctezuma to appear on the balcony of his palace, appealing to his countrymen to retreat. Four leaders of the Aztec army met with Moctezuma to talk, urging their countrymen to cease their constant firing upon the stronghold for a time. Díaz states: "Many of the Mexican Chieftains and Captains knew him well and at once ordered their people to be silent and not to discharge darts, stones or arrows, and four of them reached a spot where Montezuma [Moctezuma] could speak to them."
Díaz alleges that the Aztecs informed Moctezuma that a relative of his had risen to the throne and ordered their attack to continue until all of the Spanish were annihilated, but expressed remorse at Moctezuma's captivity and stated that they intended to revere him even more if they could rescue him. Regardless of the earlier orders to hold fire, however, the discussion between Moctezuma and the Aztec leaders was immediately followed by an outbreak of violence. The Aztecs, disgusted by the actions of their leader, renounced Moctezuma and named his brother Cuitláhuac tlatoani in his place. In an effort to pacify his people, and undoubtedly pressured by the Spanish, Moctezuma was struck dead by a rock. Díaz gives this account:
"They had hardly finished this speech when suddenly such a shower of stones and darts were discharged that (our men who were shielding him having neglected for a moment their duty, because they saw how the attack ceased while he spoke to them) he was hit by three stones, one on the head, another on the arm and another on the leg, and although they begged him to have the wounds dressed and to take food, and spoke kind words to him about it, he would not. Indeed, when we least expected it, they came to say that he was dead."
Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún recorded two versions of the conquest of the Aztec Empire from the Tenochtitlán-Tlatelolco viewpoint. In Book 12 of the twelve-volume Florentine Codex, the account in Spanish and Nahuatl is accompanied by illustrations by natives. One is of the death of Moctezuma II, which the indigenous assert was due to the Spaniards. According to the Codex, the bodies of Moctezuma and Itzquauhtzin were cast out of the Palace by the Spanish; the body of Moctezuma was gathered up and cremated at Copulco.
The Spaniards were forced to flee the city and they took refuge in Tlaxcala, and signed a treaty with the natives there to conquer Tenochtitlán, offering to the Tlaxcalans control of Tenochtitlán and freedom from any kind of tribute.
Moctezuma was then succeeded by his brother Cuitláhuac, who died shortly after during a smallpox epidemic. He was succeeded by his adolescent nephew, Cuauhtémoc. During the siege of the city, the sons of Moctezuma were murdered by the Aztecs, possibly because they wanted to surrender. By the following year, the Aztec Empire had fallen to an army of Spanish and their Native American allies, primarily Tlaxcalans, who were traditional enemies of the Aztecs.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo
The firsthand account of Bernal Díaz del Castillo's True History of the Conquest of New Spain paints a portrait of a noble leader who struggles to maintain order in his kingdom after he is taken prisoner by Hernán Cortés. In his first description of Moctezuma, Díaz del Castillo writes:
The Great Montezuma was about forty years old, of good height, well proportioned, spare and slight, and not very dark, though of the usual Indian complexion. He did not wear his hair long but just over his ears, and he had a short black beard, well-shaped and thin. His face was rather long and cheerful, he had fine eyes, and in his appearance and manner could express geniality or, when necessary, a serious composure. He was very neat and clean, and took a bath every afternoon. He had many women as his mistresses, the daughters of chieftains, but two legitimate wives who were Caciques[N.B. 4] in their own right, and only some of his servants knew of it. He was quite free from sodomy. The clothes he wore one day he did not wear again till three or four days later. He had a guard of two hundred chieftains lodged in rooms beside his own, only some of whom were permitted to speak to him.
When Moctezuma was allegedly killed by being stoned to death by his own people, "Cortés and all of us captains and soldiers wept for him, and there was no one among us that knew him and had dealings with him who did not mourn him as if he were our father, which was not surprising, since he was so good. It was stated that he had reigned for seventeen years, and was the best king they ever had in Mexico, and that he had personally triumphed in three wars against countries he had subjugated. I have spoken of the sorrow we all felt when we saw that Montezuma was dead. We even blamed the Mercedarian friar for not having persuaded him to become a Christian."
Unlike Bernal Díaz, who was recording his memories many years after the fact, Cortés wrote his Cartas de relación (Letters from Mexico) to justify his actions to the Spanish Crown. His prose is characterized by simple descriptions and explanations, along with frequent personal addresses to the King. In his Second Letter, Cortés describes his first encounter with Moctezuma thus:
Moctezuma [sic] came to greet us and with him some two hundred lords, all barefoot and dressed in a different costume, but also very rich in their way and more so than the others. They came in two columns, pressed very close to the walls of the street, which is very wide and beautiful and so straight that you can see from one end to the other. Moctezuma came down the middle of this street with two chiefs, one on his right hand and the other on his left. And they were all dressed alike except that Moctezuma wore sandals whereas the others went barefoot; and they held his arm on either side.
Anthony Pagden and Eulalia Guzmán have pointed out the Biblical messages that Cortés seems to ascribe to Moctezuma's retelling of the legend of Quetzalcoatl as a vengeful
Bernardino de Sahagún
The Florentine Codex, made by Bernardino de Sahagún, relied on native informants from Tlatelolco, and generally portrays Tlatelolco and Tlatelolcan rulers in a favorable light relative to those of Tenochtitlan. Moctezuma in particular is depicted unfavorably as a weak-willed, superstitious, and indulgent ruler. Historian James Lockhart suggests that the people needed to have a scapegoat for the Aztec defeat, and Moctezuma naturally fell into that role.
Fernando Alvarado Tezozómoc
Fernando Alvarado Tezozómoc, who may have written the Crónica Mexicayotl, was possibly a grandson of Moctezuma II. It is possible that his chronicle relates mostly the genealogy of the Aztec rulers. He described Moctezuma's issue and estimates them to be nineteen – eleven sons and eight daughters.
Depiction in early post-conquest literature
Some of the Aztec stories about Moctezuma describe him as being fearful of the Spanish newcomers, and some sources, such as the Florentine Codex, comment that the Aztecs believed the Spaniards to be gods and Cortés to be the returned god Quetzalcoatl. The veracity of this claim is difficult to ascertain, though some recent ethnohistorians specialising in early Spanish/Nahua relations have discarded it as post-conquest mythicalisation.
Much of the idea of Cortés being seen as a deity can be traced back to the Florentine Codex, written some 50 years after the conquest. In the codex's description of the first meeting between Moctezuma and Cortés, the Aztec ruler is described as giving a prepared speech in classical oratorical Nahuatl, a speech which as described verbatim in the codex (written by Sahagún's Tlatelolcan informants) included such prostrate declarations of divine or near-divine admiration as, "You have graciously come on earth, you have graciously approached your water, your high place of Mexico, you have come down to your mat, your throne, which I have briefly kept for you, I who used to keep it for you," and, "You have graciously arrived, you have known pain, you have known weariness, now come on earth, take your rest, enter into your palace, rest your limbs; may our lords come on earth." While some historians such as
Indigenous accounts of omens and Moctezuma's beliefs
Bernardino de Sahagún (1499–1590) includes in Book 12 of the Florentine Codex eight events said to have occurred prior to the arrival of the Spanish. These were purportedly interpreted as signs of a possible disaster, e.g. a comet, the burning of a temple, a crying ghostly woman, and others. Some speculate that the Aztecs were particularly susceptible to such ideas of doom and disaster because the particular year in which the Spanish arrived coincided with a "tying of years" ceremony at the end of a 52-year cycle in the Aztec calendar, which in Aztec belief was linked to changes, rebirth, and dangerous events. The belief of the Aztecs being rendered passive by their own superstition is referred to by Matthew Restall as part of "The Myth of Native Desolation" to which he dedicates chapter 6 in his book Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. These legends are likely a part of the post-conquest rationalization by the Aztecs of their defeat, and serve to show Moctezuma as indecisive, vain, and superstitious, and ultimately the cause of the fall of the Aztec Empire.
According to 16th-century Spanish historian Diego Durán, who was one of the most important chroniclers of the indigenous stories of the empire, Nezahualpilli was among those who informed Moctezuma of the imminent destruction of the empire by a foreign invader, warning him that omens confirming his fears will soon appear. This warning caused Moctezuma great fear and took a series of erratic decisions immediately after, such as severe punishments against his own soldiers for disappointing results after battles against the Tlaxcalans.