Moctezuma II

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Montezuma and Moctezuma redirect here. For other uses, see Montezuma.

Moctezuma II (also Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin) (14661520) was an Aztec ruler or "huey tlatoani", c.15021520.



He is sometimes referred to as Moctezuma, without the II suffix. Montezuma is an older English spelling of the name, while Moctezuma is commonly used in Spanish. Motecuhzoma is the original name in Nahuatl, pronounced Mo–tekw–so–ma (four syllables), meaning "he who makes himself ruler by his rage". It comes from mo, third person possessive, tecuhtli, "lord", and zoma, "angry" or "with frown face". The use of a regnal number is only for modern distinction from the first Moctezuma, referred to as Moctezuma I. The Aztec cronicles called him Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin while the first was called Motecuhzoma Ilhuicamina in Nahuatl or Huehuemotecuhzoma (Old Moctezuma). Xocoyotzin means "the honoured young one", pronounced Sho–ko–yo–tsin (whereas Xocoyotl would simply mean "the young one" or "junior").


Moctezuma II, heir of Auitzotl, was the ruler of the city of Tenochtitlan.

The personality of Moctezuma was more that of a scholar (tlatimine) than a warrior. He was a priest and the head of the Calmecac, the school of the upper classes. Legend says he did not want to be a tlatoani. After he was elected, messengers were sent everywhere to look for him. They found him cleaning a temple.

In 1502, after he took the charge, he dismissed most of the authorities, and replaced them with his former students. His general dislike of people led him to create an elaborate ritual to separate him from common people.

Two of his official acts suggest a strange personality. He created a special temple, dedicated to the gods of the conquered towns, inside of the temple of Huitzilopochtli. He also built a monument dedicated to the tlatoani Tízoc, a ruler regarded as weak and inept, who may have been poisoned.

During his reign, he increased Tenochtitlan's power to utterly dominate its sister cities of Texcoco and Tlatelolco.

Contact with the Spanish

Legend has it that there were eight signs in the ten years prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, signalling the collapse of the Aztec empire:

  1. A comet appeared in the sky during the day.
  2. A pillar of fire (possibly the comet) appeared in the night sky.
  3. The temple of Huitzilopochtli was destroyed by fire.
  4. A bolt of lightning struck the Tzonmolco temple.
  5. Tenochtitlan was flooded.
  6. Strange people with many heads but one body were seen walking through that city.
  7. A woman was heard weeping a dirge for the Aztecs.
  8. A strange bird was caught. When Moctezuma looked into its mirror-like eyes, he saw unfamiliar men landing on the coast.

In the spring of 1519, he received the first reports of aliens landing on the east coast of his empire. Moctezuma sent an ambassador with two costumes, one of Tlaloc, and another of Quetzalcoatl. Each Aztec god had his own attributes: Tlaloc had a mask that looks like it is wearing eye glasses; Quetzalcoatl had a mask with a beard. The Aztec ambassador, upon meeting the Spaniard Hernán Cortés, decided that the conquistador had the attributes of Quetzalcoatl, and dressed him like the god, then informed Moctezuma about it. Cortés decided to march to Tenochtitlán. Moctezuma tried to prevent his approach, sending more gifts, but the lure of gold was irresistible to the Spaniards. Moctezuma also sent wizards, priests, and even one of his ambasadors, Tzihuacpopoca, who pretended to be the emperor. Moctezuma sent yet more presents when Cortés arrived near Tenochtitlán. The Aztec account (compiled after the conquest by Sahagún) says:

They gave the Spanish gold flags, flags of quetzal feathers, and gold necklaces. And when they had given them this, their faces were smiling, they were very glad (the Spaniards), they were delighted. As if they were monkeys they picked up gold, because they seated in such gesture, as if their hearts were renewed and illuminated.
Because true it is that that is what they yearn for with great thirst. Their chests widen, they are furiously hungry for it. Like hungry pigs they crave gold

An account by Hernando Tezozómoc (1598) records a story of how Moctezuma sent emissaries to find the legendary wizard and prophet, Huemac, (the legend says he predicted the arriving of Quetzalcoatl one thousands years before) to ask protection and be his servant. Three times he sent emissaries, and three times Huemac refused. He recommended instead that Moctezuma abandon all luxuries, the flowers and the perfumes, make penitence and eat the same food of the poor, and drink only boiled water, and maybe he would help him. This is only a legend, but it reflects the inner fears of Moctezuma.

Meeting place of Moctezuma and Hernán Cortés
Meeting place of Moctezuma and Hernán Cortés

On November 8, 1519, Moctezuma met Hernán Cortés, whom he believed to be the god Quetzalcoatl. When Cortés arrived in Tenochtitlán, Moctezuma honored him with flowers from his own garden, which was the greatest honor he could offer. Cortés ordered a halt to all human sacrifices: Moctezuma complied, the blood of the temple was scrubbed away, and the images of the Aztec gods were replaced with Christian icons. Moctezuma even agreed to be baptized and declared himself a subject of the Spanish king Charles I of Spain. Moctezuma received Cortés in the Axayacatl palace with all his men and 3,000 Indian allies.

Much speculation surrounds this subject: writers like León Portilla and Laurette Séjourné think that the Aztec upper classes were aware that they had betrayed the ideals of the religion of Quetzalcoatl. The levels of human sacrifice among the Aztecs were a result of the reforms of Tlacaelel. Moctezuma was a scholar (tlatimine) and certainly knew all this. Moctezuma was not a coward — in Aztec society he would not have risen to the position of tlatoani had he not demonstrated bravery — yet he acted with fear in the presence of Cortés. He submitted willingly to all the Spaniard's requests.

During Cortés's absence, deputy governor Pedro de Alvarado interrupted the Aztec celebration of Toxcatl, killing the most prominent people of the Aztec upper classes in what is known as "The Massacre in the Main Temple"; estimates of the death toll range from 350 to 1,000. The people rose up in revolt, and the Spanish seized Moctezuma as a captive. On July 1, 1520, in an effort to assuage the raging mob, Moctezuma appeared on the balcony of his palace, appealing to his countrymen to retreat. The people were appalled by their emperor's complicity with the Spanish and pelted him with rocks and darts. He died a short time after the attack, but there are differing accounts of precisely how he died. According to Father Sahagun's Aztec informants, Alvarado 'garrotted all the nobles he had in power', Cortez reported he died wounded by a stone (in some history books, Cuautemoc was the culprit, but the source is not reported). In the Ramírez Codex, by an anonymous christianized Aztec, he criticizes the Spanish priests, because instead of administering the last sacraments to Moctezuma, they were occupied searching for gold.


Moctezuma was then succeeded by his brother Cuitláhuac, who died shortly after from smallpox and was replaced by his adolescent nephew, Cuauhtémoc. By the following year, the Aztec empire had entirely succumbed to the Spanish. During this time of conquest, Moctezuma's daughter, Techichpotzin, became the heiress to the king's wealth with the name "Isabel", and would eventually marry several Spanish men. The title Moctezuma still is the name of a Spanish house.

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Related facts

Preceded by:
Tlatoani of Tenochtitlán
Succeeded by:
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