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Civilization: Hispanic — Aztec
   Field of Renown:  chieftain — Aztecs
Era:  Mexico

Montezuma was the ruler of the Aztecs at the time of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico. He was assumed to be about forty years old at the time of the invasion. Little is known with certainty of the details of his life prior to meeting the Spaniards but his personality and disposition towards them is well recorded. Although he is said to have led the Aztecs to victory in at least three wars during his reign, the sovereign known to the Spanish was mild mannered and unwarlike. The Aztecs had risen to a position of dominance over the surrounding tribes in previous generations, so it is probable that the royal family of his age led a luxurious rather than a vigorous life.

Montezuma first heard of invasion of the White Men in 1517, at the time of a previous expedition. From that point on he had spies posted to report on every event. Soon after Cortez landed his forces at Veracruz, Montezuma sent an ambassador bearing gifts, asking that the Spanish leave his kingdom. The gifts were so richly inlaid with gold that they served the opposite purpose, and steeled the Spaniards' will stay and conquer.

It is curious that Montezuma did not send an army to meet the Spaniards, since the Aztec warriors were feared throughout Mexico. It is speculated that Montezuma believed that Cortez the God Quetzalcoatl returning to claim his throne. It is also thought that the Aztecs might have conspired with the Cholulans to kill the Spaniards through treachery. It may also be that the Aztecs believed that the Spaniards were immortal do to their success fighting the Tlaxcalans. In any case, Montezuma allowed Cortez to approach unmolested and greated him at the city gates.

It was the Spaniards plan to get Montezuma within their power, and they succeeded in doing so, by inviting him to their place of residence and refusing to allow him to leave. For several months he lived among the Spaniards and during that time won their affection with his well-mannered resignation. Eventually sentiment turned against the Spaniards and the Aztecs became threatening. Cortez required that Montezuma appear at the palace window to calm the crowds, but his presence only riled the crowd. The Aztecs considered Montezuma a traitor for failing to oppose the foreigners and threw rocks at him. He died shortly thereafter from his injuries.

The Spaniards hid the death of Montezuma to the best of their abilities, since the point of keeping him prisoner was to protect their residence from attack. Once he was dead they knew they were no longer safe in the city, and planned a daring escape. The resulting midnight battle, during which a third of the Spaniards were killed or injured is known as La Noche Triste—The Tragic Night.

Key events during the life of Montezuma:

Birth of Montezuma.
First reports of Grijalva's expedition on the West Coast of Mexico.
Sends and ambassador to meet Cortez while still on the coast.
Nov: Greets Cortez outside the city of Tenochtitlan and exchanges gifts.
Becomes a house-prisoner of the Spaniards.
May: Spaniards massacre a group of priests in the main temple.
June: Death of Montezuma, followed by La Noche Triste

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
In the City of Mexico  in  Child's History of Spain  by  John Bonner
Cortes Conquers the Aztec Empire  in  The Story of Mexico  by  Charles Morris
In the City of Mexico  in  Hernando Cortes  by  Frederick Ober
Montezuma  in  Brave Men and Brave Deeds  by  M. B. Synge
Montezuma  in  Discovery of New Worlds  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

The Death of Montezuma
 in South American Fights and Fighters

The kind King Montezuma wanted peace, and said that he would give the Spaniards more gold if they would only go back to their own country.
 in The Men Who Found America

 in Mexico

Return to your homes. Lay down your arms.'
 in Mexico

Montezuma, Emperor of Mexico
 in The Story of Mexico

The fall of Montezuma
 in The Story of Mexico

Montezuma Xocojotzin
 in History of Mexico

Meeting of Cortez and Montezuma
 in History of Mexico

 in Hernando Cortes

Montezuma's Appeal
 in Brave Men and Brave Deeds

He is a slave no longer' said Montezuma
 in Our Little Aztec Cousin

Short Biography
Hernando Cortez With a small army, allied with local tribes, conquered Aztecs of Mexico.
Alvarado Chief lieutenant and second in Command to Cortez during the conquest of Mexico.
Dona Marina Indian slave who acted as consort and translator for Cortez during his conquest of Mexico. Important in the conquest of Mexico.
Ixtlil of Tezcuco Nephew of Montezuma. Allied with Cortez against his uncle, and ruled as the last king of the Aztec.
Guatemozin Nephew of Montezuma who took over leadership of the Aztecs at his death.