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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Montezuma II


Montezuma II (variant spellings include Moctezuma, Moteuczoma, Motecuhzoma) was born in around 1466. in Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City).

His father Axayacatl was the Tlatoani (king of the Aztec empire.)

As a child, Montezuma would have been disciplined for even minor infringements. Disobedient boys were pierced by cactus spikes. Disobedient girls made to inhale chili smoke.

Montezuma leaned to read and write using glyphs and studied astrology, history and medicine. He also practiced how to use bows, arrows, swords and other weapons.


Originally trained to be a chief priest, Montezuma was the head of the Calmecac, the school of the upper classes. Following the death of his uncle, Montezuma became the Tlatoani in 1502.

The personality of Montezuma was more that of a scholar (tlatimine) than a warrior. A philosopher king, he was sensitive and kind for a man of his era, but still ruthless at times.

Moctezuma II in the Codex Mendoza

Legend says Montezuma 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.

After he took the charge, Montezuma dismissed most of the authorities, and replaced them with his former students. His general dislike of macehualtin (commoners) led him to create an elaborate ritual to separate him from the common people.

Despite his scholarly temperament and priestly training, Montezuma was a distinguished warrior. He extended the Aztec Empire to modern day Honduras and Nicaragua.


Montezuma wore colorful clothes of richly embroidered cotton and necklaces and collars made of pearls or gold. On his head he wore  magnificent headdresses and at times masks.

Aztec feather headdress attributed to Moctezuma II 

Montezuma ate plenty of spicy food made from hot chilies and sweet peppers, especially tortillas made from corn. For meat he consumed deer, rabbit, turkey, even dog with beans and as a snack roasted ground seeds.

At the end of a meal, Montezuma habitually consumed a thick, dyed red chocolate drink flavored with chili peppers served to him in a golden goblet.

Montezuma once bred a hairless dog that was used as a pet until it was killed and eaten in a stew.

He had many wives and concubines but only two women were his Queens – Tlapalizquixochtzin and Teotlalco.


Montezuma's priestly training was his downfall as he believed mistakenly thought the return of Quetzacoatl incarnated in Conquistador Hernán Cortés. It paralyzed him and his Aztec army until it was too late.

When Cortés arrived in 1519, Montezuma was immediately informed and he chose to welcome the Conquistador as an honored guest. On November 8, 1519, Montezuma met Cortés on the causeway leading into Tenochtitlan and the two leaders exchanged gifts. Montezuma gave Cortés the gift of an Aztec calendar, one disc of crafted gold and another of silver.

Cortés and La Malinche meet Moctezuma in Tenochtitlan, November 8, 1519.

Montezuma wanted to find out if Cortés and his fellow Spaniards were gods or mortals. So he tested the matter with gifts of food. His first offerings made the Spaniards feel ill because he had caused them to be splattered with blood, thinking this would be suitable for gods. Later they feasted agreeably on (according to Fray Bernardino de Sahagun's contemporary account ) “white tortillas, grains of maize, turkey eggs, turkeys” and over 20 different types of fruit including four varieties of sweet potato, avocados and some cacti. They flinched from chocolate at first, but when the Indians set the example they drank and found it tasted good.

Montezuma brought Cortés to his palace where the Conquistador and his fellow Spaniards lived as his guests for several months. At some time during that period Montezuma became a prisoner in his own house. Exactly how this happened is not clear.

Montezuma's subjects besieged the palace where he was being held and in an effort to assuage the raging mob, he appeared on the balcony appealing to his countrymen to retreat. The people were appalled by their king's complicity with the Spanish and pelted him with rocks and darts. He died a short time after the attack on June 29, 1520.

Death and cremation of Moctezuma as depicted in the Florentine Codex, Book 12

Following the conquest, Moctezuma's daughter Techichpotzin became known as Isabel Moctezuma. She was given a large estate by Cortés, who also fathered a child by her, Leonor Cortés Moctezuma.

The grandson of Moctezuma II was baptized and married a Spanish noblewoman. His son became the first count of Moctezuma and his descendants are a part of Spanish nobility to this day.

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