One of the most well known Aztec rulers in history, Montezuma II met his end in 1520 during the Spanish conquest of Tenochitlan.
Originally a priest in the temple of the war god Huitzilopochtli, Montezuma II rose to power only to lose his capital, Tenochitlan, to the Spanish conquistadors and then be killed in Spanish custody.
Montezuma II’s Early Years
Montezuma was born in Tenochitlan (now Mexico City) in 1480. He spent much of his formative years studying science, art and more than anything else religion as his training to become a priest in the temple of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war. Also trained in warfare, Montezuma played an integral part in the numerous Aztec wars.
Aztec Emperor Montezuma II
Montezuma rose to power in 1502, succeeding his uncle Ahuitzotl to the throne. Several sources describe Montezuma as a proud ruler who instead of focusing on reality, gave into the power of omens and prophecies. When Montezuma assumed control of the Aztec Empire it was at its largest, stretching from modern Honduras to Nicaragua, but during his reign it was weakened but the resentment of subject tribes because of his need for more tribute and more human sacrifices. He increased taxes on merchants trading withing his boundaries and had all the plebeians removed from his court. Because of his actions as Emperor, revolts and wars broke out between several different tribes and the Aztec capital of Tenochitlan.
The Conquest of Tenochitlan
Being a priest, Montezuma believed that Quetzalcoatl, the white, bearded god of civilization was about to return to the Aztecs and rule over them. In 1519, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez (a white man with a thick beard) arrived on the shores of Mexico and Montezuma and the Aztecs instantly assumed that Cortez was Quetzalcoatl. Montezuma sent a group of nobles to meet the Spanish and offer them gifts. But on his way to the city Cortez had met and sided with the Tlaxcala who had been one of the tribes who had led revolts against the Aztecs.
Unaware of the alliance, Montezuma welcomed Cortez into the city and allowed him and his men to live in his palace for several months. During this time the Spanish captured Montezuma, holding him prisoner in his own palace and forcing him to be their political puppet. They made him summon all his chiefs and order them to obey the Spaniards and to begin collecting tribute of gold for the Spanish King. Cortez didn’t remain in Tenochitlan for long as he heard that a group of men from Spain was coming to limit his power. So Cortez left Tenochitlan to try to convince this new group to join him, leaving one of his lieutenants in charge of the city when he was gone.
Montezuma took advantage of his departure, leading an uprising against the remaining Spaniards and barricaded them inside the palace with no food. When Cortez returned, his men were starving and he ordered Montezuma to get them supplies, but he refused so Cortez released one of the Aztec chiefs named Cuitlahuac to do it instead. Cuitlahuac used this freedom to take control of the Aztec revolt and a riot broke out in the city. Cortez, in an attempt to quell the fighting, eventually convinced Montezuma to address his people and tell them to obey the Spanish.
Cortez believed that if had control of Montezuma that he could control the Indians as well, but instead of listening to what Montezuma had to say, the Aztecs threw stones and shot arrows at him. Three days later on June 30, 1520, Montezuma died, although no one knows whether it was from injuries sustained while giving his address or by the hands of the Spanish who didn’t need him anymore.