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Moctezuma II (c. 1466 – 29 June 1520)

Moctezuma II was the son of Axayacatl, who was an Aztec emperor. His full name was Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin which can be translated as "Moctezuma the Young" (Moctezuma I was his grandfather). The name Moctezuma means "angry like a Lord" or similar. European writers started writing his name as "Montezuma."

Ruling over a large empire

At its peak (under Moctezuma II), the Aztec Empire covered 117,501 square miles of what is now modern Mexico. Three major city-states: Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan, had formed what was to become the Triple Alliance, which conquered neighboring civilizations and expanded rapidly. Moctezuma II continued the military expansion of the Aztec Empire right up to the fateful meeting with Europeans...

European encounters and Hernan Cortés

Moctezuma II became ruler of the Aztec Empire in 1502. In 1517, an Aztec delegation met with Juan de Grijalva, a Spanish conquistador, who had been exploring the region. In 1519, Hernán Cortés arrived in Aztec territory and he met Moctezuma II in person. The two men exchanged gifts and the Aztec emperor invited the Spanish visitors to stay in Tenochtitlan. However, this initial pleasantry would eventually turn to bloodshed...

Dan the Info-man
This painting is a romanticized imagining of the meeting between Moctezuma II and Hernán Cortés.

Massacres, murders and mayhem

Moctezuma II's apparent friendliness was possibly seen as a weakness. He became a prisoner in his own palace, with the conquistadors using him to secure their safety. However, in 1520 a great slaughter occurred when Spanish soldiers attacked Aztecs in the Great Temple. The massacre was brutal, with women and children being murdered, too. Cortés had been away at this time, but when he returned the Spanish Conquest was in full swing. Moctezuma II was killed soon afterwards - either by his own people for being too complicit with the Spanish, or murdered by the conquistadors before they escaped from Tenochtitlan...

Dan the Info-man
This image gives an idea of the sheer brutality of the Battle of Tenochtitlan, which took place in 1521. The new emperor, Cuauhtémoc (Moctezuma's cousin), was captured.

The end of an era...but Moctezuma's bloodline continues

The Spanish soon returned with thousands of Tlaxcalan warriors as support. The Fall of Tenochtitlan (1521) was the decisive blow of the conquest of the Aztec Empire. Hundreds of thousands of Aztecs were killed. However, in a somewhat ironic twist, Hernan Cortés fathered a child with Moctezuma's daughter, Techichpotzin (also called Isabel Moctezuma). Even stranger is the fact that a great-grandson of Moctezuma married into Spanish nobility and his descendants were eventually granted the title of Duke of Moctezuma de Tultengo!

Dan the Info-man
Tenochtitlan was on an island in Lake Texcoco - several causeways joined the island to the mainland. The city's ruins are now part of Mexico City's downtown area.

Conflicting legacy

Moctezuma II made decisions that historians have puzzled over for centuries. Why was he so friendly with the Spanish? He is associated with the downfall of the empire he ruled (although he wasn't the last Aztec emperor). It is possible he is used as a scapegoat - that he was simply trying to be diplomatic and was considering things such as trade and the benefit of his people. Regardless, over 500 years after his birth, he is still known as arguably the most famous Aztec emperor - even if it's just for "Montezuma's revenge"!

Dan the Info-man
This image shows Moctezuma II in the Codex Mendoza, a book written by Aztecs just after they were conquered by the Spanish.
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