Where Did Montezuma Die?
Montezuma was an emperor of the 16th Century ruling over the Aztec empire from one of the greatest capitals in the world at that time-Tenochtitlan in what is now Mexico. Montezuma, variant spellings include Moctezuma II, Moteuczoma, Motecuhzoma and referred to in full by early Nahuatl texts as Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin (Moctezuma the Young, modern Nahuatl pronunciation), was the ninth tlatoani or ruler of Tenochtitlan, reigning from 1502 to 1520.
The first contact between indigenous civilizations of Mesoamerica and Europeans took place during his reign, and he was killed during the initial stages of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, when conquistador Hernán Cortés and his men fought to escape from the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan.
During his reign the Aztec Empire reached its greatest size. Through warfare, Moctezuma expanded the territory as far south as Xoconosco in Chiapas and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and incorporated the Zapotec and Yopi people into the empire. He changed the previous meritocratic system of social hierarchy and widened the divide between pipiltin (nobles) and macehualtin (commoners) by prohibiting commoners from working in the royal palaces.
“It was like an enchantment… on account of the great towers and temples rising from the water… things never heard of, nor seen, nor even dreamed.”
So wrote the Spanish chronicler Bernal Díaz of the city of some 200,000 people. Montezuma’s capital was on an island in Lake Texcoco which had been enlarged by a system of drainage canals, and was joined to the shore by causeways.
Across these causeways Hernán Cortés in 1519 led a force of 400 Spaniards, to be greeted by Montezuma as a god. The Spaniards were shown over the shrine-topped pyramids where human sacrifices were made to the Aztecs’ stern war god, Huitzilopochtli.
“The figure… had a very broad face and monstrous and terrible eyes, and the whole of his body was covered with precious stones, and gold and pearls… There were some braziers and in them were burning the hearts of three Indians they had sacrificed that day.”
Díaz wrote, describing the scene he witnessed with Cortés. The Aztecs held the Spaniards in awe, but suspicion took over and they realized that Cortés was no god. In this atmosphere, Cortés took Montezuma as a hostage. Hostilities flared, and Montezuma was injured and died.
In the Noche Triste or Night of Sadness which followed, the Spaniards were all but annihilated by the Aztecs. Cortés and some of his men escaped. A year later they captured Tenochtitlan and razed it to the ground. The Spaniards built a town upon the ruins. It is still the capital of a nation-Mexico City.