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The Last Aztec Ruler – Montezuma II
Posted In: Ancient Civilizations  10/10/11
By: Yona Williams

Montezuma II was removed from power by Spanish invaders and killed in June of 1520. This made him the last ruler of the Aztecs. In this article, you will learn about what he accomplished during his reign and the factors that led to his downfall.

Montezuma was the ninth ruler of Tenochtitlan, and reigned from 1502 to 1520. During his rule, the indigenous civilizations of Mesoamerica first came in contact with the Europeans. When he died, Mexico was experiencing the first phase of the Spanish conquest of the land. The Aztec Empire reached its largest size when Montezuma was the ruler. He used warfare tactics to expand the territory that eventually reached as far south as Xoconosco in Chiapas. The social hierarchy of the region also changed with his actions, as the gap between the nobles and commoners widened. For instance, he forbade commoners from working in the royal palaces.

The legacy of the ruler is often overshadowed by the fall of the Aztec Empire when the Spanish took over. In 1517, Montezuma received word that Europeans were landing on the east coast of his empire. This was part of the expedition of Juan de Grijalva, who had landed on San Juan de Ulua. Montezuma wanted to be kept abreast on the activities and new developments of the foreigners. Watch guards were posted to keep him informed.

When the conquistador Cortes arrived in 1519, Montezuma sent emissaries to meet the men, which included an Aztec noble. The Spaniards made their way to the capital city and also made an alliance with the Tlaxcalteca, who were enemies of the Aztec Triple Alliance. Because of this, it made it easier to cause revolt within the Aztec Empire. Montezuma became aware of this tactic and decided to send gifts to the Spaniards. It is thought that he believed this would show his superiority to the people that opposed him.

On November 8, 1519, Montezuma met Cortes on the causeway that lead into Tenochtitlan. It was then that the two leaders exchanged gifts. Cortes was given an Aztec calendar, one disc of crafted gold and another of silver. Later accounts tell that Cortes melted down his gifts to take advantage of their material value. Montezuma brought Cortes to his palace and he invited the Spaniards to live on the grounds as his guests. They stayed for several months, and during this time. Montezuma continued to rule his empire. It is said that the rule even conquered new territory while the Spaniards were in the capital city.

During this time period, Montezuma became a prisoner in his own palace. Sources are not clear how this shift took place, but some theorize that the Aztec nobility were not happy that the large Spanish army was staying in Tenochtitlan. Montezuma eventually told Cortes that it would be best if they left, where the conquistador left. While Cortes was gone, a massacre took place in the main temple where prominent members of the Aztec upper classes were killed. This caused great tension between the Spaniards and Aztecs. When Cortes returned, fighting erupted and Montezuma was killed during the battle.  


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