General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 28 Jan 2020/11 Jaguar
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Model encounter between Aztec warrior and Spanish conquistador

Encounters* Countdown (2): our guide to the quincentennial of the Spanish invasion of Mexico...

This is the second part of our month-by-month itinerary commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Spanish-Aztec War, in partnership with Professor Matthew Restall (on our Panel of Experts), closely following the timeline published in his highly recommended book When Montezuma Met Cortés: The True Story of the Meeting that Changed History (Harper Collins, 2018). We’re sincerely grateful to Professor Restall for providing this scholarly and timely running commentary... (Photo: Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

‘The ruler’s animals’, Florentine Codex, Book VIII
‘The ruler’s animals’, Florentine Codex, Book VIII (Click on image to enlarge)

Dec. 14th. According to a later claim by Cortés, Montezuma has now been a willing captive of the conquistadors for a month. Furthermore, early in December the great speaker of the Aztecs supposedly reiterated his surrender to the invaders before a Spanish notary and an audience of weeping nobles. If we believe such a story, which was repeated by Spanish chroniclers and others for centuries, then we are accepting that for a period of roughly 235 days - beginning with that momentous first meeting on November 8 - the great realm of the Aztecs was ruled by a handful of Spanish captains through an imprisoned emperor. The story is, of course, preposterous. Evidence suggests the opposite: the invaders were guests of an emperor who passionately loved hunting and collecting; they had been hunted and were now part of his collection.

‘Taking Cortés by the hand, Montezuma pointed out the localities of the neighbourhood’; ‘The Conquest of Mexico’ (Prescott/Henderson)
‘Taking Cortés by the hand, Montezuma pointed out the localities of the neighbourhood’; ‘The Conquest of Mexico’ (Prescott/Henderson) (Click on image to enlarge)

January. We have almost no specific dates for events in Tenochtitlan during these early months of 1520. Neither Spaniards nor Aztecs appear to have kept records at the time. Cortés and the few conquistadors who survived both their months as Montezuma’s guests and the year of warfare that followed later claimed that the emperor freely revealed “the secrets of his lands.” What secrets? As a proud and powerful ruler, Montezuma seems to have enjoyed giving his guests extended tours of the city and the valleys around it. Conversations about his empire also gave him a chance to better understand the invaders. The emperor’s extensive zoos, gardens, and collections were a way to display the bounty of his empire - and also to learn about everything in it, including these strange newcomers.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Dec 15th 2019