Humanities Week 4
Read “Different Accounts of the Death of Aztec King Motecuhzoma (Montezuma)
Excerpts from the “Account of Alva Ixtlilxochiltl” (1519) 1966. “The Account of Alva Ixtlilxochitl.” The Broken Spears. Edited and Translated by Miguel León-Portilla. Boston: Beacon Press. Bernal Díaz. 1956. “Account of Moctezuma’s Death.” The Bernal Díaz Chronicles. Edited by Albert Idell. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company.
Following the treaty with the Tlaxcalans, the Spaniards marched to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán (present site of Mexico City) where they captured the Aztec emperor Montezuma. Subsequently, a battle took place between Cortéz’s men and the Aztecs, forcing the conquistador and his men to flee the city. During the flight and ensuing battle, Montezuma was killed. His death marked a point of no return for Spaniards and Aztecs alike, though there is considerable debate over who exactly killed Montezuma. That the Aztecs and Spaniards each tried to vilify and hold accountable the other is not surprising. Excerpts from two versions — one Aztec and one Spanish — of what happened, though, demonstrate more than just finger-pointing and the inability to determine exactly what happened. They demonstrate the divisions and tensions that the Aztecs experienced even at the heart of their own empire. Moreover, they suggest that the Spaniards, in assuming Montezuma had no cause to be accountable to his people, might have allowed their own assumptions about kingship in Europe to mislead them.
Excerpts from the “Account of Alva Ixtlilxochitl”
Cortes turned in the direction of Tenochtitlan and entered the city of Tezcoco. He was received only by a group of knights, because the legitimate sons of King Nezahualpilli had been hidden by their servants, and the other lords were being held by the Aztecs as hostages. He entered Tenochtitlan with his army of Spaniards and allies on the day of St. John the Baptist, without being molested in any way.
The Mexicans gave them everything they needed, but when they saw that Cortes had no intention of leaving the city or of freeing their leaders, they rallied their warriors and attacked the Spaniards. This attack began on the day after Cortes entered the city and lasted for seven days.
On the third day, Motecuhzoma climbed onto the rooftop and tried to admonish his people, but they cursed him and shouted that he was a coward and a traitor to his country. They even threatened him with their weapons. It is said that an Indian killed him with a stone from his sling, but the palace servants declared that the Spaniards put him to death by stabbing him in the abdomen with their swords.
On the seventh day, the Spaniards abandoned the city along with the Tlaxcaltecas, the Huexotzincas and their other allies. They fled down the causeway that leads out to Tlacopan. But before they left, they murdered King Cacama of Tezcoco, his three sisters and two of his brothers.
There are several accounts by Indians who took part in the fighting that ensued. They tell how their warriors killed a great many of the Spaniards and their allies, and how the army took refuge on a mountain near Tlacopan and then marched to Tlaxcala.
Account of Montezuma’s Death in Bernal Díaz’s True Story of the Conquest of Mexico
Here Cortés showed himself to be every inch a man, as he always was. Oh, what a fight! What a battle we had! It was something to see us dripping blood and covered with wounds, and others killed, but it pleased Our Lord that we should make our way to the place where we had kept the image of Our Lady. We did not find it, and it seems, as we learned later, Montezuma had become devoted to her and had ordered her to be cared for. We set fire to their idols and burned a good part of the room, with great help from the Tlaxcalans.
After this was done, while we were making our way back down, the priests that were in the temple and the three or four thousand Indians made us tumble six or even ten steps. There were other squadrons in the breastworks and recesses of the great cu, discharging so many javelins and arrows that we could not face one group or another, so we decided to return to our quarters, our towers destroyed and everybody wounded, with sixteen dead and the Indians continually pressing us. However clearly I try to tell about this battle, I can never explain it to anyone who wasn’t there. We captured two of their principal priests and Cortés ordered us to take good care of them.
Many times I have seen paintings of this battle among the Mexicans and Tlaxcalans, showing how we went up the great temple, for they look upon it as a very heroic feat.
… The night was spent in treating wounds and burying the dead, preparing to fight the next day, strengthening the walls they had torn down, and consulting as to how we could fight without sustaining so many casualties, but we found no solution at all. I want to tell about the curses that the followers of Narváez threw at Cortés, and how they damned him and the country and even Diego Velázquez for sending them there, when they had been peacefully settled in their homes in Cuba.
To return to our story. We decided to ask for peace so that we could leave Mexico. With dawn came many more squadrons of warriors, and when Cortés saw them, he decided to have Montezuma speak to them from a rooftop and tell them to stop the fighting and that we wished to leave his city. They say that he answered, very upset, “What more does Malinche want from me? I do not want to live, or listen to him, because of the fate he has forced on me.” He would not come, and it was said too that he said that he did not want to see or hear Cortés, or listen to any more of his promises and lies.
The Mercedarian father and Cristóbal de Olid went to him, and showed him great reverence and spoke most affectionately, but Montezuma said, “I do not believe that I can do anything to end this war, for they have already elevated another lord and have decided not to let you leave here alive.”
Nevertheless Montezuma stationed himself behind a battlement on a roof top with many of our soldiers to guard him and began to speak to the Mexicans in very affectionate terms, asking them to stop the war and telling them that we would leave Mexico. Many Mexican chiefs and captains, recognizing him, ordered their men to be quiet, and not to shoot stones or arrows. Four of them reached a place where they were able to talk to Montezuma, and they said, crying as they talked, “Oh, Lord, our great lord, how greatly we are afflicted by your misfortune, and that of your sons and relations! We have to let you know that we have already raised one of your kinsmen to be our lord.”
They said that he was named Coadlavaca, lord of Iztapalapa. They also said that the war would have to go on to the end, for they had promised their idols not to stop until all of us were killed, and they prayed every day that he would be kept free and safe from our power. As everything would come out as they desired, they would not fail to hold him in higher regard as their lord than before, and they asked him to pardon them.
They had hardly finished this speech when there was such a shower of stones and javelins that Montezuma was hit by three stones, one on the head, another on the arm, and the third on the leg, for our men who were shielding him neglected to do so for a moment, because they saw that the attack had stopped while he was speaking with his chiefs.
They begged him to be doctored and to eat something, speaking very kindly to him, but he wouldn’t, and when we least expected it they came to say that he was dead.
Cortés wept for him, and all of our captains and soldiers. There were men among us who cried as though he had been our father, and it is not surprising, considering how good he was. It was said that he had ruled for seventeen years and that he was the best king Mexico had ever had.
… I have already told about the sorrow we felt when we saw that Montezuma was dead. We even thought badly about the Mercedarian father, who was always with him, for not having persuaded him to turn Christian. He gave as an excuse that he didn’t think Montezuma would die from those wounds, but he did say that he should have ordered something given to stupefy him.
Finally Cortés directed that a priest and a chief among those we had imprisoned should be freed so that they could go and tell Coadlavaca and his captains that the great Montezuma was dead and that they had seen him die from the wounds his own people had caused him.
Essay question and outline: Write a Brief Essay Response examining how both the Aztecs and the Spanish portrayed Motecuhzoma’s death to their own advantage. Use evidence from the Document to support your points. (The Document is already an Excerpt, so please read the entire Document.)
Write a Brief Essay Response examining how both the Aztecs and the Spanish portrayed Motecuhzoma’s death to their own advantage. Use evidence from the Document to support your points. (The Document is already an Excerpt, so please read the entire Document.)
A Brief Essay Response should consist of at least 8 sentences, following this format:
A topic sentence that answers the essay question generally.
A sentence that makes your first point or gives your first answer.
A sentence that further supports, illustrates, or discusses the first point or first answer
A sentence that makes your second point or gives your second answer.
A sentence that further supports, illustrates, or discusses the second point or second answer.
A sentence that makes your third point or gives your third answer.
A sentence that further supports, illustrates, or discusses the third point or third answer.
A concluding sentence that relates what your Sentence 2 thru Sentence 7 have to do with the Topic Sentence 1.