16 maio 2017

The Last Aztec Emperor

Cuauhtémoc was the son of Emperor Ahuizotl of the Aztec Empire. He was born around 1495. Bad, bad timing. In 1502 his uncle (or possibly cousin) Moctezuma II became ruler of the empire. Cuauhtémoc was busy going to a school for elite boys, then being a warrior. After a period of fighting Aztec enemies and capturing some for sacrificing, he was named ruler of Tlatelolco, with the title cuauhtlatoani (“eagle ruler”) in 1515.

In 1519, Moctezuma II admitted Hernán Cortés and his troops into Tenochtitlan. A year later Moctezuma II was dead. Moctezuma’s brother Cuitlahuac, who was voted to succeed him as ruler, died of smallpox shortly afterwards. The Spanish had been temporarily driven out of the capital by local forces following Moctezuma’s death, but they had regrouped and found many allies among the disaffected conquered nations of the Aztec Empire. A major assault on the imperial capital was imminent. The Aztecs needed a new emperor and quickly. In keeping with traditional practice, the most able candidate among the high noblemen was chosen by vote of the highest noblemen. Cuauhtémoc was elected as the 11th Aztec emperor.

He refused to negotiate or surrender as Cortés grew near. It would be a fight by the Aztecs alone, as more and more former allies and former territories rebelled and joined the Spanish. Cuauhtémoc ordered the bridges linking Tenochtitlan to the mainland be raised, and weapons and food be stockpiled. The siege began. The Aztecs were greatly weakened by smallpox and other European diseases as well as by hunger and thirst. At the end of July in 1521, Tenochtitlan was overrun, and then the adjacent stronghold of Tlatelolco was taken in August. 

Cuauhtémoc was temporarily kept as “governor” of Tenochtitlan, more and more power was tranferred to his cousin Tlacotzin who was seen as more pliable to the Spanish. Eventually Cuauhtémoc was imprisoned. The Spanish wanted to keep a close eye on him and prevent the “bellicose” ex-emperor from rebelling. In 1525, Cuauhtémoc was tortured to reveal the whereabouts of the lost Aztec gold. He was then executed by hanging on Cortés’ direct orders.

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