The Fate of Montezuma’s Faith
It’s almost comical how the factors of fortune would so boldly control the life of Montezuma Xocoyotzin. It would begin with his birth in the year 1467, which also coincided with the Aztec year ce acatl, or Quetzalcoatl, the Morning Star.1 The priests claimed on the day of his birth that he would be a future ruler and a high priest of infinite wisdom. 2 By 1502, Montezuma had fulfilled this prophecy as the leader of the Aztec empire, reclaiming the wealth and prosperity of his Toltec ancestors through the strength of the Aztec peoples, culture, and religion. It is strange to imagine that even Cortés recognized himself that with one order to his army Montezuma could “obliterate all memory of [Cortez and his men].”3 Yet, as history happened, Montezuma would fall from power at the hands of Cortez, and at what would seem to be due to a choice influenced by factors of his own fate. Montezuma’s military experience, public image, and zealous religious indoctrination would be the factors founded the single decision to allow Cortez into Tenochtitlan, which would result in his own demise.
Montezuma’s military identity was shaped by Aztec tradition and rules of engagement that would later be abused by Cortes. There was a nationalist definition of Aztec men, that all capable men were designed for war. Such as, “to be born a male in Tenochtitlan was to be designated a warrior.” 4And according to Aztec customs, all boys were trained rigorously. The young Montezuma at the calmecac, a temple for training, would have been taught to associate his military strength and religion, such as with the beginning initiation of the ‘night journey’, which was a quest for young boy to face evil and darkness during a magical time in order to collect dangerous items for the use of the priests. 5He would graduate to military school, an honored place for an Aztec boy; the curriculum consisted of nationality centered on their war god, Blue Hummingbird, who led the Aztecs out of poverty and into ruling the lesser tribes as a beginning to reclaiming the ancient lands of their Toltec ancestors. 6
In respect to Cortez, Montezuma would have revered the rules of engagement of the Aztecs and it would explain his welcoming to the city of Tenochtitlan in order to conference upon revelation of Cortez’ intentions. Montezuma was even aware of the perverse applications of Spanish war strategies after word of the blood bath in Cholola reached him. As war practices of the Aztec cultures could be characterized as honorable and fair, the surprise ensnaring of neighboring cities was foreign. 7 It was customary during negotiations for warfare that the bands march openly and solemnly, as the techniques of ambush were not respectable on an unsuspecting enemy. Before battle, war chiefs would meet to discuss demands. During Montezuma’s military training, he experienced the conflict between the Aztecs and the chief of Tzinancatepec, where the Aztecs demanded twenty men be sent annually for sacrifice and for their sovereign to be replaced by an Aztec governor. The chief of the Tzinancatepec politely declined, and the two groups agreed to battle the next day. The battle that ensued proved profitable for Montezuma as he engaged in war and proved him by capturing a warrior slave. It was after this battle that Montezuma would be allowed to remove his piochtli, a lock of hair reserved for rites of passage after a warriors first human capture 8 Because of the great significance of Montezuma’s first battle, it would seem that during his encounter with Cortes that he would react customary for the Aztec’s to Cortes, that is to say that it was custom to allow Cortes into the city and welcome him until Cortes would reveal any attempts on warfare or to take Montezuma’s throne as Quetzalcoatl.
Montezuma would go on others raids in villages after this encounter, further proving his capability as a warrior. During the reign of his...
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