Throne of Motecuhzoma II

Throne of Motecuhzoma II


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Moctezuma II

Moctezuma Xocoyotzin (c. 1466 – 29 June 1520) [moteːkʷˈsoːma ʃoːkoˈjoːtsin] modern Nahuatl pronunciation ( help · info ) ), [N.B. 1] variant spellings include Motecuhzomatzin, Montezuma, Moteuczoma, Motecuhzoma, Motēuczōmah, Muteczuma, and referred to retroactively in European sources as Moctezuma II, was the ninth Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan and the sixth Huey Tlatoani or Emperor of the Aztec Empire, reigning from 1502 or 1503 to 1520. The first contact between the indigenous civilizations of Mesoamerica and Europeans took place during his reign, and he was killed during the initial stages of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, when conquistador Hernán Cortés and his men fought to take over the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan. During his reign, the Aztec Empire reached its greatest size. Through warfare, Moctezuma expanded the territory as far south as Xoconosco in Chiapas and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and incorporated the Zapotec and Yopi people into the empire. [1] He changed the previous meritocratic system of social hierarchy and widened the divide between pipiltin (nobles) and macehualtin (commoners) by prohibiting commoners from working in the royal palaces. [1]

Though two other Aztec rulers succeeded Moctezuma after his death, their reigns were short-lived and the empire quickly collapsed under them. Historical portrayals of Moctezuma have mostly been colored by his role as ruler of a defeated nation, and many sources have described him as weak-willed, superstitious, and indecisive. [2] His story remains one of the most well-known conquest narratives from the history of European contact with Native Americans, and he has been mentioned or portrayed in numerous works of historical fiction and popular culture.


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The Nahuatl pronunciation of his name is [motekʷˈsoːma] . It is a compound of a noun meaning "lord" and a verb meaning "to frown in anger", and so is interpreted as "he is one who frowns like a lord" [3] or "he who is angry in a noble manner." [4] His name glyph, shown in the upper left corner of the image from the Codex Mendoza above, was composed of a diadem (xiuhuitzolli) on straight hair with an attached earspool, a separate nosepiece, and a speech scroll. [5]

Regnal number Edit

The Aztecs did not use regnal numbers they were given retroactively by historians to more easily distinguish him from the first Moctezuma, referred to as Moctezuma I. [2] The Aztec chronicles called him Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin, while the first was called Motecuhzoma Ilhuicamina or Huehuemotecuhzoma ("Old Moctezuma"). Xocoyotzin (IPA: [ʃokoˈjotsin] ) means "honored young one" (from "xocoyotl" [younger son] + suffix "-tzin" added to nouns or personal names when speaking about them with deference [6] ).

The year in which Moctezuma was crowned is uncertain. Most historians suggest the year of 1502 to be most likely, though some have argued in favor of the year 1503. A work currently held at the Art Institute of Chicago known as the Stone of the Five Suns is an inscription written in stone representing the Five Suns and a date in the Aztec calendar, 1 crocodile 11 reed, which is the equivalent to 15 July 1503 in the Gregorian calendar. Some historians believe this to be the exact date in which the coronation took place. [7] However, most documents say Moctezuma's coronation happened in the year 1502, and therefore most historians believe this to have been the actual date. [8]

After his coronation he set up thirty-eight more provincial divisions, largely to centralize the empire. He sent out bureaucrats, accompanied by military garrisons. They made sure tax was being paid, national laws were being upheld, and served as local judges in case of disagreement. [9]

First interactions with the Spanish Edit

In 1517, Moctezuma received the first reports of Europeans landing on the east coast of his empire this was the expedition of Juan de Grijalva who had landed on San Juan de Ulúa, which although within Totonac territory was under the auspices of the Aztec Empire. Moctezuma ordered that he be kept informed of any new sightings of foreigners at the coast and posted extra watch guards to accomplish this. [10]

When Cortés arrived in 1519, Moctezuma was immediately informed and he sent emissaries to meet the newcomers one of them was an Aztec noble named Tentlil in the Nahuatl language but referred to in the writings of Cortés and Bernal Díaz del Castillo as "Tendile". As the Spaniards approached Tenochtitlán they made an alliance with the Tlaxcalteca, who were enemies of the Aztec Triple Alliance, and they helped instigate revolt in many towns under Aztec dominion. Moctezuma was aware of this and sent gifts to the Spaniards, probably in order to show his superiority to the Spaniards and Tlaxcalteca. [11]

On 8 November 1519, Moctezuma met Cortés on the causeway leading into Tenochtitlán and the two leaders exchanged gifts. Moctezuma gave Cortés the gift of an Aztec calendar, one disc of crafted gold and another of silver. Cortés later melted these down for their monetary value. [12]

According to Cortés, Moctezuma immediately volunteered to cede his entire realm to Charles V, King of Spain. Though some indigenous accounts written in the 1550s partly support this notion, it is still unbelievable for several reasons. As Aztec rulers spoke an overly polite language that needed translation for his subjects to understand, it is difficult to find out what Moctezuma really said. According to an indigenous account, he said to Cortés: "You have come to sit on your seat of authority, which I have kept for a while for you, where I have been in charge for you, for your agents the rulers. " However, these words might be a polite expression that was meant to convey the exact opposite meaning, which was common in Nahua culture Moctezuma might actually have intended these words to assert his own stature and multigenerational legitimacy. Also, according to Spanish law, the king had no right to demand that foreign peoples become his subjects, but he had every right to bring rebels to heel. Therefore, to give the Spanish the necessary legitimacy to wage war against the indigenous people, Cortés might just have said what the Spanish king needed to hear. [13]

Host and prisoner of the Spaniards Edit

Moctezuma brought Cortés to his palace where the Spaniards lived as his guests for several months. Moctezuma continued to govern his empire and even undertook conquests of new territory during the Spaniards' stay at Tenochtitlán. [ citation needed ]

At some time during that period, Moctezuma became a prisoner in his own house. Exactly why this happened is not clear from the extant sources. The Aztec nobility reportedly became increasingly displeased with the large Spanish army staying in Tenochtitlán, and Moctezuma told Cortés that it would be best if they left. Shortly thereafter, Cortés left to fight Pánfilo de Narváez, who had landed in Mexico to arrest Cortés. During his absence, tensions between Spaniards and Aztecs exploded into the Massacre in the Great Temple, and Moctezuma became a hostage used by the Spaniards to ensure their security. [N.B. 2]

Death Edit

In the subsequent battles with the Spaniards after Cortés' return, Moctezuma was killed. The details of his death are unknown, with different versions of his demise given by different sources.

In his Historia, Bernal Díaz del Castillo states that on 29 June 1520, the Spanish forced Moctezuma to appear on the balcony of his palace, appealing to his countrymen to retreat. Four leaders of the Aztec army met with Moctezuma to talk, urging their countrymen to cease their constant firing upon the stronghold for a time. Díaz states: "Many of the Mexican Chieftains and Captains knew him well and at once ordered their people to be silent and not to discharge darts, stones or arrows, and four of them reached a spot where Montezuma could speak to them." [14]

Díaz alleges that the Aztecs informed Moctezuma that a relative of his had risen to the throne and ordered their attack to continue until all of the Spanish were annihilated, but expressed remorse at Moctezuma's captivity and stated that they intended to revere him even more if they could rescue him. Regardless of the earlier orders to hold fire, however, the discussion between Moctezuma and the Aztec leaders was immediately followed by an outbreak of violence. The Aztecs, disgusted by the actions of their leader, renounced Moctezuma and named his brother Cuitláhuac tlatoani in his place. In an effort to pacify his people, and undoubtedly pressured by the Spanish, Moctezuma was struck dead by a rock. [15] Díaz gives this account:

"They had hardly finished this speech when suddenly such a shower of stones and darts were discharged that (our men who were shielding him having neglected for a moment their duty, because they saw how the attack ceased while he spoke to them) he was hit by three stones, one on the head, another on the arm and another on the leg, and although they begged him to have the wounds dressed and to take food, and spoke kind words to him about it, he would not. Indeed, when we least expected it, they came to say that he was dead." [16]

Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún recorded two versions of the conquest of Mexico from the Tenochtitlán-Tlatelolco viewpoint. In Book 12 of the twelve-volume Florentine Codex, the account in Spanish and Nahuatl is accompanied by illustrations by natives. One is of the death of Moctezuma II, which the indigenous assert was due to the Spaniards. According to the Codex, the bodies of Moctezuma and Itzquauhtzin were cast out of the Palace by the Spanish the body of Moctezuma was gathered up and cremated at Copulco.

Aftermath Edit

The Spaniards were forced to flee the city and they took refuge in Tlaxcala, and signed a treaty with the natives there to conquer Tenochtitlán, offering to the Tlaxcalans control of Tenochtitlán and freedom from any kind of tribute. [17]

Moctezuma was then succeeded by his brother Cuitláhuac, who died shortly after during a smallpox epidemic. He was succeeded by his adolescent nephew, Cuauhtémoc. During the siege of the city, the sons of Moctezuma were murdered by the Aztecs, possibly because they wanted to surrender. By the following year, the Aztec Empire had fallen to an army of Spanish and their Native American allies, primarily Tlaxcalans, who were traditional enemies of the Aztecs.

Bernal Díaz del Castillo Edit

The firsthand account of Bernal Díaz del Castillo's True History of the Conquest of New Spain paints a portrait of a noble leader who struggles to maintain order in his kingdom after he is taken prisoner by Hernán Cortés. In his first description of Moctezuma, Díaz del Castillo writes:

The Great Montezuma was about forty years old, of good height, well proportioned, spare and slight, and not very dark, though of the usual Indian complexion. He did not wear his hair long but just over his ears, and he had a short black beard, well-shaped and thin. His face was rather long and cheerful, he had fine eyes, and in his appearance and manner could express geniality or, when necessary, a serious composure. He was very neat and clean, and took a bath every afternoon. He had many women as his mistresses, the daughters of chieftains, but two legitimate wives who were Caciques [N.B. 3] in their own right, and only some of his servants knew of it. He was quite free from sodomy. The clothes he wore one day he did not wear again till three or four days later. He had a guard of two hundred chieftains lodged in rooms beside his own, only some of whom were permitted to speak to him. [18]

When Moctezuma was allegedly killed by being stoned to death by his own people, "Cortés and all of us captains and soldiers wept for him, and there was no one among us that knew him and had dealings with him who did not mourn him as if he were our father, which was not surprising, since he was so good. It was stated that he had reigned for seventeen years, and was the best king they ever had in Mexico, and that he had personally triumphed in three wars against countries he had subjugated. I have spoken of the sorrow we all felt when we saw that Montezuma was dead. We even blamed the Mercedarian friar for not having persuaded him to become a Christian." [19]

Hernán Cortés Edit

Unlike Bernal Díaz, who was recording his memories many years after the fact, Cortés wrote his Cartas de relación (Letters from Mexico) to justify his actions to the Spanish Crown. His prose is characterized by simple descriptions and explanations, along with frequent personal addresses to the King. In his Second Letter, Cortés describes his first encounter with Moctezuma thus:

Moctezuma [sic] came to greet us and with him some two hundred lords, all barefoot and dressed in a different costume, but also very rich in their way and more so than the others. They came in two columns, pressed very close to the walls of the street, which is very wide and beautiful and so straight that you can see from one end to the other. Moctezuma came down the middle of this street with two chiefs, one on his right hand and the other on his left. And they were all dressed alike except that Moctezuma wore sandals whereas the others went barefoot and they held his arm on either side. [20]

Anthony Pagden and Eulalia Guzmán have pointed the Biblical messages that Cortés seems to ascribe to Moctezuma's retelling of the legend of Quetzalcoatl as a vengeful Messiah who would return to rule over the Mexica. Pagden has written that "There is no preconquest tradition which places Quetzalcoatl in this role, and it seems possible therefore that it was elaborated by Sahagún and Motolinía from informants who themselves had partially lost contact with their traditional tribal histories". [21] [22]

Bernardino de Sahagún Edit

The Florentine Codex, made by Bernardino de Sahagún, relied on native informants from Tlatelolco, and generally portrays Tlatelolco and Tlatelolcan rulers in a favorable light relative to those of Tenochtitlan. Moctezuma in particular is depicted unfavorably as a weak-willed, superstitious, and indulgent ruler. [23] Historian James Lockhart suggests that the people needed to have a scapegoat for the Aztec defeat, and Moctezuma naturally fell into that role. [24]

Fernando Alvarado Tezozómoc Edit

Fernando Alvarado Tezozómoc, who may have written the Crónica Mexicayotl, was possibly a grandson of Moctezuma II. It is possible that his chronicle relates mostly the genealogy of the Aztec rulers. He described Moctezuma's issue and estimates them to be nineteen – eleven sons and eight daughters. [25]

Some of the Aztec stories about Moctezuma describe him as being fearful of the Spanish newcomers, and some sources, such as the Florentine Codex, comment that the Aztecs believed the Spaniards to be gods and Cortés to be the returned god Quetzalcoatl. The veracity of this claim is difficult to ascertain, though some recent ethnohistorians specialising in early Spanish/Nahua relations have discarded it as post-conquest mythicalisation. [26]

Much of the idea of Cortés being seen as a deity can be traced back to the Florentine Codex, written some 50 years after the conquest. In the codex's description of the first meeting between Moctezuma and Cortés, the Aztec ruler is described as giving a prepared speech in classical oratorical Nahuatl, a speech which as described verbatim in the codex (written by Sahagún's Tlatelolcan informants) included such prostrate declarations of divine or near-divine admiration as, "You have graciously come on earth, you have graciously approached your water, your high place of Mexico, you have come down to your mat, your throne, which I have briefly kept for you, I who used to keep it for you," and, "You have graciously arrived, you have known pain, you have known weariness, now come on earth, take your rest, enter into your palace, rest your limbs may our lords come on earth." While some historians such as Warren H. Carroll consider this as evidence that Moctezuma was at least open to the possibility that the Spaniards were divinely sent based on the Quetzalcoatl legend, others such as Matthew Restall argue that Moctezuma politely offering his throne to Cortés (if indeed he did ever give the speech as reported) may well have been meant as the exact opposite of what it was taken to mean, as politeness in Aztec culture was a way to assert dominance and show superiority. [27] Other parties have also propagated the idea that the Native Americans believed the conquistadors to be gods, most notably the historians of the Franciscan order such as Fray Gerónimo de Mendieta. [28] Bernardino de Sahagún, who compiled the Florentine Codex, was also a Franciscan priest.

Indigenous accounts of omens and Moctezuma's beliefs Edit

Bernardino de Sahagún (1499–1590) includes in Book 12 of the Florentine Codex eight events said to have occurred prior to the arrival of the Spanish. These were purportedly interpreted as signs of a possible disaster, e.g. a comet, the burning of a temple, a crying ghostly woman, and others. Some speculate that the Aztecs were particularly susceptible to such ideas of doom and disaster because the particular year in which the Spanish arrived coincided with a "tying of years" ceremony at the end of a 52-year cycle in the Aztec calendar, which in Aztec belief was linked to changes, rebirth, and dangerous events. The belief of the Aztecs being rendered passive by their own superstition is referred to by Matthew Restall as part of "The Myth of Native Desolation" to which he dedicates chapter 6 in his book Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. [29] These legends are likely a part of the post-conquest rationalization by the Aztecs of their defeat, and serve to show Moctezuma as indecisive, vain, and superstitious, and ultimately the cause of the fall of the Aztec Empire. [24]

Ethnohistorian Susan Gillespie has argued that the Nahua understanding of history as repeating itself in cycles also led to a subsequent rationalization of the events of the conquests. In this interpretation the description of Moctezuma, the final ruler of the Aztec Empire prior to the Spanish conquest, was tailored to fit the role of earlier rulers of ending dynasties—for example Quetzalcoatl, the mythical last ruler of the Toltecs. [30] In any case it is within the realm of possibility that the description of Moctezuma in post-conquest sources was colored by his role as a monumental closing figure of Aztec history. [ citation needed ]


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The monolith was carved by the Mexica at the end of the Mesoamerican Postclassic Period. Although the exact date of its creation is unknown, the name glyph of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II in the central disc dates the monument to his reign between 1502 and 1520 AD. [6] There are no clear indications about the authorship or purpose of the monolith, although there are certain references to the construction of a huge block of stone by the Mexicas in their last stage of splendor. According to Diego Durán, the emperor Axayácatl "was also busy in carving the famous and large stone, very carved where the figures of the months and years, days 21 and weeks were sculpted". [7] Juan de Torquemada described in his Monarquía indiana how Moctezuma Xocoyotzin ordered to bring a large rock from Tenanitla, today San Ángel, to Tenochtitlan, but on the way it fell on the bridge of the Xoloco neighborhood. [8]

The parent rock from which it was extracted comes from the Xitle volcano, and could have been obtained from San Ángel or Xochimilco. [9] The geologist Ezequiel Ordóñez in 1893 determined such an origin and ruled it as olivine basalt. It was probably dragged by thousands of people from a maximum of 22 kilometers to the center of Mexico-Tenochtitlan. [9]

After the conquest, it was transferred to the exterior of the Templo Mayor, to the west of the then Palacio Virreinal and the Acequia Real, where it remained uncovered, with the relief upwards for many years. [8] According to Durán, Alonso de Montúfar, Archbishop of Mexico from 1551 to 1572, ordered the burial of the Sun Stone so that "the memory of the ancient sacrifice that was made there would be lost". [8]

Towards the end of the 18th century, the viceroy Juan Vicente de Güemes initiated a series of urban reforms in the capital of New Spain. One of them was the construction of new streets and the improvement of parts of the city, through the introduction of drains and sidewalks. In the case of the then so-called Plaza Mayor, sewers were built, the floor was leveled and areas were remodeled. It was José Damián Ortiz de Castro, the architect overseeing public works, who reported the finding of the sun stone on 17 December 1790. The monolith was found half a yard (about 40 centimeters) under the ground surface and 60 meters to the west of the second door of the viceregal palace, [8] and removed from the earth with a "real rigging with double pulley". [8] Antonio de León y Gama came to the discovery site to observe and determine the origin and meaning of the monument found. [8] According to Alfredo Chavero, [10] it was Antonio who gave it the name of Aztec Calendar, believing it to be an object of public consultation. León y Gama said the following:

. On the occasion of the new paving, the floor of the Plaza being lowered, on December 17 of the same year, 1790, it was discovered only half a yard deep, and at a distance of 80 to the West from the same second door of the Royal Palace, and 37 north of the Portal of Flowers, the second Stone, by the back surface of it.

León y Gama himself interceded before the canon of the cathedral, José Uribe, in order that the monolith found would not be buried again due to its perceived pagan origin (for which it had been buried almost two centuries before). [11] León y Gama argued that in countries like Italy there was much that was invested in rescuing and publicly showcasing monuments of the past. [11] It is noteworthy that, for the spirit of the time, efforts were made to exhibit the monolith in a public place and also to promote its study. [11] León y Gama defended in his writings the artistic character of the stone, in competition with arguments of authors like Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, who gave lesser value to those born in the American continent, including their artistic talent. [11]

The monolith was placed on one side of the west tower of the Metropolitan Cathedral on 2 July 1791. There it was observed by, among others, Alexander von Humboldt, who made several studies on its iconography. [8] Mexican sources alleged that during the Mexican–American War, soldiers of the United States Army who occupied the plaza used it for target shooting, though there is no evidence of such damage to the sculpture. [8] Victorious General Winfield Scott contemplated taking it back to Washington D.C. as a war trophy, if the Mexicans did not make peace. [12]

In August 1855, the stone was transferred to the Monolith Gallery of the Archaeological Museum on Moneda Street, on the initiative of Jesús Sánchez, director of the same. [8] Through documents from the time, it is known of the popular animosity that caused the "confinement" of a public reference of the city. [8]

In 1964 the stone was transferred to the National Museum of Anthropology and History, where the stone presides over the Mexica Hall of the museum and is inscribed in various Mexican coins.

Before the discovery of the monolith of Tlaltecuhtli, deity of the earth, with measurements being 4 by 3.57 meters high, it was thought that the sun stone was the largest Mexica monolith in dimensions.

Plaza Mayor of Mexico City by Pedro Guridi (c.1850) shows the sun disk attached to the side of the cathedral tower, it was placed there in 1790 when it was discovered and remained on the tower until 1885

The Swiss artist Johann Salomon Hegi painted the famous Paseo de las Cadenas in 1851, the sun stone is distinguishable below and to the right of the ash tree foliage

Image of the stone in the Metropolitan Cathedral

The Stone of the Sun as it was exhibited in the National Museum, photograph taken in 1915

Photograph from 1910 of the sun stone with (then president) Porfirio Díaz

Photograph from 1917 of the Piedra del Sol with (then president) Venustiano Carranza

The sculpted motifs that cover the surface of the stone refer to central components of the Mexica cosmogony. The state-sponsored monument linked aspects of Aztec ideology such as the importance of violence and warfare, the cosmic cycles, and the nature of the relationship between gods and man. The Aztec elite used this relationship with the cosmos and the bloodshed often associated with it to maintain control over the population, and the sun stone was a tool in which the ideology was visually manifested. [13]

Central disk Edit

In the center of the monolith is often believed to be the face of the solar deity, Tonatiuh, [14] which appears inside the glyph for "movement" (Nahuatl: Ōllin), the name of the current era. Some scholars have argued that the identity of the central face is of the earth monster, Tlaltecuhtli, or of a hybrid deity known as "Yohualtecuhtli" who is referred to as the "Lord of the Night". This debate on the identity of the central figure is based on representations of the deities in other works as well as the role of the sun stone in sacrificial context, which involved the actions of deities and humans to preserve the cycles of time. [15] The central figure is shown holding a human heart in each of his clawed hands, and his tongue is represented by a stone sacrificial knife (Tecpatl).

Four previous suns or eras Edit

The four squares that surround the central deity represent the four previous suns or eras, which preceded the present era, "Four Movement" (Nahuatl: Nahui Ōllin). The Aztecs changed the order of the suns and introduced a fifth sun named "Four Movement" after they seized power over the central highlands. [16] Each era ended with the destruction of the world and humanity, which were then recreated in the next era.

  • The top right square represents "Four Jaguar" (Nahuatl: Nahui Ōcēlotl), the day on which the first era ended, after having lasted 676 years, due to the appearance of monsters that devoured all of humanity.
  • The top left square shows "Four Wind" (Nahuatl: Nahui Ehēcatl), the date on which, after 364 years, hurricane winds destroyed the earth, and humans were turned into monkeys.
  • The bottom left square shows "Four Rain" (Nahuatl: Nahui Quiyahuitl). This era lasted 312 years, before being destroyed by a rain of fire, which transformed humanity into turkeys.
  • The bottom right square represents "Four Water" (Nahuatl: Nahui Atl), an era that lasted 676 years and ended when the world was flooded and all the humans were turned into fish.

The duration of the ages is expressed in years, although they must be observed through the prism of Aztec time. In fact the common thread of figures 676, 364 and 312 is that they are multiples of 52, and 52 years is the duration of one Aztec "century", and that is how they can express a certain amount of Aztec centuries. Thus, 676 years are 13 Aztec centuries 364 years are 7, and 312 years are 6 Aztec centuries.

Placed among these four squares are three additional dates, "One Flint" (Tecpatl), "One Rain" (Atl), and "Seven Monkey" (Ozomahtli), and a Xiuhuitzolli, or ruler's turquoise diadem, glyph. It has been suggested that these dates may have had both historical and cosmic significance, and that the diadem may form part of the name of the Mexica ruler, Moctezuma II. [17]

First ring Edit

The first concentric zone or ring contains the signs corresponding to the 20 days of the 18 months and five nemontemi of the Aztec solar calendar (Nahuatl: xiuhpohualli). The monument is not a functioning calendar, but instead uses the calendrical glyphs to reference the cyclical concepts of time and its relationship to the cosmic conflicts within the Aztec ideology. [18] Beginning at the symbol just left of the large point in the previous zone, these symbols are read counterclockwise. The order is as follows:

1. cipactli – crocodile, 2. ehécatl – wind, 3. calli – house, 4. cuetzpallin – lizard, 5. cóatl – serpent, 6. miquiztli – skull/death, 7. mázatl – deer, 8. tochtli – rabbit, 9. atl – water, 10. itzcuintli – dog, 11. ozomatli – monkey, 12. malinalli – herb, 13. ácatl – cane, 14. océlotl – jaguar, 15. cuauhtli – eagle, 16. cozcacuauhtli – vulture, 17. ollín – movement, 18. técpatl – flint, 19. quiahuitl – rain, 20. xóchitl – flower [19]

Second ring Edit

The second concentric zone or ring contains several square sections, with each section containing five points. Directly above these square sections are small arches are said to be feather ornaments. Directly above these are spurs or peaked arches that appear in groups of four. [19] There are also eight angles that divide the stone into eight parts, which likely represent the sun's rays placed in the direction of the cardinal points.

Third and outermost ring Edit

Two fire serpents, Xiuhcoatl, take up almost this entire zone. They are characterized by the flames emerging from their bodies, the square shaped segments that make up their bodies, the points that form their tails, and their unusual heads and mouths. At the very bottom of the surface of the stone, are human heads emerging from the mouths of these serpents. Scholars have tried to identify these profiles of human heads as deities, but have not come to a consensus. [19] One possible interpretation of the two serpents is that they represent two rival deities who were involved in the creation story of the fifth and current "sun", Queztalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca. The tongues of the serpents are touching, referencing the continuity of time and the continuous power struggle between the deities over the earthly and terrestrial worlds. [20]

In the upper part of this zone, a square carved between the tails of the serpents represents the date Matlactli Omey-Ácatl ("13-reed"). This is said to correspond to 1479, the year in which the Fifth Sun emerged in Teotihuacan during the reign of Axayácatl, and at the same time, indicating the year in which this monolithic sun stone was carved. [19]

Edge of stone Edit

The edge of the stone measures approximately 8 inches and contains a band of a series of dots as well as what have been said to be flint knives. This area has been interpreted as representing a starry night sky. [19]

From the moment the Sun Stone was discovered in 1790, many scholars have worked at making sense of the stone's complexity. This provides a long history of over 200 years of archaeologists, scholars, and historians adding to the interpretation of the stone. [21] Modern research continues to shed light or cast doubt on existing interpretations as discoveries such as further evidence of the stone's pigmentation. [22] As Eduardo Matos Moctezuma stated in 2004: [19]

In addition to its tremendous aesthetic value, the Sun Stone abounds in symbolism and elements that continue to inspire researchers to search deeper for the meaning of this singular monument.

The earliest interpretations of the stone relate to what early scholars believed was its use for astrology, chronology, or as a sundial. In 1792, two years after the stone's unearthing, Mexican scholar Antonio de León y Gama wrote one of the first treatises on Mexican archaeology on the Aztec calendar and Coatlicue. [23] He correctly identified that some of the glyphs on the stone are the glyphs for the days of the month. [21] Alexander von Humboldt also wanted to pass on his interpretation in 1803, after reading Leon y Gama's work. He disagreed about the material of the stone but generally agreed with Leon y Gama's interpretation. Both of these men incorrectly believed the stone to have been vertically positioned, but it was not until 1875 that Alfredo Chavero correctly wrote that the proper position for the stone was horizontal. Roberto Sieck Flandes in 1939 published a monumental study entitled How Was the Stone Known as the Aztec Calendar Painted? which gave evidence that the stone was indeed pigmented with bright blue, red, green, and yellow colors, just as many other Aztec sculptures have been found to have been as well. This work was later to be expanded by Felipe Solís and other scholars who would re-examine the idea of coloring and create updated digitized images for a better understanding of what the stone might have looked like. [19] It was generally established that the four symbols included in the Ollin glyph represent the four past suns that the Mexica believed the earth had passed through. [24]

Another aspect of the stone is its religious significance. One theory is that the face at the center of the stone represents Tonatiuh, the Aztec deity of the sun. It is for this reason that the stone became known as the "Sun Stone." Richard Townsend proposed a different theory, claiming that the figure at the center of the stone represents Tlaltecuhtli, the Mexica earth deity who features in Mexica creation myths. [21] Modern archaeologists, such as those at the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, believe it is more likely to have been used primarily as a ceremonial basin or ritual altar for gladiatorial sacrifices, than as an astrological or astronomical reference. [4]

Yet another characteristic of the stone is its possible geographic significance. The four points may relate to the four corners of the earth or the cardinal points. The inner circles may express space as well as time. [25]

Lastly, there is the political aspect of the stone. It may have been intended to show Tenochtitlan as the center of the world and therefore, as the center of authority. [26] Townsend argues for this idea, claiming that the small glyphs of additional dates amongst the four previous suns—1 Flint (Tecpatl), 1 Rain (Atl), and 7 Monkey (Ozomahtli)—represent matters of historical importance to the Mexica state. He posits, for example, that 7 Monkey represents the significant day for the cult of a community within Tenochtitlan. His claim is further supported by the presence of Mexica ruler Moctezuma II's name on the work. These elements ground the Stone's iconography in history rather than myth and the legitimacy of the state in the cosmos. [27]

Connections to Aztec ideology Edit

The methods of Aztec rule were influenced by the story of their Mexica ancestry, who were migrants to the Mexican territory. The lived history was marked by violence and the conquering of native groups, and their mythic history was used to legitimize their conquests and the establishment of the capital Tenochtitlan. As the Aztecs grew in power, the state needed to find ways to maintain order and control over the conquered peoples, and they used religion and violence to accomplish the task. [28]

The state religion included a vast canon of deities that were involved in the constant cycles of death and rebirth. When the gods made the sun and the earth, they sacrificed themselves in order for the cycles of the sun to continue, and therefore for life to continue. Because the gods sacrificed themselves for humanity, humans had an understanding that they should sacrifice themselves to the gods in return. The Sun Stone's discovery near the Templo Mayor in the capital connects it to sacred rituals such as the New Fire ceremony, which was conducted to ensure the earth's survival for another 52-year cycle, and human heart sacrifice played an important role in preserving these cosmic cycles. [28] Human sacrifice was not only used in religious context additionally, sacrifice was used as a military tactic to frighten Aztec enemies and remind those already under their control what might happen if they opposed the Empire. The state was then exploiting the sacredness of the practice to serve its own ideological intentions. The Sun Stone served as a visual reminder of the Empire's strength as a monumental object in the heart of the city and as a ritualistic object used in relation to the cosmic cycles and terrestrial power struggles. [29]

The sun stone image is displayed on the obverse the Mexican 20 Peso gold coin, which has a gold content of 15 grams (0.4823 troy ounces) and was minted from 1917 to 1921 and restruck with the date 1959 from the mid 1940s to the late 1970s. Different parts of the sun stone are represented on the current Mexican coins, each denomination has a different section.

Currently the image is present in the 10 Peso coin as part of the New Peso coin family started in 1992 having .925 silver centers and aluminum bronze rings changing in 1996 where new coins were introduced with base metal replacing the silver center.

The sun stone image also has been adopted by modern Mexican and Mexican American/Chicano culture figures, and is used in folk art and as a symbol of cultural identity. [30]

In 1996 the Mexican national football team employed a depiction of the sun stone image on to its home, away and third match kits. With each individual shirt being assigned the green (home), white (away) and red (third) colors of the Mexican flag respectively. The kit was featured until the 1998 World Cup in which the Mexican side impressed the world with satisfying results.

Impact of Spanish Colonization Edit

After the conquest of the Aztec Empire by the Spanish in 1521 and the subsequent colonization of the territory, the prominence of the Mesoamerican empire was placed under harsh scrutiny by the Spanish. The rationale behind the bloodshed and sacrifice conducted by the Aztec was supported by religious and militant purposes, but the Spanish were horrified by what they saw, and the published accounts twisted the perception of the Aztecs into bloodthirsty, barbaric, and inferior people. [31] The words and actions of the Spanish, such as the destruction, removal, or burial of Aztec objects like the Sun Stone supported this message of inferiority, which still has an impact today. The Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan was covered by the construction of Mexico City, and the monument was lost for centuries until it was unearthed in 1790. [20] The reemergence of the Sun Stone sparked a renewed interest in Aztec culture, but since the Western culture now had hundreds of years of influence over the Mexican landscape, the public display of the monument next to the city's main cathedral sparked controversy. Although the object was being publicly honored, placing it in the shadow of a Catholic institution for nearly a century sent a message to some people that the Spanish would continue to dominate over the remnants of Aztec culture. [32]

Another debate sparked by the influence of the Western perspective over non-Western cultures surrounds the study and presentation of cultural objects as art objects. Carolyn Dean, a scholar of pre-Hispanic and Spanish colonial culture discusses the concept of “art by appropriation,” which displays and discusses cultural objects within the Western understanding of art. Claiming something as art often elevates the object in the viewer's mind, but then the object is only valued for its aesthetic purposes, and its historical and cultural importance is depleted. [33] The Sun Stone was not made as an art object it was a tool of the Aztec Empire used in ritual practices and as a political tool. By referring to it as a "sculpture" [33] and by displaying it vertically on the wall instead of placed horizontally how it was originally used, [20] the monument is defined within the Western perspective and therefore loses its cultural significance. The current display and discussion surrounding the Sun Stone is part of a greater debate on how to decolonize non-Western material culture.

There are several other known monuments and sculptures that bear similar inscriptions. Most of them were found underneath the center of Mexico City, while others are of unknown origin. Many fall under a category known as temalacatl, large stones built for ritual combat and sacrifice. Matos Moctezuma has proposed that the Aztec Sun Stone might also be one of these. [34]

Temalacatls Edit

The Stone of Tizoc's upward-facing side contains a calendrical depiction similar to that of the subject of this page. Many of the formal elements are the same, although the five glyphs at the corners and center are not present. The tips of the compass here extend to the edge of the sculpture. The Stone of Tizoc is currently located in the National Anthropology Museum in the same gallery as the Aztec Sun Stone.

The Stone of Motecuhzoma I is a massive object approximately 12 feet in diameter and 3 feet high with the 8 pointed compass iconography. The center depicts the sun deity Tonatiuh with the tongue sticking out. [35]

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has another,. [36] This one is much smaller, but still bears the calendar iconography and is listed in their catalog as "Calendar Stone". The side surface is split into two bands, the lower of which represents Venus with knives for eyes the upper band has two rows of citlallo star icons. [35]

A similar object is on display at the Yale University Art Gallery, on loan from the Peabody Museum of Natural History. [37] [38] The sculpture, officially known as Aztec Calendar Stone in the museum catalog but called Altar of the Five Cosmogonic Eras, [35] bears similar hieroglyphic inscriptions around the central compass motif but is distinct in that it is a rectangular prism instead of cylindrical shape, allowing the artists to add the symbols of the four previous suns at the corners. [35] It bears some similarities to the Coronation Stone of Moctezuma II, listed in the next section.

Calendar iconography in other objects Edit

The Coronation Stone of Moctezuma II (also known as the Stone of the Five Suns) is a sculpture measuring 55.9 x 66 x 22.9 cm (22 x 26 x 9 in [39] ), currently in the possession of the Art Institute of Chicago. It bears similar hieroglyphic inscriptions to the Aztec Sun Stone, with 4-Movement at the center surrounded by 4-Jaguar, 4-Wind, 4-Rain, and 4-Water, all of which represent one of the five suns, or "cosmic eras". The year sign 11-Reed in the lower middle places the creation of this sculpture in 1503, the year of Motecuhzoma II's coronation, while 1-Crocodile, the day in the upper middle, may indicate the day of the ceremony. [39] The date glyph 1-Rabbit on the back of the sculpture (not visible in the image to the right) orients Motecuhzoma II in the cosmic cycle because that date represents "the beginning of things in the distant mythological past." [39]

The Throne of Montezuma uses the same cardinal point iconography [40] as part of a larger whole. The monument is on display at the National Museum of Anthropology alongside the Aztec Sun Stone and the Stone of Tizoc. The monument was discovered in 1831 underneath the National Palace [41] in Mexico City and is approximately 1 meter square at the base and 1.23 meters tall. [40] It is carved in a temple shape, and the year at the top, 2-House, refers to the traditional founding of Tenochtitlan in 1325 CE. [40]

The compass motif with Ollin can be found in stone altars built for the New Fire ceremony. [35] Another object, the Ceremonial Seat of Fire which belongs to the Eusebio Davalos Hurtado Museum of Mexica Sculpture, [35] is visually similar but omits the central Ollin image in favor of the Sun.

The British Museum possesses a cuauhxicalli which may depict the tension between two opposites, the power of the sun (represented by the solar face) and the power of the moon (represented with lunar iconography on the rear of the object). This would be a parallel to the Templo Mayor with its depictions of Huitzilopochtli (as one of the two deities of the temple) and the large monument to Coyolxauhqui. [35]


Throne of Motecuhzoma II - History

Ruler's feather headdress (probably of Moctezuma II) 1428-1520 CE

Ruler's feather headdress (probably of Moctezuma II)

Feathers, gold, wood, plant fibers

Materials: Feathers, gold, plant fibers, wood, leather, paper, textiles, and gilded brass

3.8 feet tall, 5.75 feet wide

Feathers mounted on wooden sticks layered in semi-circles with small plates of gold

Originally included a golden bird beak

Each of the 450 feathers is a tail feather from a different bird, specifically quetzals and contigas

Thought to have ceremonial purpose

Was carried on a long stick through town

Performed in as part of a costume

Feathers were a very important part of the Aztec Economy

Art made of feathers were seen as a symbol of wealth and status

Were used to create fans and shields as well as headdresses

Were also a part of a warrior’s clothing

Especially rare feathers were received as payment from cities conquered by the Aztec Empire

Vibrant colors and rare materials indicate importance and status

Took a long time and much dedication to make, as each feather was retrieved from a different bird

Feathers used in this headdress are from birds located in the Yucatan peninsula, meaning that extensive trade was required to acquire these feathers

Quetzal tail feathers from the male birds, each of which carry only two long tail feathers that are used in the headdress

Made by amantecas (feather workers) who were highly skilled artists and lived in a special quarter of the capital

Presumably belonged to Motecuhzoma II, ruler of the Aztec Empire

Capital of the Aztec Empire was Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City)

Acquired by Hernán Cortés, a conquistador who led an expedition that led to the fall of the Aztec Empire

Sources vary on whether the headdress was gifted as a diplomatic gesture or taken forcefully

First mentioned in European inventory as a “Moorish hat” in 1596 when it was acquired by Austrian Archduke Ferdinand II von Tyrol

Displayed in ethnology museum in Vienna (now called the Weltmuseum Wien)

Mexico has claimed ownership of the headdress and has been asking for its return since 1991

What is the geography of the area, and how does it shape its art?

introduction of trade with other cultures initiated the use of materials acquired through trade as symbols of status and importance --> materials natural to the empire were seen as less desirable

What is the leadership structure?

Strict social hierarchy designated people as nobles, commoners, serfs, or slaves

Nobles consisted of military leaders, high priests, and lords

What are the social roles, including gender roles?

Women raised young girls and men raised young boys, enforcing very concrete gender roles from childhood

Girls and boys were taught different tasks and had different jobs in Aztec society

Women were often spinners and weavers

What are the religious/spiritual beliefs?

The Aztecs were a polytheistic society and worshipped many different gods and goddesses who were assigned to different aspects of nature and human life

What ceremonies help define the culture?

The Aztecs participated in frequent ritual sacrifice, including sacrifice of both animals and humans. They believed these sacrifices would help to maintain and replenish the power of the gods.

Human sacrifice came in response to the idea that the gods sacrificed their blood and their lives creating the world and everything in it

At the end of every 360 day year there was a period called Nemontemi which lasted 5 days (to balance out the solar calendar) that was associated with bad luck. Everyone would stay in their houses and fast, and no ceremonies or business would be done.

Every 52 years, the two Aztec calendars would align and a ritual would be performed to indicate a new beginning to the cycle. All temple and house flames were doused and then re-lit, new clothes would be bought, and tools and utensils would be replaced.

Many Aztec ceremonies had to do with planting and harvest seasons

Many Aztec ceremonies included one person who would represent and be treated as if they were the god the ceremony was in honor of


Contents

Generally speaking, the Teocalli is representative in form of Late Post-classic temple architecture and sculpture. [2]

Two masses, a flat-roofed temple and a "truncated pyramid" complete with stairs up the front of the platform, compose the statue. [3]

The upper part of the front of the sculpture contains a solar disk flanked by two figures within the disk is the date Four Movement. The figures are identified as Huitzilopochtli (left) and Tepeyolotl, a form of Tezcatlipoca (right).

Below this, facing upwards, is a depiction of the earth deity Tlaltecuhtli, next to which are military equipment representing warfare.

The lower part of the front of the sculpture displays the dates One Rabbit (left) and Two Reed (right). The latter includes a rope representing the New Fire ceremony in that year. Together, the dates refer to both mythical events of the past as well as the beginning of a new cycle. [3]

On the sides of the pyramid section of the Teocalli sit two pairs of figures carrying copal bags, maguey leaves, and tobacco containers. Caso identifies these four figures as Tlaloc, Tlahuiscalpantecuhtli, Xochipilli, and Xiuhtecuhtli. [4]

The top of the sculpture displays the date Two House.

On the back of the sculpture is a depiction of an eagle on a prickly pear cactus (similar to the coat of arms of Mexico). The eagle, a representation of Huitzilopochtli, holds in its beak the glyph for war, atl-tlachinolli. [5] Although part of the relief has eroded, the cactus appears to grow from a defeated Chalchiuhtlicue, goddess of lakes and streams. [5]

Finally, on the Teocalli's platform sits a zoomorphic "earth monster"

Next to the figure of Tezcatlipoca is a hieroglyph containing the hair, ear plug, nose plug, and royal diadem of a ruler. This symbol is dubbed by Umberger as "The Headdress Glyph". [3]

These elements are said to have represented the name 'Motecuhzoma' in Post-Conquest pictorial codices and on other Mexica sculptures, including the Hackmack Box in Hamburg and the Calendar Stone of the Museo Nacional de Antropología. [3]

In early studies of the Calendar Stone, The Headdress Glyph has had many previous interpretations, including as a fire symbol. [6]

In 1927, Alfonso Caso published a theory that the decoration on the sculpture “justified human sacrifice and warranted warfare as a means of procuring prisoners for immolation in the temples of Tenochtitlan.” [4] This myth was regarded as the foundation of a "mystical-military" ideology in which the Mexica believed themselves to be the chosen people of the sun. [2]

Other scholars, such as Enrique Juan Palacios, hold a more historical and less allegorical interpretation––reading the symbols as cosmograms. He argued that these cosmograms did not represent mythology, but rather represent the sacred nature of the Mexica as a whole. Palacios' interpretation of this Teocall received wide acclaim from scholars, and served as the foundation of his broader assessments on Mexica religion. [2]

According to historian Richard Townsend, the earth zoomorph featured on the platform of the Teocalli represents Mexica land held by force of arms. [2]

  1. ^"Throne of Montezuma". World History Encyclopedia . Retrieved 2018-11-11 .
  2. ^ abcde
  3. F., Townsend, Richard (1997). State and cosmos in the art of Tenochtitlan. Harvard University. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. (3rd impr ed.). Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University. ISBN0884020835 . OCLC912811300.
  4. ^ abcd
  5. Umberger, Emily (2010). "Estudios de Cultura Nahuatl: Montezuma's Throne" (PDF) . Arara. 9.
  6. ^ ab
  7. Caso, Alfonso (1927). "El Teocalli de la Guerra Sagrada". Publicaciones de la Secretaría de Educación Pública, Monografías del Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Historia y Etnografía. Talleres Gráficos de la Nación, Mexico.
  8. ^ ab
  9. Mundy, Barbara E. (2015). The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City. University of Texas Press. p. 47. ISBN9780292766563 . Retrieved 19 October 2018 .
  10. ^
  11. León y Gama, Antonio (1832). "Descripción histórica y cronológica de las dos piedras". 2. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Burr Cartwright Brundage, A Rain of Darts: The Mexica Aztecs (1972).

Nigel Davies, The Aztecs: A History (1980).

Diego Durán, The Aztecs: The History of the Indies of New Spain, translated by Doris Heyden and Fernando Horcasitas (1964).

Susan D. Gillespie, The Aztec Kings: The Construction of Rulership in Mexica History (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Kaibara, Yukio. Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin. México, D.F.: Ediciones Taller Abierto, 1997.

Read, Kay Almere, and Jason J. González. Mesoamerican Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Tsouras, Peter. Montezuma: Warlord of the Aztecs. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2005.

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The sources of Moctezuma's biography [ edit | edit source ]

The descriptions of the life of Moctezuma are full of contradictions and as such nothing much is known about his actual life and personality. The reason for the contradictions is of course the different biases of the sources. One main source is the descriptions of him by Spanish conquistadors such as Bernal Diaz del Castillo and Hernan Cortés. The Spanish sources try to show Motecuzoma as a harsh and somewhat fickle minded ruler in order to justify their getting rid of him as aid provided to the natives rather than an injustice. Another major source is the Florentine Codex made by Bernardino de Sahagún and his native informants. His informants were mainly from Tlatelolco, a city subjugated by Tenochtitlan, and hence the Florentine Codex generally portrays Tlatelolco and Tlatelolcan rulers in a favourable light when compared to the Tenocha, and Moctezuma in particular is depicted unfavourably as a weak-willed, superstitious and indulgent ruler (Restall 2003). Historian James Lockhart also argues that with the defeat of the Aztecs the people needed to have a scapegoat, someone to blame for their shameful defeat, and who better than the ruler at the time of the defeat. All these factors contribute to the picture we have today of Moctezuma as a somewhat weak and indecisive ruler.

However, Romerovargas Iturbide wrote a very deep study named "Moctezuma el Magnifico" criticising Bernal Diaz del Castillo and Hernan Cortes biased accounts and highlighting his virtues. The historical facts of his rule are a little different: he expanded the Aztec Empire the most warfare expanded the territory as far south as Xoconosco in Chiapas and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. He elaborated the Templo Mayor and revolutionized the tribute system. He also increased Tenochtitlán's power over its allied cities to a dominant position in the Aztec Triple Alliance. He created a special temple, dedicated to the gods of the conquered towns, inside the temple of Huitzilopochtli. He also built a monument dedicated to the Tlatoani Tízoc.


Contents

The monolith was carved by the Mexica at the end of the Mesoamerican Postclassic Period. Although the exact date of its creation is unknown, the name glyph of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II in the central disc dates the monument to his reign between 1502 and 1520 AD. [6] There are no clear indications about the authorship or purpose of the monolith, although there are certain references to the construction of a huge block of stone by the Mexicas in their last stage of splendor. According to Diego Durán, the emperor Axayácatl "was also busy in carving the famous and large stone, very carved where the figures of the months and years, days 21 and weeks were sculpted". [7] Juan de Torquemada described in his Monarquía indiana how Moctezuma Xocoyotzin ordered to bring a large rock from Tenanitla, today San Ángel, to Tenochtitlan, but on the way it fell on the bridge of the Xoloco neighborhood. [8]

The parent rock from which it was extracted comes from the Xitle volcano, and could have been obtained from San Ángel or Xochimilco. [9] The geologist Ezequiel Ordóñez in 1893 determined such an origin and ruled it as olivine basalt. It was probably dragged by thousands of people from a maximum of 22 kilometers to the center of Mexico-Tenochtitlan. [9]

After the conquest, it was transferred to the exterior of the Templo Mayor, to the west of the then Palacio Virreinal and the Acequia Real, where it remained uncovered, with the relief upwards for many years. [8] According to Durán, Alonso de Montúfar, Archbishop of Mexico from 1551 to 1572, ordered the burial of the Sun Stone so that "the memory of the ancient sacrifice that was made there would be lost". [8]

Towards the end of the 18th century, the viceroy Juan Vicente de Güemes initiated a series of urban reforms in the capital of New Spain. One of them was the construction of new streets and the improvement of parts of the city, through the introduction of drains and sidewalks. In the case of the then so-called Plaza Mayor, sewers were built, the floor was leveled and areas were remodeled. It was José Damián Ortiz de Castro, the architect overseeing public works, who reported the finding of the sun stone on 17 December 1790. The monolith was found half a yard (about 40 centimeters) under the ground surface and 60 meters to the west of the second door of the viceregal palace, [8] and removed from the earth with a "real rigging with double pulley". [8] Antonio de León y Gama came to the discovery site to observe and determine the origin and meaning of the monument found. [8] According to Alfredo Chavero, [10] it was Antonio who gave it the name of Aztec Calendar, believing it to be an object of public consultation. León y Gama said the following:

. On the occasion of the new paving, the floor of the Plaza being lowered, on December 17 of the same year, 1790, it was discovered only half a yard deep, and at a distance of 80 to the West from the same second door of the Royal Palace, and 37 north of the Portal of Flowers, the second Stone, by the back surface of it.

León y Gama himself interceded before the canon of the cathedral, José Uribe, in order that the monolith found would not be buried again due to its perceived pagan origin (for which it had been buried almost two centuries before). [11] León y Gama argued that in countries like Italy there was much that was invested in rescuing and publicly showcasing monuments of the past. [11] It is noteworthy that, for the spirit of the time, efforts were made to exhibit the monolith in a public place and also to promote its study. [11] León y Gama defended in his writings the artistic character of the stone, in competition with arguments of authors like Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, who gave lesser value to those born in the American continent, including their artistic talent. [11]

The monolith was placed on one side of the west tower of the Metropolitan Cathedral on 2 July 1791. There it was observed by, among others, Alexander von Humboldt, who made several studies on its iconography. [8] Mexican sources alleged that during the Mexican–American War, soldiers of the United States Army who occupied the plaza used it for target shooting, though there is no evidence of such damage to the sculpture. [8] Victorious General Winfield Scott contemplated taking it back to Washington D.C. as a war trophy, if the Mexicans did not make peace. [12]

In August 1855, the stone was transferred to the Monolith Gallery of the Archaeological Museum on Moneda Street, on the initiative of Jesús Sánchez, director of the same. [8] Through documents from the time, it is known of the popular animosity that caused the "confinement" of a public reference of the city. [8]

In 1964 the stone was transferred to the National Museum of Anthropology and History, where the stone presides over the Mexica Hall of the museum and is inscribed in various Mexican coins.

Before the discovery of the monolith of Tlaltecuhtli, deity of the earth, with measurements being 4 by 3.57 meters high, it was thought that the sun stone was the largest Mexica monolith in dimensions.

Plaza Mayor of Mexico City by Pedro Guridi (c.1850) shows the sun disk attached to the side of the cathedral tower, it was placed there in 1790 when it was discovered and remained on the tower until 1885

The Swiss artist Johann Salomon Hegi painted the famous Paseo de las Cadenas in 1851, the sun stone is distinguishable below and to the right of the ash tree foliage

Image of the stone in the Metropolitan Cathedral

The Stone of the Sun as it was exhibited in the National Museum, photograph taken in 1915

Photograph from 1910 of the sun stone with (then president) Porfirio Díaz

Photograph from 1917 of the Piedra del Sol with (then president) Venustiano Carranza

The sculpted motifs that cover the surface of the stone refer to central components of the Mexica cosmogony. The state-sponsored monument linked aspects of Aztec ideology such as the importance of violence and warfare, the cosmic cycles, and the nature of the relationship between gods and man. The Aztec elite used this relationship with the cosmos and the bloodshed often associated with it to maintain control over the population, and the sun stone was a tool in which the ideology was visually manifested. [13]

Central disk Edit

In the center of the monolith is often believed to be the face of the solar deity, Tonatiuh, [14] which appears inside the glyph for "movement" (Nahuatl: Ōllin), the name of the current era. Some scholars have argued that the identity of the central face is of the earth monster, Tlaltecuhtli, or of a hybrid deity known as "Yohualtecuhtli" who is referred to as the "Lord of the Night". This debate on the identity of the central figure is based on representations of the deities in other works as well as the role of the sun stone in sacrificial context, which involved the actions of deities and humans to preserve the cycles of time. [15] The central figure is shown holding a human heart in each of his clawed hands, and his tongue is represented by a stone sacrificial knife (Tecpatl).

Four previous suns or eras Edit

The four squares that surround the central deity represent the four previous suns or eras, which preceded the present era, "Four Movement" (Nahuatl: Nahui Ōllin). The Aztecs changed the order of the suns and introduced a fifth sun named "Four Movement" after they seized power over the central highlands. [16] Each era ended with the destruction of the world and humanity, which were then recreated in the next era.

  • The top right square represents "Four Jaguar" (Nahuatl: Nahui Ōcēlotl), the day on which the first era ended, after having lasted 676 years, due to the appearance of monsters that devoured all of humanity.
  • The top left square shows "Four Wind" (Nahuatl: Nahui Ehēcatl), the date on which, after 364 years, hurricane winds destroyed the earth, and humans were turned into monkeys.
  • The bottom left square shows "Four Rain" (Nahuatl: Nahui Quiyahuitl). This era lasted 312 years, before being destroyed by a rain of fire, which transformed humanity into turkeys.
  • The bottom right square represents "Four Water" (Nahuatl: Nahui Atl), an era that lasted 676 years and ended when the world was flooded and all the humans were turned into fish.

The duration of the ages is expressed in years, although they must be observed through the prism of Aztec time. In fact the common thread of figures 676, 364 and 312 is that they are multiples of 52, and 52 years is the duration of one Aztec "century", and that is how they can express a certain amount of Aztec centuries. Thus, 676 years are 13 Aztec centuries 364 years are 7, and 312 years are 6 Aztec centuries.

Placed among these four squares are three additional dates, "One Flint" (Tecpatl), "One Rain" (Atl), and "Seven Monkey" (Ozomahtli), and a Xiuhuitzolli, or ruler's turquoise diadem, glyph. It has been suggested that these dates may have had both historical and cosmic significance, and that the diadem may form part of the name of the Mexica ruler, Moctezuma II. [17]

First ring Edit

The first concentric zone or ring contains the signs corresponding to the 20 days of the 18 months and five nemontemi of the Aztec solar calendar (Nahuatl: xiuhpohualli). The monument is not a functioning calendar, but instead uses the calendrical glyphs to reference the cyclical concepts of time and its relationship to the cosmic conflicts within the Aztec ideology. [18] Beginning at the symbol just left of the large point in the previous zone, these symbols are read counterclockwise. The order is as follows:

1. cipactli – crocodile, 2. ehécatl – wind, 3. calli – house, 4. cuetzpallin – lizard, 5. cóatl – serpent, 6. miquiztli – skull/death, 7. mázatl – deer, 8. tochtli – rabbit, 9. atl – water, 10. itzcuintli – dog, 11. ozomatli – monkey, 12. malinalli – herb, 13. ácatl – cane, 14. océlotl – jaguar, 15. cuauhtli – eagle, 16. cozcacuauhtli – vulture, 17. ollín – movement, 18. técpatl – flint, 19. quiahuitl – rain, 20. xóchitl – flower [19]

Second ring Edit

The second concentric zone or ring contains several square sections, with each section containing five points. Directly above these square sections are small arches are said to be feather ornaments. Directly above these are spurs or peaked arches that appear in groups of four. [19] There are also eight angles that divide the stone into eight parts, which likely represent the sun's rays placed in the direction of the cardinal points.

Third and outermost ring Edit

Two fire serpents, Xiuhcoatl, take up almost this entire zone. They are characterized by the flames emerging from their bodies, the square shaped segments that make up their bodies, the points that form their tails, and their unusual heads and mouths. At the very bottom of the surface of the stone, are human heads emerging from the mouths of these serpents. Scholars have tried to identify these profiles of human heads as deities, but have not come to a consensus. [19] One possible interpretation of the two serpents is that they represent two rival deities who were involved in the creation story of the fifth and current "sun", Queztalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca. The tongues of the serpents are touching, referencing the continuity of time and the continuous power struggle between the deities over the earthly and terrestrial worlds. [20]

In the upper part of this zone, a square carved between the tails of the serpents represents the date Matlactli Omey-Ácatl ("13-reed"). This is said to correspond to 1479, the year in which the Fifth Sun emerged in Teotihuacan during the reign of Axayácatl, and at the same time, indicating the year in which this monolithic sun stone was carved. [19]

Edge of stone Edit

The edge of the stone measures approximately 8 inches and contains a band of a series of dots as well as what have been said to be flint knives. This area has been interpreted as representing a starry night sky. [19]

From the moment the Sun Stone was discovered in 1790, many scholars have worked at making sense of the stone's complexity. This provides a long history of over 200 years of archaeologists, scholars, and historians adding to the interpretation of the stone. [21] Modern research continues to shed light or cast doubt on existing interpretations as discoveries such as further evidence of the stone's pigmentation. [22] As Eduardo Matos Moctezuma stated in 2004: [19]

In addition to its tremendous aesthetic value, the Sun Stone abounds in symbolism and elements that continue to inspire researchers to search deeper for the meaning of this singular monument.

The earliest interpretations of the stone relate to what early scholars believed was its use for astrology, chronology, or as a sundial. In 1792, two years after the stone's unearthing, Mexican scholar Antonio de León y Gama wrote one of the first treatises on Mexican archaeology on the Aztec calendar and Coatlicue. [23] He correctly identified that some of the glyphs on the stone are the glyphs for the days of the month. [21] Alexander von Humboldt also wanted to pass on his interpretation in 1803, after reading Leon y Gama's work. He disagreed about the material of the stone but generally agreed with Leon y Gama's interpretation. Both of these men incorrectly believed the stone to have been vertically positioned, but it was not until 1875 that Alfredo Chavero correctly wrote that the proper position for the stone was horizontal. Roberto Sieck Flandes in 1939 published a monumental study entitled How Was the Stone Known as the Aztec Calendar Painted? which gave evidence that the stone was indeed pigmented with bright blue, red, green, and yellow colors, just as many other Aztec sculptures have been found to have been as well. This work was later to be expanded by Felipe Solís and other scholars who would re-examine the idea of coloring and create updated digitized images for a better understanding of what the stone might have looked like. [19] It was generally established that the four symbols included in the Ollin glyph represent the four past suns that the Mexica believed the earth had passed through. [24]

Another aspect of the stone is its religious significance. One theory is that the face at the center of the stone represents Tonatiuh, the Aztec deity of the sun. It is for this reason that the stone became known as the "Sun Stone." Richard Townsend proposed a different theory, claiming that the figure at the center of the stone represents Tlaltecuhtli, the Mexica earth deity who features in Mexica creation myths. [21] Modern archaeologists, such as those at the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, believe it is more likely to have been used primarily as a ceremonial basin or ritual altar for gladiatorial sacrifices, than as an astrological or astronomical reference. [4]

Yet another characteristic of the stone is its possible geographic significance. The four points may relate to the four corners of the earth or the cardinal points. The inner circles may express space as well as time. [25]

Lastly, there is the political aspect of the stone. It may have been intended to show Tenochtitlan as the center of the world and therefore, as the center of authority. [26] Townsend argues for this idea, claiming that the small glyphs of additional dates amongst the four previous suns—1 Flint (Tecpatl), 1 Rain (Atl), and 7 Monkey (Ozomahtli)—represent matters of historical importance to the Mexica state. He posits, for example, that 7 Monkey represents the significant day for the cult of a community within Tenochtitlan. His claim is further supported by the presence of Mexica ruler Moctezuma II's name on the work. These elements ground the Stone's iconography in history rather than myth and the legitimacy of the state in the cosmos. [27]

Connections to Aztec ideology Edit

The methods of Aztec rule were influenced by the story of their Mexica ancestry, who were migrants to the Mexican territory. The lived history was marked by violence and the conquering of native groups, and their mythic history was used to legitimize their conquests and the establishment of the capital Tenochtitlan. As the Aztecs grew in power, the state needed to find ways to maintain order and control over the conquered peoples, and they used religion and violence to accomplish the task. [28]

The state religion included a vast canon of deities that were involved in the constant cycles of death and rebirth. When the gods made the sun and the earth, they sacrificed themselves in order for the cycles of the sun to continue, and therefore for life to continue. Because the gods sacrificed themselves for humanity, humans had an understanding that they should sacrifice themselves to the gods in return. The Sun Stone's discovery near the Templo Mayor in the capital connects it to sacred rituals such as the New Fire ceremony, which was conducted to ensure the earth's survival for another 52-year cycle, and human heart sacrifice played an important role in preserving these cosmic cycles. [28] Human sacrifice was not only used in religious context additionally, sacrifice was used as a military tactic to frighten Aztec enemies and remind those already under their control what might happen if they opposed the Empire. The state was then exploiting the sacredness of the practice to serve its own ideological intentions. The Sun Stone served as a visual reminder of the Empire's strength as a monumental object in the heart of the city and as a ritualistic object used in relation to the cosmic cycles and terrestrial power struggles. [29]

The sun stone image is displayed on the obverse the Mexican 20 Peso gold coin, which has a gold content of 15 grams (0.4823 troy ounces) and was minted from 1917 to 1921 and restruck with the date 1959 from the mid 1940s to the late 1970s. Different parts of the sun stone are represented on the current Mexican coins, each denomination has a different section.

Currently the image is present in the 10 Peso coin as part of the New Peso coin family started in 1992 having .925 silver centers and aluminum bronze rings changing in 1996 where new coins were introduced with base metal replacing the silver center.

The sun stone image also has been adopted by modern Mexican and Mexican American/Chicano culture figures, and is used in folk art and as a symbol of cultural identity. [30]

In 1996 the Mexican national football team employed a depiction of the sun stone image on to its home, away and third match kits. With each individual shirt being assigned the green (home), white (away) and red (third) colors of the Mexican flag respectively. The kit was featured until the 1998 World Cup in which the Mexican side impressed the world with satisfying results.

Impact of Spanish Colonization Edit

After the conquest of the Aztec Empire by the Spanish in 1521 and the subsequent colonization of the territory, the prominence of the Mesoamerican empire was placed under harsh scrutiny by the Spanish. The rationale behind the bloodshed and sacrifice conducted by the Aztec was supported by religious and militant purposes, but the Spanish were horrified by what they saw, and the published accounts twisted the perception of the Aztecs into bloodthirsty, barbaric, and inferior people. [31] The words and actions of the Spanish, such as the destruction, removal, or burial of Aztec objects like the Sun Stone supported this message of inferiority, which still has an impact today. The Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan was covered by the construction of Mexico City, and the monument was lost for centuries until it was unearthed in 1790. [20] The reemergence of the Sun Stone sparked a renewed interest in Aztec culture, but since the Western culture now had hundreds of years of influence over the Mexican landscape, the public display of the monument next to the city's main cathedral sparked controversy. Although the object was being publicly honored, placing it in the shadow of a Catholic institution for nearly a century sent a message to some people that the Spanish would continue to dominate over the remnants of Aztec culture. [32]

Another debate sparked by the influence of the Western perspective over non-Western cultures surrounds the study and presentation of cultural objects as art objects. Carolyn Dean, a scholar of pre-Hispanic and Spanish colonial culture discusses the concept of “art by appropriation,” which displays and discusses cultural objects within the Western understanding of art. Claiming something as art often elevates the object in the viewer's mind, but then the object is only valued for its aesthetic purposes, and its historical and cultural importance is depleted. [33] The Sun Stone was not made as an art object it was a tool of the Aztec Empire used in ritual practices and as a political tool. By referring to it as a "sculpture" [33] and by displaying it vertically on the wall instead of placed horizontally how it was originally used, [20] the monument is defined within the Western perspective and therefore loses its cultural significance. The current display and discussion surrounding the Sun Stone is part of a greater debate on how to decolonize non-Western material culture.

There are several other known monuments and sculptures that bear similar inscriptions. Most of them were found underneath the center of Mexico City, while others are of unknown origin. Many fall under a category known as temalacatl, large stones built for ritual combat and sacrifice. Matos Moctezuma has proposed that the Aztec Sun Stone might also be one of these. [34]

Temalacatls Edit

The Stone of Tizoc's upward-facing side contains a calendrical depiction similar to that of the subject of this page. Many of the formal elements are the same, although the five glyphs at the corners and center are not present. The tips of the compass here extend to the edge of the sculpture. The Stone of Tizoc is currently located in the National Anthropology Museum in the same gallery as the Aztec Sun Stone.

The Stone of Motecuhzoma I is a massive object approximately 12 feet in diameter and 3 feet high with the 8 pointed compass iconography. The center depicts the sun deity Tonatiuh with the tongue sticking out. [35]

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has another,. [36] This one is much smaller, but still bears the calendar iconography and is listed in their catalog as "Calendar Stone". The side surface is split into two bands, the lower of which represents Venus with knives for eyes the upper band has two rows of citlallo star icons. [35]

A similar object is on display at the Yale University Art Gallery, on loan from the Peabody Museum of Natural History. [37] [38] The sculpture, officially known as Aztec Calendar Stone in the museum catalog but called Altar of the Five Cosmogonic Eras, [35] bears similar hieroglyphic inscriptions around the central compass motif but is distinct in that it is a rectangular prism instead of cylindrical shape, allowing the artists to add the symbols of the four previous suns at the corners. [35] It bears some similarities to the Coronation Stone of Moctezuma II, listed in the next section.

Calendar iconography in other objects Edit

The Coronation Stone of Moctezuma II (also known as the Stone of the Five Suns) is a sculpture measuring 55.9 x 66 x 22.9 cm (22 x 26 x 9 in [39] ), currently in the possession of the Art Institute of Chicago. It bears similar hieroglyphic inscriptions to the Aztec Sun Stone, with 4-Movement at the center surrounded by 4-Jaguar, 4-Wind, 4-Rain, and 4-Water, all of which represent one of the five suns, or "cosmic eras". The year sign 11-Reed in the lower middle places the creation of this sculpture in 1503, the year of Motecuhzoma II's coronation, while 1-Crocodile, the day in the upper middle, may indicate the day of the ceremony. [39] The date glyph 1-Rabbit on the back of the sculpture (not visible in the image to the right) orients Motecuhzoma II in the cosmic cycle because that date represents "the beginning of things in the distant mythological past." [39]

The Throne of Montezuma uses the same cardinal point iconography [40] as part of a larger whole. The monument is on display at the National Museum of Anthropology alongside the Aztec Sun Stone and the Stone of Tizoc. The monument was discovered in 1831 underneath the National Palace [41] in Mexico City and is approximately 1 meter square at the base and 1.23 meters tall. [40] It is carved in a temple shape, and the year at the top, 2-House, refers to the traditional founding of Tenochtitlan in 1325 CE. [40]

The compass motif with Ollin can be found in stone altars built for the New Fire ceremony. [35] Another object, the Ceremonial Seat of Fire which belongs to the Eusebio Davalos Hurtado Museum of Mexica Sculpture, [35] is visually similar but omits the central Ollin image in favor of the Sun.

The British Museum possesses a cuauhxicalli which may depict the tension between two opposites, the power of the sun (represented by the solar face) and the power of the moon (represented with lunar iconography on the rear of the object). This would be a parallel to the Templo Mayor with its depictions of Huitzilopochtli (as one of the two deities of the temple) and the large monument to Coyolxauhqui. [35]


2.3 Huémac&rsquos suicide and the end of the Toltec empire: a very &lsquooriginal&rsquo myth
Huémac, the mythical-historical king of Tollan, succeeds Quetzalcóatl in the year 9-Rabbit. According to the Anales de Cuauhtitlan he marries a mocihuaquetzqui (a woman who has died in childbirth and has become a goddess) by the name of Coacueye (&lsquoshe with the serpent skirt&rsquo), who dwells in a place called Coacueyacane. There isn&rsquot space here to recount the full story of Huémac&rsquos epic deed which finally led to the collapse of the Toltec empire and the king&rsquos suicide. Suffice to mention just a few of the key points:-
&bull Huémac succeeds Quetzalcóatl to the throne of Tollan
&bull Huémac shows disrespect to the Cihuatlatlacatecolo (&lsquowomen of evil spirits&rsquo) who trick him
&bull The &lsquowomen of evil spirits&rsquo together with Tezcatlipoca are due to come from the &lsquoplace of the soft fruit&rsquo
&bull Huémac ends his role as &lsquoThe Feathered Serpent&rsquo and is replaced by Cuauhtli
&bull The Toltecs suffer a terrible famine
&bull The practice of human sacrifice is established under the influence of Huémac
&bull Many omens are witnessed in Tollan
In his Memorial Breve Chimalpain writes:-
- In the town of Tullan a star appeared to give out smoke. The Toltecs took this as a sign
- They went to the &lsquoplace of maize&rsquo Cincoc
- There Huémac sacrifices a child to the gods of water
- Huémac tries to enter the cave Cincalco . He can&rsquot
- After these and other hardships Huémac hangs himself, in the cave.
This story establishes an organized, symbolic and thematic window, looking through which the Mexica people can view, filter and organize historical events &ndash and more generally, the world around them.

Pic 2: Scenes of foreboding in the Florentine Codex prior to the Spanish Conquest: a captive is sacrificed before Moctezuma&rsquos messengers (Book 12) (Click on image to enlarge)

2.4 The myth of the flight to Cincalco
Once he has taken the decision to go to Cincalco, the resting-place reserved for children, those who have been ritually skinned or strangled, and perhaps also those who have committed suicide, Moctezuma begins the ritual procedure required for those seeking refuge in this space-time afterlife ruled by Huémac. He gathers a group of sorcerers &ndash the only ones skilled in undertaking a shamanic descent into the world of the dead &ndash sends for the sacrifice and ritual skinning of a group of slaves, and prepares to offer xolos (servants or slaves).
The entrance to Cincalco, like the access to Mictlan, involves passing a series of initiation tasks. Moctezuma&rsquos envoys will need to return four times before he can be admitted.

First expedition
In the first phase of what in ceremonial protocol would be a ritual death associated with suicide, Moctezuma&rsquos guide is the avatar of the god Xipe Totec: Totec Chicahua(c) , &lsquoour lord with strength&rsquo. Huémac asks what is the cause of Moctezuma&rsquos troubles, and he sends the dwarves back to the world with a splendid array of vegetables. These envoys see themselves as being &lsquopunished&rsquo, and are stoned in the context of the myth &ndash something perhaps that, in terms of Mexica ritual practice, parallels the solemn sacrificial end meted out to sorcerers, hunchbacks and slaves, ritually fulfilling roles laid down in the myth.

Pic 3: Scenes of foreboding in the Florentine Codex prior to the Spanish Conquest: Moctezuma&rsquos emissaries return with bad news. (Click on image to enlarge)

Second expedition
The Mexica tlahtoani sends forth a second expedition to Cincalco, bearing similar offerings and a reply to Huémac&rsquos question: &lsquothat the affliction stems from certain things said to him by Nezahualpilli at the time of Moctezuma&rsquos impending death that he cannot rest or allay his fears, and wants to know his fate.&rsquo The blind man Ixtepetla guides this second ambassadorial mission to Cincalco , a pleasure-filled place described clearly by the re-tellers of the myth as akin to the Christian concept of Hell.
The result of this second mission is also negative. Huémac urges Moctezuma to enjoy his earthly benefits and denies him entry to Cincalco .

Third expedition
After ordering the luckless envoys to be executed, Moctezuma sends two Acolhuas &ndash in Durán&rsquos words, two of his &lsquochief allies&rsquo &ndash who return with different news. According to Huémac, arrogance and cruelty are the faults which will lead to the destruction of the Mexica empire and to the death of Moctezuma. This time Huémac agrees to the tlahtoani&rsquos request, ordering him to fast and do penance for 80 days.

Pic 4: Scenes of foreboding in the Florentine Codex prior to the Spanish Conquest: the burning of Aztec temples is predicted. (Click on image to enlarge)

Fourth expedition
At the end of Moctezuma&rsquos 80 day penance, the final expedition arrives at Cincalco seeking orders from Huémac, who commands the king to meet him, four days later, at Chapultepec, at a place called Tlachtonco . &lsquoOn hearing this, Moctezuma was much relieved the next day he ordered the Xolos slaves, the dwarves and hunchbacks, to reconnoitre Chapultepec.&rsquo
On completion of Moctezuma&rsquos penance, Huémac comes for him to take him to Cincalco. The tlahtoani and his people go to the meeting fully prepared for the ceremony. Everything is in place for Huémac to take Moctezuma to Cincalco, that is, in order to bring about the solemn suicide by hanging.
However, at this crucial moment the Tzoncoztli , also called by Durán texiptla , the &lsquoapprarition&rsquo of Huitzilopochtli, wakes up and, urged on by the god, runs to Tlachtonco to prevent what is about to happen.

Pic 5: The beginning of the end: the Spanish shackle Moctezuma, Florentine Codex Book 12 (Click on image to enlarge)

3. Moctezuma Xocoyotzin&rsquos funeral rites

The controversy surrounding Moctezuma&rsquos death continues with the issue of his funeral rites, though for different reasons. One hypothesis suggests that the Spanish, about to be overwhelmed by the enemy, ditched his body without a second thought. In his Segunda Carta de Relación, Cortés writes:-

I had two Indian prisoners remove his corpse and take him off to the hills, and I don&rsquot know what they did with him.

Clavijero offers a more solemn account of the event:-

Cortés informed Cuitlahuatzin of Moctezuma&rsquos death through the offices of two high-ranking prisoners who had witnessed his end. He ordered six Mexican nobles accompanied by a group of priests who were also in prison to dispose of the royal corpse.

Clavijero&rsquos version seems to be tinged with romanticism and hard to accept. Given the critical situation that Cortés found himself in, it&rsquos hardly likely he would have allocated prime time to informing Cuitlahuac of Moctezuma&rsquos death, or that he would have released several key nobles and priests.

Pic 6: The Spanish toss the bodies of Moctezuma and Itzcuautzin into the water, Florentine Codex Book 12 (Click on image to enlarge)

Sahagún confirms the disrespect the Spanish showed for the body of Moctezuma:-

Four days after being forced out of the temple, the Spanish returned to throw the dead bodies of Motecuhzoma and Itzcuauhtzin into the water&rsquos edge at a placed called Teoáyoc, named after the figure of a tortoise carved in stone there.

An illustration from the Florentine Codex, drawn by an indigenous tlahcuilo (painter) from his own viewpoint, shows the Spanish hurling Motecuhzoma and Itzcuautzin into the water. Once found and identified, their bodies were taken away by the local people.

Then they carried Moctezuma in their arms to a place called Copulco. There they placed him on a wooden pyre and set fire to his body. The flames began to crackle, to hiss and sizzle the higher they reached, the more they appeared as tongues shooting up to the sky. And the body of Moctezuma reeked and stank of scorched flesh as it burned.

From Copulco, Moctezuma&rsquos ashes were taken to Chapultépec and buried perhaps in the cave of Cinalco where Huémac had committed suicide:-

The Indians who had taken him off disappeared from our sight, and we never knew for certain what they did with him, though we assume from the wailing and mourning we could hear from there that they must have buried him in the hill and fountain of Chapultépec.

Pic 7: Moctezuma&rsquos body is carried away (top) and burned (bottom), Florentine Codex Book 12 (Click on image to enlarge)

- The ritual procession
The book Anales de Cuauhtitlan has left us a more detailed version of what might have been the ritual surrounding the death of Motecuhzoma:-

It was at Tecuilhuitontli that Motecuhzoma died. After his death, it was the one called Apanécatl who carried him away. He was then taken to Huitzillan. From there they sent him away. They also took him to Ehecatitlan where they shot him with a dart. They also took him to Tecpantzinco where again they sent him away, and again, they took him to Acatl iyacapan, where finally he was allowed in. Asked Apanécatl: &lsquoLords, Motecuhzoma grieves. Am I to carry him around for ever?&rsquo Then the Lords ordered: &lsquoTake him in!&rsquo And he was handed over to the servants, and later he was cremated.

The wanderings of Motecuhzoma&rsquos body prior to its cremation could have been due to the feelings of rejection shown to him by his fellows, according to some sources. It&rsquos more likely though that the route via Huitzillan, Ehecatitlan, Tecpantzinco and Acatl yyacapan was associated with a ritual procession. Sure enough, those places relate to the four entrances to the sacred precinct and hence to the four cardinal points. Huitzillan is to the South, Ehecatitlan to the West, Tecpantzinco to the North and Acatl yyacapan a short distance from the Templo Mayor, to the East.

Pic 8: New Fire Ceremony, Codex Borbonicus folio 34 (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

The cremation of Motecuhzoma at Copulco

It&rsquos interesting to note that the temple at Copulco - the place where, according to several sources, Motecuhzoma was burnt &ndash was also home to the fire priests (tlenamacaque) charged with lighting the New Fire every 52 years. In this sense Motecuhzoma&rsquos cremation could well have taken on a cosmic importance linked to the New Fire Ceremony. In pre-Hispanic times the ceremony took place at Huisachtlan (Iztapalapa) where the Copulco priests made a new fire on top of the chest of a captive. Once the bonfire was alight, the captive&rsquos heart was taken from his chest and thrown into the fire. In fact the captive&rsquos entire body was cast into the flames of this new fire.

It&rsquos quite possible that the disastrous situation in which the Mexica and their allies found themselves might have provoked a ritual cremation of Motecuhzoma&rsquos body, as a way of bringing to a clear end the tragic present and bringing about a renewal of (sacred) time. In fact the New Fire Ceremony or &lsquotying of the years&rsquo represented a critical moment between two cycles of time. If the new fire failed to light and a new cycle failed to start, the world would collapse into chaos.

Despite the supreme skill of the Fire Priests of Copulco, the fire that incinerated Motecuhzoma&rsquos body could not ignite a New Flame that would have given new life to Náhuatl culture. For the Mexica people, night had arrived for good.

Pic 9: The Spanish assault a Mexican temple, Florentine Codex Book 12 (Click on image to enlarge)

Motecuhzoma&rsquos ashes are consumed by chiefs

The Codex Tudela furnishes us with a slightly different version of the story of Motecuhzoma&rsquos cremation. According to this account, Cortés first ordered the burning of all the Aztec temples. On the death of Motecuhzoma,

The Indians took his body and hurried away with it to the fallen temple, still burning, and threw the body of Motenzuma (sic) into the blaze and they say that after it had burnt, the chiefs swallowed the ashes.

The act of hurling the Tlahtoani&rsquos body into the flames of a burning and fallen temple (perhaps the Main Temple) has a symbolic value of great importance to indigenous beliefs. The consuming of the ashes diluted in water by the chiefs shows that they considered themselves to be related to Motecuhzoma. This act of consuming his dead body also refers to a ritual of renewal or reincarnation.

For the conclusion of this article, and details of image sources, follow the link below.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Jul 24th 2010


Watch the video: Montezuma II: The End of the Aztec Empire