Montezuma: Warlord of the Aztecs / Edition 1

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Peter G. Tsouras places Aztec civilization in the context of world history through the story of Montezuma (ca. 1466-1520), who ascended to the Aztec throne after having been educated as a priest and having served well as a military commander. Transforming himself into a pitiless autocrat, he killed indiscriminately in his own land and waged wars of conquest against his neighbors, adding territory to his empire. Montezuma believed the arrival of a Spanish expedition in 1519, headed by Hernan Cortes, was fulfilling a prophecy, and instead of resisting he cautiously offered gifts. Montezuma fell to the conquistadors, surrendering his power, wealth, and sovereignty, and finally aligning himself with Cortes in battle against his own people. The Spaniards killed Montezuma after his brother led an uprising against them.

Against the backdrop of ancient Mexico's rich cultural heritage, Tsouras captures the tragedy that befell Mexico during Montezuma's reign.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Peter Tsouras has written an engaging and informative chronicle of the life of the last emperor of the Aztec Empire, Moctezuma II....this short work delivers more than a reader has a right to expect from so few pages."

"A fascinating story of an Indian caudillo who built an empire, only to turn it over to the conquering Spaniards."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781574888225
  • Publisher: Potomac Books
  • Publication date: 10/31/2005
  • Series: Military Profiles
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

A former U.S. Army officer, Peter G. Tsouras is a senior military intelligence analyst, a military historian, and the author or editor of two dozen works of military history and alternate history. Many of his books have been selected by the History Book Club and the Military Book Club and have been widely translated. He is the author of Britannia’s Fist: From Civil War to World War—An Alternate History (Potomac Books, Inc., 2008). A regular guest on the History Channel and similar venues in Britain and Canada, Tsouras lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
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Read an Excerpt


Cortés could not pronounce his name and gave it a Spanish flavor—Montezuma. There was much more about this Indian ruler of fifteen million subjects that the Conquistador did not understand than his name—Motecuhzoma, the Angry Lord. But he did grasp the one most correct thing about this mighty man. He was the single point of failure for his empire, indeed, for his civilization.

Two hundred years before, the Aztecs, or more correctly, the Mexica, had been wandering barbarians before they found their way into the lush Valley of Mexico. There they found civilization, carved out with the obsidian sword the greatest empire North America had ever seen, and built a brilliant capital that ranked as one of the great cities of the world. Mexica armies conquered from the Gulf to the Pacific coasts to the borders of Guatemala. A million bearers carried the tribute of a world into the capital every eighty days.

Motecuhzoma was absolute master of this world, the last of the Mexica rulers to have assumed his throne before the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico. He was an accomplished warrior and general who had added to the endless string of Mexica conquests. To him was due the great fluorescence of this civilization as the wealth of Mexico created a cosmopolitan civilization never seen in the Americas. To him also was due the brutal centralization of the empire that withered initiative and flexibility among the Mexica. Always before, Mexica rulers had relied on the good counsel of experienced men. Motecuhzoma kept his own counsel. As the glories of empire mounted, Mexica society lost a vital element of adaptability, the very qualities neededto repulse conquerors from across the sea.

Still, even a rigid structure could well have dealt with Cortés had it been ably led by this autocrat. Instead, the autocrat cracked, victim of his own superstitious nature and a legend of a returned god come to reclaim his rightful empire. The Mexica imperial idea was based on the claim that it was the legitimate heir of the near-mythical time of perfection, the Toltec Empire. Much like the legacy of Rome in Medieval Europe, the Toltecs exerted a powerful pull on the minds of its successors. The creator of that empire, the man-god Quetzalcoatl had sailed away to the east vowing someday to return. That prophecy had not been an important element of Mexica imperial ideology. It lay slumbering safely in the ever-receding future, as safely as the Second Coming, until Cortés arrived in the year associated with Quetzalcoatl.

With that, Motecuhzoma was undone. His moral center collapsed as he allowed Cortés to march into his capital and then turned over the empire to him as a god or emissary of a god. The Mexica could do nothing but watch in growing anger and consternation, cowed by the absolutism of Motecuhzoma. The slavish obedience that Motecuhzoma had instilled stayed the hands of men who would have made short work of the Spaniards. Cortés exploited this weakness to the hilt and through Motecuhzoma's willing collaboration, seized control of the functioning empire. It would have worked had not one of his subordinates committed a mass atrocity that broke all the bounds of obedience. But for the Mexica, it was too late. Their victories would be ephemeral, their wounds too deep.

A few words on the pronunciation of names in Náhuatl, the language of the Mexica and central Mexico. Durán referred to it as language of poetry, infinite metaphors, and great subtlety. All words in Náhuatl are accented on the second the last syllable. The x is pronounced as a sh; the h is spoken with a soft aspirant as in English. The tl and tz represent single sounds. The u used before a, e, i, and o is pronounced like the English w. Cu before vowels is pronounced kw. Mexica—may-SHEE-kha and Huitzilopochtli—weets-eel-oh-POCH-tlee; Tenochtitlan—tay-noch-TEE-tlan; Cuitláhuac—Kwe-TLAH-hwac. Many place names were hispanized, simply because Spanish tongues could not pronounce Náhuatl words. Cuauhnahuac (Near the Trees) became Cuernavaca, and Tollan became Tula.

Special thanks to my oh-so-talented wife, Patty, who created the splendid maps for this book and to the family of Keith Henderson for the incomparable illustrations in this book.

Peter G. Tsouras
Lieut. Col, USAR (ret)

August 2003
Alexandria, Virginia

The name "Aztec" is derived from their place of origin—Atzlan. On their journey, their deity ordered them to change their name to "Mexica". After the Conquest, the name Aztec was revived when their history was studied and applied to all the Náhuatl-speaking inhabitants of Central Mexico.

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Table of Contents

List of Maps ix
Preface xi
Chronology xv
Chapter 1 The Rise of Empire 3
Chapter 2 "There Was Dread in the World" 18
Chapter 3 Arrow Wars and Flower Wars 33
Chapter 4 Omens of the End of the World 41
Chapter 5 The Meeting of Two Worlds 50
Chapter 6 The Taming of Motecuhzoma 61
Chapter 7 "He Had Survived His Honor" 70
Chapter 8 The Dusk of Empire 86
Epilogue 95
Notes 98
Bibliographic Note 106
Index 111
About the Author 115
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