Who Was King Montezuma II? - Biography, Facts & Aztec History

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

The Aztecs ruled one of the most impressive empires in Central America, but how did their power and influence come to an end? In this lesson, you will learn about Montezuma II, the ninth Aztec king who lost his empire to the Spanish.

The Aztec Empire

What comes to mind when you think of the empires of Central America...human sacrifice, massive temples, powerful and vengeful gods, Spanish conquest? The Aztec Empire had all of these things and more. Located in the heart of Mexico, the city of Tenochtitlan became the heart of the Aztec Empire. Built in the middle of a swampy lake, the Aztecs created a massive city with large roads and canals for trade. In fact, Aztec engineers were so advanced that they built large aqueducts, or large pipes, that brought fresh water into the city. The center of the city had a large marketplace, fantastic pyramids for the Aztec gods, and a place to play sports.

But Tenochtitlan was more than just the capital of the Aztec Empire; it was the home to the powerful kings that ruled the Aztecs and other tribes they conquered. From Tenochtitlan, the Aztec kings built their armies and created plans for war. They also demanded tributes, or payment from the people they conquered. Of the eleven kings that ruled the Aztecs, the most famous was Montezuma II.

Montezuma II

Montezuma II was born around the year 1466 in the city of Tenochtitlan. As a kid, he learned many of the subjects that students today learn in school, like science and astronomy. Of all of the things he studied, Montezuma loved religion the most and actually became a priest at one of Tenochtitlan's large temples before he became a king.

At the age of 36, Montezuma took the Aztec throne after his uncle, Ahuitzotl died. Ahuitzotl was an impressive ruler. During his time as emperor, he fought wars all over central America and doubled the size of the Aztec Empire. By the time Montezuma became the king, Aztec influence spread from Mexico into Nicaragua and Honduras.

17th century engraving of Montezuma II
Montezuma II

The biggest issue for Montezuma as a new king was what to do with such a large empire. His uncle had spent so much time and effort expanding, but Montezuma's responsibility became maintaining that power. The peoples conquered by the Aztecs had to make payments to Tenochtitlan and to the king. These payments came in the form of gold, precious metals, foods, and different goods. Montezuma decided to increase the size of the tributes, and he also demanded that the conquered tribes pay him human tributes, too. Montezuma was very superstitious and very religious; the human tributes were used as sacrifices to please the gods.

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