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November 2019 marks the 500th anniversary of the meeting of Hernan Cortes and Aztec ruler Montezuma at the gates of the magnificent Aztec capital at Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City. Caroline Dodds Pennock is a specialist in the Aztecs. She takes Dan on a whirlwind tour through the events of that extraordinary year and the gigantic impact of the Spanish conquest that followed.Listen Now
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In high school, history students will look at the culture of the Aztec Empire found in Mexico prior to the Spanish conquest. This is the second of two quizzes on the subject and it looks specifically at Aztec religion and culture.
The Aztec Empire emerged around the 13th century and it was dominant in Mexico before the Spanish conquest of the 16th century. Aztec culture had a rich mythology connected to its religion which demanded human sacrifice. This may sound barbaric but the Aztecs were quite civilized. They had a complex calendar, well developed religious traditions and amazing buildings and pyramids. They also traded in some foods which have become popular, not just in Mexico, but throughout the world, such as corn and, perhaps more importantly, chocolate!
Take our second Aztec quiz and find out how much you know about the religion and culture of the Aztec Empire.
World History Quiz Questions and Answers Part 3 (Quiz 41-60)
41) The most important leader of the Mongols:
42) The countries where the civilization of the Incas flourished?
Answer: Equator, Peru, Chile.
43) One of the largest buildings of the Incas:
Answer: Temple of the Sun in Cusco.
44) The capital of the Inca empire:
45) One of the Inca cities which was situated at a height of nearly 3500 metres?
46) The most famous king of Mali in Africa:
47) The Moroccan scholar who lived in the middle of the 14th century?
Answer: Swahili is an Arabic word that means ‘of the coast’.
49) What does the word Barbarian mean?
50) Who was known as the father of English Poetry?
51) What are the two famous universities in England?
Answer: Oxford and Cambridge.
52) The number of labourers worked for the construction of the greatest pyramid, Khufu:
Answer: 3,00,000 men worked for 20 years to complete the work.
53) The Persian ruler who occupied the North Western Part of India in the 6th century B.C?
54) The Arab centre of veneration in Mecca:
55) What was the name given to the oldest art flower arrangement of the Japanese?
56) What names were given to the political parties in England in olden days?
57) Which is the coldest place in the world?
58) “The Queen of Mediterranean Sea”:
59) The historic Commander-in-Chief of Carthage in the punic wars:
60) The year in which Julius Caesar was murdered by Brutus:
Aztec Food – What Did the Aztecs Eat?
What did the Aztecs eat, and how did the Aztec food supply fulfill the nutritional requirements of one of Mesoamerica’s greatest civilizations?
The Aztec food supply was very different from that typically found in the Old World. While European nations possessed domesticated animals such as sheep and cattle, the Aztecs were quite limited when it came to meat, especially in terms of livestock. While certainly not a vegetarian society, the Aztecs, and the commoner classes in particular, existed primarily on vegetables, fruit and grains.
Aztec Crops – Vegetables and Grains
The Aztecs were heavily reliant upon vegetables and grains. When combined, these plant foods provided the Aztecs with much of their nutritional requirements:
- Maize (corn) – maize was an essential part of the Aztec diet, fulfilling the same basic needs as wheat in the Old World. Maize was used to make the dough for Aztec staples such as tortillas and tamales. The kernels were also added directly to various dishes and eaten straight off the cob (various drinks were also made from maize).
- Beans – beans were the second most important staple in the Aztec diet. They provided important amino acids not found in maize, and increased overall protein consumption.
- Squash – the Aztecs cultivated squashes, but were certainly not the first to do so. Squash cultivation is believed to have first occurred in Mesoamerica approximately 10,000 years ago.
- Chili peppers – chili peppers were used to flavor many Aztec dishes and were a good source of vitamin A and C. According to Luis Alberto Vargas and Janet Long-Solis (Food Culture in Mexico), chili peppers have been part of the Mexican diet for at least 7,000 years.
- Tomatoes and tomatillos
- Sweet potatoes
- Amaranth – amaranth was used as a grain by the Aztecs, who called it huautli (it was also an important part of the Inca diet, and is known as kiwicha in the Andes today).
A wide variety of tropical fruits were available to the Aztecs, many of which were unknown outside of the Americas:
- Avocado – avocados were seen as a fertility fruit by the Aztecs. The name of the fruit derives from the Nahuatl word ahuacatl, literally “testicle.”
- Cherimoya – more commonly known as custard apple.
- Guanábana (soursop) – from the same genus as cherimoya, with a similar creamy texture.
- Guayaba – the fruit of the guava tree, named xalcocotl by the Aztecs. Guayaba contains much higher levels of vitamin C than citrus fruit.
- Prickly pear – the fruit of the cactus plant. The fruit was called nochtli by the Aztecs, and is commonly known as tuna in modern-day Mexico.
- Zapote (sapote) – a family of fruits known collectively by the Aztecs as tzapotl. Tropical fruits of the zapote family include the sapodilla and mamey. Aztec chewing gum, or chicle, was made using sap from the sapodilla tree (Manilkara zapota).
Aztec Food – Meat
The Aztecs obtained their meat from both domesticated and wild animals. Meat was something of a luxury, and general graced the tables of the nobility. Domesticated sources of meat were limited to:
- Turkeys – turkeys were sold in markets throughout the Aztec Empire. According to Dirk R. Van Tuerenhout (The Aztecs: New Perspectives), “The turkey was the only true domesticated fowl in Mesoamerica.”
- Dogs – a breed of hairless dog (similar to the Peruvian Hairless Dog) was kept specifically for its meat.
- Muscovy ducks – a semi-domesticated duck, often served alongside turkey and dog during banquets and celebratory feasts.
- Rabbits – rabbits were bred in captivity and hunted in the wild.
- (Bees – while not a source of meat, the Aztecs did successfully domesticate bees for their honey)
The Aztec food supply also included meat from a number of wild animals, including:
- Wild ducks
- Wild boar
- Peccary – a small, pig-like animal.
Aztec Food – Fish and Other Food Sources from Lake Texcoco
The lakes of Central Mexico were another source of Aztec food. Many items harvested from these lakes were unknown to the Spanish Conquistadors. The Europeans, not without reason, were hesitant, if not unwilling, to sample a number of these delicacies:
Even if the ballgame had nothing to do with human sacrifice, it would still be a brutal bloodsport. The heavy rubber ball, like a massive lacrosse ball, could seriously injure any players. The Spaniards noted that players of the game were usually covered in horrific bruises. They even reported seeing players die during games.
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The Real Story of Montezuma, the Last of the Aztec Emperors
A little more than 500 years ago, a meeting occurred between two men that forever altered the course of history. The encounter took place in the magnificent Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, the seat of a wealthy and powerful Aztec empire that ruled over vast regions of central and southern Mexico. On Nov. 8, 1519, the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, after months of battling neighboring cities, entered Tenochtitlán and won an audience with the emperor we know as Montezuma II, the last fully independent ruler of the Aztec empire.
You probably think you know what happened next. Montezuma and his Aztec priests, believing the Spanish to be gods or the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, basically rolled over and handed Tenochtitlán to Cortés. And that's how a Spanish invading force of just a few hundred men conquered an empire of millions and initiated centuries of Spanish colonial rule in the Americas.
But that story, and particularly that version of Montezuma, are inventions, says Matthew Restall, a historian of colonial Latin America at Penn State University and author, most recently, of "When Montezuma Met Cortés: The True Story of the Meeting that Changed History."
"There are two Montezumas: the Montezuma who actually lived — the real, historical Montezuma — and the Montezuma who was invented after his death," says Restall. "The invented Montezuma in many ways is the opposite of the real Montezuma. The invented Montezuma is weak and a coward and a failure. He's superstitious, afraid of the Spaniards and overwhelmed by them."
If that's not the real Montezuma, then what really happened on that fateful day in 1519? And who was responsible for reducing the mighty Montezuma into nothing more than a doormat for the Spanish conquest?
A Glimpse at the Real Montezuma
One of the most difficult challenges facing historians like Restall is that even though the Aztecs were an advanced civilization that kept detailed written records and histories, all of those documents were destroyed by the end of the war with the Spanish. Thankfully, centuries of careful cross-disciplinary scholarship have revealed a picture of Montezuma that's at direct odds with his weak reputation.
"The real Montezuma was one of the strongest, most successful, most expansionist emperors that the Aztec empire ever had," says Restall.
First of all, Montezuma wasn't really his name. In Nahuatl, the indigenous Aztec language, he was called Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin. The first part of his name roughly translates as "he is one who frowns like a lord," and the second part means "honored young one" to distinguish him from an earlier emperor with the same frowny name. The Spanish heard and recorded the name as both Moctezuma and Montezuma, the latter being the most common spelling in English.
After inheriting the throne from his uncle, the great military leader Ahuitzotl, Montezuma ruled for two decades (1502–1520) and expanded the Aztec empire to its greatest size by conquering rival kingdoms stretching from modern-day Mexico City to Chiapas. He made powerful enemies in the process, including the rival Tlaxcaltecs, with whom the Aztecs brokered a fragile peace. While overseeing this vast empire, Montezuma received tributes of gold, agricultural products and slaves that enriched the ruling classes of Tenochtitlán.
More than a military man, Montezuma was also an intellectual and a collector.
"He maintained a vast complex of libraries, zoos and gardens in Tenochtitlán," says Restall. "Montezuma used these libraries, zoos and gardens to organize flora, fauna, objects and even people from throughout his empire."
In fact, Restall thinks it may have been Montezuma's innate curiosity, and not his alleged cowardice, that was the emperor's Achilles' heel.
"When the Spaniards arrive, Montezuma is fascinated by them he's not afraid of them at all," says Restall. "So rather than behave in a barbaric way — which is to attack them and kill them — Montezuma very cleverly lures the Spaniards into his city and puts them up as his guest in his father's palace, in order to study them and learn from them. In effect, he's collecting them, almost like a new acquisition for his zoo."
Was it a mistake for Montezuma to invite an invading army into his city and host them like royalty for six months while peppering them with questions and conversation? "Yes," says Restall. "If anything, that was his failing. Montezuma was so fascinated by them that he couldn't see beyond that."
Montezuma's Surrender: Lost in Translation?
If Montezuma wasn't in fact a weakling or a coward, then why did he surrender immediately to Cortés and his army at that first meeting in 1519? The answer, of course, is that he didn't surrender at all. The earliest account of Montezuma's alleged surrender was written by Cortés himself, and was either a gross mistranslation or more likely a total fabrication to cover up the Spaniard's desperate situation.
First, some context. Cortés wrote his account of the famous meeting with Montezuma a year after it happened. By 1520, the Spanish were at an absolute low point in their bloody war with the Aztecs. Montezuma was dead, Cortés had lost two-thirds of his men fleeing Tenochtitlán, and the Spanish had taken refuge with the Tlaxcaltecs, the Aztecs' traditional enemy. Cortés was also on the lam, wanted for mutiny by the Spanish colonial authorities in Cuba.
It was at this precarious moment that Cortés sat down and wrote a letter to King Charles V of Spain. Instead of asking the king for help or a royal pardon, Cortés told the story of the day he met Montezuma.
According to Cortés, the Spanish were greeted by nearly a thousand Aztecs in "rich costumes." Crossing a wooden bridge into the island city of Tenochtitlán, they were met by "Señor Moctezuma," dressed in even finer cotton robes and accompanied by a retinue of noblemen. Cortés and Montezuma exchanged gifts — the conquistador presented the emperor with a necklace of "pearls and glass diamonds" and Montezuma reciprocated with jewelry adorned with shells and gold figurines.
Montezuma showed the Spaniards into the salon of a "very large and splendid palace" where the Aztecs continued to shower their guests with gold and silver jewelry, ornate featherwork and "six thousand pieces of cotton cloth." Once everyone was seated on cushions, Montezuma began his speech.
This speech, Restall notes, would have been delivered through "a chain of translators." Cortés traveled with a Spanish priest who had shipwrecked in the Yucatan and learned some Maya. And among the Aztecs was a woman who also spoke Maya. So whatever Montezuma said would have first been spoken in Nahuatl, then translated to Maya, then retranslated from Maya to Spanish.
According to Cortés, writing a year later from his memory of a twice-translated speech, Montezuma related a story of an ancient Aztec ruler who departed long ago with a promise of returning to "conquer this land, and reduce [the Aztecs] to subjection as his vassals." Montezuma said he believed that the Spanish were those prophesied conquerors, and even recognized the king of Spain as "our natural sovereign."
"In that speech, Montezuma supposedly says, 'I've been waiting for you. All I've been doing is holding this seat for you, the representative of our true natural lord, the King of Spain,'" says Restall. "It's absurd, objectively speaking. You read this and you think, how could people believe this? It's so clearly self-serving."
But Cortés knew his audience and knew that the king of Spain would eat it up. A fabulously wealthy Aztec empire pledging its loyalty to Spain? Yes, please! Overnight, Cortés went from being a mutinous rebel to a conquering hero. His letter was printed and published across Spain.
Montezuma's Death and Unfair Legacy
We'll never know what Montezuma really told Cortés when they first met in 1519. But the fact is that Montezuma didn't surrender. He hosted the Spanish for six months, providing them with food, gold trinkets and women, until Cortés had to march back down to the Veracruz coast to repel a Spanish battalion sent from Cuba to arrest him.
While Cortés was away from Tenochtitlán, something tragic happened. His aide Pedro de Alvarado, who was left in charge of 100 Spanish troops, mistook an Aztec religious ceremony with ornate costumes and drumming for war preparations. In a panic, Alvarado and his men massacred dozens of Aztecs in the Great Temple, chopping arms off the drummers and murdering unarmed Aztec priests.
Knowing this meant all-out war, the Spanish captured Montezuma and held him prisoner in the palace. When Cortés returned, he joined the fight raging in Tenochtitlán. At some point, Montezuma was allowed to walk onto the palace patio and speak to the Aztecs. According to the Spanish, Montezuma was killed by a rock thrown from one of his own men, apparently infuriated that Montezuma was urging peace with the conquistadors. More likely, Restall believes Montezuma was murdered by the Spanish.
The war between the Spanish and Aztecs raged on for years and resulted in a horrific loss of life from both battle and disease. Cortés and the Spanish eventually succeeded in toppling Tenochtitlán, but only with the critical help of Tlaxcaltec warriors.
Restall believes that the myth of Montezuma's surrender has persisted in the popular imagination because it's "a key lie" that justifies the conquest of Mexico. Instead of a war of aggression, the Spanish were bringing civilization and Christianity to Mesoamerica. Of course Montezuma surrendered, because he was overwhelmed and amazed by the technological advances of Cortés.
In the decades after the Spanish conquest, indigenous Mexicans were also taught that Montezuma was a weak emperor who bowed to the technologically superior Spanish, which made Montezuma an easy scapegoat for the cruelties of colonial rule.
"For very different reasons, this cowardly Montezuma makes sense to people," says Restall of Montezuma's inaccurate legacy. "He allows them to take a very complicated story with a lot of dark elements and makes it very simple and straightforward."
What about the myth that Montezuma thought the Spanish were gods? According to historian Camila Townsend, that was invented in 1552 by Francisco López de Gómara, a chaplain-biographer to Cortés who never stepped foot in Mexico. The myth that Montezuma equated Cortés with the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl also wasn't popularized until the late 16th century.
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Aztec, self name Culhua-Mexica, Nahuatl-speaking people who in the 15th and early 16th centuries ruled a large empire in what is now central and southern Mexico. The Aztecs are so called from Aztlán (“White Land”), an allusion to their origins, probably in northern Mexico. They were also called the Tenochca, from an eponymous ancestor, Tenoch, and the Mexica, probably from Metzliapán (“Moon Lake”), the mystical name for Lake Texcoco. From Tenochca was derived the name of their great city, Tenochtitlán, and from Mexica came the name for the city that superseded the Aztecs capital and for the surrounding valley, which was applied later to the whole Mexican nation. The Aztecs referred to themselves as Culhua-Mexica, to link themselves with Colhuacán, the centre of the most-civilized people of the Valley of Mexico.See alsopre-Columbian civilizations: Aztec culture to the time of the Spanish conquest.
The origin of the Aztec people is uncertain, but elements of their own tradition suggest that they were a tribe of hunters and gatherers on the northern Mexican plateau before their appearance in Mesoamerica in perhaps the 12th century ce Aztlán, however, may be legendary. It is possible that their migration southward was part of a general movement of peoples that followed, or perhaps helped trigger, the collapse of the Toltec civilization. They settled on islands in Lake Texcoco and in 1325 founded Tenochtitlán, which remained their chief centre. The basis of Aztec success in creating a great state and ultimately an empire was their remarkable system of agriculture, which featured intensive cultivation of all available land, as well as elaborate systems of irrigation and reclamation of swampland. The high productivity gained by those methods made for a rich and populous state.
Under the ruler Itzcóatl (1428–40), Tenochtitlán formed alliances with the neighbouring states of Texcoco and Tlacopan and became the dominant power in central Mexico. Later, by commerce and conquest, Tenochtitlán came to rule an empire of 400 to 500 small states, comprising by 1519 some 5,000,000 to 6,000,000 people spread over 80,000 square miles (207,200 square km). At its height, Tenochtitlán itself covered more than 5 square miles (13 square km) and had upwards of 140,000 inhabitants, making it the most densely populated settlement ever achieved by a Mesoamerican civilization. The Aztec state was a despotism in which the military arm played a dominant role. Valour in war was, in fact, the surest path to advancement in Aztec society, which was caste- and class-divided but nonetheless vertically fluid. The priestly and bureaucratic classes were involved in the administration of the empire, while at the bottom of society were classes of serfs, indentured servants, and outright slaves.
Aztec religion was syncretistic, absorbing elements from many other Mesoamerican cultures. At base, it shared many of the cosmological beliefs of earlier peoples, notably the Maya, such as that the present earth was the last in a series of creations and that it occupied a position between systems of 13 heavens and 9 underworlds. Prominent in the Aztec pantheon were Huitzilopochtli, god of war Tonatiuh, god of the sun Tlaloc, god of rain and Quetzalcóatl, the Feathered Serpent, who was part deity and part culture hero. Human sacrifice, particularly by offering a victim’s heart to Tonatiuh, was commonly practiced, as was bloodletting. Closely entwined with Aztec religion was the calendar, on which the elaborate round of rituals and ceremonies that occupied the priests was based. The Aztec calendar was the one common to much of Mesoamerica, and it comprised a solar year of 365 days and a sacred year of 260 days the two yearly cycles running in parallel produced a larger cycle of 52 years.
The Aztec empire was still expanding, and its society still evolving, when its progress was halted in 1519 by the appearance of Spanish explorers. The ninth emperor, Montezuma II (reigned 1502–20), was taken prisoner by Hernán Cortés and died in custody. His successors, Cuitláhuac and Cuauhtémoc, were unable to stave off Cortés and his forces, and, with the Spanish capture of Tenochtitlán in 1521, the Aztec empire came to an end.
57 history questions for your home pub quiz
In our current times, many of us are taking the opportunity to create a quiz from home to share with family and friends – but you might be stumped for the right questions. We have rounded up a selection of questions from across HistoryExtra feel free to mix and match to create your own history pub quiz…
- Which queen had the shortest reign of Henry VIII’s six wives?
- In 16th-century Japan, who was Yasuke?
- Who wrote the 12th-century account Historia regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain), which is often credited with making the legend of King Arthur popular?
- It is thought that Harriet Tubman directly rescued around 300 people from slavery and gave instructions to help dozens more. But in which conflict did she become the first woman to lead an armed assault?
- In which country is the Bay of Pigs?
- Which medieval queen was married to both Louis VII of France and Henry II of England?
- Who was the first human to journey into space?
- Whose body was exhumed from Westminster Abbey, more than two years after his death, to be ‘executed’ for treason?
- Who ultimately succeeded King Alfred the Great as ‘king of the Anglo-Saxons’?
- By what nickname is Edward Teach better known?
- Julius Caesar was assassinated on 15 March 44 BC, a date now often known by what term?
- Where did the Great Fire of London begin, on 2 September 1666?
- What German dance, which sees partners spinning together in close contact, was condemned as depraved when it was first seen in Regency society?
- Which king preceded Queen Victoria?
- Guy Bailey, Roy Hackett and Paul Stephenson made history in 1963, as part of a protest against a bus company that refused to employ black and Asian drivers in which UK city?
- Who famously duelled Alexander Hamilton on 11 July 1804, resulting in the founding father’s death?
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- What is considered the world’s oldest writing system?
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- Although never taking her seat, who was the first woman to be elected to the houses of parliament?
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- Can you name the five beach codenames used by Allied forces on D-Day?
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- In August 1819, around 60,000 peaceful pro-democracy protestors were attacked in an open square in Manchester. This event was known as…
- Which rock band formed in 1994 takes its name from a term used by the Allies in the Second World War to describe various UFOs?
- In which year did Emily Wilding Davison die as a result of a collision with King George V’s horse during the Epsom Derby?
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- Which English king died in 1066, leaving no heir to the throne?
- Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and…? Who was the third astronaut involved in the Apollo 11 mission that landed on the moon?
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- During the US civil rights movement in the 1960s, who said: “We declare our right on this earth…to be a human being…by any means necessary”?
- Who was the wife of the future Henry VIII’s older brother, Arthur?
- What is trepanning?
- In which decade did the potato famine strike Ireland?
- Who led the Scottish army to victory over the English at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314?
- What were the four humours that the ancient Greeks believed made up the body and determined illness?
- Who sent the Spanish Armada to England in 1588?
- Which English king built castles in the 13th century to help conquer Wales?
- The Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law by which US president in 1882?
- Which 19th-century Englishwoman became the first qualified medical doctor?
- Which part of Berlin was enclosed by the wall?
- Which prominent Kurd, born in Tikrit, united Muslim forces against the crusaders in the 12th century?
- Which rebellious leader of the Catuvellauni tribe was caught and taken to Rome in AD 50, then pardoned by Emperor Claudius?
- Which American president was in power during the ‘Black Thursday’ Wall Street crash?
- At what famous French landmark was the document signed which set out the terms of ‘peace’ following the First World War?
- Where were Charles I’s headquarters during the Civil War?
- Who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914?
- Who was the last king of the Plantagenet line of monarchs?
- The controversial film Birth of a Nation, which was released in 1915, was used as a recruiting tool for which organisation?
- What was Eleanor Roosevelt’s maiden name?
- Who was the last tsar of Russia?
- During 1963, in Washington DC, Martin Luther King Jr gave his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech on the steps of which famous landmark?
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