When Montezuma Met Cortés
The True Story of the Meeting that Changed History
On November 8, 1519, the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés first met Montezuma, the Aztec emperor, at the entrance to the capital city of Tenochtitlan. This introduction—the prelude to the Spanish seizure of Mexico City and to European colonization of the mainland of the Americas—has long been the symbol of Cortés’s bold and brilliant military genius. Montezuma, on the other hand, is remembered as a coward who gave away a vast empire and touched off a wave of colonial invasions across the hemisphere. But is this really what happened?
Matthew Restall, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Latin American History at Pennsylvania State University and President of the American Society for Ethnohistory, departs from this traditional telling in his When Montezuma Met Cortés: The True Story of the Meeting that Changed History (Ecco, 2018). Restall uses “the Meeting”—what he dubs their first encounter—as the entry point into a comprehensive reevaluation of both Cortés and Montezuma. Drawing on rare primary sources and overlooked accounts by conquistadors and Aztecs alike, Restall explores Cortés’s and Montezuma’s posthumous reputations, their achievements and failures, and the worlds in which they lived—leading, step by step, to a dramatic inversion of the old story. As Restall takes us through this sweeping, revisionist account of a pivotal moment in modern civilization, he calls into question our view of the history of the Americas, and, indeed, of history itself.
Ryan Tripp teaches history at several community colleges, universities, and online extensions. In 2014, he graduated from the University of California, Davis, with a Ph.D. in History. His Ph.D. double minor included World History and Native American Studies, with an emphasis in Linguistic Anthropology and Indigenous Archeology.