British Museum – Moctezuma Exhibition

This major, London art exhibition explores Aztec (Mexica*) civilization through the divine, military and political role of the last elected ruler, Moctezuma II who reigned 1502–1520 CE. The Mexica arts were built on 3,000 year old traditions that went back to the Olmec tribes.

The exhibition helps us to rediscover the world of the Mexica and trace the foundation of modern Mexico. Attend from 24 September 2009 – 24 January 2010.

From his capital in Tenochtitlan (the site of modern Mexico City), Moctezuma II’s empire comprised most of modern highland Mexico, and it stretched from the Gulf Coast to the Pacific Ocean.

His awesome power was reflected in his splendid capital’s architecture, his command of the prestigious Jaguar and Eagle military orders and his official sacrificial rituals to the gods. He was considered a divine intermediary.

Moctezuma II’s world was unrivaled, and remained so until the ominous arrival of Cortés and his Spanish fleet, when they not only destroyed this leader, but their whole culture and tens of thousands of human lives — all in the quest for power and gold — much of it under the guise of “soul-saving”.
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The Spanish invasion was a tumultuous event and the semi-mythical status of Moctezuma II impacted the Mexica’s (Aztec’s) response to it. The Manchester Guardian article makes the salient point that the Mexica were excellent workers of gold, but they did not make their weapons from iron — a fatal mistake when up against the technologically-advanced Europeans.

The Ruler’s political and social responses and issues are reassessed through the display of imposing stone sculptures, rare gold and turquoise objects – personal and ceremonial. Many of these will be seen for the first time in the UK. Particularly note the black obsidian occult “mirror” traditionally made by the Mexicas, and much sought after their conquest.

The Mexica people wanted to rise against the intruders, but Moctezuma appeased them (for an unknown and out-of-character reason). The people rose up and injured their previously-divine ruler, but the exhibition suggests the Spanish murdered him afterwards.

Be aware that the blood-thirsty, warlike Mexica and their traditions are not for the faint-hearted. And, neither are the exploits of the Europeans. It’s a poignant end.

The Spanish brought smallpox, reducing the indigenous population of the Americas by 90% in a just a few years. They killed the people who had no resistance, in the millions. The Mexica feared the end of their world, and it in effect, that happened. A few Mexica, Mayans and Inca survived the European smallpox onslaught, but the great South American civilizations were gutted.

The people’s tried to hold off annihilation for 52 more years. Manchester Guardian’s Jones says ‘History’s incredible cruelty was written into their beliefs’. Moctezuma II may well have been a wise leader who saw their people had no chance. Go to the exhibition and draw your own conclusions, but certainly all these actions and reactions changed the course of history – American and European, then African (as the depopulated Americas needed workers).

Until January rediscover the world of the Mexica and trace the foundation of modern Mexico in the British Museum’s next major exhibition on great world rulers.

Learn more:
London’s British Museum – Moctezuma Exhibition 2009 – 2010

* The people and culture we know as ‘Aztec’ referred to themselves as the Mexica (pronounced Mé-shee-ka). This will be reflected in the exhibition.

(c)2009 mystic at Travel Vacation Review