On this day in 1520, the Massacre in the Great Temple occurred. This happened while the Spanish had Moctezuma under house arrest. He had asked Cortés’ representative, Pedro de Alvarado, if his people could celebrate Toxcatl. While as many as a thousand Aztecs were celebrating the event, Alvarado went in with his men and killed them all. He then took all the precious stones and metal from their bodies. Cortés was apparently displeased and came back, but by the time he made it, Moctezuma had been murdered.
Now there are Spanish stories that supposedly explain all this. Alvarado apparently claimed that he simply intervened to stop a human sacrifice. Why doing that would require killing upwards of a thousand unarmed and mostly naked people is never made clear. It strikes me as an obvious lie to justify his theft. Plus, everything I’ve read about Alvarado indicates that he was a psychopath.
As for the murder of Moctezuma, it is usually reported as his having been stoned to death by his own people — upset about the massacre. But this strikes me as being between unlikely and impossible. Moctezuma was under house arrest. How did these angry Aztecs get to him? About the only possibility would be that Alvarado threw him out to them hoping that he could calm them. So regardless, Moctezuma was still killed by Alvarado.
Finally, I don’t want you to get the idea that Cortés was a good guy. He seems to have been a very capable conqueror. There is no reason to believe that he was especially worse than other Spaniards of his day — and he may have been better. But what Alvarado did made no long-term sense. The least you can say about him is that he wasn’t a psychopath.
So we mark this day, 495 years later.