February 28th 1525: Cuauhtémoc executed

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Cuauhtémoc (c. 1495 – 1525)

 

On this day in 1525, the Aztec ruler of Tenochtitlán Cuauhtémoc was executed by Hernán Cortés’s Spanish forces. Cuauhtémoc began his reign in 1520 soon after his relative Moctezuma II died in battle with the Spanish. Becoming ruler at the young age of 25, he came to power over a land besieged. He faced the threat of the Spanish invasion and a smallpox epidemic, and battled bravely to save Tenochtitlán.

 

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Torture of Cuauhtémoc (late 19th Century painting by Leandro Izaguirre)

 

However Cuauhtémoc was captured on August 13th 1521, along with his family and most of the remaining Tenochtitlán nobles. The king asked Cortés to kill him, but the conquistador refused and initially let him go. However, lust for the fabled Aztec gold was too much, and Cortés’s forces eventually recaptured and tortured Cuauhtémoc to find its whereabouts.

 

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Hernán Cortés (1485 – 1547)

 

In 1525, Cortés ordered Cuauhtémoc executed for supposedly plotting to kill leading Spaniards, Cortés included. This claim has never been verified, but Cuauhtémoc is remembered in Mexico as a brave warrior who fought to save his country from the invaders. The Aztec Empire was a rich culture, and its history was tragically cut short by the arrival of European colonialists. However the memory of the empire, and its brave leaders like Moctezuma and Cuauhtémoc, endures to this day.

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