In 1507, the Aztecs celebrated a New Fire Ceremony, and afterward the emperor Montezuma II (ruled 1502-1520) began hearing strange omens from his priests. By 1519, when he had come to believe that Quetzalcoatl would soon return to Earth, he began hearing rumors of a strange, godlike figure roaming the jungles. This creature had strangely white skin and a beard, something hardly ever seen among the Aztecs. He carried amazing deadly weapons, including a stick that shot fire, and he rode a fantastic four-legged monster.
With his horse—a creature unknown before the arrival of the Europeans—and his gun, the Spanish
Montezuma and Hernan Cortes greet each other. Montezuma initially thought Cortes was a savior for the Aztecs, but in fact he was there to conquer and destroy them. Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Corporation.
Conquistador Hernan Cortes (14851547) probably did seem like a creature from another world. Meanwhile Montezuma, believing Cortes must surely be the hoped-for savior, sent representatives bearing gold and other treasures, gifts that only excited the conquistador's greed for more. Their superior military technology and tactics—not to mention the surrounding peoples' resentment of the Aztecs—gave the Spaniards an enormous advantage. They conquered and destroyed the Aztecs in 1521.