Cover image for When Montezuma met Cortés : the true story of the meeting that changed history / Matthew Restall.
When Montezuma met Cortés : the true story of the meeting that changed history / Matthew Restall.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ecco, [2018]

Physical Description:
xxxiii, 526 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some colour), maps ; 24 cm


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
972.02 RES Book Adult General Collection

On Order



A dramatic rethinking of the encounter between Montezuma and Hernando Cortés that completely overturns what we know about the Spanish conquest of the Americas

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? In a departure from traditional tellings, When Montezuma Met Cortés uses "the Meeting"--as Restall 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.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Restall (The Conquistadors), director of Latin-American studies at Penn State, makes an impressive and nuanced case for why radically reinterpreting the Nov. 8, 1519, encounter between Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés and Aztec emperor Montezuma leads to a totally different view of the following four centuries. "The Meeting," as Restall dubs it, is the founding myth of Latin-American history, an event that inhabits the liminal space between history and legend. What is known about the meeting has been gleaned almost entirely from one source: 16th-century foot-soldier Bernal Díaz's True History of New Spain, which Restall argues is neither true nor strictly historical. Using his knowledge of the Nahuatl language to revisit forgotten texts and parse eyewitness accounts of the Aztecs' "surrender," Restall strips away layers of accumulated historical sediment to reveal a meeting that looks very different from the version found in history textbooks and memorialized in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. According to Restall, the meeting wasn't a turning point but rather merely one moment in the Spanish-Aztec War, a brutal two-year struggle historically whitewashed in favor of an account that justifies and reinforces the European presence in the Americas and became the foundation for a false history of indigenous weakness and European superiority. Blending erudition with enthusiasm, Restall has achieved a rare kind of work-serious scholarship that is impossible to put down. Illus. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Restall (director, Latin American studies, Pennsylvania State Univ.; Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest) attempts to set the record straight on the 1519 meeting of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and Aztec emperor Montezuma, and the events preceding and following the encounter. He starts from the position that the record is heavily skewed in favor of Cortés and that these initial judgments have been passed down uncritically for centuries, acquiring a veneer of truth because they have been frequently reiterated. In this alternate telling, Montezuma was in control of events, not the conquistadors or Cortés. Restall addresses a number of myths; among them, that Cortés burned his ships to ground his troops, and that Montezuma ceded sovereignty to the Spaniard The author maintains that the battles for Tenochtitlan were less climatic than stated, and that the conflict was part of a longer Mesoamerican contest that lasted until 1550. Restall sometimes weakens his case by overstating it. Some of his surmises are just that, reasoned guesses, and the often-sarcastic tone does not help his argument. VERDICT Readers interested in the history of the Conquista will be attracted to this book, but may be disappointed in the results.-David Keymer, Cleveland © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Map: The Caribbean and Mesoamerica at the Time of the Spanish-Aztec Warp. viii
Prefacep. xi
Timelinep. xv
List of Illustrationsp. xx
Prologue: Inventionp. xxv
Part I
Chapter 1 Mysterious Kindnessp. 3
Chapter 2 No Small Amazementp. 25
Part II
Chapter 3 Social Grace and Monstrous Ritualp. 75
Chapter 4 The Empire in His Handsp. 117
Part III
Chapter 5 The Greatest Enterprisesp. 151
Chapter 6 Principal Plunderersp. 193
Part IV
Chapter 7 The Epic Boxerp. 231
Chapter 8 Without Mercy or Purposep. 281
Epilogue: Halls of the Montezumasp. 333
Acknowledgmentsp. 355
Appendix: Language and Label, Cast and Dynastyp. 359
Notesp. 373
Bibliography of References and Sourcesp. 469
Indexp. 509