Cuitlahuac (1467–1520)

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Cuitlahuac (1467–1520)

Cuitlahuac (b. before 1467; d. 1520), Aztec ruler, son of Axayacatl and older brother of Motecuhzoma II. Cuitlahuac governed the disintegrating Aztec Empire for a brief period during the Spanish invasion. Ruler of the town of Iztapalapa and one of his brother's chief advisers, Cuitlahuac was already a seasoned warrior and statesman when the Spaniards entered Mexico. According to native histories, he advised Motecuhzoma against allowing Hernán Cortés and his army to enter Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital. When Cortés occupied the city, he imprisoned Cuitlahuac along with Motecuhzoma. After the Aztecs turned against the invaders and laid siege to their headquarters, Cuitlahuac gained release on the pretense that he would reopen the market to allow food to reach the invaders.

Following Motecuhzoma's death and the flight of the Spaniards and their allies from the city on the night of 30 June-1 July 1520, Cuitlahuac was elected to succeed his brother (according to some accounts he assumed this role even before Motecuhzoma's demise). His leadership of the resistance to the ensuing Spanish-led siege was short-lived. Within a few months of his accession, he died. His death is frequently attributed to smallpox, the first of many Old World infectious diseases to strike Mexico's native population, but the early sources do not state this explicitly. He was succeeded by his young nephew Cuauhtemoc.

See alsoMesoamerica; Motecuhzoma II.


Burr Cartwright Brundage, A Rain of Darts: The Mexica Aztecs (1972).

Fernando De Alva Ixtlilxochitl, Obras históricas, 3d ed. (1975).

Miguel León-Portilla, The Broken Spears (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Aguilar Moreno, Manuel. Handbook to Life in the Aztec World. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

Berdan, Frances. The Aztecs of Central Mexico: An Imperial Society. Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth, 2005.

Hernández Chávez, Alicia. Mexico: A Brief History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

Townsend, Camila. Malintzin's Choices: An Indian Woman in the Conquest of Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006.

                                   Louise M. Burkhart