Moctezuma
Aztec ruler

24 September 2009 –
24 January 2010


Exhibition closed

Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes logo Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia logo Mexicana Airline partner logo ArcelorMittal logo

This major exhibition explores Aztec (Mexica) civilisation through the divine, military and political role of the last elected ruler, Moctezuma II (reigned AD 1502–1520). Rediscover the world of the Mexica and trace the foundation of modern Mexico.


An unrivalled empire

From his capital in Tenochtitlan (the site of modern Mexico City), Moctezuma’s empire comprised much of modern highland Mexico, stretching from the Gulf Coast to the Pacific Ocean.

His power was reflected in the splendour of his capital’s architecture, his command of the prestigious Jaguar and Eagle military orders, and his sacrificial rituals to the gods. Moctezuma’s world was unrivalled, and this remained so until the devastating arrival of strangers – Cortés and his Spanish fleet.

The Spanish invasion

The legacy of this tumultuous event and the semi-mythical status of Moctezuma will be reassessed through the display of imposing stone sculptures and rare gold and turquoise objects, many of which will be seen for the first time in the UK.

Tracing modern Mexico

Rediscover the world of the Mexica and trace the foundation of modern Mexico in the British Museum’s next major exhibition on great rulers.

* The people and culture we know as 'Aztec' referred to themselves as the Mexica (pronounced Mé-shee-ka). This will be reflected in the exhibition.

“Autumn’s biggest show”
The Times

“A true-life epic”
The Guardian

“A sumptuous new exhibition”
Evening Standard

Full press release 

Turquoise mosaic mask, c. 1500–1521, Mexica/Mixtec.

Highlights from the exhibition

  • Mosaic mask of Tezcatlipoca

    Mosaic mask of Tezcatlipoca. Mexica/Mixtec, 15th–16th century AD. From Mexico. Find out more

  • Knife with a mosaic handle and a chalcedony blade

    Knife with a mosaic handle and a chalcedony blade. Mexica/Mixtec, 15th–16th century AD. From Mexico. Find out more

  • Mosaic mask of Quetzalcoatl

    Mosaic mask of Quetzalcoatl. Mexica/Mixtec, 15th–16th century AD. From Mexico. Find out more

  • Turquoise mosaic of a double-headed serpent

    Turquoise mosaic of a double-headed serpent. Mexica/Mixtec, 15th–16th century AD. From Mexico. Find out more

  • Nose Ornament, AD 1400 – 1521, Mexico

    Nose Ornament, AD 1400 – 1521, Mexico. Find out more

    Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes – Institutio Nacional de Antropologia e Historia
    © Trustees of the British Museum. Photo: Jorge Vertiz

  • Teocalli of Sacred Warfare, AD 1507, Mexico

    Teocalli of Sacred Warfare, AD 1507, Mexico. Find out more

    Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes – Institutio Nacional de Antropologia e Historia
    © Trustees of the British Museum. Photo: Jorge Vertiziz

  • Gold Turtle Necklace, AD 1400 – 1521, Mexico

    Gold Turtle Necklace, AD 1400 – 1521, Mexico.

    © Dumbarton Oaks, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC

  • Portrait of Moctezuma by Antonio Rodriguez

    Portrait of Moctezuma by Antonio Rodriguez. Oil on canvas, 1680–97.

    Museo degli Argenti, Florence
    © Su concessione del Ministero per I Beni e le Attività Culturali

Related gallery

Visit the Mexican gallery and discover the cultures of Mexico from prehistoric times to the sixteenth century.

Room 27: Mexico 


Teacher resources

Moctezuma teaching resources 

Moctezuma Powerpoint 


Shop

See related items from the British Museum shop online