Exhibition overview

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).

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An introduction to the last Aztec ruler, Moctezuma II

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.

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Images: Turquoise mosaic mask, c. 1500–1521, Mexica/Mixtec.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

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1. Nose Ornament, AD 1400 – 1521, Mexico. Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes - Institutio Nacional de Antropologia e Historia © The Trustees of the British Museum Photo: Jorge Vertiz
2. Teocalli of Sacred Warfare, AD 1507, Mexico. Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes - Institutio Nacional de Antropologia e Historia © The Trustees of the British Museum Photo: Jorge Vertiziz
3. Gold Turtle Necklace, AD 1400 – 1521, Mexico. © Dumbarton Oaks, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC
4. 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

Turquoise Aztec mask