Published Date

May 1, 2004

Resource Type

Primary Source

This resource was developed in 2004 as part of “The Conquest of Mexico” by Nancy Fitch.

From Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Historia Verdadera, Volume 2, Chapter 91

The Great Moctezuma was about forty years old, of good height and well proportioned, slender, and muscular, not very attractive, of the natural color and shade of an Indian. He did not wear his hair long, but so as just to cover his ears, his scanty black beard was well shaped and thin. His face was somewhat long, but cheerful, and he had good eyes and showed in his appearance and manner both tenderness and, when necessary, gravity. He was very neat and clean and bathed once every day towards evening. He had many women as mistresses, daughters of Chieftains, and he had two great Cacicas as his legitimate wives, and when he had intercourse with them it was so secretly that no one knew anything about it, except some of his servants. He was free from unnatural offences. The clothes that he wore one day, he did not put on again until four days later.

He had over two hundred chieftains in his guard, in other rooms close to his own, not that all were meant to converse with him, but only one or another, and when they went to speak to him they were forced to take off their rich mantles and put on others of little worth, but they had to be clean, and they had to enter barefoot with their eyes lowered to the ground, and not to look up in his face. And they bowed before him three times, and said: “Lord, my Lord, my Great Lord,” before they reported to him. After making their reports, he dismissed them with few words. As they left, they did not turn their backs until they left the room and kept their faces toward him with their eyes to the ground.

I noticed another thing, that when other great chiefs came from distant lands about disputes or business, when they reached the apartments of the Great Moctezuma, they had to come barefoot and dressed like the poor, and they cannot enter directly into the Palace, but had to stand off on one side of door, because it was considered disrespectful to enter too quickly.

For each meal, his cooks prepared over thirty different dishes according to their customs and habits, and they placed small pottery braziers beneath the dishes so that they should not become cold. From meat, they prepared more than three hundred plates of the food that Moctezuma was going to eat, and more than a thousand for the guards. When he was going to eat, Moctezuma would sometimes go out with his chefs and stewards, and they would point out to him which dish was best, and of what birds and other ingredients it was composed, and as they advised him, so he would eat. It was not often that he would go out to see the food. I must also say, that it was like a pastime somewhat akin to the behavior of young children.

The diversity of the stews and the meats was such that we were not sure if it were human flesh or other things, for they daily cooked fowls, turkeys, pheasants, partridges, quail, tame and wild ducks, venison, wild boar, reed birds, pigeons, hares and rabbits, and many sorts of birds and other native species.