Civilization V CIVILOPEDIA Online
Civilizations and Leaders


c.1397-1469 AD




Leader of The Aztecs

Game Info:

Sacrificial Captives

Gains culture Culture for the empire from each enemy unit killed.


A mighty warrior and leader, Montezuma I helped propel the Aztec nation to greatness and glory. He should not be confused with his unfortunate grandson Montezuma II, who watched helplessly as his empire was dismantled by Spanish Conquistadors.

Early Life

Montezuma (whose name means "he frowns like a lord") came from a royal family. His father Huitzilihuitl was the second Aztec "tlatoani" or emperor, and his mother, Miahuaxihuitl, was the daughter of the ruler of the city of Cuauhnahuac. Following his father's death, Montezuma's uncle Itzcoatl was elected. Montezuma's older brother Tlacaelel was one of Itzcoatl's closest advisors, while Montezuma served as a general in the Aztec army.

Following Itzcoatl's death in 1440, Montezuma was elected emperor. Tlacaelel did not seem at all unhappy about being bypassed (perhaps he thought he'd live longer if he didn't get the crown), and by all accounts he served his brother faithfully. Montezuma's coronation was a huge ceremony involving the sacrifice of many prisoners.

A Modest Lifestyle

Despite the opulence of his political title, it appears that Montezuma himself lived modestly, in a simple palace with "just a few wives." When not engaged in religious duties or matters of state, he spent much of his time in consultation with his friends and advisors.

Domestic Policy

During his reign Montezuma and his brother Tlacaelel worked to improve the Aztec city Tenochtitlan. Among other improvements they constructed an aqueduct system which brought a good deal of fresh water into the city. Of course as Tenochtitlan grew, in addition to fresh water it required ever greater amounts of food to sustain its hungry population. Since Central America lacked draft animals, every single morsel of food had to be transported to the city on somebody's back. Montezuma's government employed state inspectors to ensure that every piece of arable land within walking distance was planted and maintained. He also ordered the construction of a dike system to alleviate flooding and to provide more farmland.

Montezuma and his brother also constructed many temples in and around the city, including a new temple to Huitzilopochtli, the god of battle. The temple of Huitzilopochtli was consecrated in 1455 with the sacrifice of a large number of Huaxtec prisoners of war.

Sumptuary Laws

Probably at the urging of his brother, Tlacaelel, Montezuma instituted Sumptuary Laws which codified and reinforced the already-stratified Aztec class system. A person's station in life determined what he or she could wear and how he or she could speak. The poor were not allowed to wear cotton cloth, sandals or any clothing that extended below the knee. Only the nobility could live in homes of greater than one story. Crimes were punished by slavery, the lowest of all classes, or by being sacrificed.

Religious Changes

During Montezuma's rule, his brother Tlacaelel worked on reforming the Aztec religion. He rewrote the Aztec religious texts, ordering the destruction of many others which did not agree with his interpretations of the Aztec history and religion. Under Tlacaelel the Aztec religion became more militaristic, demanding ever more sacrifices of captured enemy soldiers. The need for prisoners for sacrifice would over time become one of the driving forces behind Aztec foreign policy.

Foreign Policy

As ruler Montezuma sought to strengthen the "Triple Alliance" between the Central Mexican city-states of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan. He also expanded the Aztec empire by conquering Panuco, the Totonacs, Coatzocoalcos and the Chalca. Some theorize that he conquered the tribes for their tribute, hoping to ensure a continuous food supply for Tenochtitlan, which despite his best efforts continued to suffer from periodic famine. Another theory is that he did so to feed the Aztec religion's ever-chronic need for prisoners of war to sacrifice. Yet another theory is that he did it because that's what Aztec Emperors did - conquer stuff. The answer is likely to be something of a combination of all three theories.


Montezuma died in 1469. He was succeeded by his 19-year-old cousin, Axayacatl, who would be the father of Montezuma I's namesake, the unfortunate Montezuma II who would lose everything to Spain.

Judgment of History

Generally, Montezuma was a successful ruler. He expanded his empire, personally led his armies to victory, and worked hard to improve the lot of his people. He certainly was a bloody man, personally sacrificing thousands of prisoners to his thirsty gods. But his religion said such barbarity was necessary - blood was required to ensure that the sun would rise, the crops would grow, and the Aztec nation would continue to prosper.

Could he have cut back on the ritualized murder? Possibly. But the thought might never have occurred to him - or anybody else in the area at the time. It's useful to remember that the more "enlightened" people of Europe were busily burning heretics alive at roughly the same time. And while that doesn't in any way make Montezuma's actions any better, at least it puts them in some kind of context.