Croesus and Montezuma

Image result for tenochtitlan



 Damien F. Mackey

The gold-rich king Croesus, son of Alyattes, was taken prisoner by Cortés.

The gold-rich king Montezuma, son of Axayacatl, was taken prisoner by Choresh.



Regarding the historicity of King Croesus, alarm bells immediately begin ringing when we read that he was interviewed by Solon (


Between Legend and History


“As for Solon‘s interview with Croesus, some think to prove by chronology that it is fictitious. But when a story is so famous and so well-attested, and, what is more to the point, when it comports so well with the character of Solon, and is so worthy of his magnanimity and wisdom, I do not propose to reject it out of deference to any chronological canons, so called, which thousands are to this day revising, without being able to bring their contradictions into any general agreement.” (Plutarch, Parallel LivesSolon 27.1)”.


Solon himself was, as I have argued, merely a Greek appropriation of the wise King Solomon of Israel:


Solomon and Sheba


King Solomon, according to some, actually traded with the Meso-Americans, for they claim that the biblical “Ophir”, to where Solomon’s and Hiram’s ships went, was the gold-rich land of Peru (home of the Incas).


I Kings 9:26-28:


“King Solomon also built ships at Ezion Geber, which is near Elath in Edom, on the shore of the Red Sea. And Hiram sent his men—sailors who knew the sea—to serve in the fleet with Solomon’s men. They sailed to Ophir and brought back 420 talents of gold, which they delivered to King Solomon”.


A most intriguing fact is that the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs is uncannily like ancient Egyptian. See e.g. my:


Does the Name ‘Senenmut’ Reflect the Hebrew ‘Solomon’? Part Two: Egyptian and Nahuatl

“Linguistic correspondence between nahuatl and ancient Egyptian appears to represent a smoking gun; that is, a trace of evidence that these two peoples did enjoy some kind of contact between themselves ages ago. The fact that we have no real evidence of said contact, or that we have been unable to find any such evidence, should not serve as the basis for denying the possibility of that contact. To attribute all of these similarities in sound, symbol and meaning to mere happenstance seems to be a very unscientific way of resolving an annoying issue. To admit the possibility of physical contact between these cultures has implications for our own interpretation of history and the aspect of technological development of our societies. Such fears are unfounded, given the already obvious fact that our technical know-how could probably not reproduce and build something as majestic as the Great Pyramid”.


Lust for Gold


Both Cyrus (Choresh) of Persia and Cortés were gold greedy, according to the legends.

Thus Cyrus is supposed to have said to Croesus:


“… even I cannot eradicate from myself that passion for wealth which the gods have put into the human soul and by which they have made us all poor alike, but I, too, am as insatiate of wealth as other people are. However, I think I am different from most people, in that others, when they have acquired more than a sufficiency, bury some of their treasure and allow some to decay, and some they weary themselves with counting, measuring, weighing, airing, and watching; and though they have so much at home, they never eat more than they can hold, for they would burst if they did, and they never wear more than they can carry, for they would be suffocated if they did; they only find their superfluous treasure a burden.” (Cyrus to Croesus. Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.2.20-21).


“King Croesus of Lydia became proverbial for his wealth and the prosperity of his kingdom. His life and deeds crossed the border between Myth and History. And Croesus himself, having been double-crossed by the oracles, crossed with an army the river separating his country from that of the Persians, causing thereby his own ruin”.


Cortés and the Spanish Conquistadores are well-known for their love of gold


“Cortés adopted methods in the conquest of Mexico like those of other Conquistadors, including torture, the capture of indigenous leaders, and large-scale destruction of lives and property in the quest for gold and other riches”.

“Montezuma’s offering of gold to Cortés and his men was done in the hope that the ‘gods’ would go away. This bribe, however, failed to get rid of the Spanish conquistadors. Instead, it fuelled the Spanish greed for gold even further. As a result, Cortés decided to place Montezuma under house arrest. Subsequently, with the help of their Tlaxcalan allies, the conquistadors set up their base in one of the city’s temples, and began ransacking Tenochtitlan for its treasures. In the following months, many of Tenochtitlan’s inhabitants were tortured and killed by Cortés’ men in their attempt to obtain even more Aztec treasure”.

“Though extremely rich and powerful, Montezuma’s nation shamelessly squandered a great portion of its wealth and might. Much like the Egyptians, the Aztecs built huge monuments to their gods and held ever-increasing numbers of expensive religious festivals in which they slaughtered tens of thousands of prisoners and their own people. Montezuma himself lived in great splendor, his clothing made of silver, gold, and brightly-colored feathers. His court was brilliant, though much riddled with corruption and intrigue”.


“And there they met Croesus, the great potentate of his time, who

“… was decked out with everything in the way of precious stones, dyed raiment, and wrought gold that men deem remarkable, or extravagant, or enviable, in order that he might present a most august and gorgeous spectacle.” (Plutarch, Parallel Lives Solon 27.2)”.


During the reign of Croesus, during the reign of Montezuma, the kingdom (or empire) reached its greatest extent and power:


“It was under Croesus’ rule that the Greeks living in the Asiatic mainland were made tributary for the first time, and that all other nations west of the river Halys were subdued, becoming his subjects. This successful expansion resulted in great wealth, and since wealth, along with the power that derives from it, attracts many, including the wise, Sardis became the magnet of its time, being visited, as they say, by many teachers from Hellas. For teachers go preferably where their wages can be paid, and not necessarily where their knowledge is more needed”.


“Montezuma ruled the Aztecs at the height of their power. His empire controlled a large portion of what is now modern Mexico. They had conquered virtually all other people around them, except for a few other nations which they deliberately left free (so that they would have somebody left to make war against and to use as sacrifices)”.


Croesus, Montezuma, last king of the empire:


“History [sic], and not the myths, affirms that Croesus reigned, as last king of Lydia …”.

“Montezuma (c. 1480 – 1520 AD) was Emperor of the Aztec nation from approximately 1502 until its dissolution in 1520”.


But Croesus, Montezuma – hardly known to this day:


“We know little enough about Croesus”. (D. Wormell, CROESUS AND THE DELPHIC ORACLE’S OMNISCIENCE, JSTOR, 97, July, 1963, p. 21).

“… after centuries of study and archeological discovery, Moctezuma, the man, remains virtually unreachable to historians. Almost nothing has been gleaned about the personality of the last great elected Aztec ruler …”. “Our knowledge of Moctezuma the man is limited”.


Consulting Oracles


“It was a couple of years after the death of his beloved son that Croesus started to worry about the growth of the power of the Persians, conceiving a preemptive war against them. With this purpose in mind, he consulted and tested the credibility of several oracles, being more satisfied with the answers provided by the one at Delphi, and the oracle of Amphiaraus at Thebes. And having offered many gifts to both, he sent Lydian envoys to inquire the following:

“Shall Croesus send an army against the Persians: and shall he take to himself any allied host?” (Herodotus, History 1.53)”.

“The Aztec king, Montezuma II, was a deeply religious man, who felt his every move to be guided by the personal hand of fate.  He consulted oracles and astrologers constantly, was one himself”.

“In the mean time Montezuma vacillated between vengeance, superstitious fear, amazement and finally a timid and conciliatory policy. He sent additional nobles with the message that he had no doubt the Spaniards “were the strangers whose arrival had been so long announced by the oracles, and of the same lineage with himself.”


Empire will be destroyed


“Both oracles, they say, gave the same answer, namely that if he should send an army against the Persians he would destroy a great empire. And they also advised him to make alliance with the mightiest of powers in Hellas. Pleased with these answers (as well as with the previous tests), he sent splendid gifts to Delphi, which in turn pleased the Delphians so much that they granted him and the Lydians the right of first consulting the oracle, freedom from charges, the best seats at festivals, and life-long right of Delphian citizenship to whoever should wish. And following the oracle, Croesus sent messengers to Sparta, and made an alliance with the Lacedaemonians”.

“Then [Montezuma sent] another series of messengers: who were wizards, magicians, and priests. They also went out to meet the strangers. But they could do nothing. They could not blind their eyes; they could not cast a spell on them; they could not dominate them in any way. They could not even meet [the strangers].

For a drunkard tripped them in the road. They encountered him and stopped, were stunned. They believed he was a man from Chalco because he was dressed like a Chalca with eight grass strings tied to his chest; he acted like a Chalca in his manners; like a Chalca [one knows through] fiction. Appearing drunk, he pretended to be drunk, he feigned to be a drunkard.

They encountered him before they [could appear] before the Spaniards. He rushed toward the Mexicas and said: “Why have you come here? What sort of thing do you want? What does Moctezuma want to do? Has he still not come to his head? Is he now unhappy, fearful? He has made mistakes; he has abandoned his vassals and has destroyed men. Some have been beaten and others wrapped in shrouds [for the dead]; some have been betrayed and others mocked and deceived.”

And when they had seen this, when they heard his words, they tried in [vain] to approach him. They hurriedly built him a small temple and an alter and a seat made of grass. But for awhile they could not see him. They worked in vain, they constructed his temple in vain, for he spoke to them only in oracles. He frightened them; he harshly reprehended them, and spoke to them as if from a great distance.

He asked them: “Why in vain have you stopped here? Already, [it is apparent] that México will exist no longer! It is finished forever! Let go of this place! [it exists] here no longer! Turn around! Steer your sight toward México! What is to happen, has already happened!”


Notable Earlier Omen (Lydia; Mexico)

“Thales is acclaimed for having predicted an eclipse of the sun which occurred on 28 May 585 B.C.E. The earliest extant account of the eclipse is from Herodotus: ‘On one occasion [the Medes and the Lydians] had an unexpected battle in the dark, an event which occurred after five years of indecisive warfare: the two armies had already engaged and the fight was in progress, when day was suddenly turned into night. This change from daylight to darkness had been foretold to the Ionians by Thales of Miletus, who fixed the date for it within the limits of the year in which it did, in fact, take place’ (Hdt. I.74)”.


Sadly, this is just as fictitious as is most of the above.

For, as I wrote in:


Joseph as Thales: Not an “Hellenic Gotterdamerung” but Israelite Wisdom


To Thales is attributed a prediction in astronomy that was quite impossible for an Ionian Greek – or anyone else – to have estimated so precisely in the C6th BC. He is said to have predicted a solar eclipse that occurred on 28 May 585 BC during a battle between Cyaxares the Mede and Alyattes of Lydia [400]. This supposed incident has an especial appeal to the modern rationalist mind because it – thought to have been achieved by a Greek, and ‘marking the birthday of western science’ – was therefore a triumph of the rational over the religious. According to Glouberman, for instance, it was “… a Hellenic Götterdämerung, the demise of an earlier mode of thought” [450]. Oh really? Well, it never actually happened. O. Neugebauer [500], astronomer and orientalist, has completely knocked on the head any idea that Thales could possibly have foretold such an eclipse.

“An eyewitness to an eclipse in 1508 [AD] during the reign of emperor Moctezuma II said, ‘Piece by piece, the fire of the sun was eaten until it was replaced by a ring of fire. There was no way to see it and not foretell the total destruction of the world.’

When Hernan Cortez conquered the Aztecs in 1521, many Aztecs interpreted the eclipse of a decade earlier as forshadowing the eclipse of their own power”.


Fears of Growing Power


“… Croesus, seeing how Cyrus had gained control over the land of the Medes, making himself the master of their vast territory, and thereby bringing the Persians to the eastern bank of the river Halys, chose to disregard Sandanis’ counsel, and put his forces in motion. It is told that Croesus, among other measures, dispatched an agent—Eurybatus of Ephesus—with money to recruit Greek mercenaries, but Eurybatus, they say, went over to the enemy, revealing to Cyrus his master’s plans.


Crosses the border


Having led his army to the border, Croesus crossed the river Halys at a place not far from Sinope in the coast of the Black Sea, either through bridges, or being helped by the celebrated sage Thales of Miletus, who by digging a semicircular trench, turned the course of the river, causing part of its stream to flow in the trench to the rear of the Lydian camp, and passing it, return to its former bed. Croesus began his campaign laying waste farms, enslaving cities, and driving the inhabitants from their homes. But then King Cyrus (who is the elder Cyrus, the son of Cambyses), a man fortunate in war, and renowned for being a wise ruler, came to meet the invader, gathering more men as he marched and campaigned against many foes in Asia. It is told that before the battle Cyrus sent messengers to Croesus, saying that he would forgive him and appoint him satrap of Lydia if Croesus presented himself at the Persian court acknowledging Cyrus as his master. But Croesus answered that Cyrus should submit instead, given that until then the Persians had been under Median rule”.


“Moctezuma inherited a tradition of imperial rulership which was in the process of inventing and consolidating itself. Moctezuma had an imperial agenda; there’s no doubt about that.” Archaeological discoveries have also allowed us to see Moctezuma as having been a vigorous ruler, McEwan says, embarking upon an ambitious building programme – including a new palace complex that may have included fine gardens and a well-stocked zoo – while instituting other reforms that placed him squarely at the apex of empire. In particular, Moctezuma, who would have received a religious as well as military training, befitting a Mexica noble, disseminated his image through sculptures, carvings and other artefacts, in a manner similar to a modern leader using the media to present a strong and compelling image.

“What Moctezuma does is actually take the turquoise-encrusted royal diadem and he uses that as his name glyph. This is a departure from tradition and it says, ‘I not only represent the state, I am the state. I am everything which embodies the Mexica succession,’?” McEwan comments.

That succession was still comparatively new when Moctezuma, a great grandson of the ruler Moctezuma Ilhuicamina (1440-69), was elected tlatoani by the Mexica council of elders – together with the heads of two allied cities – in succession to his uncle, Ahuitzotl (1486-1502). Ahuitzotl is said to have died from the effects of a blow on the head when an aqueduct system he had ordered to be built to bring drinking water to Tenochtitlan, collapsed, flooding parts of the city. More importantly, he had significantly expanded the empire, increasing its income from the peoples of the region Mexica arms had subjugated. Still, Moctezuma would need to use his political leadership to ensure the empire’s consolidation continued: Mexica domination was resented by some of the subjected peoples, a resentment that Cortés would later exploit.


In April 1519, when Cortés landed, Moctezuma’s apparent apprehension increased, the more so when the Spanish force began to make its way inland, forming alliances with some of the more resentful subject peoples of the Mexica, and massacring some of those allied to Tenochtitlan. Moctezuma’s indecision – variously sending diplomatic gifts to Cortés, dispatching “magicians” in an attempt to halt his progress, or advising him against journeying inland – suggests he was genuinely uncertain as to Cortés’s identity, purpose or threat.

Again, it is unclear why this should have been. Post-conquest documents suggest that Moctezuma had been persuaded by various signs or omens that his own defeat and death was imminent. Cortés, in a subsequent letter to the Spanish king, Charles V, suggested that Moctezuma believed him to be the exiled god of the wind and sky, Quetzalcoatl, come to reclaim his lands, and this thesis was widely discussed in post-conquest Mexican writings. Elliott points out, though, that Moctezuma could simply have been playing a waiting game.

As McEwan puts it, Moctezuma “is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t. He took a calculated risk”. If so, it was a gamble that failed”.

“Cortés told Aztec emissaries who again refused his demands of surrender, “for I am now coming to destroy them.” On August 13, 1521, an all-out assault took place on the once grand city of Tenochtitlan, which resulted in heavy loss of life (mostly on the Aztec side) and the complete capture of the capital. The Aztecs, their Revered Speaker Guatémoc captured by Cortés’ men, were starving and stricken with the dreaded smallpox. Unable to provide any more resistance, they finally surrendered their beloved capital to the Spanish”.


“The Lydian army, supported among others by Egyptian units, attempted to surround the Persians, but failed. Some have said that the battle ended in stalemate, and others that the Lydians were defeated. In any case Croesus has been reported to have judged prudent to march away to Sardis. Having returned to his capital, Croesus summoned his allies, among which the Lacedaemonians, to join him at Sardis in five months time for a spring campaign against the Persians, and in the meantime, some say, he disbanded many of his Lydian units, believing that after such equal encounter the Persian king would not dare to march against his capital.


Sardis beleaguered


The Lydian king, however, led the remains of his army to the plain that is before the city, arraying his skilled cavalry to meet the invaders. But Cyrus, they say, assembled all the camels he normally used for transportation of food and baggage, setting men upon them equipped like cavalrymen, and behind them he put his infantry, and behind the infantry he put his horsemen. And in this manner, they tell, when the Lydian horses saw the Persian camels, they were frightened, and the battle being thereby lost, Sardis was beleaguered.

Sardis taken

At first, the Persian army made unsuccessful assaults. But when fourteen days had passed, the Persians discovered a certain part of the citadel neglected by the defence because of its height and difficult access, and climbing up on this side, which faces towards Mount Tmolus, the Persians succeeded in taking the city. This fortunate discovery was made by a Persian soldier called Hyroeades, who during the days of siege, observed a Lydian defender descending by this part of the citadel in order to fetch a helmet that had fallen down. It has also been told that, in former times—when King Meles ruled Sardis—his concubine borne him a lion. It was then declared that if the lion were carried round the walls, Sardis would never be taken. Meles, they say, did as it was prophesied and carried the beast round the walls. However, he excepted that part of the acropolis which he judged impossible to attack on account of its height. And it was precisely here that Hyroeades and the rest of the Persians climbed up, taking the city”.


The Fall of Tenochtitlan and the Torment of Cuauhtémoc


More than a year passed before the Spanish attempted to take the Aztec capital again. They took refuge with their old allies, the Tlaxcaltecs. After they recovered they fought many battles. Finally Cortez controlled the east, northeast and south of Tenochtitlan, and soon he had the city surrounded. Now they had to coordinate an attack from all entrances to the city, as well as from brigs they had built to attack from the lake.


First the city was cut off from their fresh water supply. The Aztecs tried to stop them, but they lost the fight. Soon they began their attacks, striking simultaneously from the roads, lake and bridges. At first the casualties suffered on both sides were similar.

The Spaniard’s strategy was to destroy the bridges connecting the islands to the mainland, in order to make it impossible for the Aztecs to replenish their food and water supplies. The Aztecs‘ strategy was to rebuild and defend those bridges. They would also send troops to attack the conquerors’ headquarters. The siege lasted 93 days. The Spanish course of action took effect.

Meanwhile the Aztecs fed only on roots, drank stagnant water, slept among the dead and refused to surrender. The fall of their empire seemed imminent.


Funeral Pyre


“Croesus, some assert, had prepared himself for this day of utter defeat. And being determined to escape slavery he had built a pyre, which he mounted together with his wife and daughters, when the Persians were about to sack the city. The women were weeping inconsolably as he, while reproaching Apollo‘s ingratitude, ordered a slave to kindle the pyre. It was then that Zeus sent the rain-cloud that quenched the flames, and Apollo came to bring Croesus and his family to live among the Hyperboreans …

“… since of all mortals he sent the greatest gifts to holy Pytho.” (Bacchylides, Odes 3.64).

… and as if it were suspected that some could find this impossible, it is added:

“Nothing is unbelievable which is brought about by the gods’ ambition.” (Bacchylides, Odes 3.57)”.


“Once found and identified, their bodies were taken away by the local people.


Then they carried Moctezuma in their arms to a place called Copulco. There they placed him on a wooden pyre and set fire to his body. The flames began to crackle, to hiss and sizzle; the higher they reached, the more they appeared as tongues shooting up to the sky. And the body of Moctezuma reeked and stank of scorched flesh as it burned”.



Croesus – very much a Haman (Book of Esther) figure in some ways – mis-read the signs of the times as did Haman, as according to the following


“…. In the secular world, most of us remember the prophetic oracle that was given to King Croesus of Lydia in Asia Minor when he wanted divine knowledge if he would win the war against the Persians that he was evoking. The famous oracle at Delphi stated that if he set out against the Persians he would destroy a great empire.

Croesus, of course, interpreted the prophetic oracle in his own favor. But alas, the prophecy came true. The “great empire” that would be destroyed was that of Croesus himself and his Lydians. It is well known that the oracles that were given to the ancients (before such readings became unpopular by the first century) could almost always be interpreted in a positive or a negative sense and seldom did they ever prove wrong (that is, if the priests were expert and clever in manipulating the words).

There are such prophecies or situations even in the Holy Scriptures. Note the incident involving Haman and Mordecai mentioned in the Book of Esther. Haman hated Mordecai. Indeed, Haman had constructed a gallows for Mordecai, but the Persian king (whose queen was Esther) wanted to honor Mordecai unbeknown to Haman.

“And the king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? There is nothing done for him. And the king said, Who is in the court? And the king’s servants said unto him, Behold, Haman standeth in the court. And the king said, Let him come in. So Haman came in. And the king said unto him, What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour? Now Haman thought in his heart, To whom would the king delight to do honour more than to myself?

“And Haman answered the king, For the man whom the king delighteth to honour, Let the royal apparel be brought which the king usethto wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head: And let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that they may array the man withalwhom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour. Then the king said to Haman, Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the king’s gate: let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken.

“Then took Haman the apparel and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and brought him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaimed before him, Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour. And Mordecai came again to the king’s gate. But Haman hasted to his house mourning, and having his head covered. And Haman told Zeresh his wife and all his friends every thing that had befallen him…. And Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman. Then the king said, Hang him thereon. So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king’s wrath pacified” (excerpts from Esther chapters 6 & 7).

This true story is again pertinent to our study of interpreting signs or any biblical circumstance. Haman made a big mistake in his interpretation. This event is recorded by God to show that we must learn to be careful in what we might hastily assume to be proper. …”.


A Comment: The admittedly wondrous civilisation of the Aztecs has all the hallmarks of belonging to the BC era, like that of the ancient Egyptians, with its pyramids of polished stone and its skilled technology. It does not sit comfortably at all in the C16th AD.