Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Rise of the Aztecs, Part X, The Final Showdown

31 March 2013 Comments (1)

In the The Rise of the Aztecs Part IX, we left the Aztecs, Acolhua and the Highlanders preparing to cross Lake Texcoco in the desperate attempt to rid themselves of the Tepanec oppression. No more high or extravagant tribute would be paid; not a single cotton cloak, no quetzal feathers, no foodstuff, no precious materials would be sent to the stern Masters of the Mexican Valley with every full moon. The Tepanecs had swallowed more than they could have digest, while their new ruler was proving to be a mere shadow of his great father.

And so, according to various accounts, the beginning of 1428 saw thousands of warriors rolling down the shores of Lake Texcoco, gathering strength as they went. The conquered Acolhua, reinforced by the Highlanders from all over Tlaxcala Valley, with even the people from the distant city of Xaltocan, had boarded large war canoes, to be joined by the fierce Mexica warriors eager to reach Azcapotzalco, the magnificent capital of the Tepanecs.

As the huge fleet landed on the western shores of Lake Texcoco, even some of the Tepanec communities joined the daring enterprise, with Tlacopan being the most notable of the ‘traitors’. Situated on the shores of the Great Lake, in a close proximity to Tenochtitlan, Tlacopan was apparently under the Aztec influence for some time, dissatisfied with Azcapotzalco’s politics anyway. A clever move, as by assisting the allies in time, Tlacopan had guaranteed itself a secured position in the new arrangement of powers, far beyond this town’s natural importance.

Yet, even for the hastily organized hordes of its dissatisfied subjects, the Tepanec Empire was more than a match. The offensive against Azcapotzalco had met with a fierce resistance of the hardened, battle-trained Tepanec warriors’ force, eager to fight, eager to defend the Great Capital, eager to carry the war back to the revolting subjects’ territories.

The balance of power in the Mexican Valley was about to change, but in whose favor?

For some time the fighting on the outskirts of Azcapotzalco went on, fierce, unrelenting, with the invaders and the defenders giving everything they had, knowing that whoever lost would have to perish, if not as a nation than as a power. Some sources state that the fighting raged on and off for more than a few months, while others point out that due to the lay of the land it could not have gone on for more than a week or so.

In any case, at one point, a relief force led by the renowned Tepanec general appeared, and the battle that ensued lasted from sunrise to sundown, hopelessly balance. But then one of the Mexica leaders, either young Moctezuma I (not to confuse with Moctezuma II who was famous for greeting Cortez about a century or so later) or Tlacaelel, had challenged the Tepanec Warlord and had managed to kill him in a fair duel of obsidian swords. Such spectacular death harmed the fighting spirits of the defenders up to the point that they had hastily retreated behind Azcapotzalco’s walls and the city was taken on the following day.

According to some accounts, the victorious allies had razed the magnificent capital to the ground, turning it into a huge slave market, sparing no one. Yet, other accounts are mentioning the renewed list of Tepanec rulers that began appearing after a span of some decades, which suggests that Azcapotzalco remained to function as a city, but a mediocre place of no significance.

Maxtla, the cause of the whole trouble, had fled to Coyoacan, leaving his capital behind to deal with the invaders. However, the allies weren’t about to give up. After another short blockade and a difficult battle, Coyoacan had fallen too, and this time the despicable ruler was sacrificed on the highest pyramid of Coyoacan’s plaza, reportedly by Nezahualcoyotl himself.

Upon this final victory the Triple Alliance, or the beginning of what we came to know as the Aztec Empire, was formed. The former Tepanec provinces, towns and subjected territories were taken under the Triple Alliance members’ responsibility, and more had been added as the time passed.

War

Itzcoatl, the ruler of Mexica-Aztec Tenochtitlan took the title of Lord of the Culhua, taking two-fifths of the general tribute paid to the alliance from the conquered territories and yet to be conquered ones.

Nezahualcoyotl, his friend and ally of enough summers, was returned as the ruler of Acolhua Texcoco and its six provinces, declaring himself Lord of the Acolhua, entitled to another two-fifths of the paid goods.

Totoquihuaztli, the ruler of Tlacopan, being a minor ally, did not argue about his much smaller share. He received his remained fifth of the upcoming tribute gratefully, called himself Lord of the Tepanecs and settled down to enjoy the fruits of his ‘betrayal’.

The Highlanders, as it seemed, were in this enterprise not for the titles. They took a considerable share of the immediate spoils, which were huge as Azcapotzalco was a very rich city, and went back to their mountainous towns and valleys, indifferent to the fame and the glory at being called this or that way. They didn’t care how the lowlanders would portray them in their historical records and, needless to say, the allies, indeed, did not go out of their way to stress the importance of their temporary partners’ part in the conquest of the mighty Tepanec empire.

And so what we came to know as the famous Aztec Empire was born, to change the face of the whole Mesoamerica in the next century to come.

An excerpt from “The Fall of the Empire

The clamor among the Tepanecs took their attention away, and Tlacaelel turned to look, grateful for the distraction. He couldn’t even begin to think about his friend’s suggestion. The damn bastard! Was there nothing sacred in this man’s world? Nothing at all?

With the fighting ceasing, if only temporarily, the ground around them seemed to be an odd island of tranquility in the gushing lake of clashing swords and clubs and screams. The tall leader strolled toward them, the feathers upon his headdress rustling calmly, his brilliant-blue cloak flowing down his wide shoulders, outlining the impressive muscles. Tlacaelel made sure his bearing was as dignified.

“So, Chief Warlord of Tenochtitlan,” said the man calmly, his voice low and growling, his Tepanec accent pleasing the ear. “Do you wish to pit your strength against mine?”

His anger receding, giving way to the strange calmness, Tlacaelel stood the dark, piercing gaze, relishing the feeling, familiar but almost forgotten by now, this calm excitement that one feels before a duel would commence.

“Yes, I wish to fight you, Chief Warlord of Azcapotzalco,” he said, straightening his shoulders, although they were anything but sagging before. “It would be my honor to face you in battle.”

The man’s eyes narrowed, as his glance brushed past Tlacaelel’s entourage, lingering upon the Highlander. “Will I be challenged by the leader of the savages next?”

The silence lasted for less than a heartbeat.

“It would be a pleasure,” he heard the Highlander saying, his voice just a little strained. “But I’m afraid Tenochtitlan’s Chief Warlord would rob me of this opportunity.”

The Tepanec’s lips pressed into a thin line. “Let us commence the fight then,” he said, turning back to Tlacaelel. “Let us start the event in the end of which no more Mexica people or their dubious allies will dare to place their foot on the mainland.”

Tlacaelel watched the large, weathered palms bettering their grip upon the polished hilt of the sword, all obsidian spikes in place, sparkling viciously. He made an attempt to control his temper.

“Our Mexica feet will be treading Azcapotzalco’s plazas this very night, watching your temples going up in flames.” His hands trembled with an effort to keep still, waiting for the man to attack, to start the glorious hand-to-hand that no one would be allowed to interfere.

“The only Mexica that will tread Azcapotzalco’s Great Plaza will be captive warriors sacrificed in the great temple, with your heart being the first to be offered to mighty Tezcatlipoca!”

The heavy weapon pounced as though having no weight, alive in the man’s lethal hands. Ready, Tlacaelel brought his sword up, blocking the powerful blow, his hands trembling with an effort to hold on. The pressure was nearly unbearable, yet he held on, putting all of his energy, all of his will, into it, having every opportunity to duck, to avoid this initial attack. It was not a simple duel, and he needed to make his point.

Historical fiction and the fall of the Tepanec Empire

19 March 2013 Comments (0)

I am happy to announce the release of another new book

The Fall of the Empire

The “Rise of the Aztecs” series ended with the siege put on Tenochtitlan in the beginning of 1428.

Prepared, the island-city didn’t panic, blocking the causeways and making sure no water-borne offensive could have been launched by the angered Tepanecs.

Itzcoatl and Tlacaelel were ready, fighting defensive skirmishes while waiting for their Acolhua allies to join in the prospected war.

Reinforced by the Highlanders of Huexotzinco, and even the more distant Tlaxcala and Xaltocan people, Nezahualcoyotl did not make his besieged allies wait. Not stopping to re-conquer even his beloved altepetl of Texcoco, he crossed Lake Texcoco, instead, in a swift well-organized operation, heading straight toward the Azcapotzalco, the Tepanec Capital.

… The siege put on the island looked promising, but then another figure re-entered the game. The same notorious Nezahualcoyotl, refusing to disappear into oblivion once again. Down from his mountains he came, bringing along hordes of fierce, warlike Highlanders, enraged and bloodthirsty, gathering hundreds Acolhua into his ever-growing force as he went.

Some enterprising fellow must have prepared this uprising beforehand, was Etl’s conclusion, because the defeated, oppressed Acolhua flocked to enlist too readily, too well organized, not afraid of their conquerors anymore, as though expecting this opportunity, as though knowing the where and the when.

And did they stop to re-conquer Texcoco, their capital? No! Having taken a few strategically important towns, the whole force, now containing more than twenty thousand warriors, headed straight toward the shores of the Great Lake, somehow finding enough fleets to bring the whole horde across the vast waters to the Tepanec homelands.

Alarmed, Maxtla, the Tepanec Emperor, had abandoned the blockade, rushing back, anxious to defend his capital, with the Aztecs hot on his heels.

Some sources say that the siege of Azcapotzalco lasted for 114 days, with Nezahualcóyotl and the Highlanders keeping the western watch, while the Mexica warriors sealed the other roads leading to the great city. Others argue that due to the relatively flat terrain, Azcapotzalco was most likely blockaded for a much shorter period of time.

In the end, after many sorties and one large battle with the suddenly appearing Tepanec relief force, the Tepanec Capital fell to the hands of its former tributaries and subjected nations, and the history of Mexican Valley changed.

Following the great victory, Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan formed the Triple Alliance, or what we came to know as the famous Aztec Empire. Many sources state that the future empire, which had, indeed, stretched almost from coast to coast, encompassing much of the modern-day Mexico, while reaching far south into Mesoamerica, was the fruit of Tlacaelel’s work. Many hold this man to be the architect of the Aztec Empire, although he had never been an emperor.

Both Tlacaelel and Nezahualcoyotl lived long, fruitful lives, ruling their corners of the empire differently, but with much success.

Having just been advanced into the ranks of the first-class traders, Etl thought his life could not get any better. He was a trader of the Tepanec Empire, living in the Great Capital itself. Yes, there had been a war, an outright revolt by the united tributaries and other subdued nations of his beloved city-state, but those would be squashed easily. The Tepanecs were always victorious.

The only thing that made him worry was the decision of Tlalli, the girl from the marketplace he liked, to sell herself into the Palace’s services. He didn’t want her to do that, having intended to take care of her himself, but the stubborn, pretty thing went on and did it all the same. Why?

Apparently, Tlalli was not just a simple market girl, but a young woman with a very unusual agenda. She had her own grudge to settle, and with no lesser person than the emperor himself.

But then the enemies struck…

An excerpt from “The Fall of the Empire

Gradually, Tlacaelel made his way eastward, toward the fighting Acolhua, where the avalanche of his reinforcements was already rolling down the hill, their war-cries powerful, making one’s blood freeze, a lethal wave of spotted shirts and the raised obsidian swords. Oh, what a beautiful sight! He wanted to whoop with joy, seeing the dismay in the faces of the surrounding Tepanecs. And the surprised joy of the Acolhua people and their allies. His Mexica warriors knew, of course. Yet, they were elated, too, as though having forgotten all about their hidden comrades.

“Oh, you dirty son of a rat,” cried out the Highlander, waving his sword at him, his broad, Tepanec-looking face beaming, hardly recognizable, caked with dust, dried blood, and smeared paint, glittering with sweat. “I should have guessed you would have something like that to surprise us with. Good work.”

“Thought you’d welcome some help, you lazy dung-eater,” shouted Tlacaelel, making his way toward the man, recognizing the tall figure of Nezahualcoyotl, the heir to the Acolhua throne, waving his sword not far away, flanked by many Acolhua warriors, well guarded. Like Tlacaelel, he was too important a person to risk his life like a simple fighter.

“Listen, that warlord of theirs, he is not far away,” breathed the Highlander, drawing nearer, reeking of sweat and blood, like any of them. “I tried to break through his warriors, but they fought like wild beasts.” He wiped his brow, smearing more of the sticky mixture upon it. His wrist was bleeding, noticed Tlacaelel, who, by now, was covered with minor cuts himself. “Yet now, with your fresh reinforcements, I may have a chance. If I take with me about twenty of those, will you have a fit?”

With his private guards there and alerted, Tlacaelel let himself concentrate on his friend, his eyes brushing past the famous sword, now smeared with too much mud and blood to see the carvings, the ones who had given this weapon their magical qualities, allegedly.

“Yes, you can choose from my Mexica warriors, but I have a better idea. Show me this son of a whore, and I’ll challenge him. He can’t get away from something like this. His name would be ruined forever if he tried.”

The Highlander’s eyebrows climbed up. “Oh, the Honorable Warlord wants the glory all for himself? All right. Let us go and find your worthy rival.”

Take a stroll on the marketplace

4 March 2013 Comments (0)

If you happened to miss a large scale ceremony while touring prominent cities of the 14th-15th centuries Central Mexico, don’t think your trip was ruined. Stay for some time and wait for the arrival of the market day.

Such day would be well spent and, anyway, you won’t be forced to wait too long as the market interval, the equivalent to our way of counting the weeks, would usually last for no longer that 5 days, unless you got stuck in a small town or village, which, as a tourist, you would be careful to avoid, anyway. So, just tour the beautiful pyramids and plazas until the dawn of the market day arrived, then stay for a treat.

The marketplace in the large altepetl, city-state, was a colorful affair of bubbling activity and clamor, a swirl of sights and smells. Before the dawn-break the traders would already be there, spreading their mats, erecting their stalls, ready for a busy profitable day.

Coming from all over the valley and having started their journey with the nightfall of the previous day, some traders might had been quite tired, but this was the custom, to embark upon the journey at dusk, whether for a purpose of a short trip to the neighboring town or for a moon-long trading expedition to the other side of the valley or the continent.

Yet, no matter how much time a trader would spend on the road, he would never dream to start selling his goods before reaching his destination. To do so was to show disrespect to the gods who were watching over the market business. It was also in violation of the pochteca, the trader guild’s laws, and no merchant in his right mind would risk angering the powerful guild, who were extremely influential and whose watchful eyes and the punishing arm would reach everywhere.

In the all encompassing legal system of courts and laws (and the Aztecs were very law-abiding society) the trading guild was one of the few independent bodies, functioning outside the intricate legal system.

It all happened in 1473, according to quite a few accounts, when Tlatelolco, Tenochtitlan’s sister-city, revolted against the growing dominance of their pushy neighbors, the leaders of the Triple Alliance, who only half a century earlier had conquered the Tepanec Empire, and had grown too powerful ever since. The revolt was crushed easily, some say with the active help of the leading merchants from the rebellious city, who struck a deal with Tenochtitlan’s emperor, Axayacatl, accepting his patronage and offering to act as his spies and the independent merchants of his ever-growing empire.

Thus the symbolic relationship of the Aztec royal house and the Pochteca traders was defined. It helped to strengthen the economy of the developing empire and added the much needed spying services of the long-distance traders gathering information as they traveled far and wide. With the passing of time Tlatelolco was turned into a huge marketplace, functioning on almost a daily basis, able to accommodate up to 60,000 people on the major market days.

The Pochteca were responsible for the foreign and local trade and had twelve powerful guilds located in major cities-states. They had their own rituals, ceremonies and patron deities and, more importantly, their own legal system.

Very rich and powerful, the leading merchants were nevertheless careful to conceal their riches. Being the typical middle class, they did wise by not flaunting their fortunes before the arrogant, fierce, dangerous nobles. In exchange for taxation, the traders’ guilds were granted the power to regulate the economy, represent themselves before the emperor, judge all law suits relating to the merchant class and ensue their sentences to those who were found guilty of violating the commercial laws.

Each village or town had at least one marketplace, with larger cities having multiple markets. Large markets would meet every 5 days, while the smaller ones would meet less frequently. People would travel far and wide to reach a market where they could buy and sell, hear the local news and socialize with friends.

Much of the selling-buying activity was based on barter, but there was an agreed upon currency too, with the main one being cocoa beans or a certain length of cotton cloths called quachtli. The exchange rates varied at times, from 100 cocoa beans to 300 being worth of a full length cotton cloak. Copper ax blades and quills filled with gold dust were used to determine the pricing for various items too.

All this and more was regulated most scrupulously by inspectors, who were always there, mixing with the crowds, making sure the items were sold at appropriate exchange rates, checking the quality of the products as well. Certain goods could be sold in certain areas, designated by the market judge who required every vendor to a pay a tax in cloaks or cocoa beans.

Everything was sold by number and measure instead of by weight, and the inspectors made sure to check the measures, destroying the false ones if such were discovered. The offender then would be dragged to a market court, to be judged and sentenced by a panel of judges.

Such courts governed all disputes between the traders, required to deal with any issues related to the marketing. In a case of false measures the offender would be fined, with his goods confiscated, sent to bring the rest of the fine from his family to pay up. Other crimes, dealing with stolen goods or with counterfeiting, was sentenced more harshly, with the most serious of the offenders being beaten to death in the center of the marketplace, for everyone to see and learn the lesson.

Still, there were many ways to cheat the system, and undeterred some traders kept mixing in poor quality products. Cocoa beans were easily susceptible to counterfeiting as vendors could remove the outer shell and fill it with dirt, or heat shriveled beans to make them look larger, or create entirely false beans out of wax or amaranth dough. These beans would then be mixed with real beans for sale in the marketplace. (The Florentine Codex includes a description of a bad cacao seller: "... he counterfeits cacao... by making the fresh cacao beans whitish... stirs them into the ashes... with amaranth seed dough, wax, avocado pits… he counterfeits cacao.... Indeed he casts, he throws in with them wild cacao beans to deceive the people...)

So, as we can see, the pochteca courts were never out of job and the marketplace was anything but a boring place to spend one’s time at, either buying or selling good or just hanging out with friends.

An excerpt from “The Emperor's Second Wife

Her anger rose once again, here in the crowded marketplace as intense as it had back there, in the dimly lit warriors’ hall.

Clenching her teeth tight, she pushed herself away from the safety of the wall, stepping back toward the road. Oh, she was not a burden, not a ‘girl that is making no trouble’. She was a person, and she could take care of herself. And when he found that she was gone, he would be sorry.

Picking her way carefully between the multitude of mats and stalls, jostled every now and then, she went on stubbornly, not bothering to mark her surroundings. In her entire life she had never lost her way, always remembering the places she had passed, being those forest’s paths or town’s alleys.

Her fear began calming down, and, looking around, she noticed that not only people were plentiful in this place. Food, clothes, and jewelry piled all over the alley, crammed upon the mats or arranged prettily, sparkling in the midmorning sun. Eyes wide, she began stealing glances, and then, giving in, she gaped openly, amazed at those unbelievable riches. So much of everything!

Still not sure enough of herself to stop and peer closely, she turned into a smaller alley in an attempt to escape the crowds. Here, the aroma of cooked food enveloped her, making her stomach churn. People squatted or sprawled on mats, in the shade of the high wall, talking idly or throwing beans while eating and drinking. No one paid her any attention. Reassured, she slowed her steps and watched the sweating old man toiling above a steaming pot.

Neatly, the man fished out small bundles of something wrapped in maize husks, placing them on a wooden plate, oblivious to the scorching heat.

Fascinated, Dehe watched him working as the man from the nearby mat got up.

“Let us see what you’ve got here, old man.”

“The best tamales you ever tasted,” grinned the stall owner, interrupting his activity to unwrap one of the bundles. His nimble fingers picked the steaming tamale, dropping it neatly onto a smaller plate.

“I’ll have another one for my companion,” said the other man.

“Next time wait patiently until I’m done,” the cooking man grunted, complying with the request. “I’ll have the rest of my tamales burned because of you.”

“Oh, I bet a cocoa bean you’ll find a way to force those burned tamales on your other customers,” laughed the man, heading back to his mat.

The old man cursed, returning back to his steaming pot. “Those will cost you more,” he called out more loudly.

“It’ll round your whole meal to a whole cocoa bean, so don’t bet any of it before you pay me.”

“What a thief!” The man with the plate dropped beside his companion, grinning broadly. “You can go on dreaming about those cocoa beans, old man. I don’t see any warriors or other nobility around your stall.” He caught Dehe’s gaze. “Here, maybe this little slave came here with a bag full of beans. Didn’t you, girl?”

Frightened, Dehe took a step back, but the man’s attention shifted back to his plate and the bowl of thick sauce upon another tray.

Breathing with relief, she turned to go, glancing again at the steaming pot. The spicy aroma tickled her nostrils. Having been too angry to eat on the previous evening, she had slipped away well before dawn, before any chance of getting her morning meal. She wanted him to wake up and find her gone. He may have not paid her any attention on the previous day, but he did come to cover her with a blanket before going to sleep. She pretended to be fast asleep too, hoping he would recline beside her and try to wake her up, but he just caressed her hair fleetingly and went back to his mat, leaving her with her eyes shut, and her heart thundering in her ears. He did care for her, he did, even if just a little!

Another man neared the stall, picking a tortilla from the side tray. Leaning against the wooden pole, he consumed it unhurriedly, deep in thought. Dehe hesitated. Could she just pick one for herself too, the way this man did? The grumpy old man seemed to take this sampling of his goods kindly.