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.
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.