Yearly Archives: 2015

Itzcoatl – the fourth ruler of Tenochtitlan

20 November 2015 Comments (2)

His name was Itzcoatl, which meant Obsidian Serpent – izt(li)=obsidian, coatl=serpent – and he came to succeed his nephew, the Third Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan, in 1428 or One Flint Knife/Ce Tecpatl. Most sources agree with this date, even though a few claims vary from as early as 1425 to as late as 1435.

He has reigned for thirteen years only, but the changes he brought to the balance of powers of the entire Mexican Valley/Anahuac were more than profound.

On his glyph he appears in the regular ruler’s fashion, seated on a reed mat-petatl, wearing a noble headband-xiuhuitzolli, with the customary scroll coming out of his mouth. His name is attached to his glyph, depicting a red and yellow serpent with black obsidian spikes.

He was one of the several illegitimate sons the First Ruler of Tenochtitlan Acamapichtli has sired, therefore his way to the throne was not an easy one. He came to rule as a mature man in his late-thirties, after serving Tenochtitlan in Chief Warlord’s capacity-tlacochcalcatl-under its Second Ruler, and as the Head Adviser-cihuacoatl-under the Third. In this time Tenochtitlan seemed to need desperately the sort of a leadership Itzcoatl was offering, a tough, hardened, experienced warrior of formidable disposition and little fear.

The death of Chimalpopoca, the Third Tlatoani, cast the island city into its worst crisis, ruining its relationship with the powerful Tepanec capital beyond repair. The entire region was in a terrible turmoil, with Tenochtitlan’s sister-city Tlatelolco situated on the nearby island at loss at the death of its own ruler, and Texcoco, the Acolhua capital on the eastern shore, torn between their quest for freedom from the Tepanec yoke and its resentment of the Mexica islanders who contributed to their earlier defeat. The Acolhua heir, Nezahualcoyotl, a staunch Mexica ally after many summers of exile spent in Tenochtitlan, has been forced to flee back into the neighboring Highlands, to gather support and reinforcements there hopefully, but until he reappeared Tenochtitlan was on its own, facing the Tepanec rage all alone.

Indeed, the new Tepanec ruler, Maxtla, did not make his former tributaries wait. The offensive he launched against the island city resulted in a siege that was lifted only when Nezahualcoyotl came down the eastern Highlands, followed by thousands of local warriors, very fierce people who, for their own reasons, decided to get involved in the Lowlander’s political upheavals.

This turned the tide of the war most decisively, as instead of heading westwards and toward his beloved Texcoco in order to liberate it, the Acolhua future ruler opted for crossing Lake Texcoco straight away into the Tepanec heartlands, gathering thousands of his former Acolhua subjects into his already formidable highlander force as he went.

That made the frightened Maxtla lift his short-lived siege off the rebellious island and rush back toward his own capital, anxious to stop the invaders. Which heartened the besieged Mexica enormously, as they poured out of their city and into the mainland in more thousands, hot on the retreating Tepanecs’ heels. Their eagerness and organized manner with which they invaded the Tepanec side of the Lake testifies for Itzcoatl’s war readiness. Evidently, the new ruler did not waste his time on idle wait for reinforcements.

The war on Azcapotzalco lasted for more than a month – 40 days according to some sources, 114 to others, less than a market interval to some – and it ended with such resounding Tepanec defeat that Azcapotzalco was no more, just a cite of smoking ruins, or a huge slave market according to some claims.

The Triple Alliance that was formed shortly thereafter included Tenochtitlan with Itzcoatl in its lead, the reinstalled Acolhua ruler Nezahualcoyotl, and the minor partner, not an equal to the other two – Tlacopan, a Tepanec city that apparently wasn’t as happy with Azcapotzalco’s switching rulers as it might have seemed in the beginning. When the Mexica, the Acolhua and the Highlanders washed the western side of the Texcoco Lake, Tlacopan had chosen its side wisely.

The rest of Itzcoatl’s reign was spent in ‘inheriting’ the crumbled Tepanec Empire, subduing towns and cities who didn’t understand very well what happened in the Mexican Valley at first. A decade spent in consolidating the Triple Alliance’s power around Lake Texcoco was well spent. Codex Mendoza shows twenty four conquered towns and settlements, even though some of the conquests seemed to be nothing but reestablishing of the Mexica rule, already listed under the conquests of the previous tlatoaqui as well.

On the southern shore, the Tepanec Coyoacan fell next to Azcapotzalco, with the fleeing ex-emperor Maxtla being caught and executed there (according to other sources, he might have escaped Coyoacan as well, spending the rest of his days in exile, never to be heard of around the Mexican Valley again).

Then came the turn of Xochimilco, Mizquic, Cuitlahuac and Quauhnahuac (the last one being listed in several codices as a conquest of Huitzilihuitl as well). Similarly, Quauhtitlan seems to be nothing more than a reestablishment of the Mexica power over that region.

Texcoco and its provinces are listed as Itzcoatl’s conquests too, but those were probably just an aid the Mexica might have given to its Acolhua allies, the full-time members of the Triple Alliance, helping Nezahualcoyotl in re-conquering his former domain.

With the Mexican Valley being reasonably under control, shared between the Mexica and Acolhua, with the junior member Tlacopan holding to its smaller share of conquests, bereft complains, Itzcoatl moved to the south, subduing modern-day region of Guerrero, more former Tepanec provinces. Codex Mendoza claims towns of Cuecalan, Caqualpan, Yztepec, Yoalan, and Tepequacuilco. Another campaign against Quauhnahuac and Ziuhtepec followed.

This is the point that is generally held as the change in the Mexica history, when Tenochtitlan became not only totally independent entity, taking control of its destiny, but also began its ascendance toward the great regional power it had eventually became, with Itzcoatl being the man credited with the change of its status from subservient to that of an immanent dominance.

Inside Tenochtitlan, the political power became even more centralized, with the noble class gaining more and more distinction in the form of additional lands of the inherited Tepanec domain. It was distributed mainly among the nobles of the upper class, with other the prominent city representatives, the heads of the districts and others receiving considerably less, thus strengthening the power of the aristocracy as opposed to the traders and other wealthy elements of the city.

Backed by the two most prominent men of this time, his nephew Tlacaelel and Moctezuma Ilhuicamina, both very formidable still relatively young men, his Head Advisers and his Chief Warlord, Itzcoatl encountered no difficulties in pushing his social reforms while pursuing military expansion.

He vacated his throne in 1440 or 13 Flint Knife/Mahtlactli omei Tecpatl, but even though both his followers were very powerful and legitimate to claim the throne, Tenochtitlan was not about to repeat Azcapotzalco’s mistakes. Tlacaelel and Moctezuma were to rule in tandem for the next three decades to come, with Moctezuma receiving the office but not trying to assert his ascendance over his wise, powerful, extremely experienced half-brother, his Head Adviser.

An excerpt from “The Fall of the Empire”, The Rise of the Aztecs Series, book #5.

“The manners of my leaders are immaterial,” he heard Nezahualcoyotl saying. “This is a war council, and we invited our warlords to join it for a reason. We want to hear their opinions.”

Itzcoatl’s eyes blazed murder, but before he could open his mouth, whether to cut the impudent Acolhua to size with more condescending, icily-spoken words, or to burst out with unrestrained anger, Tlacaelel raised his hand.

“May I ask your permission to speak my mind?” Now all eyes were upon him, expectant. He knew he didn’t really have to ask for permission.

“Yes, you may speak, Tenochtitlan’s Chief Warlord,” growled Itzcoatl between his teeth.

“Thank you.”

He liked the way they all looked at him, expectant, trusting him to solve the problem. Even the foreigners, even that impressive Tenocelotl. The man had spent only a market interval with the Mexica forces, but somehow, Tlacaelel knew he made the correct assessment of his new allies’ qualities.

“I tend to agree with the Acolhua Warriors’ Leader as to the statement that we had reached an impasse. Today’s battle, although partially won, did not change that. We made the Tepanecs retreat behind their walls, but we did not break their spirits. Not even by killing their most trusted leader.” He encircled them with his gaze, pleased with their undivided attention.

“The Tepanecs are still strong, still battle-hungry, and the location of their walls is giving them a clear advantage. This, and the fact that they are fighting on their land, pressed against their own walls, defending their homes. To fight on and on may cost us more than we are prepared to pay and may not give us the final victory.” He paused, knowing that Itzcoatl would be furious now. “Therefore I, for one, would be willing to learn the nature of the unusual solution the Acolhua Warlord is willing to share with us.” Itzcoatl’s eyes were as dark as the ponds on the moonless night, and as cold, while the Highlander’s gaze sparkled with the well familiar, amused twinkle. These two had had a history, remembered Tlacaelel, preferring not to think about it.

“Thank you for your trust, Honorable Leaders,” began the Highlander brightly, as though no problems had arose from his unwarranted bursting into the impeccable noblemen’s discussion. “I’m aware that it is not our custom to conduct any sort of night warfare. Yet, in this situation, we may change our tactics to that extent. If we attack Azcapotzalco now, we will achieve the element of surprise, while our disadvantage will be less prominent in the darkness, fighting against the shaken, unbalanced enemy. If we are careful in organizing our forces, we may approach their walls unexpected, with their hastily organized resistance easy to overcome.”

“Our warriors are tired. They have been fighting since midday,” said Moctezuma, another prince to Tenochtitlan’s royal house, a very promising young man, one of Tlacaelel’s multitude of half brothers and Itzcoatl’s half nephews.

“Yes, I’m aware of that. My people and our highlander allies have been fighting since the high morning, taking the worst of the impact.” The twinkle was gone from the man’s eyes, replaced by the solemn thoughtfulness. He had always taken his duties of the warriors’ leader seriously, the only thing he had taken seriously, as far as Tlacaelel knew. The rest he had breezed through, trusting his luck, which usually, indeed, would not disappoint, to help this man to achieve the best of the best, from women to positions. “Yet, my men would be willing to make another effort. They are hardened warriors, and their morale is high. I’m sure the same can be said about the renowned Mexica warriors, as well.” His gaze encircled them, keen and sincere. “I’m aware that we may do better with more time to prepare for this unusual sort of attack. Yet, we could not have too much of that. Azcapotzalco should be taken tonight. Another day of fighting may prove disastrous, as we don’t know what additional surprises those people might have at their disposal, from reinforcements like the one who nearly surprised us this morning, to all sorts of traps in the hills. They know the terrain too well for us to feel confident about it. The Tepanecs are very good warriors, and their leaders were clever enough to conquer the whole valley and to hold it for twenty upon twenty of summers. However, here we might surprise them too thoroughly.” He glanced at Tenocelotl. “Our Highlander allies may agree to take upon themselves the first part of the attack, having more experience and an appropriate equipment to climb the walls, backed by their archers and our slingers. In the darkness, the defenders would not be able to use their slings and bows properly, while our shooters would find it easier to pick their targets, outlined more clearly against the sky.”

They all stared at the man, the rulers and the warriors’ leaders, the best of the four nations, some frowning, some doubtful, some managing to keep their expressions impassive. Only young Moctezuma looked expectant, and something close to an amused grin twisted the lips of the usually unperturbed Tenocelotl.

“How long will it take you to organize your warriors, including the time you would need to make them understand what sort of warfare is expected from them?” asked Tlacaelel.

The Highlander glanced at the sky. “My warriors will be ready some time after midnight.”

Tlacaelel nodded. “If we are to use our surprise to the best of our abilities, we should approach their walls in the darkest of the night, when the moon fades and the watchers are sleepy. Then we could shoot their guards, and that would give us enough time to let the first waves of our warriors get through before the enemy understands what happened.”

“Unless they are not as sleepy as you presume,” growled Itzcoatl, sounding more amused than angry now, back in control.

“They are tired no less than we are and distraught by the loss of their leader. And they are not expecting this sort of surprise.” The Highlander’s eyes lit suddenly, almost sparkling in the darkness. “And while we are on surprises and unusual sort of warfare…” His voice trailed off, as his gaze drew away, concentrating.

“What else can be done in the darkness?” asked Nezahualcoyotl, grinning.

Chimalpopoca – the third ruler of Tenochtitlan

10 November 2015 Comments (1)

His name Chimalpopoca meant Smoking Shield (Chimal(li)-shield, popoca-smoke/smoking), and he came to succeed his father, Huitzilihuitl, in the year of 1418 or Four Rabbit-Nahui Tochtli.

Some sources claim different dates, varying from 1414 to 1424, but most agree on 1417-18.

In the Codex Mendoza, Chimalpopoca is depicted in a typical way of Tenochtitlan’s rulers: sitting on a reed mat, petatl, wearing a headband, xiuhuitzolli, and carrying his role of a tlatoani-revered speaker with a speech scroll coming out of his mouth. The depiction of his name is added in the form of a Mexica shield with blue rim and seven feather down balls, with curls of smoke surrounding it.

Being the son of the Second Mexica Tlatoani and his Tepanec Chief Wife, the daughter of the mighty Tepanec Emperor Tezozomoc, who by this time ruled all the lands around Texcoco Lake and the Mexican Valley, Chimalpopoca enjoyed Azcapotzalco’s continues favor, and so did Tenochtitlan alongside with him. The tribute remained greatly reduced, and the revenues from the newly acquired Acolhua provinces, including Texcoco itself, which the Mexicas received probably as a prize for their active participation in the Acolhua-Tepanec War, added greatly to Tenochtitlan’s well being.

The city continued to prosper, the buildings being further rebuilt or extended. The markets filled with luxuries along with plenty of other necessities, offering cotton clothes and precious stones, something even in Huitzilihuitl’s times was not readily available.

The first construction to carry fresh water to Tenochtitlan was finally commenced, not an overly impressive structure made out of clay and limestone, breaking down too often for anyone’s liking. Still it was better than no aqueduct at all. The water on the eastern shore of the island was brackish, good for washing but not consuming. Only the western side of the island offered readily available fresh water, and it was not as sweet tasting as the water of the mainland. Tenochtitlan people grew picky about what they were expected to consumed.

Chimalpopoca’s reign was relatively short, lasting only ten years, his military activities mainly inherited – Tenochtitlan’s participation in the Tepanec-Acolhua War, as much as the long-years’ hostilities against altepetl of Chalco, located to the south of Lake Texcoco, on the shores of Lake Chalco. Codex Mendoza lists Chalco among Chimalpopoca’s conquests, but so it does when dealing with the military efforts of his father, Huitzilihuitl, or his uncle-successor Itzcoatl. Which might indicate the long-standing hostility and raids, rather than an ultimate conquest.

Chimalpopoca died in 1427 or Thirteen Reed-Matlactli Ei Acatl and his death was not as natural as this of his predecessors. The glyph attached to his year of death in the Codex Mendoza depicts him still sitting on a mat, wearing the royal headband; yet there is no speech scroll coming out of his mouth, and his pose is slopping, eyes closed. Some sources argue about his time of death being as early as 1424 or as late as 1432.

The upheavals in Azcapotzalco’s royal house sent huge waves of unrest throughout the entire Tepanec empire, hitting Tenochtitlan’s shores with a great strength. Tezozomoc, the man who had ruled the Mexican Valley with a stony fist for quite a few decades died in 1426, leaving two dominant heirs among multitude of eligible sons.

Tayauh, or Tayatzin as most of the records tend to add the honorific ‘tzin’ to this man’s name, was the son the dying emperor named for a successor, but his brother Maxtla thought he would do better occupying Azcapotzalco’s throne.

Chimalpopoca, still a young man of barely twenty, acted unwisely by supporting the legitimate heir vocally, openly, with great zeal. It is said that both his half-uncle Itzcoatl, his Head Adviser at this time, and his half-brother Tlacaelel, the Chief Warlord, advocated Tenochtitlan’s neutrality in this matter, advising to leave the Tepanec heirs sort their differences between themselves. However young and probably impressionable Chimalpopoca did not heed his wise supporters’ advice. Tayatzin was a lawful new Tepanec Ruler and that was that. Tenochtitlan would side with this good man, would benefit from its continued support in the long run.

A good strategy, maybe, but for the discontent Maxtla resorting to less lawful means. Only a few moons into his reign, Tayatzin died, by poison applied by his brother Maxtla, or so many have assumed. Tenochtitlan found itself facing hostile Tepanec Capital led by the man Chimalpopoca was heard declaring openly against on more than a few occasions. Not the best of situations, as the Mexica Island was still no match for the powerful Azcapotzalco, rich with tribute and teeming with warriors forces.

What’s more, having discovered the delightful ease with which one could get rid oneself of his rivals with no intricate politics involved, Maxtla didn’t even try to make it look legal. Next to die was the ruler of Tlatelolco, Tenochtitlan’s sister-city located on a neighboring island. Then Nezahualcoyotl, the exiled Acolhua heir whom Tezozomoc allowed to live in Tenochtitlan and even in the former Acolhua Capital through the recent years, was forced to flee back to the Highlands, after a failed attempt on his life.

Chimalpopoca found himself isolated, threatened openly. And so did Tenochtitlan, unpopular now in the new royal house of Azcapotzalco.

Itzcoatl and Tlacaelel began preparing for war. Tlacaelel, the Chief Warlord was reported to be “… seen everywhere around the city, fortifying it against the possibility of a siege, strengthening people’s spirits as well…”. The island’s location was offering an advantage for a change. All the Mexica Capital needed to do was to block the causeway leading to the mainland, and make sure enough war canoes patrolled Tenochtitlan’s waters.

And then, Chimalpopoca died. Various sources disagree on the matter. Some said Maxtla has had him killed by sending assassins into Tenochtitlan’s palace. Some said he had lured the young ruler to Azcapotzalco under the pretext of an imperial feast, then took him prisoner and executed. Given the political climate of these times, the first version makes more sense.

Additional hunches pointing the accusing finger at Iztcoatl, of all people, Chimalpopoca’s Head Adviser and the man who was destined to become the next Tlatoani; the man who had the necessarily amount of royal blood, even if inherited from his distinguished father only, and no lack of other great qualifications, a hardened warrior and politician who had seen more than forty decades of life. At such time, facing the most serious crisis, about to engage in the largest military confrontation since its creation, Tenochtitlan could certainly do better with a tough leader of great clout, experience and determination. So there are scholars who suspect Itzcoatl at having his own nephew killed, the only person with a clear motive.

An excerpt from “Currents of War”, The Rise of the Aztecs Series, book #4.

Iztac felt her heart missing a beat.

“Oh, the Tepanecs have no honor at all!”

“No, they have none. Apparently, they think many of the cities and altepetls should change their rulers along with their policies.” The thickset man shrugged. “I shall double the amount of warriors guarding the Palace.”

This time Chimal jumped to his feet, unable to remain seated anymore. “They would never dare!” he cried out. “It would make the war inevitable, and they would never succeed in removing a lawful ruler of an independent altepetl, never. We are not a village!”

Itzcoatl shrugged once again. “Maxtla has no honor. He can try anything, and I don’t want to see him succeeding, even if it won’t achieve the results he might wish to achieve. Tlacateotl, the ruler of Tlatelolco, was also a lawful ruler of an independent city. Nezahualcoyotl is also not an outlaw for them to try to hunt him down the way the despicable Tepanec tried. Tayatzin was a lawfully appointed successor to the Tepanec throne, but he is dead now, and no one dares to ask questions. I don’t want it happening here in Tenochtitlan. I don’t want to see you dead, Nephew, even if your death would not make Tenochtitlan into a tributary of the Tepanec Empire.”

Not daring to breathe, Iztac listened, her heart beating fast. Oh, no, they would never dare. Never! And yet, Itzcoatl might be right. Dirty Maxtla had dared to do many things no one assumed he would do. What was there to stop him from trying to murder Chimal, whom he hated openly, whose delegation he had just refused to receive? Oh, gods!

She watched the impartial face, a stone mask once again. Did this man have Chimal’s interests in his heart, after all? Were her suspicions, her unexplained dislike of this man, wrong and unfounded?

“I appreciate your concern for my safety, oh Honorable Uncle,” she heard Chimal saying, his voice warm and heartfelt. “But I would give my life away gladly if I were required to do so for the benefit of Tenochtitlan.”

“Yes, and I believe you, Nephew. Yet, my mission is to ensure your safety for the greater benefit of Tenochtitlan.” But again, the man’s eyes flickered darkly, making Iztac shiver. He knew something Chimal did not, she realized suddenly. Something ominous and dark. Something that would scare her beyond any reason.

She shut her eyes, wishing the ominous feeling to go away. It was all her imagination. Recently, she’d had too many things to worry about, too much danger to cope with. People she loved were in trouble, all of them – Coyotl, the Highlander, and now Chimal. No, she should calm her nerves and should not let the stupid sensation of knowing the future ruin her life. She would not be of help to any of them if she turned into a quivering shouter of doom.

No, she decided. Today she would not worry, and she’d do nothing but spend a quiet day with Citlalli, her daughter, the way she sometimes liked to do. They would draw pictures and chat and laugh, and they would gorge on sweetmeats, too.

She opened her eyes in time to see Tlacaelel coming in, tall and imposing, his paces wide, his face sunburned, his cloak creased, his whole being radiating purposeful energy, smelling of lake, campfires, and adventure.

“I beg to forgive me my neglected appearances,” he said nearing the throne, not paying attention to the slaves who hurriedly prostrated themselves. “I came as soon as I could, as soon as I heard you wished to see me, Revered Brother.”

“I’m so glad to see you back, well and unharmed!” exclaimed Chimal, jumping off his throne once again. “What happened?”

“Oh, filthy Maxtla was up to his tricks again!” Tlacaelel’s nostril’s widened as he took a deep breath. “This man is the most despicable half person that has ever been born.”

“You should be flattered, Warlord,” said Itzcoatl grimly. “He seems to be concerned mainly with rulers or would-be rulers.”

But Tlacaelel just shrugged, unperturbed. “He didn’t try to dispose of me for being me. He wanted to create a problem between Tenochtitlan and Tlacopan, so that city would be the first to join the war against us.”

Throwing Spears

2 November 2015 Comments (0)

With the Cold Moons safely gone and the spring taking over for good, the women of the longhouses were hurrying out to start preparations for the new planting season. The winter time of the dried-meat-and-fruit diet would have everyone starving for fresh, juicy treats, from sweet maple syrup to fresh strawberries and anything else the generous earth was willing to offer at this time of the year, until people managed to make their crops grow anew. So the Maple Moon, the first moon of the spring, would be spent on collecting wonderfully sweet, highly nutritious maple sap, to celebrate, gorge and store for the year-round use.

However, before this moon’s activities were done with and the next Thundering Moon took over, the men would be hastened out there, lazy males that they were – or so some Clans Mothers would have claimed – to engage in the fields-clearing activities. Fallen trees, broken bushes, stones and other hurdles, the remainders of the fierceness of the winter moons, would require a male strength to be removed. This was the only part where women had shown tolerance to the male intervention in their business, the agriculture being solely female task in the Longhouse People’s society, their duty and their responsibility, the equality of genders those people knew centuries before other cultures were to discover such thing.

But politics aside, when the old fields were cleared or maybe a new one reclaimed from the surrounding forest, the men would not miss the opportunity to use the newly flattened ground for their own entertainment before the women got around planting their crops through the following Planting Moon. A spear-throwing contest required a perfectly flattened ground, just the one the newly cleared field was offering.

The game would start with the players dividing into two teams of various sizes, depending on the amount of the willing to participate. From a small group of men, or youths, or even just kids armed with sharpened sticks, playing in pairs, to teams as large as fifteen to thirty warriors displaying their skill on the Thunder Ceremony through the moon that bore the same name, preceding the Planting Moon, spear throwing contest was a popular way to display one’s expertise and skill.

The players goal was to fit one’s spear through a hoop that was rolled over the flat ground at a fairly removed distance from the thrower. As with teams, those came in various forms and sizes. Some hoops were simple, made out of a branch bent as a circle, tied at its edges with a leather strip. Others were invested devices, made out of bundled cornhusks wrapped in a rawhide. Those would usually sport a web of leather strips inside the ring, to assist in determining the score in the way the spear went through it.

The spears were varying in their appearance as well. From sharpened sticks to exclusive javelins to professional gaming spears with forked ends to catch the hoop so the spear wouldn’t go all the way through, the spears would pierce the hoops in their perfect middle, or anywhere near it, or maybe just push until it feel, cutting its flight over the field short – anything that made the hoop fall was declared a good throw. Only the clear miss would cause the player lose his pride together with his spear that was to be handed to his contester as his rightful spoil. Otherwise the teams would go on, hurling their spears until reaching the agreed amount of points, or until all spears changed their hands, sometimes accumulating in the possession of one good player or several.

Either way no onlooker would be left feeling as though they had wasted their time watching the game and cheering, or sometimes even betting on the possible winners, adding more items to the spears that were destined to change hands.

Sometimes the contesting team would throw their javelins all at once, displaying their superior skill and organization. More often though, the players would hurl their missiles in pairs, each representing the rival team, trying to pierce the hoop in his turn.

The player who pierced the hoop while his rival missed, would be declared the winner and the new owner of the loser’s spear. However if both players managed to make their spears go through, they would go on throwing again for an agreed-upon amount of tries, then the contest would be transferred to the next teams’ representatives.

The Thunder Ceremony was held in April, a Thunder Moon, celebrating the return of the Thunderers, who would come from “where the sun sets”, bringing back rains and replenishing the water life. According to the Creation Story, during the time when everything was new and the Celestial Twins were still struggling, Heno the Thunderer helped to drive many of the Evil Twin’s creations back into the earth with his mighty lightening, frightening and suppressing ferocious animals with it to these very days “… it’s been told that if the Thunderer were to cease, these animals would emerge and cause a lot of suffering… so, whenever we hear them, we are to make an offering to them of the real tobacco so that they will continue with their responsibilities…”

The War Dance, performed on this ceremony by men alone, was followed by the hoop and spear game, the spear throwing contest, played as the part of the ritual – not just a wonderful entertainment, but also the representation of the symbolic contests between the good and dark sides of the human nature, the Good Right-Handed and the Evil Left Handed Twin Brothers and their eternal struggle. This was the most official contest, played by large teams, owners of professional hoops and spears.

An excerpt from “The Warpath”, People of the Longhouse Series, book #4.

“Are you ready, mysterious non-Onondaga man?” The Flint was back in his good humor, balancing his precious javelin in his hand, playing with it, displaying his skill.

“Who throws first?”

“You. The host has the honor.”

“My pleasure.” Swinging his spear in his turn, Ogteah strolled toward the nearest spot that had less chances of the sun glowing directly in his eyes. The Flint man, he noticed, skipped quite a few tens of paces away, his limp again barely noticeable. Was he pretending to have this liability?

Ogtaeh pushed a new wave of misgivings away, sensing the eyes of the woman, the lively chatter of her companions distracting.

“Ready?”

The shout came from far enough, making him wish to grind his teeth. From what distance was this man intending to have them aiming? With this smaller hoop, and now from farther than customary, was he planning to have them both missing the target?

“Go on.”

Deciding to brazen it out rather than spend his time worrying over something he could not prevent at this point, Ogteah focused, measuring the distance, guessing the possible path of the ring with his eyes. There was no need to concentrate on the starting point. A veteran of many such contests, he knew that a brief glance in the hoop-thrower’s direction was more than enough. Those who studied the man, trying to predict his movements, missed half of their chances to hit the target before the ring rolled its course.

The deepening silence of those who watched warned him, heightened his awareness, made his muscles tense, his body tilting, the hand holding the spear only a part of the effort. As did the swish that his ears didn’t miss.

The hoop shot forward, like a pouncing predator, pushed with enough force to make it almost fly. At the same moment, Ogteah’s entire body came to life, his instincts deciding for him, as they always did.

Another swish, this of his spear, was louder, resonating in his ears. He could feel the force of the throw, the unerring path of the lethal weapon. It wouldn’t miss, he knew. It couldn’t. Indeed, the hum of the air released from quite a few chests at once told him that the target was down, before his eyes confirmed that. The women behind his back giggled as one of them shouted too loudly, not quick enough to hide her admiration.

“Not bad.” The Flint man didn’t bother to retrieve the fallen hoop, letting one of his friends rush along the tramped-on grass. “Impressive, really.”

But there was no real appreciation in the warrior’s voice. Or maybe there was, but his eyes flickered amusedly, unconcerned. It took the edge off Ogteah’s sense of victory.

“No sweat,” he said lightly, heading toward the man with the hoop and his own spear. “Show us what the Flint can do from such distance.”

“Quite a lot, mysterious local. Quite a lot.”

Rolling the ring was never his favorite part of the competition. He did not do it well, not like some others, who could send the hoop practically flying. Like the annoyingly self-assured Flint.

“Ready?”

He just shoved it forward, in no showy manner, not surprised when the colorful spear pushed it violently, made it fall before it reached the middle of its journey, losing no momentum. Worried a little, he rushed forward, to see that the missile did not go through the perfect middle.

“Not bad as well,” he called out, relieved. The spear didn’t even stick in the web, but was lying quite a distance away, having probably hit the outer ring. A near miss, he thought, smirking. Why did he let stupid misgivings bother him at all?

Huitzilihuitl – the second ruler of Tenochtitlan

27 October 2015 Comments (0)

His name was Huitzilihuitl, which meant Hummingbird Feather (huitzi(lin)=hummingbird, ihuitl=feather). He wasn’t the oldest son of his father, the first Tenochtitlan’s ruler, Acamapichtli, but according to the council of the city elders he was the most fitting.

Acamapichtli died without naming his heir, leaving it to the council of the districts’ elders to decide. The procedure, already instituted by this time, made it possible for the ruling nobility to choose the most capable among the royal progeny, so they did just that. His mother was not the impeccably Toltec Chief Wife of the First Tlatoani, but there are sources that claim that the Culhucan princess raised Huitzilihuitl along with his real mother, a woman of local nobility.

It is said that the year was 1397 or Chiconahui Calli-Nine House, when the city elders convoked a massive congregation. All four districts of Tenochtitlan were called to vote. People of Moyotlan, Zoquipan (or Teopan), Atzacoalco and Cuepopan listened to the passionate speeches that were given by the elders and the priests before agreeing to accept Huitzilihuitl as their next ruler.

Some sources are in disagreement with the mentioned above date. The claims vary from him inheriting the throne as early as 1391 to as late as 1404.

On his glyph, Huitzilihuitl is depicted like a typical tlatoani, sitting on the reed mat, wearing a royal headband, with a speech scroll coming out of his mouth. Attached to his head by a thin line is his name’s glyph, a hummingbird’s head with five feather down balls – Hummingbird Feather.

Huitzilihuitl got to the task of maintaining and expanding his city with great zeal worthy of his glorious father. Very capable and as committed as the First Tlatoani, even if maybe not as dynamic and forceful, he dedicated much energy to the further expending of the city, vigorous building and lawmaking, enforcement of customs and religious laws. He wanted to build a construction what would bring fresh drinking water into Tenochtitlan all the way from the mainland, provided their Tepanec overlords gave their consent, but the council of Tenochtitlan’s nobles and the city elders was reported to refuse to let him commence this project due to the prohibitively high cost.

One political move promoted his altepetl in the way his father never managed. Gathering courage or just acting shrewdly, he had applied to Azcapotzalco with a request to have one of Tezozomoc‘s daughters for a wife. The Tepanec Emperor had those aplenty, presenting many neighboring rulers, vassals and allies, Acolhua Texcoco among those – the indirect cause of the following Acolhua-Tepanec war – with this sort of a generous gift that also helped him to keep an eye on his rapidly growing empire. So the Mexica royal house was granted Ayauhcihuatl, Tezozomoc’s daughter, now a wife of the second Mexica ruler and the mother of the future tlatoani as well.

The ties with the royalty of Azcapotzalco were strengthened. But more than this. Ayauhcihuatl turned out to be a clever lady who cared for her new homeland, as it seemed. Upon the birth of her son, the heir to the Aztec throne, she had pleaded with her powerful father, apparently charming him into reducing Tenochtitlan’s tribute into a third, or even fourth, of what used to be demanded. Tenochtitlan began to prosper like never before, gaining more respect from the neighboring altepetls and other regional powers as well.

Huitzilihuitl’s additional wife was reported to be a princess of Tlacopan, another influential Tepanec city, and a few representatives of the Acolhua highest nobility adorned his wives collection as well. Later on he had acquired a princess of Quauhnahuac, a mother of Moctezuma I, another future tlatoani to be, but this match didn’t come easily, several sources claim, starting series of wars between Tenochtitlan and the towns of this fertile valley to the south.

Many of Huitzilihuitl’s offsprings left a serious print upon the following Tenochtitlan history, listing quite a few future rulers, not to mention Tlacaelel, who is still held to be the architect of the ‘Aztec Empire’ to come. His mother Cacamacihuatl, of a local nobility as it seemed, was another to adorn the Second Tlatoani’s wives quarters.

During his reign, Tenochtitlan held its first grand-scale New Fire Ceremony, a celebration that signified the end of what we might call a century and the beginning of the new one.

Such ceremony was to be held every fifty two years, when two calendars, xiuhpohualli, the Sun Calendar of 365 days, and tonalpohualli, the traditional calendar of 260 days, became synchronized in a natural manner. Then Xiuhmolpilli, the Binding of the Years Ceremony, or what we came to know as New Fire Ceremony was held, a very important event that made sure that our current World of the Fifth Sun did not end like the previous four before that. Complicated rituals were observed for the last five days of the year – nemontemi, the artificial addition to the 360 days divided in 20 months – involving “… abstinence from work, fasting, ritual cleansing, ritual bloodletting, destruction of certain old household items and observance of silence…”.

Then, on the last day, all fires in the city were extinguished, and the attempt to ignite the new fire in the old traditional way and a very complicated manner was made by the priests, to mark the new count of cycles, or a new ‘century’ would begin, to last another 52 years, until the two calendars synchronized again.

In 1403 or Ome Acatl-Two Reed, Tenochtitlan was reported to celebrate its own New Fire for the first time in a truly grand style. Another evidence for the neighboring powers – Tenochtitlan was not an upstart village, not anymore.

To continue with his father’s policies of participating in the Tepanec wars while waging some smaller scale independent campaigns, Tenochtitlan’s warriors raided towns of Toltitlan, Quauhtitlan and Xaltocan, alongside their Tepanec overlords.

When the Tepanec-Acolhua war broke in 1415, Tenochtitlan managed to remain neutral at first. The Tepanecs’ first attempted invasion of Texcoco repulsed decisively, with the Acolhua going so far as to take the warfare back into the Tepanec side of the Great Lake, the Mexica island watched warily, doing nothing but benefiting from the state of neutrality, enjoying more trading routes opened through their growing city instead of the war-torn western and eastern side of the Great Lake.

However, such blissful condition could not last. Long ties with the Acolhua the Mexica might have, still the Tepanecs were closer to Tenochtitlan now, holding much power over the island-city, the Tlatoani’s Chief Wife and her connection to the mighty Tepanec ruler notwithstanding. After close to two years of fence-sitting, Tenochtitlan joined, or maybe was forced to join, the most important regional war with vigor. Acolma, Otumba, Tulanzinco and the last Texcoco itself fell to the combined Tepanec-Mexica forces.

However, by this time Huitzilihuitl’s rule has ended as well. It is said that he has died of natural cases, even though he was still a relatively young man, probably in his late thirties or early forties, even though there is much discrepancy in the dates the various sources state. The accepted date of his death is the year 1417, or Yei Calli-Three House, but some argue it might have happened as early as 1410 or as late as 1422.

An excerpt from “Currents of War”, The Rise of the Aztecs Series, book #4.

“Easily, girl.” The pretty noblewoman laughed again. “I’m not as young as you might think. The Warlord took me when I was quite young, but it happened more than twenty summers ago.”

The smile playing on the full lips was dreamy as the large eyes clouded, wandering the mists of the past.

“It was the New Fire ceremony, the first New Fire ceremony Tenochtitlan was celebrating. We’d been living in Tenochtitlan for some summers by then, and I was not missing Culhuacan as badly as in the beginning. I was fifteen, and my father wanted me to attend this ceremony as it was the biggest celebration this altepetl would have for another fifty-two summers. And who knew if I would live long enough to attend the next one. So, in spite of my mother’s protests, he let me come, and was I excited!”

Her favorite drink forgotten, the woman shook her head.

“Oh, it was such a beautiful day. You should have seen it, girl! The music, the crowds, the colorful processions, the ceremonies in the temple atop the Great Pyramid. So many sacrificial offerings! I haven’t seen so many offerings ever since.” The gaze of the woman focused, as though remembering her audience. “We were invited to join the royal family upon their dais. The First Emperor had been dead for some summers, and his successor, Revered Huitzilihuitl, was very young and very nice. My father hoped that I would catch his eye. We were of a royal family ourselves, even if Culhuacan was subdued by then, defiled by the vile Tepanecs.

However, a Toltec princess is always a welcome addition to any Emperor’s household. She makes it shine brighter. And I was held to be a beauty, too.” The woman straightened up, filling her cup. “Well, Huitzilihuitl was attracted, of course. I could see that, and I was flattered. He was just a little older than me and very nice looking. But then, as the priests were offering the last heart, and the last body came tumbling down the stairs of the pyramid, the Chief Warlord came up the dais, to talk to the Emperor.”

The dreamy grin widened, became mischievous.

“Oh, girl, you should have seen him back then, the way he came up, ignoring the stairs, mounting the dais in one powerful leap, a mighty jaguar, his spotted cloak swirling. My heart stopped, slid down my chest, to flutter somewhere in my stomach. All I wanted was to be seated urgently. I was afraid I might faint. My legs had no strength in them. But do you know what the most beautiful thing about all this was?” The dark eyes bore into Dehe, shining triumphantly. “He took one look at me, and he almost fell off the dais. I’m telling you, girl! He was about to talk to the Emperor, but all he did was stare. He just stood there, peering at me, as though he had seen a ghost, enthralled but scared too, his eyes wide and his mouth gaping.” The woman laughed. “Oh, girl, it made me feel powerful. The famous First Chief Warlord, the conqueror of so many places, the closest adviser and the most trusted man of the First Emperor, Revered Acamapichtli, the most influential, dangerous, powerful person in Tenochtitlan was afraid of me. Oh, gods! But I still needed to sit down, because my legs were shaking.”

“And then what happened?” asked Dehe, fascinated, when the woman fell silent, lost in her memories.

“Oh, then some time passed. Only a few moons, but it felt like a long time, ten, twenty seasons maybe. My father still wanted to give me to Huitzilihuitl, but then our Emperor acquired his Tepanec Chief Wife, so my father agreed to give me to the Warlord.” She shrugged. “You see, the Warlord was a noble-born Tepanec himself. Otherwise, his multitude of titles and achievements would not have been enough. Culhuacan princesses are a treasure not to be distributed lightly. After the New Fire ceremony half of the noble-born in Tenochtitlan were besieging my father with requests on my behalf.” Shaking her head, the woman grinned. “Oh, how worried I was that he would give me to someone else.”

“But he is so old!” exclaimed Dehe, unable to hold her tongue.

The woman’s laughter rang out, full of mirth, unconcerned. “Oh, he is old now, girl. But it happened more than twenty summers ago. He had seen about two times of twenty summers by that time, and he was so incredibly handsome! I promise you that half of the female population of Tenochtitlan would have loved to see me drop dead on the day I was given to him. They all wanted to be in my place.

Acamapichtli – the first ruler of Tenochtitlan

21 October 2015 Comments (0)

The name Acamapichtli – Aca(tl)=reed, mapichtli=handful – meant ‘a handful of reeds’, sometimes depicted as arrows with blunted tips, has carved itself into Tenochtitlan’s history as one of the corner stones, or the true Tenochtitlan’s beginning.

He was the son of a prominent Mexica warrior who had married into a noble family of Culhuacan. Back in those times, the mid to the end of the 14th century, Culhuacan was still highly prestigious, imposing, influential altepetl (city-stated) located on the southern side of Lake Texcoco. Equal to the Tepanec Azcapotzalco in its dominance and influence, both altepetls were poised as a sort of friendly rivals, competing but not in a hostile way.

Still, for some reason, Acamapichtli wasn’t brought up in Culhuacan but rather grew up in either Texcoco or Coatlinchan, among Acolhua people who populated the eastern shores of the Great Lake. It is there, where Tenochtitlan’s elders, heads of various city districts and clans, came in their search for the legitimate ruler.

An imposing young man, with a list of achievements already behind him, added to such satisfactory lineage, Acamapichtli was offered the job, invited formally by Tenochtitlan founders’ council.

The year was 1376 or Ce Tecpatl-One Flint Knife by the Mexica Calendar count.

Arriving at his new realm, Acamapichtli, being a vigorous, dedicated, still relatively young man, got to work at once and with great enthusiasm. The island-city, more of a town back in these days, needed to be organized, regulated, invested, given sense of belonging and destiny, a project the young ruler, apparently, did not found repulsive or daunting.

Roads were stretched and paved all over the island, canals for easier transportation of goods in and out of the city dug, residential areas regulated, divided into more defined districts, extensive building projects commenced. Taking no break between this flurry of activity, he enacted new laws, regulating the growing altepetl’s life, putting it on the regional map with great determination. Everywhere around the island chinampas were spreading, the floating farms the lack of agricultural land dictated.

During the time of its first ruler’s reign, Tenochtitlan was of course nothing but a vassal of the powerful Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco. The tribute the Tepanec Capital demanded was high, sometimes even outrageous (one of the sources reports a one-time demand “… of a raft planted with all kinds of vegetables, along with a duck and a heron, both in the process of hatching their eggs…”).

The Tepanec Empire, expanding by leaps and bounds themselves, overshadowing Culhuacan and other regional powers rapidly, eyed the growing island-city with wariness. Tenochtitlan’s desire to have a ruler of noble blood – not the supreme ruler tlatoani but a governor, cihuacoatl – was met with reserved approval, and it did not decrease the amount of goods demanded to be send to Azcapotzalco with every new moon.

Hence the first ruler of Tenochtitlan was not a supreme ruler – Tlatoani or Revered Speaker – but just a governor, Cihuacoatl, an office that in the later-day Tenochtitlan would become the second most powerful position, equivalent to a Head Adviser.

It was only after seven years passed, in 1383 or Chikueyi Acatl-Eight Reed, with Azcapotzalco relaxing its watch and Acamapichtli doing nothing to provoke his city’s stern overlords, that he might have been anointed with the ultimate title of Tlatoani.

Sources like codex Mendoza state it most clearly, by two different glyphs (glyphs were the original Nahuatl writing system) depicting Acamapichtli’s changing statuses. In both glyphs he is depicted in a traditional way of Tenochtitlan rulers, sitting on a reed mat, wearing turquoise headpiece with a red back-tie, his mouth emits a speech scroll – a typical tlatoani, revered speaker’s, glyph.

But in the first drawing he is also crowned by a glyph of a snake with a woman’s head – cihuacoatl/governor symbol (cihua=woman, coatl=serpent), while in the later glyph he appears wearing a ‘pillar of stone’, a diadem of tlatoani, the supreme ruler.

In both glyphs his name is drawn most clearly by a drawing of hand grasping a bundle of arrows or reeds – Aca-mapichtli.

Well, being the first, his ascendance to the throne must have been rather sporadic, not through the customary way as with the later-day Tlatoanis.

So he did nothing to provoke Azcapotzalco into ruining the painfully maintained status-quo, while developing his island-city, biding his time, preparing for every eventuality.

Not allowed to campaign independently, the Mexica-Aztecs participated in the Tepanec wars with zest, pleasing their overlords and themselves. The spoils were not great, as most of it went to enrich Azcapotzalco, but the exercise must have been good for their spirits if not for their warriors’ prowess.

Still, while participating in raids on far removed places like Quahuacan and Chimalhuacan, venturing alongside their Tepanecs overlords into the fertile valleys of Quauhnahuac, Acamapichtli kept trying to gain at least semblance of independence, at least while raiding the neighboring southern chinampa zones of the Great Lake, namely Mixquic, Cuitlahuac and Xochimilco. It is unclear if he managed to gain the permission to do that or not, or even how successful he was raiding those contested areas, independently or not, because later all three were recorded to be re-conquered by Itzcoatl, the forth Tenochtitlan ruler.

All in all, Acamapichtli’s reign was reported to be peaceful and rewarding, a definite step on the path of Tenochtitlan’s future independence and glory.

It was during his reign that the city was divided into four neighborhoods or calpulli – Moyotlán in the southwest; Zoquipan in the southeast; Cuecopan in the northwest; and Atzacualco in the northeast. Houses of adobe and stone began replacing cane-and-reed dwellings. A great temple, teocalli was also constructed and many laws formed and enforced, even if partially.

To maintain the exalted blood of the future royal density, he had acquired a very exalted Culhuacan princess name Ilancueitl to be his Chief Wife. Yet, this woman, while being reported dutiful and good, bore him no children.

To correct that as much as to maintain closer ties with the city’s council of elders, heads of districts and other nobility, he had taken more wives, daughters of prominent men from each district. It is reported that he has as many as twenty wives, by whom he had sired many sons and daughters. The most prominent and well known, aside from his Culhuacan royal princess, was Tezcatlan Miyahuatzin, a daughter of the most prominent district’s leader and one of the ‘founding fathers’ of Tenochtitlan, Acacitli. This lady had mothered the next Tenochtitlan’s ruler, Huitzilihuitl. It is said that she lived in harmony with Ilancueitl, the Chief Wife.

Which isn’t to say that Acamapichtli did not fancy women outside his large collection of wives. Itzcoatl the forth Tenochtitlan’s tlatoani, was his son by a Tepanec slave woman, reported not to be the only son at that. This particular progeny was frowned upon, but not enough to prevent, at least, Itzcoatl’s climbing the social ladder right into the highest of offices a few decades later.

Acamapichtli’s reign ended in 1396 or Chikueyi Tecpatl-Eight Flint Knife with his death, a peaceful affair according to all sources. He has died of natural cases, not naming his successor, but leaving it to the council of the districts leaders to decide. Their choice fell on his son, Huitzilihuitl and it seems that it turned out to be a good decision on the part of the wise islanders bent on putting their altepetl on the regional map.

An excerpt from “The Jaguar Warrior”, Pre-Aztec Trilogy, book #2.

Acamapichtli sat upon his reed chair and watched the representatives of the four districts, all of them elderly men of great reputation, all related to him through this or that female relative.

To strengthen his ties with the city he had taken a wife from the most influential clans of each district, in addition to his pure-blooded Toltec Chief Wife. By now, he had fathered several heirs, but the most exalted of his wives had disappointingly borne him no sons.

He shrugged as it didn’t matter. The gods were mysterious, and she was still of childbearing age. A Toltec heir would fit perfectly on his father’s throne, would adhere to the rich legacy he intended to leave after him, but he has enough heirs as it was.

He listened absently as one of the elders complained about the water supplies in his district. The less appealing aspect of being a ruler was the necessity to listen to nonessential information that should have been making its way into his advisers care. However, this man was the leader of his district since before Acamapichtli had come to power, so he listened patiently and promised to take care of the problem.

Water, he thought as he strolled toward the terrace after the elders were gone. It could be wonderful to have it supplied from the springs on the mainland. The landscape around their shores inclining favorably, suggested a stone construction to run the water straight to the island’s pools and ponds. He would have to remember to talk to his engineers about it.

Bitterly, he snorted. What a dream. A futile, meaningless daydream. Azcapotzalco would never allow such construction; they would never stand it if Mexica people enjoyed fresh water. Had they only been able…

The thought about the Tepanec Capital brought the pressing problem of their delegation. He could not let them go, not yet. He signed to a slave who lingered nearby.

“Summon here Huacalli, the leader of the warriors,” he said.

The wild Tepanec, the leader of the delegation, he thought painfully. There must be a way to use him, to turn him into his emissary. Tenochtitlan’s people needed to raid the neighboring settlements independently. This matter had to be solved now that the southern shores of the Great Lake were weakened and ripe for conquest. His growing altepetl needed their floating farmlands.

That, and a foothold on the piece of the mainland. Otherwise it could not continue to grow. In that matter his time was running out, and the son of Azcapotzalco Emperor’s adviser might be a part of the solution.

He frowned. There was something about this young man, something that gave the Aztec ruler inkling. He needed to understand this man better. Accustomed to using people, his leader’s instincts told him that this hothead had more to him than he had cared to display; perhaps even to himself. There had to be a way to turn this one into a useful tool. The show of the cheerful troublemaker with not a thought in his head was just that – a show. For some reason this talented warrior had decided to waste his life on meaningless mischief. Why?

He narrowed his eyes against the glow of the setting sun. What had his Chief Wife told him about this man? He was a troublemaker at school, finally expelled from his calmecac. Then, he had made it into the elite warriors and stayed there, allegedly, with the help of his powerful father.

Ah, a powerful father, a great warrior, a Chief Warlord of many summers, the conqueror of Culhuacan. That could explain some things. How could a son compete against such a father? No, he could not, unless one was exceptionally gifted or exceptionally diligent, and the young Tepanec was neither.

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