Biography

Itzcoatl – the fourth ruler of Tenochtitlan

20 November 2015 Comments (1)

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.”

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.

Tlacaelel, the man who gave the Aztec empire its history

24 July 2012 Comments (5)

Many sources report him to be the First Son of the Second Mexica Ruler, Huitzilihuitl; or at least one of the tlatoani’s first children.

A legitimate son, he possessed it all – the birthright, the brilliance, the drive, the ability to work hard – all the qualities that might have made him a remarkable ruler. Yet, for reasons known maybe only to him, he had preferred to shape what would later on become the famous Aztec Empire from behind the scenes.

Early Tenochtitlan

Only a decade or two before Tlacaelel was born, Tenochtitlan had been nothing but a mediocre town, stuck on an island, with no prospects and no significant future, having no place to grow and no resources to develop it.

Its first Tlatoani, Acamapichtli, was reported to be the son a Mexica nobleman and a princess of Culhuacan, an infinitely better bloodline as far as the Mexican Valley’s (Anahuac) nobility was concerned. Raised in the exquisite aristocratic Acolhua city-state, located on the eastern shore of Lake Texcoco, this man did not hesitated when Tenochtitlan’s elders asked him to become the ruler of the Mexica island. Apparently, he was not a person to shy away from an interesting challenge.

Two decades of his rule saw the puny island town growing into a worthwhile city, with the first level of the future Great Pyramid challenging the skyline, wide canals dug throughout the city to make the traffic and transportation easier, first causeway spread out to connect Tenochtitlan with the mainland, and many cane-and-reed houses giving way to the adobe and stone constructed dwellings.

On the personal level, Acamapichtli made sure to place the royal house of Tenochtitlan in a proper position, recognized by the rest of the Anahuac local powers, from the haughty Acolhua of Texcoco to the powerful Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco; not to mention the people of Chalco, Xochimilco, and other towns and altepetls, city-states, surrounding the vastness of Lake Texcoco. He took quite a few noble wives from all sort of places, managing to acquire even a Toltec princess of Culhuacan, spicing his harem by locally noble women as well, daughters of those same districts elders and other influential Mexicas.

Thus, when Acamapichtli died, Tenochtitlan royal house has no lack of legitimate heirs.

The Second Tlatoani

First to inherit was one of the younger sons, Huitzilihuitl. He was reported to be barely over twenty, a young man of pleasant disposition, suitably smart and nicely tractable. The elders of Tenochtitlan, those who comprised the council of the districts’ leaders, with much influence and responsibilities, including the ratification of the nominated next ruler’s candidacy, were not disappointed with their choice.

About two decades of this Second Tlatoani’s rule saw Tenochtitlan not only growing rapidly, but also expanding, not crushing under the heavy tribute levied by the Tepanecs on the island-city before that.

A wise move of acquiring one of the Tepanec Emperor’s daughters for a Chief Wife saw to it that Tenochtitlan’s tribute was reduced to one fourth of what it used to be paid through the previous decades under Acamapichtli. Many sources state that the clever Tepanec woman had pleaded with her mighty father upon the birth of her son, the prospective heir to Tenochtitlan’s throne, and so the tribute was cut considerably.

Less tribute, more means to invest in the city. Tenochtitlan prospered, but there was a price to pay. The island city was turning into a true tributary of the mighty Tepanecs, less independent, more servile.

When in 1415, Tezozomoc, the Tepanec Emperor, opened an outright war against Texcoco, the Acolhua Capital, Tenochtitlan has no choice but to keep neutral as long as they could, not at liberty to aid their Acolhua neighbors and possible allies of previous years. The Mexica island was in no position to anger its stern overlords in Azcapotzalco.

And its not that the island-city did not gain much from its enforced neutrality. The eastern trading routes, interrupted by nearly two years of hostilities, shifted toward the peaceful Tenochtitlan. The markets filled with unheard-of before excesses, and the economy flourished. With the attention of their overlords elsewhere, Tenochtitlan was also able to strengthen its naval forces and its land-born defenses, all the while maintaining their demure pose of neutrality, reinforcing neither side.

At this time Tlacaelel has already been a youth, probably about to finish his studies in calmecac, the school for nobles that even the royal offsprings attended. Most of the sources are placing his date of birth around 1397-98. So by the time of the Tepanec-Acolhua War he must have seen close to 18 summers.

His mother, Cacamacihuatl, was reported to be a noble woman of Tenochtitlan. But of course she was not noble enough to compete with his father’s, Huitzilihuitl’s, Chief Wife, the daughter of the mighty Tepanec Emperor. Therefore, Tlacaelel was not the prospective heir.

Even at such a young age he must have been wise enough to cherish no farfetched ideas concerning his birthright. A mere youth, the mighty ruler’s son or not, was no match for the Emperor’s Chief Wife, who must have been a dominant woman, as most of the sources mention her in connection to the reduced tribute, and not only as a mother of the next ruler – the lot of the other women who were honored with a mention at all.

Thus, it was her son, Chimalpopoca, who has been groomed for the office of tlatoani, although according to Diego Duran he has been barely a boy of ten or twelve years old by the time Huitzilihuitl died. Too young to inherit, but inherit he did, becoming Tenochtitlan’s Third Tlatoani at the height of the Tepanec-Acolhua War, which dragged on and on, with less success than the Tepanecs must have been expecting. The Acolhua turned out to be a worthy adversary, defending their altepetl and its provinces fiercely, then taking the war into the Tepanec side of the Great Lake for some time.

The implications of the Tepanec-Acolhua War

However, the death of the Second Mexica Emperor changed all that. Tenochtitlan’s neutrality was no more. Whether it was because Chimalpopoca felt obliged to support his grandfather, the Tepanec Emperor, or whether the pressure from Azcapotzalco grew, but Tenochtitlan participated in the renewed attack on Texcoco quite eagerly, sending considerable warriors’ forces to join the invasion.

Planned most cunningly, with a deceptive, well thought out strategy Tezozomoc was famous for, the invasion succeeded, with Texcoco going down quite soundly, its ruler Ixtlilxochitl killed, the surviving heir, Nezahualcoyotl, fleeing into the Highlands with nothing but his life, and the mighty Tepanec Empire absorbing the Acolhua altepetl and its provinces, growing yet larger and wealthier, more invincible than ever.

Tenochtitlan was rewarded with the generous part of the tribute coming from the conquered Texcoco, and the permission to build an aqueduct using the springs of the mainland, also controlled by the Tepanecs of course. The trade flourished even more than before, and the fresh drinking water added to the delights of the ever growing city.

The aftermath of the Acolhua defeat

By this time Tlacaelel was already in the thickest of it, in the midst of his altepetl’s activities, a vigorous young man near his mid-twenties, full of energy and ideas, aiming for the office of Tlacochcalcatl, the Chief Warlord of Tenochtitlan, held by his uncle Itzcoatl for some time.

Taking upon himself the task of guiding his royal nephew, Chimalpopoca, Itzcoatl took the responsibility of become Cihuacoatl, the Head Adviser, thus leaving the office of leading warrior to Tlacaelel, another of his distinguished nephews.

Like his half-brother Huitzilihuitl, father of both Tlacaelel and Chimalpopoca, Itzcoatl was the son of the First Tlatoani, but wherein Huitzilihuitl’s mother was perfectly legitimate wife and a woman of noble origins, Itzcoatl’s mother was a simple concubine, a slave from Azcapotzalco’s marketplace, or just a beautiful commoner, a vegetable-seller according to some of the sources. Either way she was not legitimate enough to warrant her son’s possible ambition to occupy Tenochtitlan’s throne. So Itzcoatl bid his time, advanced his career in the areas he was good at, namely warfare and organization, content to help his ruling nephew, a young man of not a patient or wise enough disposition to conduct himself wisely in front of all the Great Lake’s political upheavals. Or so it seemed.

The upheavals in the Tepanec royal house

In 1426 the old Tepanec Emperor died after ruling Azcapotzalco and, gradually, the entire region around Lake Texcoco for quite a few decades, with a stony fist at that. The Tepanec royal house plunged into turmoil and the waves of unrest spread all over the Mexican Valley.

The official heir, Tayatzin, stepped up to occupy the throne as instructed, but one of his numerous brothers, Maxtla, palmed off with the rulership of a province of Coyoacan, did not think his father chose wisely. Shortly after the ceremony of his anointment, Tayatzin died of unknown cases. Maxtla came to rule Azcapotzalco and hence the entire Tepanec Empire.

Tenochtitlan, along with other Tepanec provinces, began to worry.

Even smaller changes in the Great Capital were bound to reflect on all Tepanec provinces, namely the entire Mexican Valley’s basin, but Chimalpopoca, in addition to this, did not act wisely by supporting Tayatzin openly and vocally while this short-time ruler was still alive. The island city, not very popular with the Tepanec nobility as it was, found itself facing an offended, inimical ruler. Not a good state of affairs.

The revolt against the Tepanecs

Tlacaelel, the Chief Warlord at this point, was reported to prepare for the worst, readying Tenochtitlan for the possible attempt of invasion. Bent on seeing his inherited empire tidy and obedient, Maxtla was already reported to poison not only his own brother, the legitimate heir to the Tepanec throne, but the ruler of Tlatelolco, Tenochtitlan’s sister-city located on the neighboring island, as well.

That without counting the attempt on the heir to the still-subdued Texcoco, Nezahualcoyotl, who after hiding in the Highlands for some time, had emerged back in the Lowlands and was allowed to live in Tenochtitlan and later on even in Texcoco itself by the old Tezozomoc himself for close to eight years since the fall of Texcoco. Well, this prudent young man, already adept in the art of survival, did not stay to see what would happened but fled back into the Highlands, to seek for possible reinforcements and support.

Isolated, Tenochtitlan was left to face the crisis alone. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Some time later, Chimalpopoca, the Third Tlatoani of the island-city, was found dead, slain in his own palace according to many primary sources. Maxtla, already notorious for his political killings, was held to be the supposed instigator, even though some later-day scholars suspect Itzcoatl’s direct involvement. The fourth Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan had everything to gain out of this particular death, the elevation to the throne being one of the benefits, the safety of his island city, another. Chimalpopoca’s policies were not wise or farsighted.

Tlacaelel’s exploits in Azcapotzalco

However, having received a strong, experienced ruler to lead them, Tenochtitlan’s more commonly originated leading elements – influential traders, nobles of the neighboring Tlatelolco and the heads of Tenochtitlan’s districts – were reported to experience a sudden spell of uncertainty.

A delegation came to Itzcoatl, demanding to do everything in order to reach a peaceful agreement with the powerful Azcapotzalco. No common people wanted war, the brunt of which would fall on their shoulders to carry.

Upon hearing this Tlacaelel was reported to launch into a fiery speech, talking of honor and bravery, of Tenochtitlan’s worthiness and its true destination. That had Itzcoatl, the new Tlatoani, convinced, but not the districts and the neighboring Tlatelolco’s representatives.

The offshoot of this argument was a compromise, an embassy to be sent to Azcapotzalco, offering peace but demanding fair treatment and better conditions for relationship than before. Some sources hint that it might have even included Nezahualcoyotl’s case. Not the conditions the Tepanec Emperor was likely to accept, but it was worth a try.

Tlacaelel volunteered to lead the dangerous mission himself. Or so the accepted narration would have it. Retold about a century and a half later, as the original Nahuatl books that might have been containing more authentic accounts were burned when Cortez conquered Tenochtitlan and Texcoco, it may be that the exploits of this particular man were somewhat exaggerated by the this or that descendant retelling his version of history for the benefit of the recording monks. According to those, having taken upon himself such perilous mission, Tlacaelel proceeded to travel to Azcapotzalco, alone and barely armed, reaching the outskirts of the Great Capital and demanding at the first guards house to be let in and escorted straight into the presence of the Tepanec ruler himself. There he proceeded to state his case, with great courage and eloquence, causing notoriously dishonorable Maxtla to hesitated and even behave courteously enough by letting Tenochtitlan’s ambassador go unharmed, with the demand to return on the next day in order to receive his answer.

Tlacaelel had been reported to do just that, leave fearlessly, to return with the break of dawn. Still alone, still displaying no fear. At this point, the undecided Tepanec ruler arrived at the decision, which was a resounding ‘no’ to the islanders’ shameless demands. So Tlacaelel proceeded to offer the customary weaponry and attire, thus ‘arming’ the Tepanec ruler for the upcoming war, while anointing him as the sacrificial victim at the same time – the traditional declaration of war, along with the subtle hint at whom would be the loser of the conflict. Then he went home, having been detained by the guard house on this second exodus of the enemy city. The incident which still saw him back in Tenochtitlan, unharmed, having left a few dead Azcapotzalco’s guards behind him, those who were silly enough to try and detain him by force after all.

A questionable account, from the overnight trips back and forth from Azcapotzalco to Tenochtitlan – an ambassador, even of the enemy city, would be more likely to remain for the night, enjoying the local hospitality, instead of rowing back and forth or running miles of the countryside and the length of the causeway – to the actions of Maxtla himself, notorious for his unscrupulousness and dishonesty but for this particular incident, or the ways Tenochtitlan, not a village of little importance even in those days, was conducting its war and peace business.

The tides have turned

Some sources say that shortly thereafter, the Tepanecs launched the attack on the island, laying a siege to it, but Nezahualcoyotl’s reinforcements of rebellious Acolhua and the friendly Highlanders of Huexotzinco made the difference. Back from the mountainous east the Texcoco heir came, leading hordes of fierce, warlike Highlanders.

Re-conquering the Tepanec-controlled Acolhua towns of the eastern shore south to Texcoco the Highlanders and the upraising Acolhua, with Nezahualcoyotl and Tenocelotl, the Huexotzinco’s war leader, proceeded to cross Texcoco Lake, heading for the Tepanec side of it.

Simultaneously, the besieged Mexica of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco poured out under the overall leadership of Tlacaelel, confronting their attackers with great vigor. A battle fought at the city’s edge was fierce and brutal, with the Mexica ‘…fighting like never before…’.

At the same time, Moctezuma Ilhuicamina, another son of Huitzilihuitl, Tlacaelel’s half brother and Itzcoatl’s nephew, led a large contingent of war canoes toward Tlacopan, threatening this Tepanec second important city in a hope of making it side with the invaders – an offer that has probably been already made beforehand, accompanied by fair promises.

Thus Azcapotzalco was threatened from the south, while the crossing Highlanders and Acolhua did the same from the north.

In the end of the day the Tepanec forces retreated back toward the mainland and Azcapotzalco, with the Mexica hot on their heels.

The tides had turned.

It was now Azcapotzalco besieged and fighting to its life, with even Tlacopan, the Tepanec largest provincial city, switching sides, joining the combined forces of Mexica, Acolhua and the Highlanders of Huexotzinco.

Some sources say that the fight for the Tepanec Capital lasted for up to 114 days; some claim it had taken much less than that. A few more battles were fought, led by the famous Tepanec warlord, Mazatl, until this renowned warrior was killed in a fair hand-to-hand, some say by Tlacaelel himself, some give this honor to Moctezuma Ilhuicamina.

By this time, Azcapotzalco was near its doom, taken shortly thereafter, razed to the ground, its temples burned, pyramids destroyed, citizens slain or sent to the slave markets, everything of value taken. According to the later records, after a few decades or so, the list of Azcapotzalco rulers was renewed, the city allowed to resume its life, but in a small unimportant state, as meaningless tributary as the Mexica Island was for the Tepanecs before.

Tlacopan had inherited some of the old Azcapotzalco’s glamour, joining in the Triple Alliance the victorious Mexica and Acolhua had formed shortly thereafter. Not completely equal in this triumvirate, Tlacopan enjoyed a junior status, representing the Tepanecs but receiving one fifth of the tributes and spoils as opposed to two fifths the other participants took each.

The Triple Alliance and Tlacaelel’s role in it

Tlacaelel, elevated into the status of Cihuacoatl, the Head Adviser, got to work with yet more zeal.

His island city was not just a city anymore but a growing empire, a leading partner in the Triple Alliance, or so he must have envisioned it. Drastic changes were needed, most basic of reforms.

He had applied to this work with his usual vigor and fearlessness, not hindered or intimidated by the challenges or even convention. Tenochtitlan had to adjust to its new status. Absorbing all the Tepanec provinces and tributaries took time, while the fleeing Maxtla was hunted down and towns and altepetls such as Coyoacan, Xochimilco and the others were shown the error of their ways upon their refusal to accept the new Mexica dominance.

Those first conquests are still attributed to Tlacaelel, even though from there it was Itzcoatl and Moctezuma Ilhuicamina, the new Chief Warlord, who would lead the wars of the next decade or so. Tlacaelel had to stay in Tenochtitlan more often than not, reforming and reorganizing, transforming his island city into an imperial capital of his vision.

Tlacaelel’s reforms

Striving to unite his Mexica people, maybe to install a sense of destiny in them, while setting them slightly apart from the rest of the Mexican Valley’s inhabitants, he had elevated Huitzilopochtli, the special Mexica god, above the other deities that were worshiped mutually by every town and altepetl of Anahuac. The festivals dedicated to this divine Mexica patron were larger and more impressive than the celebrations other deities received, and his temple atop the Great Pyramid he had shared with Tlaloc alone.

The distribution of the newly acquired wealth – lands, spoils, manpower, not to mention the outpour of the new tribute – was to be faced as well. First to benefit from any of this was the royal house, of course, personally and as a representative of the state. Each noble was rewarded with tracks of land according to his contribution and his direct involvement in the Tepanec War. Thus the gap between aristocracy and the commoners widened further and further.

Tlatocatlalli were tracks of land granted personally to people, to use as the receiver saw fit. The royal family was first to receive its share, its most ardent supporters next in line, the city authorities trailing after them.

Tecpantlalli was the land allocated to the city itself, the palace’s enclosure and other districts. The proceeds of the palace’s share maintained the governmental expenses, courts, building programs, royal’s enclosure’s schools and temples. The rest of the land was granted to the city districts, to be apportioned by the districts’ leaders according to their consideration. Some of these lands were assigned to the upkeep of local temples and other district’s buildings and offices, schools, local marketplaces and such.

Thus, the formerly powerful council of the districts’ elders, who in the earlier times used to have their say in every important matter, from confirming the appointment of a new ruler to a general management of the city and its activities, lost its say and importance gradually, yielded its place to the more exclusive council comprised of the royal family mostly, Tlatoani and his closest advisers and warlords. Under reforms of Tlacaelel the royal family gained very rapid ascendancy.

Successful warriors were rewarded with lands as well, elevated into a new class of lesser nobility, again ahead of the previously influential city elders. The royal family was not dependent on Tenochtitlan’s commoners anymore, neither in tribute nor in military support. Out of those changes a new warrior class elite emerged.

Tlacaelel’s later reforms and undertakings

Religious, social and economical reforms aside, the Mexica kept extending its reach, conquering far and wide. Tlacaelel remained in his office of Cihuacoatl for the rest of his life, governing Tenochtitlan and its growing provinces and tributaries along with two more tlatoaque that succeeded Itzcoatl after his death.

Moctezuma Ilhuicamina was to become the Fifth Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan, a honor Tlacaelel was reported to decline. It is said that everyone in the city and around it, even Nezahualcoyotl, the ruler of Texcoco and Totoquihuaztli the ruler of Tlacopan, Tenochtitlan’s partners in Triple Alliance, pleaded with Tlacaelel to take the burden of governing his Mexica city in name and not only in fact as he had done until now. Still for reasons unknown, Tlacaelel has declined, and it was his half-brother Moctezuma Ilhuicamina who had inherited the title.

Through the next three decades, he had ruled together with his half brother, strengthening Tenochtitlan’s position in the Triple Alliance and the Mexican Valley and beyond it, subduing altepetl of Chalco, the old time enemy in the south, and venturing far beyond, into Cuauhnahuac, a region rich in cotton and maize, then out into the Hot Lands of the Totonac people in the east, where the riches of goods and food were reported to be staggering.

The terrible years of first flooding, then drought that Tenochtitlan endured between 1452 and 1455 made its rulers anxious to ensure uninterrupted food supplies in case of another failure in the local harvest. Hence the venture into the Totonac lands.

The flooding trouble were solved by the building of nine-mile-long dike that enabled to control the lake’s water levels, an engineering marvel reportedly planned and supervised by Nezahualcoyotl personally. A three-miles-long aqueduct was added to the engineering feats, supplying Tenochtitlan with a constant flow of fresh water from the mainland, a much better construction than the old clay and lime-stone made structure offered, braking down more often than it had worked.

The seventh reconstruction of the Great Pyramid was reported to bring the Mexica Aztecs to the peak of their glory, commenced by Tlacaelel in 1484.

He was reported to die at the year 1487 or Eight Reed, leaving behind a successor to his high position, his second son Tlilpotoncatzin by one of his noble wives Maquiztzin. According to one of the most known ancient biographers, Chimalpahin Cuauhtlehuanitzin, Tlacaelel has left fifteen known children from his collection of wives and concubines and, of course, a firm legacy for his Mexica People, no tributaries of anyone, not anymore.