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.