Posts Tagged: Axayacatl

Part XIV: The conflict with Tlatelolco intensifies

28 January 2017 Comments (0)

Tlatelolco, indeed, had taken a dubious course when, following the demonstrative competition upon the Great Plaza described in the The Rise of the Aztecs Part XIII, Moquihuixtli and his adviser Teconal began sending messengers to various independent cities of the mainland, asking for help and support against Tenochtitlan. Custom dictated that an offer of “shields and swords,” or sometimes other weaponry of offense, constituted an invitation to participate in this or that altepetl‘s war preparations, for the recipients of those to accept or send back according to their consideration.

Chimalpahin claims that such messages were delivered to many towns and even large altepetls. Even the members of the Triple Alliance – Tenochtitlan’s partners, Texcoco and Tlacopan – received their share of the offered weaponry. According to his account, Chimalpopoca, Tlacopan’s vigorous, warlike ruler, flatly refused to even receive the Tlatelolcan delegation and their dubious cargo – “… as lord of Tlacopan, I am of no consequence except for my kinsman, my relative, the lord of Mexica Tenochca…” he was reported to state.

Texcoco, on the other hand, is said to listen to the Tlatelolco messengers and then declare that they would rather stay neutral – “… I stand on both sides… if all are to be endangered by the lord of the Mexica Tenochca, I shall go in favor of the lord of Tlatelolco. But if all are to be endangered because of the lord of Tlatelolco, I shall go in favor of the lord of the Mexica Tenochca…”. A somewhat puzzling statement in the light of many decades of mutual cooperation and closest of ties both Tenochtitlan and Texcoco maintained since 1428, when they resisted and then conquered the might of the Tepanec Empire side by side. According to Chimalpahin, the famous Acolhua emperor Nezahualcoyotl was still alive, even though other sources state that he was dead by this time, succeeded by his son, Nezahualpilli. In the light of this puzzling reaction, I preferred to go with the claim that the old Texcoco Emperor was not alive while the aforementioned events took place. Otherwise, his response is not an easy one to understand or explain.

Yet, having received no encouragement from the Triple Alliance’s members, Tlatelolco did not steer from its warlike course. Various less important towns and settlements were approached with the offering of “swords and shields.” Toltitlan, Cuauhtitlan, and several other towns of the mainland were reported to accept the offer, even though the Lake Chalco rulers went as far as arresting the Tlatelolcan messengers while sending them bound and under an ample escort to Tenochtitlan and its emperor’s judgment.

Which is how, according to Chimalpahin, Axayacatl came to learn about the involvement of the mentioned above settlements towns. The captured messengers were made to talk and so warriors were dispatched to watch the road leading to Toltitlan and Cuauhtitlan through the town of Acachinanco. Needless to say, their mission was successful and thus no positive answer reached Tlatelolco.

Not to be deterred, Moquihuixtli, at Teconal’s instigation, according to Duran, devised another plan; that of a midnight surprise attack. “… Their plan was one of treachery… they suggested that Tenochtitlan should be attacked suddenly in the middle of the night… King Axayacatl was still young, they said, and once the leading men in whom he confided were dead, there would be no need to worry about him…”

Yet, such an enterprise demanded laborious preparations and, according to Duran, some of it managed to “leak”, while alerting Tenochtitlan dwellers. There were incidents of marketplace brawls between shoppers of both altepetls, with the Tlatelolcan women yelling at their Tenochtitlan peers that soon they would be made to pay for their insolence, or even sell their inner parts on the marketplace of Tlatelolco. “… So you want to sell your intestines, your liver, or your heart?…”

Reported to Axayacatl, such words made the young emperor suspicious, and so spies were sent to the neighboring city, to walk its markets and streets and listen to what had been said and done.

In the meantime, Tenochtitlan messengers went to the mainland cities and settlements as well, probably asking to keep away from this conflict rather than to participate in the war on Tenochtitlan’s side. It seemed that Tenochtitlan was much more than a match to the smaller Tlatelolco, lacking in provinces and tributaries as it was.

Still, the nightly attack went on as planned. On the day before it happened, Moquihuixtli was reported to confide in his wife, Axayacatl’s sister, who begged him not to do it, but to speak to the Tenochtitlan ruler and try to make amends. According to Duran, the Tlatelolcan ruler was having second thought; however, his adviser Teconal would not divert from his chosen course of warring.

Further disheartening, according to Duran, were the omens that the Tlatelolco ruler encountered while strolling through his Palace, a man talking to a dog and being answered back, birds dancing in the boiling pot in the kitchen houses, a mask hanging on the wall beginning to “… moan in a sorrowful way…”, the mask that the distracted ruler was reported to pick and dash against the floor.

Spies sent to Tenochtitlan reported a lack of awareness on the part of Axayacatl, who was said to spend his day “…playing ball with his noblemen… ignorant of any trouble…”. Yet, according to Duran, “… the Aztecs had done this intentionally so as to mislead the Tlatelolcas and convince them that nothing was known of their plans…”.

Indeed convinced, Moquihuixtli put his trust in Teconal and his strategy, and so half of the Tlatelolcan warriors hid in “… the city limits of Tenochtitlan…”. The other half was sent to block the causeways that led out of the city, and probably to attack the accessible parts of the island-capital as well.

The strategy, Tenochtitlan heard all about from its own spies, and so at midnight, while signal had been given, a surprise awaited none other than the attacking Tlatelolcans. The battle Duran reports was bloody but short, with the Tlatelolcan warriors slaughtered in great numbers, forced to retreat to their own city limits and try to barricade any possible access to it as best as they could. According to Duran, their anger was as great as the humiliation of their defeat.

An excerpt from “Field of Fire”, The Aztec Chronicles, book two

“We don’t have time for all this,” she said, pouring from the half-empty flask, disgusted to discover that the water was honeyed to the point of being barely liquid, rolling rather than dripping, annoyingly thick. “You must leave before Father talks to the Emperor. It should happen tonight.”

The woman was on her feet, staring, wide-eyed. Tlemilli tried to drink the thick liquid despite the nausea it brought, grimacing. Was there no water around these quarters at all? “What is your game, girl?” This came in a relatively normal voice, no strident shouting.

She put the cup back in its place, her hands remarkably steady, just like her mind; cold, uninvolved. It was a good feeling.

“My father will prevail upon the Emperor to have you executed for treason. You should leave this Palace, return to Tenochtitlan. You must have ways to do that.”

“And why would I listen to the advice of the little snake who spied on me and betrayed me, turning even the messengers of my brother against me, hurrying to inform her vile monster of a father in order to implicate me?” Again, the climbing tones.

Tlemilli shook her head tiredly. “You don’t have to trust me or like me or listen to me,” she said, wondering where this patience to talk and elaborate was coming from, she who had always been notoriously renowned for impulsiveness, for childish tantrums and hasty deeds. Now it was as though she had been a grown-up person, with everyone, from the shrill princess looking as though about to throw her pretty pottery cup at her, to helplessly weeping Citlalli, to Father who was lashing out with no care, beating his own daughters in front of the entire Palace or attacking the invincible city with not much thought or even a much-necessary declaration of war; to the uncertain Emperor even, afraid of omens but unable to stand up to his forceful adviser. Oh, but didn’t they all behave like children, with no discretion and no sense?

“I came to warn you because I have my reasons to do that. I hate you as much as I did before, as much as you hate me.” A shrug came with difficulty, the memory of his worried admonition to keep away from that dangerous woman and their devious politics threatening to shatter the walls of her newly found, wonderfully numb indifference, the memory of his voice and his arms. She clenched her fists tight. “But what I tell you is true. My father will talk to the Emperor against you, will bring evidence of your disloyalty. And if the night attack on Tenochtitlan succeeds, the Emperor will be forced to execute you with no fear of reprisal.”

But this came out well. She marveled at the sound of her short speech, so neatly composed, so eloquent. The woman was staring at her as though she had sprouted another head or limb, like this old water monster in one of Tlaco’s stories. Briefly, she wondered if her maidservant was still in her old quarters, not harmed by Father already. Later, not now.

“The night attack?” The princess’s lips lost much of their pretty coloring, turned as pale as her face became. Their movement was barely noticeable and the words they produced difficult to hear. “But he said he won’t do it.”

She remembered Citlalli’s stories. “Yes, the Emperor doesn’t believe it will bring us victory, but it will be done all the same. It will happen this night.”

Actually, she wasn’t certain about that, having no information besides Citlalli’s reported conversation with the Emperor. Still, Father wanted it to be done this way. He had schemed, planned, and prepared, tunnels with weaponry and the rest. His tunnels! Another wrong turn of thought. She forced her gaze to concentrate on the woman in front of her. Not a haughty, hostile, dangerously mean fowl, not anymore. Lost, frightened, staring, the full lips having no color, almost invisible, opening and closing, emitting no sound.

“It will happen tonight and then you will not be safe in this Palace and this city.” She kept listening to herself, her thoughts crystal clear, like her words. “Should we win or lose, it will not make difference to your safety here. Yours and your son’s. You should try and sneak away before nightfall. You must have enough faithful servants and others to help you with that.”

Another heartbeat had passed. The woman in front of her was changing again. She saw the lips pressing tighter, gaining no color but somehow turning strong with decision. The eyes lost their haunted spark, turned resolute. The cup in the royal hand – obviously a chocolate drink, such a heavy sweetish aroma – made a soft clanking sound as it touched the surface of the reed podium, not crashing at it, fallen with no will, but being put there with much care. The woman straightened up, her eyes still boring, piercing, but now probing rather than accusing, willing to listen.

“What do you want from me in exchange for your warning?”

Somehow, she knew it would come, a straightforward question requiring a straightforward answer. No flowery speech of high nobility, not in such a moment.

“I want you to deliver a note from me, a message.”

“Whom to?” The high forehead creased slightly in genuine puzzlement.

“That boy. The one who was spying for you.”

Part XIII: What triggered conflict between Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco

28 January 2017 Comments (0)

In the mid-15th century, Tenochtitlan‘s influence spread already far and wide, even though it was still nowhere near what it would be only a few decades later, under the rule of the vigorous eighth ruler Ahuitzotl, who would conquer lavishly, stretching Tenochtitlan’s influence almost from coast to coast. Axayacatl, the first of the three ruling brothers, was a renowned warrior and leader, but it was the youngest, Ahuitzotl, who would spread the Mexica domination truly far and wide. However, this story deals with somewhat earlier times.

Unlike other cities, towns, and villages spread around the great Texcoco Lake and deeper inland, Tlatelolco, located on the adjacent island or even the same island, as some claim, were true kin, a sister-nation, the same Mexica-Aztec people as Tenochtitlan citizens were. Tenochtitlan’s partners in the Triple Alliance, altepetls of Texcoco and Tlacopan, were no Mexica. The first, Texcoco, were Acolhua, ruling eight other Acolhua provinces; the second, Tlacopan, was the remainder of the Tepanec Empire, ruling a few provinces of their own, the Tepanec ones. Tenochtitlan, as mentioned before, ruled farther and wider than its partners, and their Mexica nationality was exceptional. Besides them and this same troublesome Tlatelolco, no one else claimed to belong to the Mexica roots.

According to the most widely accepted narrative, both altepetls were founded not so far apart from each other, in the first part of the 14th century, both suffering a fair share of contempt and oppression from the surrounding cities and regional powers. Some say they had been sharing the opposite sides of the same island; others claim that they had been two separate islands that had been united by artificial means later on, after Tenochtitlan had conquered Tlatelolco.

However, before it happened, both sister-cities got along fairly well despite their rapidly changing circumstances. In 1428 Tenochtitlan was the one to participate in the revolt against the mighty Tepanec Empire alongside other subjected or just threatened nations, such as Acolhua of Texcoco or the dwellers of the Eastern Highlands. While the radical politics and the subsequent great wars rocked the entire Mexican Valley, Tlatelolco kept quiet and carefully neutral and out of the way, thus sealing its future history. Left out of the postwar dealings and invited to partake in no rich pickings off the fallen Tepanec Empire, Tlatelolco remained what it was, a fairly large independent altepetl that could not complete with the expanding giants of the Triple Alliance, especially the one in their backyard, the most ambitious, industrious entity out to grow and expand.

Still, it had taken nearly half a century for the real trouble to erupt, and what exactly happened there we might never know for certain, as the most detailed accounts of those few market intervals in the middle of the dry season of 1473 came to us via two different historians living two centuries later, after the entire Mexico had been destroyed by the Spanish invasion. One was Diego Duran, a Spanish monk (Dominican friar) enamored by the local Nahua culture, language, and history to the extent of displeasing his superiors and the church. The other, Domingo Chimalpahin, the 16th century Nahua annalist from Chalco – both post-conquest historians, both clearly relaying Tenochtitlan’s point of view. However, they give us the most detailed accounts of this period, aside from the Codex Mendoza, which doesn’t go into as many juicy details but supports the above-mentioned historians on the main developments.

In 1469, Axayacatl, Tenochtitlan’s sixth ruler, came to occupy his grandfather’s throne. A vigorous young man of reportedly great valor and outstanding leadership skill, he had waged a few successful and less so campaigns, gaining respect of the capital despite his young age.

At the same time, the neighboring Tlatelolco had also seen a change in rulers. Moquihuix or Moquihuixtli was also a relatively young man of presentable appearance and good orating skills. No tension between the two neighboring cities seemed to accompany those changes. On the contrary, to strengthen their ties, a customary exchange of a marital nature had taken place. Axayacatl’s elder sister, ChalchiuhNenetzin, Noble Jade Doll, was offered to the Tlatelolco ruler and promptly accepted as his chief wife, bearing him a son upon the very first year of their marriage.

The lives of both island-cities went on as usual until, according to both Chimalpahin and Duran, a certain nobleman Teconal came to occupy the reed-woven chair and the office of the head adviser to the Tlatelolco ruler. Suddenly, Moquihuixtli became less enamored of the neighboring island’s capital, the rich influential giant growing by leaps and bounds, a somewhat threatening presence. According to both Duran and Chimalpahin, his royal wife of Tenochtitlan origins did not please him greatly, not anymore. A void that Teconal’s daughter had managed to fill, added to the collection of imperial wives, and probably promoted to the highest rank among those. Polygamy was a way of life for the Mesoamerican nobility, so what must have been angering Tenochtitlan royal house or, rather, its female representative in the Tlatelolco Palace, was the advancement of the new wife above the other.

Chimalpahin and Duran both report various different complaints Axayacatl’s sister was flooding her powerful brother with through the old nobleman Tepecocatzin, a Tlatelolcan high aristocrat with apparently certain sentiment for Tenochtitlan. And yet, the busy young emperor did not interfere. Not until several other incidents made him start glancing at the neighboring island with suspicion.

One day a newly dug canal across Tlatelolco was found partly filled with rubbish (according to Duran). The suspicious Tlatelolcans accused their powerful neighbors of ill will. Sometime later, again according to Duran, a group of young Tenochtitlan nobles were reported to harass, or even molest, Tlatelolcan noble girls. A complaint was lodged with the Tenochtitlan authorities, but it is unclear what came out of it.

The storm clouds kept gathering, and it was in this uneasy atmosphere that Moquihuixtli decided to hold a competition of young Tlatelolcan warriors described by Duran in great detail. More than two thousand men came, summoned to the central plaza in order to ‘practice arts of war,’ or so their ruler had put it. A stone statue in the image of a fully armed warrior was erected upon a podium, to be taken down by slingshots aimed from a close range. “… He who aims best at the statue will receive the honor and glory as the most outstanding warrior…” were Moquihuixtli’s alleged words, accompanied with the promise of a personal reward for the best shooter (Duran). The statue was shattered in no time, to be replaced by another warlike likeness, this time made out of wood. The warriors were required to take down the new target using their spears and bows, which they did, with ‘great skill and valor.’ The Tlatelolcan ruler was impressed, telling his warriors that he could not judge the winner, as no warrior outshone his peers.

The eventful day was finished with an improvised hunt upon the shores of the Great Lake, where plenty of waterfowl was spooked, with the warriors required to use their shooting devices but only on the birds in ‘full flight.’ Again, the Tlatelolcans had reportedly outdone themselves, receiving much praise and flowery speeches but no promised rewards, which seemed to satisfy everyone nevertheless. The warriors went home puzzled but happy. Moquihuixtli and Teconal remained less puzzled but full of ideas. The emperor’s closing speech, reported by Duran, gave a clear indication. “…Tlatelolcas, I have been well pleased to see your ability… if some day you must wage war against the enemy, you will know that their flesh is not stone, that it is not wood, and that since your intrepid arms break through wood and stone, how much easier will it be to destroy flesh. You will be like ferocious jaguars and pumas. I also want you to know that our enemies are not birds that can fly and can slip between one’s fingers. Today few flying birds slipped between your fingers. Therefore, have courage, for soon you will you have need of your hands, and Mexica-Tlatelolco will be honored and all the nations will be subjected to us. Tlatelolco will rejoice in all those things that had been Mexica-Tenochtitlan’s prerogative up to now…”

So has spoken Moquihuixtli through the dry moons of 1473, counting on the Tenochtitlan emperor’s youth and lack of experience, edged by Teconal, a reportedly wise man but a very ambitious, ruthless, and single-minded individual of great willpower. Not relying on his emperor’s pretty speeches or the valor of their young warriors alone, he had sent envoys to the Eastern Highlands, the towns that were not a part of the Triple Alliance’s vastly diverse relationships. However, the Highlanders answered with suspicious reserve and no commitments. They did not see the difference between the two Mexica-Aztec towns and did not wish to be involved in what might turn out to be nothing but a fishy plot.

Yet, at this point, the Tlatelolcans would not be budged.

An excerpt from “Obsidian Puma”, The Aztec Chronicles, book one

“What was the nobleman’s name?”

“I…” He racked his brains, desperate to remember – the memory wasn’t coming, making him cold with fear. “I don’t, don’t know. Revered Emperor.”

“Leave the titles alone for now.” The contemplative eyes shifted, staring past him, very absorbed. “The name Tepecocatzin tells you something?”

He gasped. “Yes, yes! That was the name of the old man!”

The Emperor shook his head. “Thought so.”

“And you’ve been disregarding this noble person’s repeated messages,” said the Emperor’s mother reproachfully. “He has sent you plenty of warnings, taking the plight of your sister closer to his heart than you, her full brother, did.”

The suddenly fierce glare of the ruler cut the rest of the tirade short, making even the haughty noblewoman subdued, leaning back on the upholstery of her chair, the nostrils of her delicate nose widening with the strongly drawn breath.

“Go on.”

This time, it was a curt order with no encouraging softness to it.

Miztli clenched his palms tight. “Yes, Revered Emperor.” At least the title came out in time now. He collected his thoughts hastily. “Well, this nobleman Tepecocatzin, he sent word to the princess, I suppose, as later, she came as well.”

“You talked to my daughter?” Again, the Emperor’s mother had a hard time keeping her peace despite her illustrious son’s repeated demands. “You actually talked to her?” Her eyes bored at him, wide open, round with astonishment. “What did Noble Jade Doll tell you?”

He fought down a hysterical snicker, remembering the alternative nickname the people in the boat used, interpreting the word nenetl – “doll” – with its different second meaning. No doll, this one.

“She told me… she asked me to send word to Ahuitzotl. I mean, she wanted to send word through me.”

“Revered Lady!” This time, the correction was spoken in a cutting ice-cold tone.

He quailed once again. “Revered Lady.” It came out as a pitiful whisper.

“No titles for now, I said.” The Emperor’s voice rang with matching coldness, its fury unconcealed. “I will be asking this boy questions, and no one besides me. I will not be repeating myself.”

The recipient of this curt reprimand tossed her head high and leaned back in her chair once again, her own eyes ablaze.

“Go on, boy. What else did the Lady Noble Jade Doll tell you?”

“She told me to watch… to watch the contest held on the Central Plaza, and then report it all to Ahuitzotl, so he would able to… to pass the word.”

A decisive nod. “Go on.”

He could feel his fellow calmecac companions holding their breaths, staring at him as incredulously as the royal family did.

“And well, there was a competition, Revered Emperor.” Oh, but did this man say not to use the titles now? He bit his lower lip hard. “There were many hundreds of warriors and their emperor, he talked to them, encouraged them to show their valor and spirit. He said they were invincible, that even Tenochtitlan warriors can’t defeat them.” He remembered the gesticulating ruler upon the edge of the dais. “They shot their slings at the stone statue that was made especially for this occasion, in the likeness of a warrior, with obsidian sword and a shield. The Emperor promised to reward the best shooter, slinger, or spear-thrower, but not before another competition was held. When the stone statue was shattered by the missiles of the slingers, it was replaced with a wooden statue, another replica of a man with a shield, wielding its sword. This time, it was to be taken down using mainly spears, hurled or shot from atlatls, but some warriors shot their bows as well.”

Historical fiction and the war on Tlatelolco, part 1

27 December 2016 Comments (0)

By the second part of the 15th century, Tenochtitlan was already an important, dominant altepetl with quite a few provinces to rule. A member of the Triple Alliance, situated between its powerful allies and so probably playing a central role, the great island-city was thriving, growing in proportions and might. The provinces it ruled on the mainland were many, already more numerous than those controlled by its allies, yet Tlatelolco, a fairly large city, located practically in Tenochtitlan’s backyard, remained untouched until 1473, when unexpected trouble broke.

Situated on the nearby island, or maybe on the side of the same island Tenochtitlan occupied, Tlatelolco was inhabited by the people of the same Mexica-Aztec origins, the only two settlements in the entire Mexican Valley to claim that.

Both altpetls were founded not so far apart from each other, in the first part of the 14th century, and both suffered a fair share of contempt and oppression from the surrounding regional powers, mainly from the all-powerful Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco.

When in 1428 the tides have changed, with Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan turning against their oppressor, conquering its capital and thus inheriting the riches of the former Tepanec provinces as well, Tlatelolco remained neutral, enjoying the sudden freedom of the tribute-free life, but not benefiting from the lavish conquests its sister-city had set upon. The Triple Alliance that the conquering altepetls formed had a huge impact on the history of the Mexican Valley and those who did not take an active part could not complete with the expanding giants.

Still until 1473, no major conflicts troubled the neighboring sister-cities. Until two younger rulers succeeded the thrones of their older predecessors. Axayacatl, Tenochtitlan’s new tlatoani was vigorous, warlike, with mounting marital achievements behind him despite his unimpressive count of years. On the other hand, Moquihuixtli, the new Tlatelolco ruler, was of a more refined type, a good looking man and an eloquent orator, but seemingly given to other people’s influences, especially this of his adviser, dominant, militantly vigorous Teconal.

According to both 16th century annalists Diego Duran and Chimalpahin, Teconal was the one who desired to explore the warring course, even though Moquihuixtli did not oppose. His chief wife, Axayacatl’s full sister, did not please him anymore, and so did Tenochtitlan’s dominating, overpowering presence.The existence under the shadow of the glorious, more powerful neighbor began wearing on Tlatelolcan royal house’s nerves.

The problem the Tlatelolcan ruler solved by replacing his Tenochtitlan chief wife with the daughter of the same notorious Teconal, then by proceeding to hold warring competitions and conducting military exercises with considerable amount of warriors while making plenty of militant speeches. According to Duran, Moquihuixtli’s words indicated not only his willingness to break free from the overpowering influence, but also a clear wish to switch places, setting the tone to Tenochtitlan instead of the other way around; and maybe also collecting nicely rich tribute along the way. Or so both Duran and Chimalpahin report to us. To what degree of accuracy, we’ll probably never know.

Little did Miztli’s father know when he decided to send his promising youngest son to the Great Capital of the Aztecs in hopes of a better future. A miner from a small village, he believed that, in the big city, the boy might have a chance at developing his talents, becoming a metalworker and not just a simple miner or a peasant like the rest of the family. A glorious future for a simple villager, as shiny as the golden-copper jewelry his son would be producing after learning the intricate trade.

However, the great island capital with its towering pyramids and gushing industrial life was busy with its internal politics, disdainful of foreigners, especially barefoot villagers among those, indifferent to their small aspirations. A civil war was brewing, preying on everyone’s minds, and when the actual trouble erupted Miztli found himself in the heart of it, swept by the powerful surge that cared nothing for his private frustrations with the big city, thrown in with the most unexpected company: from pretty Chantli, the workshop owner’s daughter, to a pair of adventure-seeking noble school pupils Necalli and Axolin, to the wildest kid of them all, Ahuitzotl, the youngest brother of none other than the Emperor himself.

A fun escapade of sneaking into the underground tunnel full of hidden weaponry and other anticipated treasures turned out to be not as harmless as they expected, pitting them against ruthless smugglers and worse, unleashing a series of events none of them could have foreseen or foretold.

An excerpt from “Obsidian Puma

She grinned with one side of her mouth. “That would be nice.” Then the smile widened, evened out. “You can repay me now. Tell me what your story is. Why were you running all over as though all the worst spirits of the Underworld were after you?”

“It’s a long story,” he said, feeling surprisingly at ease, not threatened or even troubled for a moment. But it was good to be here in this hideaway, to relax for a little while, not to think of all the terrible things, from the games of Tenochtitlan or Tlatelolco nobility, to the kidnappers who were after him, to the troubles that awaited him back in the workshop. His mood began to plummet once again. “What are they going to do now, these people out there on the plaza?” he asked, thinking about his possibilities. “Go home?”

She made a face at him, opening her huge eyes too widely, her eyebrows arching in different ways. A funny mask.

“You wish!” Her thin arms flew up, outlining wild pictures. “I told you it was just the beginning. Now as we speak, or so I’d say, they are cleaning the pieces of the stone statue, rewarding the best shooters and all that.”

Pursing her lips, she fell silent, leaning toward the opening once again, the image of attentive listening, an exaggerated one. “Yes,” she confirmed, nodding in confirmation to her own words. “He is speaking now. Can’t you hear? Rewarding the winner or winners, I bet.”

“And then?” he prompted. “What will he do afterwards?”

“Oh, then they’ll put up a wooden statue to replace the stone one. And they’ll make the other young warriors, those who brought along spears and bows and atlatls, to show their skills, against a wooden enemy this time. But it’ll be as huge and as heavily armed, I can promise you that. To represent all sorts of enemies, you know.” Her grin again turned uneven, one corner of her mouth climbing up, the other down. “Like presumptuous Tenochtitlan brutes, eh?”

“Tenochtitlan?” he asked, frowning. “But your islands are not at war!”

Her eyebrows lifted high again. “Maybe not now, but that may change. They do presume to tell us what to do. All the time they do that. And they are violating our rights, and sometimes even our citizens. Think about it.”

One of the narrow palms came up, extending a long slender finger. “They violated those girls on the marketplace not so long ago. Then, only a market interval later, they filled up our canal one night.” Another finger thrust forward. “And they have been full of all sorts of demands, all because our ruler put that fat whiny fowl aside, preferring my sister in her stead.” She nodded sagely. “And my sister is so much prettier than the complaining turkey, so much more fitting to be the Emperor’s Chief Wife.”

His head reeled from so much information, delivered again in a breathless rush. But what was she talking about, this strange, curiously chatty girl?

“Also, our altepetl is not a tributary of Tenochtitlan. They can’t lord it over us as though we were nothing but a tiny village. They can’t tell us what to do!”

He watched her eyebrows knitting, creating a single line below her high forehead, her expressions changing as rapidly as her spilling words, too rapid to follow.

“Will you slow down?” he asked, when she paused for a heartbeat, probably in order to draw a quick breath. If she dove under water, she would be able to stay there for a long time, he decided, longer than many boys he knew. It would be funny to see her taking part in such a competition. “Tell me how to get away from this plaza without drawing all these thousands of warriors’ and onlookers’ attention. There must be a way to do that.”

Take a stroll on the marketplace

4 March 2013 Comments (0)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An excerpt from “The Emperor's Second Wife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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