Posts Tagged: aztec

Part XV: The Conquest of Tlatelolco

28 February 2017 Comments (0)

After the unsuccessful night attack on Tenochtitlan described in the Tenochtitlan’s Conquests Part XIV Tlatelolco found itself in a dire dilemma: to try and fight in an open battle that they had not much chances of winning, or to crawl before their powerful but now enraged neighbors and try to make amends?

Moquihuixtli seemed to be undecided, wavering between pretty speeches full of warlike rhetoric and threats, and any lack of actual deeds, any attempt to prepare his city for the immediate invasion. Both altepetls were reported to be on guard, patrolling their streets and other mutual borders. As I mentioned before, in the preceding article, some of the ancient accounts claimed that Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco shared the same island, while others reported those altepetls to be separated by a small amount of water that had been filled later on, after the Tlatelolco had been conquered by Tenochtitlan. Either way, any possible routes to both cities were guarded at this point, while their rulers tried to decide what to do.

Diego Duran says that even after the treacherous night attack, Axayacatl did not wish to war on the neighboring sister-city, a true kin to Tenochtitlan dwellers, the same Mexica-Aztecs that Tenochtitlan folk were. It would be wrong, claimed the young ruler; and it would also look bad to the various powerful neighbors of the mainland, to see both Mexica-Aztec cities squabbling over quite pitiful dispute, warring on each other – “… shame would descend upon both when other people heard of the rancor and enmity that existed between these two groups of kinsmen…”

Thus, a delegation from Tenochtitlan set forward in order to address Moquihuixtli and try to reason with him – “…a nobleman named Cueyatzin was commissioned to take message to Tlatelolco…”, said Duran in his “The History of the Indies of New Spain.”

Whether it was a nominal gesture to make Tenochtitlan look good and not overly aggressive in the eyes of its powerful partners, the members of the Triple Alliance, or not, the words of reconciliation were spurned in an indignant manner, and so this same Cueyatzin was sent to Tlatelolco again, this time carrying appropriate weaponry and tizatl, the bright clay ointment with which the Nahua people of the entire region anointed their dead for burial. This was the customary declaration of war that Tlatelolco seemed to neglect issuing while executing their first night attack. A shameful negligence. Yet their reaction to the customary gesture managed to surpass even this.

Duran goes into great detail describing the events in the Tlatelolcan Palace. Presented with the customary insignia accompanied by the most appropriate address, Moquihuixtli was said to rise and push the messenger away with his own hands. “… Tell your master that these ointments are for him!” And while he spoke “… Teconal appeared, sword in his head, and with one blow cut off Cueyatzin’s head…” The head was reported then to be carried to Tenochtitlan, causing, as expected, a huge uproar. Duran says that Axayacatl and his advisers and warriors marched on Tlatelolco at once.

The following battle developed first on the outskirts of the city, on either the causeway or another sort of boundary, then spilled toward the marketplace, where Moquihuixtli and Teconal led the defenders, according to Duran. Even a hastily organized “squadron” of women and little boys, clad indecently and throwing at the attackers everything they had, is mentioned, again in great detail.

In contrast to this account, Chimalpahin does not mention marketplace fighting at all, but goes straight for the dramatic warring upon the Great Pyramid and its staircase. On this, both historians agree – the last stage of the drama took place on the top of the great pyramid, as was customary. Chimalpahin claims that Moquihuixtli tried to bribe Axayacatl into letting him go with “… an entire jar of green stones…”; however, when the Tlacopan ruler Chimalpopoca joined the indignant Tenochtitlan emperor in his charge up the wide staircase, demanding that Moquihuixtli should come down and fight, the defeated Tlatelolcan ruler threw himself off the pyramid’s side and died in a spectacular fashion. Duran says that Axayacatl was the one to slay both Moquihuixtli and Teconal, then “… cast them down the steps of the temple…”

And so Tlatelolco fell, to become Tenochtitlan’s tributary and then, gradually, to be absorbed into the giant city that the Great Capital of the Mexica Aztecs kept growing into. The tribute it was made to pay was heavy and strict, not only in items of food and wear but also in manpower to participate in Tenochtitlan’s building projects upon uncompromising requests. On this, every ancient source agrees.

An excerpt from “Heart of the Battle”, The Aztec Chronicles, book three

“What is the news?” he demanded from the group of boys who seemed to be out for some time, crowding the spacious yard, breathless with excitement.

“They brought the head here! Just like that. Carried it on the litter!”

He cursed the insistent teacher some more. “Who? Did you see it?”

“No! Old Yaotzin kept us in.” One of the boys swore quietly but colorfully. “But Ihuitl was out there, and he saw it all. All of it! Even the head!”

“How?”

“They were sent out to work in the round temple,” burst out another boy. “So when the commotion began, they sneaked out, said that they had to return to school.”

“Clever bastards.”

They all snickered.

Necalli felt his envy rising to dangerous levels. “Whose heads did they see? How many?”

“Only one, Ihuitl said. It was in the litter the warriors carried, open curtains and all. And they were covered with blood too. The warriors, that is.”

“Where is Ihuitl?”

“Sneaked back out. Said they wanted him back in the round temple.”

“He made it up. I know he did.”

“No way! The priests would know.”

“Who cares if he could get out there?”

“No, it was Etl who got out. Ihuitl is in here, see?”

They were crowding the open grounds next to the fence, the commotion coming from behind it deafening, gushing like the Great Lake on stormy nights of the rain moons. Another group centered around the taller boy Necalli knew well from quite a few mutual adventures. Neither closest of friends nor rivals, they had happened to wander away on various afternoons if thrown together in the same class or a temple duty. As he began making his way toward the additional crowding, his current companions trailing after him as well, his eyes picked out Acoatl’s broad frame among those listening to Ihuitl’s stories. Damn it. On an eventful day like this and with everything he wanted to know, he didn’t need his filthy enemy’s banter and needling.

“It was the head of the royal guards’ leader himself, I’m telling you!” Ihuitl was claiming, waving his hands in agitation, anxious to convince. “I saw it with my own eyes!”

“It can’t be. They wouldn’t send the leader of the royal guards on such a mission,” protested one of the listeners. “It’s beneath someone of such high status.”

“No, it’s not.”

“And I saw it with own eyes,” cried out their only witness, momentarily out of the limelight and evidently not liking that. “Etl saw it too. We were very close at some point. When they had to squeeze through beside the ball court.”

“They can send the leader of the royal guards on such a mission,” contributed Necalli. “It’s not a small village they are declaring war on.”

“So what?” As expected, Acoatl, who had been surprisingly quiet until now, came to life all at once, his face looking the worst, all blue with bruises, one eye almost closed, swollen badly

The sight pleased Necalli, but made him wonder too. What happened to that one? Acoatl never looked so beaten before. Only his occasional victims did. “Tlatelolco is not the capital of the world. They are nothing but a stinking town stuck in our backyard.”

“They are the same people as us and deserve a worthy declaration of war.” He didn’t feel like defending the annoying neighboring island, but Acoatl always did it to him, made him wish to argue and claim the opposite.

“And see what they did with it!” someone ventured, yet before they could dive into a heated argument, one of the boys appeared from behind the outer building.

“They sent the priestly apprentices out there into the temples and most of the priests left as well.”

They looked at each other, aware of the possibilities.

“If we sneak out, they’ll know,” someone muttered.

“Unless we go to the temples too, ask if they need any help.” Out of habit, Necalli glanced around, looking for worthwhile company to take along. “Who is to know what answer we got?”

They murmured in consent, still undecided, most of them. Resolutely, he began working his way toward the opening in the fence. There was no one whom he might wish to take along. Both the workshop boy and Axolin were not even around, let alone available and ready. Damn them both into the lower level of the Underworld, traitorous pieces of rotten meat. Especially Miztli, scampering away as he did, stupid villager with no basic loyalty.

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 Tenochtitlan’s Conquests 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.”

Metallurgy in pre-columbian Central Mexico

28 October 2016 Comments (2)

If dazzling jewelry was your weakness, then you might have found it hard to pass through a marketplace or workshop areas of Tenochtitlan or any other major Mesoamerican altepetl/city-state without spending much of your hard earned goods or local currency – cocoa beans and cotton cloths – on too many beautiful trinkets. Glittering bracelets, earring and anklets of copper and gold or brilliantly polished precious stones were always in high demand, and the canny Mesoamerican traders knew how to tempt a customer with most charming, intricate, lavish designs, causing jewelers and other artisans work long and hard to supply the demand.

Pre-Columbian metalworkers toiled in their workshops, located usually in the less prestigious parts of the city, along with other craftsmen and their shops – feather-makers, stone-workers, weapon-makers and such, organized into guilds, represented well in their districts, taxed but respected, the heart of the middle class and the spine of it. Unlike their fellow other craftsmen and artisans, the metal-smiths’ working areas required special facilities – powerful braziers, specialized tools, considerable supply of fuel. Braziers were typically made out of stone, with special openings for pipes crowned with clay tips to be inserted into the raging fire in order to make it rage fiercer, reach desirable temperatures by blowing into it constantly.

Copper, for one, needed to be heated to over six hundred degrees (Celsius) in order to separate it from the most obvious excess of other minerals it was extracted with from the earth, then reach 1250C in order to make it into a workable material for smelting. Blowing reed pipes with clay tips achieved that, but to maintain such long standing fires plenty of firewood was required. A problem for the big cities where most of the metal smiths’ workshop were located; less so for the miners out there in the country, those who didn’t produce the finished products but still needed to do the first round of heating in order to separate copper and silver from other minerals those raw materials were mixed with.

In Nahuatl, the lingua franca of Central Mexico, the term for mining was ‘in tepetl auh in ozototl’ which means ‘the mountain and the cave’, indicating typical location of precious stones and minerals. The term for digging up a mine was ‘tlallan oztotataca’‘to dig caves in the earth’. The word for copper was ‘tepoztli’ and ‘tepoztli iohui’ meant the ‘copper vein’. In Western Mexico, where metallurgy was even more wide-spread the dominant Pu’repecha language is full of appropriate terms.

The easiest and most wide-spread technique of mining was surface collection, where the ore was simply available on the surface, either in streambeds or on the ground. The erosive power of streams would break the ore and the heavier metals would settle on the bottom in areas of slower flow. Those were also the easiest to recognize because the deposits of cooper that are naturally dull gray in coloring, when exposed to the weather conditions of the surface brighten into vivid green or blue. A wonderful lead for the miners to follow, to collect what’s on the surface and dig short tunnels in order to reach the hidden treasures in the correct places. This technique is called ‘open-pit mining’.

The Underground Mining was also used when the deposit occurred deep below the surface in the form of a vein in a hard rock – the term tepoztli iohui means copper vein. In this case, tunnels were excavated in the rock to remove the ore, narrow vertical shafts driven through the rock, widening out to horizontal galleries where the ore was found. Pre-Columbian miners preferred to drive adits – nearly horizontal entrances to a mine – or tunnels into rocky slopes over digging shafts, which made drainage and haulage much easier.

In Mesoamerica, evidence of underground mining, including sizeable adits, shafts and galleries dug with hafted hammer-stones dates back to the beginning of AD, not only in order to extract metals but of course in order to haul out precious stones as well – cinnabar, turquoise and obsidian mines, even though the obsidian mines did not required digging adits.

Evidence indicates that the tools used to excavate mines and extract the ores were varying, consisted of stone hammers, large stone mortars, either portable or fixed on the walls of the mine, pestles upon which minerals were probably ground, bone scrapers, and digging sticks, ceramic ladles, obsidian blades, and wooden wedges. Remains of ocote-torches, and vegetal fibers impregnated with resin, baskets, ropes and ceramic pots, have also been recorded often.

As mentioned before, to separate metals was crucial, so the miners would work the found treasures on the spot, using what we call today pyrometallurgy when the ore was ground, mixed with charcoal and heated in a crucible or brazier. At the right temperature, up to 1300C, copper would separate from other components and merge into droplets. Adding ash or sand helped to melt the slag, so the copper would sink while the rest of the liquid would float, ready to be picked off while still hot, or broken off while cooled.

However to created refined, beautiful or useful items, the purified metal would have to be sent to the cities and into the hands of the urban craftsmen, the metal-workers. Styles of fashioning final products were many and diverse: hard-hammering or cold-hammering (working the metal when its cold), annealing (heating the metal after cold-work reduced its plasticity), casting (shaping metal when in its liquid state). Decorating techniques included gilding, embossing, soldering;lost-wax casting, gilding, low-relief decorations (created by hammering from the reverse side of the object), sheathing and so on.

Cold-working involved changing the form of a metal object by bending, shaping, rolling and hammering. As the metal being shaped internal stress serves to harden the part. Heat also serves to harden the material. Bells, needles, tweezers, rings, awls, axes, ornaments were usually made by cold-working from an ingot cast with occasional round of annealing. However if concentration of tin or arsenic was high enough to cause brittleness, hot working or forging was employed.

Small open rings for earrings or hair ornaments were very popular. Cold-hammered, then annealed through several sequences, those would fetch good prices on the marketplaces of big cities. After 1200 AD such rings were forged in high-tin bronze. Silvery rings were made by silver-copper alloy.

Tweezers were as popular, made by two symmetrical blades joined by hinge that was fashioned from a continued piece of metal. In earlier times they were hammered out from a solid piece, then bent over a wood piece or other solid material in a shape of a hinge, then cold-worked into a final shape and the excess metal cut. Later tweezers were made out of alloys and have been of a high quality, hot-worked into shape. Tweezers made of gold were saved for leaders and foreign offerings alone.

Sheet-metal ornaments were made of extremely thin cold-worked sheet of copper-silver, copper-gold, copper-silver-gold or silver-gold mixes. Those were used to ornate breastplates, shields, headbands, pendants, earrings, disks and bracelets. Copper-silver alloy was the most popular for such ornamenting purposes.

Axes were made from copper or bronze, mostly for symbolic use as it seems. Those were cold-worked, annealed, then cold-worked again. Copper (like silver and gold) is not an optional metal for cutting wood, but naturally occurring copper, due to its metallic impurity, can be relatively hard, useful for splitting wood. However, even such axes lost their edge quickly and needed to be reshaped. Bronze alloy axes became wide spread in Post Classic period (after 1200 AD). Tin-bronze, copper-arsenic and copper-arsenic-tin were added to enhance the tool. Those were three times thinner at the edge and harder, made by pouring molten alloy and into the mold (Florentine Codex), then shaped by hammering and annealed and cold-worked again to harden them.

Needles and awls, hoes, fishhooks, digging stick-points, thin leaf-like objects were made out of arsenical copper, usually cold-worked and annealed, sometimes used as tribute payment. Copper bells and later on bronze bells were created for decorative purposes, their shapes vary from round, to oval, to cylindrical, with suspended ring at the top and a narrow slit opening at the base, with loose clapper made of metal, ceramic or pebble. Such bells sported beautiful, elaborated designs. Some were made from coiled threads of wire, forming complex vertical and horizontal patterns. The original models for these belts were made entirely out of wax, winding piece of wax thread around a clay core.

Mesoamerican smiths experimented lavishly, producing alloys of copper-silver, copper-gold, copper-arsenic, copper-tin, as well as more complicated mixes of copper-silver-gold, copper-silver-arsenic, copper-arsenic-antimony, copper-arsenic-tin. Copper-silver alloys were reached by smelting copper and silver ores separately, then melting the two together (as there are no ores to contain both metals in satisfactory amounts together, such alloys could be nothing but intentional product). Copper-arsenic alloys could be achieved from the same ore and the same smelting (in West Mexico it was probably achieved by smelting chalcopyrite and arsenopyrite together). Copper-tin alloys were produced either by cassiterite in order to win metallic tin then adding tin to the molten copper, or by smelting cassiterate together with copper ore minerals. Such bronze was manufactured only in two areas in Americas – Andean highlands and West Mexico. In West Mexico it dates back to 1200 AD. Copper-gold alloys usually contained plenty of copper and much less gold, mainly to give the product a shiny appearance.

So while strolling around the better parts of Tenochtitlan or other important city-states of the 14th-15th century Central Mexico, one was likely to have one’s vision assaulted by fierce glint of the noble people’s jewelry or the glittering of the ornamented walls and temples. Then it would be a high time to visit the most sought out jeweler oneself, or to look for his mat on the marketplace.

An excerpt from the upcoming novel “Obsidian Puma”

There was no room for mistakes in this trade, his benefactor would repeat over and over. With the sort of the fire they maintained and the sort of the metallic liquid they dealt with, one single mistake could cost a person his life or, at least, his ability to live properly. Still, there were times when he didn’t care one way or another, not heedful of the warning of his employer, or rather a slaver. There was a limit to a person’s ability to crouch next to the blazing braziers, blowing to make them rage fiercer. One couldn’t do it all day long for many days in a row.

The other workers, both sons of the owner and one disinterested nephew named Patli, did other things, hammered and scraped to refine the half ready products, worked with blades and ceramic ladles on the less delicate ornaments, rushed around with bee-wax and pottery. Learned the trade! While all he, Miztli, did was to slave in the melting room, tending the fire and not letting it go down the insanely high heat, allowed to pour melted goods into various clay and stone utensils sometimes, starting his day earlier than anyone and finishing way after the others were well away at the main house or wherever, loitering and having a good time.

He wasn’t a son or a nephew, or any other sort of a family member, but his father wanted him to learn how to work the precious metals and not only how to extract those from the earth, and so here he was, living in misery for more than three moons, blowing into the fire to make it rage fiercer. Some learning!

Grimly, he blinked the sweat away from his eyelids, watching the greenish powder that he was made to scrape from a solid piece of copper earlier in the day, in the blissful coolness of the outer room. There was another pile of powdered stone poured to mix in the pot this time, not gold but a duller looking mineral. It created better results, a stronger metal that was easier to work with, sturdier but more flexible at the same time. Magic. It was a beautiful sight, those simmering liquids of various colors, a pretty show to watch. In the beginning, it thrilled him to no end, the ability to turn something solid into a workable flow to be shaped to one’s desire, any form, any size, a jewel or a brick, or just an impossibly thin sheet of metallic wonder to create detailed reliefs for noble establishments upon their request.

These days, it bored him to death.

The outer screen screeched, announcing newcomers, quite a few of them, judging by the voices and the draft that managed to sneak in through the cracks in the wooden screen. Miztli ground his teeth and let his fingers crush the straw he worked with. To throw the remnants of his tool into the raging fire made him feel better. In less than a heartbeat, it was consumed, ceasing to exist – one moment there, the other gone.

Twisting his lips contemptuously, he reached for another pipe, a whole pile of those, reed straws being as plentiful as the mud upon the shores of the Great Lake, but old Tlaquitoc would grimace all the same, scolding his apprentice for carelessness and lack of concentration. If only there was a way to feed this entire establishment to the fire.

The draft made his work momentarily easier, igniting the flames in both braziers, as the screen shielding the entrance to his backroom moved, letting a thin surge of the fresher air in.

“Niltze!” Instead of the squat, wide-shouldered figure of his stocky employer, the lithe form of Chantli slipped in, thousand-folds more welcome. “Still working on that copper from the morning pile?”

Pleased to notice her moving into the corner of his eye, Miztli smiled with the free side of his mouth, nodding ever so slightly. When busy with such fiercely raging flames, one could take his attention off of it up to a very small limit.

The Rise of the Aztecs Part II, struggling for independence

5 February 2012 Comments (4)

In The Rise of the Aztecs Part I, we left the Tepanecs immersed in the dilemma. What to do with their newly acquired neighbors known as Mexica-people-from-Aztlan or the Aztecs. The despised newcomers got themselves into a trouble all right, angering their previous patrons of Culhuacan. To flay a princess, of all things! Azcapotzalco’s Tepanecs shook their heads. Clearly the troublesome newcomers had no finesse. No finesse at all.

But those Aztecs were great warriors; there was no argument about that. The Tepanecs began seeing the possibilities.

First they had launched series of raids against their neighbors in trouble, to make them understand which nation around Texcoco Lake was the most powerful to be reckoned with. Just in case it was not clear enough yet.

Then, after humbling the most warlike of their neighbors quite thoroughly, they promptly took them under Azcapotzalco’s protection, against the wrath of Culhuacan.

The small Mexica-Aztec nation was safe for now, but there was a price to pay. The Aztecs were to supply their new patrons with an unlimited amount of warriors whenever demanded. And the Tepanecs didn’t make them wait. While the Aztecs were busy founding their new capital upon the muddy island of the vast Texcoco Lake, the demands began trickling in. The emperor of Azcapotzalco had decided to turn on their historical rival – Culhuacan.

Reinforced by a horde of the warlike new allies, Azcapotzalco’s warriors had pounced on its sister-city, in less than ten summers succeeding in taking over all of their trading routes and depended towns and villages. The surrounding districts and settlements, which had paid a tribute to Culhuacan up to these days, began sending their yearly payments to Azcapotzalco instead.

The Tepanecs’ empire was expanding.

An excerpt from “The Young Jaguar

The heavyset man nodded and relaxed almost visibly. He was getting past his prime, reflected Tecpatl. Of an old this formidable man would not be readable under any circumstances.

The urge to escape the Palace welled. He thought of the spaciousness of his own gardens, of the meal that was sure to contain every delicious snack he had had ever indicated as his favorite, of the ardent, exuberant welcome-home which was sure to await him. He could see her, dressed in the best of her clothes, bathed and groomed, waiting for him, exalted and impatient. Still beautiful, still desirable, still in love with him, still unruly and not fitting, just like fifteen summers ago, when he had met her for the first time.

“You are sure the new Emperor will give you all the commands you desire.” The older man made it a statement.

Tecpatl forced his mind to concentrate. “I hope he will trust me as had his father before him.”

“How long will it take to make Culhuacan crumble?”

“Not very long. Their warriors grew soft. They are not worthy enemy anymore.” Relieved to steer from the dangerous ground of politics, he added: “I’ll be happy to finish them off and re-open the war against the Mayans.”

“Not the Aztecs?”

“Oh, the Aztecs make good warriors. But they are barbarians. They are few and unimportant. Culhuacan is the worthy enemy. They are our equals, our peers.”

The face of the elder man remained still but something in the depths of the narrow eyes changed. “You do wise staying away from the palace affairs. You are a warrior and you better keep it that way…”

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