In ‘The Rise of the Aztec Part IV’, we left the Aztecs prospering, developing their island-city, in good grace with their overlords, the Tepanecs, and generally well off.
With the growing trade Tenochtitlan began to evolve into a real altepetl. The increasing amount of independent campaigns gained the city more floating farmlands and some footholds on the mainland.
At 1402, raiding the towns and cities of Lake Chalco, the Mexica warriors were so successful, it made their powerful neighbors worried. With the Chalco taken and its ruler fleeing and the ecstatic Aztec warriors feeling invincible, the Tepanecs frowned and told their most prized mercenaries to cease, ordering them to leave the almost-defeated Chalcoans alone. Reluctantly, the Aztecs obeyed. They were still in no position to argue.
And so the 14th century ended and the 15th began with the Mexican Valley and the great Texcoco Lake prospering and under the Tepanec control.
And all was well. Or so it seemed.
On the eastern side of the Great Lake sprawled a large, influential altepetl of Acolhua people, a sister culture of the Tepanecs and the Aztecs alike. It bore the same name as the Lake Texcoco itself, boasting rich history and the pureness of their blood. Acolhua noblewomen were highly sought after by any respectable aristocrat or ruler from all around the Mexican Valley (for instance, Acamapichtli, Tenochtitlan’s first emperor, had an Acolhua princess for a mother. Otherwise he would not be offered the exalted position he had been offered).
Well, as the time passed the altepetl of Texcoco expanded slowly by determinedly, by the beginning of the 15th century ruling five large provinces, controlling the eastern side of the Great Lake up to the Highlands, their historical enemies. Gradually it turned into a cultural center of the whole region, with plentiful markets and magnificent temples and palaces – an elegant, beautiful, educated city. The capital of the eastern side of Texcoco Lake, really. If not the whole Mexican Valley! Such was the mood at the aristocratic city, and the surrounding Acolhua provinces seemed to be sharing this sentiment.
In 1409, a new Acolhua emperor, Ixtlilxochitl, came to power and his doubts as to the rightfulness of the situation became obvious when he began withholding some of the monthly payments due to the Tepanec Empire.
Why should his educated, powerful city be second to anyone?
he seemed to be asking himself. His magnificent altepetl paying a tribute to the brutal Tepanec? Ridiculous!
To make himself perfectly clear he took an additional title, The Lord of the Chichimecs, the way the first historical Texcoco first ruler was called and waited warily.
Busy elsewhere, the Tepanecs watched warily yet still calmly, doing nothing. But the new Acolhua Emperor hadn’t finished making his point. His next move was to displace his Chief Wife, of course the Tepanec princess and one of Tezozomoc’s favorite daughters, in favor of another of his wives, the Mexican princess, the sister of Tenochtitlan’s Emperor, Huitzilihuitl.
Well, this did the trick. The furious roar of Tezozomoc, the Tepanec Emperor, could be heard from the distant lands of the Mayans all the way to the Highlands on the other side of the lake. It was scary enough to make Acolhua Emperor send the immediately doubled tribute with an abject apology. But not to switch back between his wives.
For five more years Texcoco paid, scowling under the direful frown of the furious Tepanecs. Then, in 1414, Ixtlilxchitl felt that enough was enough. He took a title of the Universal Ruler and began gathering warrior forces from all over his provinces, reading for the invasion of the furious Tepanecs that would not make him wait, he knew.
The amount of warriors gathered on the eastern shores of Texcoco altepetl was staggering. The provinces yielded more than thousand men and so Ixtlilxchitl deployed his forces and waited for the nearing Tepanec invasion, with his 15 years old son and a heir, Nezahualcoyotl – the most known and famous emperor of the future – by his side.
But there was one problem that made Ixtlilxchitl frown, and maybe even curse under his breath. The Aztecs, Texcoco old friends and allies of many campaigns, began to behave cagey, refusing to declare themselves. Cozy upon their island, Tenochtitlan talked politely and vaguely, refraining from sending any warriors forces to either of the hostile sides. The Tepanecs frowned, while the Acolhua rebels cursed, feeling betrayed.
In the next post, The Rise of the Aztecs Part VI, Tipping The Balance’, we will see what the Aztecs were up to and what happened to those who rebelled against the Tepanecs.
Coyotl watched the Aztec Warlord, consumed with curiosity. The torches blinked wearily, casting their shadows across the great hall and the people feasting around low tables. It was nearing midnight, but the visitors did not indicate an inclination to break the festivities, following their leader in his merry, careless mood of enjoyment.
The imperial meals would end earlier than that, reflected Coyotl, standing beside the Emperor’s reed chair, bidden into the revered presence. Not to dine with the honored guests, not yet, but to listen and watch, which was more than enough for a youth of fifteen summers, even if an official heir.
He watched the Aztec sitting upon the other chair, amiable and at ease, eating heartily but hardly drinking any octli, clearly preferring to wash his food down with plenty of water. Such an imposing man. Tall and broad, the Aztec seemed to fill the room with his presence, the easy confidence spilling out of his large, well-spaced eyes, the air of arrogant self-assurance enveloping him, making one’s nerves prickle. Where had he seen eyes like that before? wondered Coyotl, watching the broad face breaking into a polite smile.
“Revered Huitzilihuitl, the Emperor of Tenochtitlan and its provinces, would be more than happy to do his best in settling the dispute between his most trusted friends and allies and the distant Tepanecs,” the Aztec was saying. He picked another tamale stuffed with rabbit meat. “Oh, those are delicious!” he exclaimed. “Texcoco is, unarguably, the most luxurious altepetl of the Lowlands.”
Coyotl could see his father’s jaw tightening as the Emperor tried to hide his impatience. He didn’t want to discuss the luxury of his capital, and he most certainly didn’t want the Aztecs to try to settle his dispute with the Tepanecs. What he wanted was quite the opposite.
“I trust our old friends and allies would not hesitate in supporting their most faithful neighbors should the Tepanecs choose the warpath,” said the Emperor coldly. “In their gathering their forces, drawing more and more of the independent altepetls into this dispute, the Tepanecs demonstrated their warlike intentions.”
“Oh, our Revered Emperor is sure to find the way to reach a peaceful solution,” answered the Aztec, non-committal, picking another tamale. “Tezozomoc, the Tepanec Emperor, is a very old man. He is making a show of aggression, but he would not dare to invade your shores.”
“I’m afraid Revered Huitzilihuitl is underestimating the greediness of the Tepanec ruler. He would not rest until putting all the lands around our Great Lake under his crushing yoke. Is my spiritual brother, the Revered Huitzilihuitl, not weary of the Tepanec oppression? Is he still content greeting their tribute collectors every full moon? The tribute Tenochtitlan pays is not as heavy as it was forced to pay during the Revered Acamapichtli’s reign – the young Huitzilihuitl was brilliant in his ways to reduce the amount of goods required by Azcapotzalco – still, it must be an unnecessary burden. You were Revered Acamapichtli’s first Chief Warlord. How could you forget the insults of the arrogant Tepanecs?”
The Aztec’s face froze as the perpetual amusement left the broad features. “My personal history with the treacherous Tezozomoc goes deeper than the common knowledge would have. I remember the insults of the past, and my heart bleeds recalling the efforts of the most revered emperor in Tenochtitlan’s history.” The man sighed grimly. “However, Revered Huitzilihuitl is a prudent ruler. We cannot face the Tepanec Empire on the battlefield, not yet. We may win a victory or two, but we would not win this war. Tezozomoc is farsighted. Whether we like it or not, whether we are prepared to admit it, he is a brilliant leader, and his resources in supplies and manpower are enormous. Neither Tenochtitlan, nor Texcoco would be able to sustain this war to achieve a final victory.”
The man shrugged. “Maybe in twenty or so summers. Maybe when Tezozomoc is dead. Tenochtitlan is working its way toward the final independence, but it does so carefully, the way the Revered Acamapichtli has done.” The penetrating gaze of the large eyes straightened, faced the Texcoco Emperor as an equal would. “I would advise your altepetl to do the same. Both of our capitals need patience.”
Coyotl almost gasped at the effrontery of the guest. Did this Aztec Warlord presume to advise the Acolhua Emperor? Inconceivable! Even among the fierce Aztecs such arrogance would be surprising. Only the Tepanecs might presume patronizing Texcoco people. Why, the man even looked like a Tepanec, he thought, seething. With these broad features of his and those widely spaced eyes. Where had he seen such a face before?
He saw a maid hovering nearby, carrying no tray. Hesitating, the woman sought Coyotl’s gaze, eyes imploring. He frowned, but the maid kept stealing glances, clearly anxious to catch his attention.
Coyotl hesitated. He wanted to hear where this argument would lead, how his father would put this insolent Aztec in his place, yet now he recognized the maid as one of Iztac’s personal slaves. He frowned, remembering that he had forgotten to talk to his mother about the girl’s temple training. It was too late to bother the Emperor’s Chief Wife now, but the anxious face of the girl’s maid made him uneasy. Something was wrong.