Posts Tagged: Lake Texcoco

Reinforcements from the Otomi north

31 October 2017 Comments (0)

While Axayacatl was busy recruiting his army, which in as giant an island city as Tenochtitlan was not an easy or a short process, the independent city-states of the Toluca Valley weren’t idle as well. Not only Tenantzinco sought alliances outside of its immediate surroundings. The altepetl‘s of Tollocan and Matlatzinco had ideas of their own.

To the north of the Toluca ValleyOtomi people, who generally inhabited the Toluca Valley along with their Matlatzinca neighbors, coexisting there since the times of the legendary Toltecs, or maybe even prior to those. The Mexica considered the Otomi to be fierce, skillful warriors, if not highly civilized or otherwise worthy, according to Sahagun, Duran and Torquemada to name a few. In the latter-day Tenochtitlan, there was a special combat unit called Otomitl, where the Mexica warriors of special valor were expected to display great fits of courage worthy of elite fighters, their peers Eagle and Jaguar warriors.

Yet, besides their reputation on the battlefield, the Otomi people were considered to be barbaric, less civilized than their Mexico Valley peers, prone to be compared to the legendary Chichimecs, the ferocious invaders who were said to destroy the Toltecs some centuries ago. As a matter of fact, Mexica themselves admitted to having such origins in their own lineage, however civilized they claimed to become later on, claiming Toltec ancestry as well. Clearly influenced by traditional Mexica narrative, Sahagun, in his “General History of Things in New Spain” (Codex Florentine) says: “…some Chichimec people, such as the Otomi,… knowing agriculture, living in settled communities, and having a religion devoted to the worship of the Moon…”

Until 1474, the Otomi settlements from northern Toluca Valley seemed to be more interested in their western neighbors, the Purepecha/Tarascans, fighting off occasional advances of this organized and strong regional power. However, with the conflict in the southern part of the valley brewing, they seemed to become more involved in their southern neighbors’ affairs as well.

B’otzanga, or Tlilcuetzpalin, as the man was known in the Nahuatl-recorded history (both words mean Black Lizard in different tongues) was reported to be a war leader of Xiquipilco, an influential Otomi settlement in the mountainous northwest. Clearly an ambitious warriors’ leader, the man was reported to bring considerable reinforcements to the Tollocan and Matlatzinco’s assembled armies. Today, he is still remembered among the modern-day Otomi as a national hero, even though other sources claim that his famous duel with Axayacatl happened later on, when the victorious Mexica invaded his native mountains of the northwest. In any case, a spectacular battle and a duel of two worthy war leaders was imminent, awaited probably by both the Mexica ruler and the Otomi warlord, if the spying activities in both regions were as widespread as reported.

In the meanwhile, Tenochtitlan, busy with its war preparations which, when it came to a faraway campaign, usually took up to eight days to organize without paralyzing the giant city’s daily life, faced an annoyingly rebellious lack of tribute payment from none other than their troublesome neighbors, the newly conquered Tlatelolco. A tribute which the formerly independent altepetl was to deliver once every four moons was reported to be paid only partly, without due eagerness and goodwill. According to Duran, “… eighty days later, when the first payment of tribute was due, the Tlatelolcans did not bring slaves as they had been instructed… they excused themselves, saying that they had been unable to obtain them…”/p>

The reaction of Tenochtitlan was neither lenient nor violent. Busy with his war preparations, Axayacatl did not seem to be tempted to bring his newly gathered warriors’ force to the neighboring city in order to punish it. Instead, he decreed that “…the noblemen of this city are no longer to wear splendid mantles… they must use maguey cloaks, like people of low rank…”; Duran says that Tenochtitlan went as far as prohibiting Tlatelolcan nobles from wearing jewelry, or maybe even sandals, detained from certain appearances in public offices and places – “… like women, they were to stay at their houses until eighty days after their second payment had passed…”

That served to bring Tlatelolco back to its senses and not to be late with any further payments. Codex Mendoza, on the other hand, while going into great detail, listing every item of tribute that was to be delivered each fourth moon, does not mention any trouble in the initial payment.

An excerpt from “Morning Star”, The Aztec Chronicles, book #5.

The man nodded with surprising acceptance. “We’ll go and look there all the same. Maybe they are still around, lingering somewhere nearby.” His wide shoulders lifted briefly, decisively. “The maps and the tales of our courageous villager should reach your emperor before he sets out. They are good and extensive and they may influence your redoubtable ruler’s plans. I wonder if that boy learned something even more interesting while staying in the vicinity of the renowned Otomi leader who has no business sticking his nose into those lowlanders’ affairs.”

Necalli couldn’t help it. “Tlilcuetzalin?” It was difficult not to remember the Emperor’s reaction to the word of some fierce Chichimec or Otomi coming to join the enemy Tenochtitlan was about to engage in fighting, the unbecoming agitation he never expected to see on the Tenochtitlan ruler’s face. And that ominously spectacular name, TlilCuetzalin, Black Lizard.

“Oh yes, that’s the man. So now you know his name as well. Interesting.” The smile twisting the Texcocan’s lips held nothing but amusement this time. “I bet the Tenochtitlan emperor’s wish to be on his way tripled after your news. No wonder he looked agitated, that one. Loves spectacular ends to spectacular battles, that emperor of yours. But Tlilcuetzalin, or Botzanga as he is known among his own people, is no Moquihuixtli of Tlatelolco, far from it. He will give your emperor a decent battle and a challenging hand-to-hand if they get to it. Remember my words, YoloNecalli. It might be a battle worthy of watching, its outcome not as certain as the one we managed to glimpse back in Tlatelolco.”

A gesture of the wide palm invited Necalli to leave the comforts of the shade the Great Pyramid provided. Fascinated, Necalli followed obediently. “Who is this man?” he asked, remembering the royal hand-to-hand upon the top of the Tlatelolco main pyramid, the glimpses he managed to snatch while keeping an eye on Moquihuixtli’s exquisite chief wife on behalf of this same man of Texcoco, saving the lady from the worst aspects of conquest.

“The Otomi leader from the western valley?” His companion grinned without much mirth. “Oh, he is a renowned warrior and Axayacatl must have heard about him as well. Your villager friend’s news surely took the sleep out of Tenochtitlan ruler’s eyes. He won’t rest now and he will hurry his advance toward the west more ardently than before. Predictable that.” The frown came suddenly, replacing the amusement. “Botzanga is a great warrior and a skillful leader, a ruthless man of great merit, very sharp, very perceptive. I hope ItzMiztli did not come too close while spying after this one. He is not skilled enough yet to handle such a man. I would rest easier if it was he himself who came here to tell us the news of this man’s forces joining the Tollocans. One doesn’t go tracing a jaguar on its path, daring to follow its actual footprints, without proper training and skill.”

Necalli’s stomach twisted uneasily. “You think he managed to come close to such a man? How? It should be difficult, shouldn’t it? He is not a noble pilli and this Otomi leader must be a noble in his lands.” He tried to remember what they had been taught about the mysterious Chichimecs, the fiercest warriors and the wildest people with no scruples and no morals.

Take a stroll around Tenochtitlan Zoo

30 June 2017 Comments (0)

If you happened to wander the grand island-capital of the Mexicas for more than a few days, touring magnificent plazas and squares, endless alleys of marketplace and portable bridges stretching across intricately paved canals leading toward industrial and less glamorous parts of the city, you might play with ideas of talking your way across the central canal and into the walled enclosure of the ceremonial center. Here in the heart of the city, the Great Pyramid towered allegedly to the sky, and along with other temples and courts, warriors’ halls, armories and noble children’s school, it hosted the imperial palace and the famous royal zoo.

According to conquistadors such as Bernal Diaz, Tenochtitlan was a breathtaking sight even from the distance of the causeways that connected the famous island-city to the mainland “…gazing on such wonderful sights, we did not know what to say, or whether what appeared before us was real, for on one side, on the land, there were great cities, and in the lake ever so many more, and the lake itself was crowded with canoes, and in the Causeway were many bridges at intervals, and in front of us stood the great City of Mexico, and we,—we did not even number four hundred soldiers!…”

However little could rival the ceremonial center and the palace’s grounds sprawling next to the Great Pyramid, presenting several different buildings, a whole maze of such. Diaz goes into a great detail filling pages upon pages with descriptions of incredible riches and fits of architecture the Spanish invaders had witnessed or the intricately ceremonious meals they had been invited to partake at, honored to dine in the company of the great ruler.

But this, an ordinary visitor of Tenochtitlan wasn’t likely to experience unless of a royal blood himself, arriving in great pomp and with considerable following. And yet, the famous aviary and menagerie might have been opened to the visitors at times.

The famous ‘place of animals’ spread on considerable territory in itself, taking much room with the vastness of its ponds for exotic water creatures and wooden cages and fenced enclosures for the variety of wild animals to roam; a collection that impressed the Spanish invaders so much that, aside from Diaz, famous for his detailed if not very accurate chronicles, at least two more conquistadors of the original expedition wrote about the wondrous ‘garden of beasts and birds.’

It’s hard to tell what exact animals were kept in Tenochtitlan zoo for the imperial family to enjoy and the visitors to behold. When the great capital was conquered in 1521, it has been destroyed thoroughly until nothing was left, not even the Great Pyramid, let alone vulnerable places like markets and palaces. So all we have to go by today is the words of the original conquerors whose acquaintance with the Mesoamerican flora and fauna was minimal, to say the least. When Diaz goes into great detail describing “…many kinds of carnivorous beasts of prey, tigers and two kinds of lions, and animals something like wolves which in this country they call jackals and foxes…” we can assume that he meant jaguars and pumas; and that jackals must have been coyotes, native to this continent but not to others.

According to fragmented descriptions of other conquistadors, one of Cortes’s famous letters among those, as well as parts of surviving diary from an unnamed soldier now known to us as “Anonymous Conqueror” who mentioned the famous zoo in passing, there must have also been monkeys on display, armadillos, a mysterious “mexican bull” (probably a bison according to another Spanish monk’s description), various other mountain felines such as ocelots, along with bears, wolves and coyotes, opossums and such.

A great variety of local birds is also hard to recognize from the invaders’ descriptions, but according to Diaz a separate aviary was maintained on another vast ground, presenting “… every kind of bird that was there and its peculiarity, for there was everything from the Royal Eagle and other smaller eagles, and many other birds of great size, down to tiny birds of many-coloured plumage, also birds from which they take the rich plumage which they use in their green feather work. The birds which have these feathers are about the size of the magpies in Spain, they are called in this country Quezales, and there are other birds which have feathers of five colours—green, red, white, yellow and blue… not to mention the beautifully marked ducks and other larger ones like them… All the birds that I have spoken about breed in these houses, and in the setting season certain Indian men and women who look after the birds, place the eggs under them and clean the nests and feed them, so that each kind of bird has its proper food. In this house that I have spoken of there is a great tank of fresh water and in it there are other sorts of birds with long stilted legs, with body, wings and tail all red; I don’t know their names, but in the Island of Cuba they are called Ypiris, and there are others something like them, and there are also in that tank many other kinds of birds which always live in the water…”

His intake on alligators, various turtles, lizards and snakes was as confusing at times, as those were also most likely unknown to the newcomers from another continent. He goes into some detail describing separate ponds of freshwater and holds in an obvious horror “…many vipers and poisonous snakes which carry on their tails things that sound like bells. These are the worst vipers of all, and they keep them in jars and great pottery vessels with many feathers, and there they lay their eggs and rear their young…”

Modern day historians and scholars are struggling to recognize every mentioned animal for what it might have been in fact according to Central Mexico’s pre-contact flora and fauna, while archaeologists work hard in order to find any remnants of Tenochtitlan under the present day Mexico City, including the royal palace or at least fragments of it.

According to Diaz up to 300 keepers were employed in the imperial zoo alone and an enormous amount of turkeys and dogs that people of Tenochtitlan bred for their own daily consumption was delivered to the royal zoo premises in order to feed the dwellers of those cages. One of the other two conquistadors also claimed that the famous Moctezuma II was fond of strolling through his zoo, feeding jaguars, and even petting them.

For the beginning of 16th century, the concept of caged animals kept for the pleasure of watching them seemed to be largely unknown around the world, besides Kublai Khan’s impressive animal collection mentioned by Marco Polo. This Chinese-Mongolian zoo seems to be the only possible rival to Tenochtitlan’s pleasure gardens dotted with caged animals, even though in Central Mexico itself the custom was not unknown and Texcoco, Tenochtitlan’s partner in Triple Alliance and beautiful city in itself, is reported to have pleasure gardens with caged animals as well.

An excerpt from “Warrior Beast”, The Aztec Chronicles, book four

The smell grew worse as they progressed, half creeping half running, following their forceful new leader’s example. The Texcocan was sliding along, half bent and as silent and sure-footed as a predator on a trail. A hair-raising sight. The low rumbling and snarling all around didn’t help against the illusion. Was this man a shape-shifter, the mysterious nahual one heard about only in stories? And what was this place?

“Oh gods, it’s where the Emperor keeps his jaguars and pumas,” breathed Tlemilli into Miztli’s ear when a sudden roar had them jumping aside, even the fearless Texcocan. “I can’t believe it!”

“Keep quiet and talk only in whispers,” was the Texcocan’s laconic response. “We don’t have much time.” Pausing well away from the dark forms of the sheds on both sides of the path they were walking, the man shook his head, his chuckle soft, caressing the night. “Don’t lean against anything and don’t come close to these bars and screens. Stay in the middle of this path and if we are forced to run or walk away, keep to the middle of the pathways until the stench lessens.”

“Why?” asked Tlemilli, pressing against Miztli in force like back in Tlatelolco, but at the same time sounding curious and unconcerned.

“Think for yourself, girl,” grunted the Texcocan. It was easy to see the outline of his wide shoulders lifting in a brief shrug. “Exploratory paws can squeeze through those bars, always ready to pounce. Or just to explore. Neither will be pleasant to you, I can promise you that. They see perfectly well in the darkness, those magnificent creatures. And they are watching, believe me on that.”

In the faint illumination of the moonlight that sneaked here as though reluctantly, Miztli watched the man’s hand coming up, touching the scarred side of his face lightly, contemplatively, the fingers running alongside the invisible-now sight, outlining it. Could it be? he wondered, his mind painting vivid pictures of those “exploratory paws,” massive, sinewy, crowned with terrible claws, striking fast, retreating before finishing their work.

“I didn’t mean that,” protested Tlemilli without her usual passion and force. “I meant, the stench. Why did you say we can wander around freely when the stench goes away?”

“Because then you have obviously wandered far enough from those cages and ponds.” The man snorted loudly, then shook his head again. “Enough silly chattering. Tell me what your emperor wanted you to do. Why did he send you to wander around his southern guests’ windows? And do it fast, boy. Do not anger me into deciding not to help you out any longer.”

Behind his back, something was sniffing the air noisily, spreading more stench. Miztli forced his body into stillness, his instincts screaming, urging him to break into a wild run, no matter where or how. “The Emperor did not tell me to wander under those people’s wall openings,” he said slowly, trying to gain time.

Was there a way to avoid telling it all? Could he try to do that? This man was so mysterious, so obviously set on the course no one seemed to know or understand. Even Necalli admitted that his admired hero must have plenty of hidden goals and purposes, something he wasn’t ready to share with any of them. Should have seen his worshipped veteran now, slinking around Tenochtitlan Palace like a jaguar on a hunting path, spying after spies, knowing where and when and maybe even why, asking questions to missing answers, not even trying to camouflage those with made-up excuses. And why would he? How many people dared to say “no” to such a person?

“I tell what I remember, and I don’t—” he began hotly, but a low growl cut his heated tirade short. Coming from behind their backs, it made his body throw itself away and toward the opposite bushes as the icy wave cascaded down his spine and his arms shot forward, grabbing her on their way, his mind seeking routes of escape.

In the now-generous moonlight, the bear looked monstrous, rearing on its hind legs, huge paws propped against the wooden beams, leaning on those heavily, making them tremble. The grotesquely wide nostrils were sniffing the air, spewing foul odor. Or maybe it was the dreadfully dark mouth, such a fetid crevice, a putrid abyss. Tlemilli let out a strangled cry and he pressed her tighter, his mind amok, calculating their way out, finding none.

“They say those cages are mighty strong.” The Texcocan was still out there, standing in the same pose as before, in the middle of the pathway, seemingly unperturbed. His hand rested easily on the hilt of his knife, drawn already, yes, but not thrust forward; just ready. As though a knife would help against such a monster. “Like I told you two before, you better stay in the middle of the alley. There is no telling what is observing you from those bushes you are trying to dive into, carefully caged or not.”

That brought Tlemilli out of the panic-stricken stupor faster than he, his mind momentarily refusing to cooperate, resisting her pull back toward the well-swept ground but only for a moment.

The grunting, quieter but as vicious, was indeed coming from the other side of the shrubs, where a lower construction spread into the darkness, enlivened with several glowing dots, more than one pair, as though ready to back the warning.

A plea for help from the Toluca Valley

31 May 2017 Comments (0)

To the south and west of Lake Texcoco spread fertile areas of easily cultivated valleys bordered by highlands of various elevations. Plenty of cities and towns dotted those, some subdued by Tenochtitlan prior to the second part of the 15th century and Axayacatl‘s rule, some “unattended” as yet.

The southern parts of this region were reported to join the growing empire when those areas were annexed by the joined forces of Tenochtitlan and Texcoco under their famous rulers and the founders of the Triple Alliance – Itzcoatl, the fourth emperor of Tenochtitlan and Nezahualcoyotl the emperor of Texcoco. Back then, in the early 15th century, this same fertile south was reported to be divided in two areas of tribute collection: Oaxtepec in the south, and Cuauhnahuac in the southwest, a large, very important city that rebelled several times and was finally re-conquered by Tenochtitlan fifth emperor, Motecuhzoma Ilhuicamina or Moctezuma I.

By the time of Axayacatl’s rule and the later parts of the 15th century, the people of these regions talked Nahuatl, absorbed into the growing empire quite thoroughly, but their native tongues – Matlatzinca, Mazahua, and several Chichimes dialects – were still dominant and well known.

The southwest beyond Cuauhnahuac was barely touched by Tenochtitlan at this time. However, after the fall of Tlatelolco, the young Aztec emperor had to set his sight on the unexplored west and the fertile Toluca Valley with its dominant cities and their political rivalry, especially between the strong and influential Tollocan and less important but no less ambitious Tenantzinco, who promptly came to Tenochtitlan asking for help against their troublesome neighbors.

And yet, Axayacatl didn’t hurry.

While Tlatelolco was being incorporated and then absorbed in the growing Tenochtitlan’s Empire, with an appointed governor and certain reconstructions such as the latter-day famous marketplace hosting tens of thousands of people described by the invading conquistadors in great detail half a century later, the young Tenochtitlan emperor became reportedly busy with various renovating projects of his own altepetl. A new story was commissioned to be added to the Great Pyramid and the famous Sun Stone was fashioned, the monument that managed to survive the Spanish conquest and is displayed in Mexico City today.

These days, the Sun Stone’s symbolic significance important to various modern movements of national pride; it also keeps the modern-day historians and anthropologists busy with arguments as to the actual purpose of this imposingly huge monolith. No one knows what the Sun Stone represented for Axayacatl, but as he was busy supervising the engineers working on it, according to Duran, a plea for help came from the south.

In the fertile Toluca Valley to the south-west of the Lake Texcoco, local cities in power were in disagreement. Tenantzinco, who must have been paying tribute to Tenochtitlan or at least recognizing the Aztec Capital’s power in this or that way, came asking for help against their neighbors to the northwest, independent cities of Tollocan (Toluca of today) and Calixtlahuacan (before the Aztec conquest known as Matlatzinco). Tenochtitlan’s reach did not extend to those south and northwestern areas as yet, but to the north of the Toluca Valley and behind the above-mentioned cities, spread the unknown, people and cities that we came to recognize today as Purehpecha/Tarascan Empire.

Not as powerful or at least not as bent on expansion as the growing Triple Alliance was, this regional power of the Western Mexico was nevertheless strong and well organized, enough to challenge Axayacatl’s advance and then to actually stop it in the following years.

However, back in the beginning of 1474, this western empire was not widely known or of a great concern to Tenochtitlan. The Toluca Valley, on the other hand, was. So when Tezozomoctli, the ruler of Tenantzinco, came asking for help, Axayacatl did not hesitate.

According to Codex Mendoza, there must have been a rivalry in this same Toluca Valley and in their ruling Matlatzinca society, between more powerful and influential Calixtlhuaca-Tollocan dynasty led by Cachimaltzin (or Chimaltecuhtli, according to Diego Duran) and the lesser center of power of this same referred above Tenantzinco ruled by Tezozomoctli. The need to establish a firm buffer zone between Mexica Valley and the little known Purehpecha/Tarascans is also pointed out by several 16th century historians (Alvarado Tezozomoc among them) as additional motive for Axayacatl to embark on this new series of conquests.

In any case, according to Duran, Axayacatl received the delegation of Tenantzinco favorably, accepted their shields and swords as customary, then presented the petitioners with even more lavishly decorated weaponry to cement the agreement. His building projects occupied most of his time, but even this situation he used to his advantage when, upon discovering some allegedly missing building materials, he didn’t hesitate to send the request for those to none other than the same troublesome rulers of the Toluca Valley, altepetls of Tollocan and Matlatzinco.

As expected, neither city-state reacted favorably to such an audacious demand, their barely polite refusal presenting Axayacatl with another excuse to get involved in the southwestern affairs. The Tenantzinco delegation went home satisfied and in a hopeful mood. While Tenochtitlan got busy preparing for yet another war enterprise.

An excerpt from “Warrior Beast”, The Aztec Chronicles, book #4.

“Stay here with me and don’t dream.” Ahuitzotl’s commanding voice broke into his reverie, bringing him back to the sunlit Plaza and the noblest of people swarming all around, listening to the Emperor’s measured voice, paying respects. “Just remember all those names you used, like Cuauhnahuac and such. Don’t forget any of these. And don’t get all scared like you always do. My brother isn’t scary, and I’ll talk to him most of the time instead of you, so don’t worry. You just answer his questions and remember what you told me about Cuauhnahuac and that other tongue those others are speaking, in that village of yours where our nobles’ villas are. Just tell him what you told me.”

Miztli tried not to roll his eyes, cursing himself for turning talkative back in the schoolyard, where this same Ahuitzotl and two other boys made him show them his skill with a sling that the enterprising royal offspring produced like a magician, with just enough style and flair. A real warriors’ sling, all crisp leather and sturdy maguey, with a few clay balls to match. Reminded of his hopelessly lost possession back in Tlaquitoc’s workshop, Miztli made a face but could not fight the temptation. The schoolyard was so blissfully abandoned, and those fellow students of his so eager and not hostile or malicious, all expectancy, even the royal force of nature.

Careful not to break their limited ammunition, he chose softer targets, certain bushes, and branches of trees. But the clay balls were cracked all the same in the end, because the others wanted him to help them practice, again and again, hitting everything of course but the targets themselves.

In the end, Ahuitzotl declared that he, Miztli, would now train them daily, or at least every time they managed to have the schoolyard all for themselves, and then, somehow, he had found himself telling them about his village and how they would make slings whenever they would grow bored, just weaving simple plants and fibers, because if interwoven correctly, everything could make a good enough sling to take down a rabbit or a bird.

And then, as expected, Ahuitzotl was demanding to make such makeshift weaponry for them all, the temporarily absent Necalli included, and then more questions made him talk about Oaxtepec and Cuauhnahuac and even some further settlements out there in the west and the south, all of the places he had heard Father mentioning, usually in connection to their relationship with their own region of mining and copper-making businesses, places where people didn’t even talk Nahuatl but that other tongue called Matlatzinca by the Nahua speakers.

When queried, he reluctantly admitted that yes, he could speak or understand that other tongue, of course he did. Everyone could speak Matlatzinca, even the traders and tribute collectors. And then before he knew it, Ahuitzotl was on his feet, all agog with excitement, telling them of the petition for help his brother the Emperor received only a few dawns ago from this or that ruler of those same areas and that they must – must! – let his brother know.

Know what? he had asked, taken aback, cursing his loose tongue once again.

It didn’t matter, declared the forceful pilli. This information that he just told them, about alliances of the south, might be important, as was his command of this southern tongue. Axayacatl might wish to learn of this fact. And so here they were, pushing their way into the Emperor’s vicinity just as the Tenochtitlan ruler was busy with important matters and people, hoping not to be punished for their temerity. Well, at least that was what he, Miztli, hoped for. Ahuitzotl was surely not preoccupied with such petty concerns. He had his news to relate, his opportunity to gain more attention, to situate himself in the center of the events again, something he clearly did not enjoy since Tlatelolco fell. A fierce beast!

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.”

Acamapichtli – the first ruler of Tenochtitlan

21 October 2015 Comments (0)

The name Acamapichtli – Aca(tl)=reed, mapichtli=handful – meant ‘a handful of reeds’, sometimes depicted as arrows with blunted tips, has carved itself into Tenochtitlan’s history as one of the corner stones, or the true Tenochtitlan’s beginning.

He was the son of a prominent Mexica warrior who had married into a noble family of Culhuacan. Back in those times, the mid to the end of the 14th century, Culhuacan was still highly prestigious, imposing, influential altepetl (city-stated) located on the southern side of Lake Texcoco. Equal to the Tepanec Azcapotzalco in its dominance and influence, both altepetls were poised as a sort of friendly rivals, competing but not in a hostile way.

Still, for some reason, Acamapichtli wasn’t brought up in Culhuacan but rather grew up in either Texcoco or Coatlinchan, among Acolhua people who populated the eastern shores of the Great Lake. It is there, where Tenochtitlan’s elders, heads of various city districts and clans, came in their search for the legitimate ruler.

An imposing young man, with a list of achievements already behind him, added to such satisfactory lineage, Acamapichtli was offered the job, invited formally by Tenochtitlan founders’ council.

The year was 1376 or Ce Tecpatl-One Flint Knife by the Mexica Calendar count.

Arriving at his new realm, Acamapichtli, being a vigorous, dedicated, still relatively young man, got to work at once and with great enthusiasm. The island-city, more of a town back in these days, needed to be organized, regulated, invested, given sense of belonging and destiny, a project the young ruler, apparently, did not found repulsive or daunting.

Roads were stretched and paved all over the island, canals for easier transportation of goods in and out of the city dug, residential areas regulated, divided into more defined districts, extensive building projects commenced. Taking no break between this flurry of activity, he enacted new laws, regulating the growing altepetl’s life, putting it on the regional map with great determination. Everywhere around the island chinampas were spreading, the floating farms the lack of agricultural land dictated.

During the time of its first ruler’s reign, Tenochtitlan was of course nothing but a vassal of the powerful Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco. The tribute the Tepanec Capital demanded was high, sometimes even outrageous (one of the sources reports a one-time demand “… of a raft planted with all kinds of vegetables, along with a duck and a heron, both in the process of hatching their eggs…”).

The Tepanec Empire, expanding by leaps and bounds themselves, overshadowing Culhuacan and other regional powers rapidly, eyed the growing island-city with wariness. Tenochtitlan’s desire to have a ruler of noble blood – not the supreme ruler tlatoani but a governor, cihuacoatl – was met with reserved approval, and it did not decrease the amount of goods demanded to be send to Azcapotzalco with every new moon.

Hence the first ruler of Tenochtitlan was not a supreme ruler – Tlatoani or Revered Speaker – but just a governor, Cihuacoatl, an office that in the later-day Tenochtitlan would become the second most powerful position, equivalent to a Head Adviser.

It was only after seven years passed, in 1383 or Chikueyi Acatl-Eight Reed, with Azcapotzalco relaxing its watch and Acamapichtli doing nothing to provoke his city’s stern overlords, that he might have been anointed with the ultimate title of Tlatoani.

Sources like codex Mendoza state it most clearly, by two different glyphs (glyphs were the original Nahuatl writing system) depicting Acamapichtli’s changing statuses. In both glyphs he is depicted in a traditional way of Tenochtitlan rulers, sitting on a reed mat, wearing turquoise headpiece with a red back-tie, his mouth emits a speech scroll – a typical tlatoani, revered speaker’s, glyph.

But in the first drawing he is also crowned by a glyph of a snake with a woman’s head – cihuacoatl/governor symbol (cihua=woman, coatl=serpent), while in the later glyph he appears wearing a ‘pillar of stone’, a diadem of tlatoani, the supreme ruler.

In both glyphs his name is drawn most clearly by a drawing of hand grasping a bundle of arrows or reeds – Aca-mapichtli.

Well, being the first, his ascendance to the throne must have been rather sporadic, not through the customary way as with the later-day Tlatoanis.

So he did nothing to provoke Azcapotzalco into ruining the painfully maintained status-quo, while developing his island-city, biding his time, preparing for every eventuality.

Not allowed to campaign independently, the Mexica-Aztecs participated in the Tepanec wars with zest, pleasing their overlords and themselves. The spoils were not great, as most of it went to enrich Azcapotzalco, but the exercise must have been good for their spirits if not for their warriors’ prowess.

Still, while participating in raids on far removed places like Quahuacan and Chimalhuacan, venturing alongside their Tepanecs overlords into the fertile valleys of Quauhnahuac, Acamapichtli kept trying to gain at least semblance of independence, at least while raiding the neighboring southern chinampa zones of the Great Lake, namely Mixquic, Cuitlahuac and Xochimilco. It is unclear if he managed to gain the permission to do that or not, or even how successful he was raiding those contested areas, independently or not, because later all three were recorded to be re-conquered by Itzcoatl, the forth Tenochtitlan ruler.

All in all, Acamapichtli’s reign was reported to be peaceful and rewarding, a definite step on the path of Tenochtitlan’s future independence and glory.

It was during his reign that the city was divided into four neighborhoods or calpulli – Moyotlán in the southwest; Zoquipan in the southeast; Cuecopan in the northwest; and Atzacualco in the northeast. Houses of adobe and stone began replacing cane-and-reed dwellings. A great temple, teocalli was also constructed and many laws formed and enforced, even if partially.

To maintain the exalted blood of the future royal density, he had acquired a very exalted Culhuacan princess name Ilancueitl to be his Chief Wife. Yet, this woman, while being reported dutiful and good, bore him no children.

To correct that as much as to maintain closer ties with the city’s council of elders, heads of districts and other nobility, he had taken more wives, daughters of prominent men from each district. It is reported that he has as many as twenty wives, by whom he had sired many sons and daughters. The most prominent and well known, aside from his Culhuacan royal princess, was Tezcatlan Miyahuatzin, a daughter of the most prominent district’s leader and one of the ‘founding fathers’ of Tenochtitlan, Acacitli. This lady had mothered the next Tenochtitlan’s ruler, Huitzilihuitl. It is said that she lived in harmony with Ilancueitl, the Chief Wife.

Which isn’t to say that Acamapichtli did not fancy women outside his large collection of wives. Itzcoatl the forth Tenochtitlan’s tlatoani, was his son by a Tepanec slave woman, reported not to be the only son at that. This particular progeny was frowned upon, but not enough to prevent, at least, Itzcoatl’s climbing the social ladder right into the highest of offices a few decades later.

Acamapichtli’s reign ended in 1396 or Chikueyi Tecpatl-Eight Flint Knife with his death, a peaceful affair according to all sources. He has died of natural cases, not naming his successor, but leaving it to the council of the districts leaders to decide. Their choice fell on his son, Huitzilihuitl and it seems that it turned out to be a good decision on the part of the wise islanders bent on putting their altepetl on the regional map.

An excerpt from “The Jaguar Warrior”, Pre-Aztec Trilogy, book #2.

Acamapichtli sat upon his reed chair and watched the representatives of the four districts, all of them elderly men of great reputation, all related to him through this or that female relative.

To strengthen his ties with the city he had taken a wife from the most influential clans of each district, in addition to his pure-blooded Toltec Chief Wife. By now, he had fathered several heirs, but the most exalted of his wives had disappointingly borne him no sons.

He shrugged as it didn’t matter. The gods were mysterious, and she was still of childbearing age. A Toltec heir would fit perfectly on his father’s throne, would adhere to the rich legacy he intended to leave after him, but he has enough heirs as it was.

He listened absently as one of the elders complained about the water supplies in his district. The less appealing aspect of being a ruler was the necessity to listen to nonessential information that should have been making its way into his advisers care. However, this man was the leader of his district since before Acamapichtli had come to power, so he listened patiently and promised to take care of the problem.

Water, he thought as he strolled toward the terrace after the elders were gone. It could be wonderful to have it supplied from the springs on the mainland. The landscape around their shores inclining favorably, suggested a stone construction to run the water straight to the island’s pools and ponds. He would have to remember to talk to his engineers about it.

Bitterly, he snorted. What a dream. A futile, meaningless daydream. Azcapotzalco would never allow such construction; they would never stand it if Mexica people enjoyed fresh water. Had they only been able…

The thought about the Tepanec Capital brought the pressing problem of their delegation. He could not let them go, not yet. He signed to a slave who lingered nearby.

“Summon here Huacalli, the leader of the warriors,” he said.

The wild Tepanec, the leader of the delegation, he thought painfully. There must be a way to use him, to turn him into his emissary. Tenochtitlan’s people needed to raid the neighboring settlements independently. This matter had to be solved now that the southern shores of the Great Lake were weakened and ripe for conquest. His growing altepetl needed their floating farmlands.

That, and a foothold on the piece of the mainland. Otherwise it could not continue to grow. In that matter his time was running out, and the son of Azcapotzalco Emperor’s adviser might be a part of the solution.

He frowned. There was something about this young man, something that gave the Aztec ruler inkling. He needed to understand this man better. Accustomed to using people, his leader’s instincts told him that this hothead had more to him than he had cared to display; perhaps even to himself. There had to be a way to turn this one into a useful tool. The show of the cheerful troublemaker with not a thought in his head was just that – a show. For some reason this talented warrior had decided to waste his life on meaningless mischief. Why?

He narrowed his eyes against the glow of the setting sun. What had his Chief Wife told him about this man? He was a troublemaker at school, finally expelled from his calmecac. Then, he had made it into the elite warriors and stayed there, allegedly, with the help of his powerful father.

Ah, a powerful father, a great warrior, a Chief Warlord of many summers, the conqueror of Culhuacan. That could explain some things. How could a son compete against such a father? No, he could not, unless one was exceptionally gifted or exceptionally diligent, and the young Tepanec was neither.

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