Posts Tagged: Maxtla

Itzcoatl – the fourth ruler of Tenochtitlan

20 November 2015 Comments (3)

His name was Itzcoatl, which meant Obsidian Serpent – izt(li)=obsidian, coatl=serpent – and he came to succeed his nephew, the Third Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan, in 1428 or One Flint Knife/Ce Tecpatl. Most sources agree with this date, even though a few claims vary from as early as 1425 to as late as 1435.

He has reigned for thirteen years only, but the changes he brought to the balance of powers of the entire Mexican Valley/Anahuac were more than profound.

On his glyph he appears in the regular ruler’s fashion, seated on a reed mat-petatl, wearing a noble headband-xiuhuitzolli, with the customary scroll coming out of his mouth. His name is attached to his glyph, depicting a red and yellow serpent with black obsidian spikes.

He was one of the several illegitimate sons the First Ruler of Tenochtitlan Acamapichtli has sired, therefore his way to the throne was not an easy one. He came to rule as a mature man in his late-thirties, after serving Tenochtitlan in Chief Warlord’s capacity-tlacochcalcatl-under its Second Ruler, and as the Head Adviser-cihuacoatl-under the Third. In this time Tenochtitlan seemed to need desperately the sort of a leadership Itzcoatl was offering, a tough, hardened, experienced warrior of formidable disposition and little fear.

The death of Chimalpopoca, the Third Tlatoani, cast the island city into its worst crisis, ruining its relationship with the powerful Tepanec capital beyond repair. The entire region was in a terrible turmoil, with Tenochtitlan’s sister-city Tlatelolco situated on the nearby island at loss at the death of its own ruler, and Texcoco, the Acolhua capital on the eastern shore, torn between their quest for freedom from the Tepanec yoke and its resentment of the Mexica islanders who contributed to their earlier defeat. The Acolhua heir, Nezahualcoyotl, a staunch Mexica ally after many summers of exile spent in Tenochtitlan, has been forced to flee back into the neighboring Highlands, to gather support and reinforcements there hopefully, but until he reappeared Tenochtitlan was on its own, facing the Tepanec rage all alone.

Indeed, the new Tepanec ruler, Maxtla, did not make his former tributaries wait. The offensive he launched against the island city resulted in a siege that was lifted only when Nezahualcoyotl came down the eastern Highlands, followed by thousands of local warriors, very fierce people who, for their own reasons, decided to get involved in the Lowlander’s political upheavals.

This turned the tide of the war most decisively, as instead of heading westwards and toward his beloved Texcoco in order to liberate it, the Acolhua future ruler opted for crossing Lake Texcoco straight away into the Tepanec heartlands, gathering thousands of his former Acolhua subjects into his already formidable highlander force as he went.

That made the frightened Maxtla lift his short-lived siege off the rebellious island and rush back toward his own capital, anxious to stop the invaders. Which heartened the besieged Mexica enormously, as they poured out of their city and into the mainland in more thousands, hot on the retreating Tepanecs’ heels. Their eagerness and organized manner with which they invaded the Tepanec side of the Lake testifies for Itzcoatl’s war readiness. Evidently, the new ruler did not waste his time on idle wait for reinforcements.

The war on Azcapotzalco lasted for more than a month – 40 days according to some sources, 114 to others, less than a market interval to some – and it ended with such resounding Tepanec defeat that Azcapotzalco was no more, just a cite of smoking ruins, or a huge slave market according to some claims.

The Triple Alliance that was formed shortly thereafter included Tenochtitlan with Itzcoatl in its lead, the reinstalled Acolhua ruler Nezahualcoyotl, and the minor partner, not an equal to the other two – Tlacopan, a Tepanec city that apparently wasn’t as happy with Azcapotzalco’s switching rulers as it might have seemed in the beginning. When the Mexica, the Acolhua and the Highlanders washed the western side of the Texcoco Lake, Tlacopan had chosen its side wisely.

The rest of Itzcoatl’s reign was spent in ‘inheriting’ the crumbled Tepanec Empire, subduing towns and cities who didn’t understand very well what happened in the Mexican Valley at first. A decade spent in consolidating the Triple Alliance’s power around Lake Texcoco was well spent. Codex Mendoza shows twenty four conquered towns and settlements, even though some of the conquests seemed to be nothing but reestablishing of the Mexica rule, already listed under the conquests of the previous tlatoaqui as well.

On the southern shore, the Tepanec Coyoacan fell next to Azcapotzalco, with the fleeing ex-emperor Maxtla being caught and executed there (according to other sources, he might have escaped Coyoacan as well, spending the rest of his days in exile, never to be heard of around the Mexican Valley again).

Then came the turn of Xochimilco, Mizquic, Cuitlahuac and Quauhnahuac (the last one being listed in several codices as a conquest of Huitzilihuitl as well). Similarly, Quauhtitlan seems to be nothing more than a reestablishment of the Mexica power over that region.

Texcoco and its provinces are listed as Itzcoatl’s conquests too, but those were probably just an aid the Mexica might have given to its Acolhua allies, the full-time members of the Triple Alliance, helping Nezahualcoyotl in re-conquering his former domain.

With the Mexican Valley being reasonably under control, shared between the Mexica and Acolhua, with the junior member Tlacopan holding to its smaller share of conquests, bereft complains, Itzcoatl moved to the south, subduing modern-day region of Guerrero, more former Tepanec provinces. Codex Mendoza claims towns of Cuecalan, Caqualpan, Yztepec, Yoalan, and Tepequacuilco. Another campaign against Quauhnahuac and Ziuhtepec followed.

This is the point that is generally held as the change in the Mexica history, when Tenochtitlan became not only totally independent entity, taking control of its destiny, but also began its ascendance toward the great regional power it had eventually became, with Itzcoatl being the man credited with the change of its status from subservient to that of an immanent dominance.

Inside Tenochtitlan, the political power became even more centralized, with the noble class gaining more and more distinction in the form of additional lands of the inherited Tepanec domain. It was distributed mainly among the nobles of the upper class, with other the prominent city representatives, the heads of the districts and others receiving considerably less, thus strengthening the power of the aristocracy as opposed to the traders and other wealthy elements of the city.

Backed by the two most prominent men of this time, his nephew Tlacaelel and Moctezuma Ilhuicamina, both very formidable still relatively young men, his Head Advisers and his Chief Warlord, Itzcoatl encountered no difficulties in pushing his social reforms while pursuing military expansion.

He vacated his throne in 1440 or 13 Flint Knife/Mahtlactli omei Tecpatl, but even though both his followers were very powerful and legitimate to claim the throne, Tenochtitlan was not about to repeat Azcapotzalco’s mistakes. Tlacaelel and Moctezuma were to rule in tandem for the next three decades to come, with Moctezuma receiving the office but not trying to assert his ascendance over his wise, powerful, extremely experienced half-brother, his Head Adviser.

An excerpt from “The Fall of the Empire”, The Rise of the Aztecs Series, book #5.

“The manners of my leaders are immaterial,” he heard Nezahualcoyotl saying. “This is a war council, and we invited our warlords to join it for a reason. We want to hear their opinions.”

Itzcoatl’s eyes blazed murder, but before he could open his mouth, whether to cut the impudent Acolhua to size with more condescending, icily-spoken words, or to burst out with unrestrained anger, Tlacaelel raised his hand.

“May I ask your permission to speak my mind?” Now all eyes were upon him, expectant. He knew he didn’t really have to ask for permission.

“Yes, you may speak, Tenochtitlan’s Chief Warlord,” growled Itzcoatl between his teeth.

“Thank you.”

He liked the way they all looked at him, expectant, trusting him to solve the problem. Even the foreigners, even that impressive Tenocelotl. The man had spent only a market interval with the Mexica forces, but somehow, Tlacaelel knew he made the correct assessment of his new allies’ qualities.

“I tend to agree with the Acolhua Warriors’ Leader as to the statement that we had reached an impasse. Today’s battle, although partially won, did not change that. We made the Tepanecs retreat behind their walls, but we did not break their spirits. Not even by killing their most trusted leader.” He encircled them with his gaze, pleased with their undivided attention.

“The Tepanecs are still strong, still battle-hungry, and the location of their walls is giving them a clear advantage. This, and the fact that they are fighting on their land, pressed against their own walls, defending their homes. To fight on and on may cost us more than we are prepared to pay and may not give us the final victory.” He paused, knowing that Itzcoatl would be furious now. “Therefore I, for one, would be willing to learn the nature of the unusual solution the Acolhua Warlord is willing to share with us.” Itzcoatl’s eyes were as dark as the ponds on the moonless night, and as cold, while the Highlander’s gaze sparkled with the well familiar, amused twinkle. These two had had a history, remembered Tlacaelel, preferring not to think about it.

“Thank you for your trust, Honorable Leaders,” began the Highlander brightly, as though no problems had arose from his unwarranted bursting into the impeccable noblemen’s discussion. “I’m aware that it is not our custom to conduct any sort of night warfare. Yet, in this situation, we may change our tactics to that extent. If we attack Azcapotzalco now, we will achieve the element of surprise, while our disadvantage will be less prominent in the darkness, fighting against the shaken, unbalanced enemy. If we are careful in organizing our forces, we may approach their walls unexpected, with their hastily organized resistance easy to overcome.”

“Our warriors are tired. They have been fighting since midday,” said Moctezuma, another prince to Tenochtitlan’s royal house, a very promising young man, one of Tlacaelel’s multitude of half brothers and Itzcoatl’s half nephews.

“Yes, I’m aware of that. My people and our highlander allies have been fighting since the high morning, taking the worst of the impact.” The twinkle was gone from the man’s eyes, replaced by the solemn thoughtfulness. He had always taken his duties of the warriors’ leader seriously, the only thing he had taken seriously, as far as Tlacaelel knew. The rest he had breezed through, trusting his luck, which usually, indeed, would not disappoint, to help this man to achieve the best of the best, from women to positions. “Yet, my men would be willing to make another effort. They are hardened warriors, and their morale is high. I’m sure the same can be said about the renowned Mexica warriors, as well.” His gaze encircled them, keen and sincere. “I’m aware that we may do better with more time to prepare for this unusual sort of attack. Yet, we could not have too much of that. Azcapotzalco should be taken tonight. Another day of fighting may prove disastrous, as we don’t know what additional surprises those people might have at their disposal, from reinforcements like the one who nearly surprised us this morning, to all sorts of traps in the hills. They know the terrain too well for us to feel confident about it. The Tepanecs are very good warriors, and their leaders were clever enough to conquer the whole valley and to hold it for twenty upon twenty of summers. However, here we might surprise them too thoroughly.” He glanced at Tenocelotl. “Our Highlander allies may agree to take upon themselves the first part of the attack, having more experience and an appropriate equipment to climb the walls, backed by their archers and our slingers. In the darkness, the defenders would not be able to use their slings and bows properly, while our shooters would find it easier to pick their targets, outlined more clearly against the sky.”

They all stared at the man, the rulers and the warriors’ leaders, the best of the four nations, some frowning, some doubtful, some managing to keep their expressions impassive. Only young Moctezuma looked expectant, and something close to an amused grin twisted the lips of the usually unperturbed Tenocelotl.

“How long will it take you to organize your warriors, including the time you would need to make them understand what sort of warfare is expected from them?” asked Tlacaelel.

The Highlander glanced at the sky. “My warriors will be ready some time after midnight.”

Tlacaelel nodded. “If we are to use our surprise to the best of our abilities, we should approach their walls in the darkest of the night, when the moon fades and the watchers are sleepy. Then we could shoot their guards, and that would give us enough time to let the first waves of our warriors get through before the enemy understands what happened.”

“Unless they are not as sleepy as you presume,” growled Itzcoatl, sounding more amused than angry now, back in control.

“They are tired no less than we are and distraught by the loss of their leader. And they are not expecting this sort of surprise.” The Highlander’s eyes lit suddenly, almost sparkling in the darkness. “And while we are on surprises and unusual sort of warfare…” His voice trailed off, as his gaze drew away, concentrating.

“What else can be done in the darkness?” asked Nezahualcoyotl, grinning.

The Rise of the Aztecs, Part XI, The Triple Alliance

13 March 2014 Comments (0)

After Azcapotzalco, the Tepanec Capital, and other important Tepanecs towns fell, the Mexica-Aztecs and the Acolhua people found themselves with a new challenge to face, this time of creating and not destroying.

Their independence achieved, or almost achieved, as the Acolhua were yet to re-conquer Texcoco, their capital, new dilemmas and questions were born. What will the new world look like now, with the Tepanec domination gone, subdued, squashed into insignificance?

A question both leading conquerors, Tlacaelel and Nezahualcoyotl, faced differently.

After storming Azcapotzalco, Nezahualcoyotl and his Acolhua and the Highlander allies stayed for long enough to conquer the city of Coyoacan, where Maxtla, the last Tepanec emperor, fled, having left his own capital for the invaders to sack. But the moment the cowardly ruler was executed, they hurried back home, crossing the Lake Texcoco, seemingly uninterested in inheriting the fallen Tepanec Empire for themselves.

The Highlanders headed for their mountains, to enjoy the fruits of the successful campaign, while Nezahualcoyotl went to re-conquer his Capital, altepetl of Texcoco, and reorganize its old provinces, disrupted by the long years of the Tepanec domination.

In the meanwhile, Tlacaelel had different goals. Somebody had to take care of the wreaked Tepanec Empire, and in his opinion, his Mexica Aztecs were the perfect candidate to do that.

So, instead of heading back for his island-city, to enjoy the tribute-free existence, he led his warriors on, to subdue towns and altepetls who might have not understood the nature of the changes as yet.

One such, altepetl of Xochimilco, presented a challenge, their strategy of not offering battle but blocking every access to the city not working, not against the fierce Mexica.

By the time the victorious Mexica finally headed home, Tenochtitlan was beginning to enjoy a flow of tribute. Not something out of the ordinary, but it was a beginning.

Tlacaelel intended not only inherit their previous overlords’ realm. His plans reached farther and wider than the visions of anyone else. He intended his people to evolved into true power, true greatness.

The Tepanecs were sloppy, he would say again and again. They conquered, intimidating their neighbors into obedience, but they didn’t bother to manage those whom they subjugated. Their tribute system was sporadic, robbing some out of existence, taking next to nothing from others, distributing conquered cities among their allies with no pattern and no sense.

This was no way to run an empire, he would say, staring at the distance, or sometimes smiling at her, challenging her to ask questions. A tribute system should be well-organized, leaving the conquered to prosper enough to produce this tribute and to be content, but not enough to think silly thoughts of rebellion. Take the altepetl, change its ruler, put a tamed person who would be accountable to you, the conqueror, and then leave it be. Don’t force the regular people, the minor nobility and the commoners, to give up on their way of life. Leave them content, well-fed and well-clothed, to go on with their lives, enriching themselves and you, the conqueror, producing the tribute, contributing to the might of your empire. Oh, how wise he was!

In the meanwhile, the Acolhua reclaimed Texcoco and many of their old subjected provinces. So in 1431, Nezahualcoyotl was finally able to assume what was taken from him and his father more than ten years ago by the conquering Tepanecs – the throne of Texcoco.

His coronation was reported to be a grand event, attended by many neighboring powers, Mexica Aztecs included. The close contacts between the two powerful altepetls remained as it was – a strong bond.

Which actually caused some discord among the old Acolhua nobility. There were those who did not forget the first Tepanec War, when the Aztecs helped the Tepanecs conquer Texcoco. Some of the influential Acolhua neither forgot not forgave. Thus close to his coronation, Nezahualcoyotl might have faced his first crisis as a ruler.

An excerpt from “The Sword

He stood her gaze, suppressing a shrug.

“And yet, a further cooperation, a true alliance and friendship, will benefit both our people. You should let the past rest.”

“My people will do better alone, with no cooperation of the people led by a ruler they cannot trust,” she said stubbornly, her eyes blazing. “Many important people are sharing this opinion of mine, and there will be more of these soon. My brother will be made to listen.”

“Neither your brother nor your husband will do anything to change their policies.”

“You may be surprised.”

Something in the way she said it made his skin prickle. She was up to something. He knew it now. Something more tangible than a pure hatred and a desperate wish to sway Coyotl to her side. The ruler of Texcoco was a pleasant man of great manners, but he was not a person to have his policies dictated to him. If Tlacaelel might have had any doubts before the battle of Azcapotzalco and Coyoacan, he had learned what the well-mannered Acolhua was made of.

A pure marble, very hard, even if beautifully polished, pleasant to deal with, but impossible to break. Nezahualcoyotl would not be told what to do, neither by the influential Texcocans nor by his favorite sister.

As to his Chief Warlord, this woman could move the Smoking Mountain of the Highlands sooner than she would make her husband betray his most trusted friend. He was not a man anxious to please his women to that extent, letting them tell him what to do. He would sooner send her packing. Unless…

He watched the beautiful face, trying to find a clue. What devilment do you have planned, or maybe have already done? he thought. He had better set his spies in this palace to work at once.

“I wish we could reach an agreement,” he said, non-committal, anxious to escape, to think it all over. She would not yield any more information, he knew. She had told him too much already. He had seen it in her eyes, suddenly worried, guarded, apprehensive.

“I hope so too.” A reserved nod of the royal head and she headed toward the closest cluster of mats, her maids trailing behind, ready to serve her refreshments or find a scroll the mistress may wish to read.”

The Rise of the Aztecs, Part X, The Final Showdown

31 March 2013 Comments (1)

In the The Rise of the Aztecs Part IX, we left the Aztecs, Acolhua and the Highlanders preparing to cross Lake Texcoco in the desperate attempt to rid themselves of the Tepanec oppression. No more high or extravagant tribute would be paid; not a single cotton cloak, no quetzal feathers, no foodstuff, no precious materials would be sent to the stern Masters of the Mexican Valley with every full moon. The Tepanecs had swallowed more than they could have digest, while their new ruler was proving to be a mere shadow of his great father.

And so, according to various accounts, the beginning of 1428 saw thousands of warriors rolling down the shores of Lake Texcoco, gathering strength as they went. The conquered Acolhua, reinforced by the Highlanders from all over Tlaxcala Valley, with even the people from the distant city of Xaltocan, had boarded large war canoes, to be joined by the fierce Mexica warriors eager to reach Azcapotzalco, the magnificent capital of the Tepanecs.

As the huge fleet landed on the western shores of Lake Texcoco, even some of the Tepanec communities joined the daring enterprise, with Tlacopan being the most notable of the ‘traitors’. Situated on the shores of the Great Lake, in a close proximity to Tenochtitlan, Tlacopan was apparently under the Aztec influence for some time, dissatisfied with Azcapotzalco’s politics anyway. A clever move, as by assisting the allies in time, Tlacopan had guaranteed itself a secured position in the new arrangement of powers, far beyond this town’s natural importance.

Yet, even for the hastily organized hordes of its dissatisfied subjects, the Tepanec Empire was more than a match. The offensive against Azcapotzalco had met with a fierce resistance of the hardened, battle-trained Tepanec warriors’ force, eager to fight, eager to defend the Great Capital, eager to carry the war back to the revolting subjects’ territories.

The balance of power in the Mexican Valley was about to change, but in whose favor?

For some time the fighting on the outskirts of Azcapotzalco went on, fierce, unrelenting, with the invaders and the defenders giving everything they had, knowing that whoever lost would have to perish, if not as a nation than as a power. Some sources state that the fighting raged on and off for more than a few months, while others point out that due to the lay of the land it could not have gone on for more than a week or so.

In any case, at one point, a relief force led by the renowned Tepanec general appeared, and the battle that ensued lasted from sunrise to sundown, hopelessly balance. But then one of the Mexica leaders, either young Moctezuma I (not to confuse with Moctezuma II who was famous for greeting Cortez about a century or so later) or Tlacaelel, had challenged the Tepanec Warlord and had managed to kill him in a fair duel of obsidian swords. Such spectacular death harmed the fighting spirits of the defenders up to the point that they had hastily retreated behind Azcapotzalco’s walls and the city was taken on the following day.

According to some accounts, the victorious allies had razed the magnificent capital to the ground, turning it into a huge slave market, sparing no one. Yet, other accounts are mentioning the renewed list of Tepanec rulers that began appearing after a span of some decades, which suggests that Azcapotzalco remained to function as a city, but a mediocre place of no significance.

Maxtla, the cause of the whole trouble, had fled to Coyoacan, leaving his capital behind to deal with the invaders. However, the allies weren’t about to give up. After another short blockade and a difficult battle, Coyoacan had fallen too, and this time the despicable ruler was sacrificed on the highest pyramid of Coyoacan’s plaza, reportedly by Nezahualcoyotl himself.

Upon this final victory the Triple Alliance, or the beginning of what we came to know as the Aztec Empire, was formed. The former Tepanec provinces, towns and subjected territories were taken under the Triple Alliance members’ responsibility, and more had been added as the time passed.


Itzcoatl, the ruler of Mexica-Aztec Tenochtitlan took the title of Lord of the Culhua, taking two-fifths of the general tribute paid to the alliance from the conquered territories and yet to be conquered ones.

Nezahualcoyotl, his friend and ally of enough summers, was returned as the ruler of Acolhua Texcoco and its six provinces, declaring himself Lord of the Acolhua, entitled to another two-fifths of the paid goods.

Totoquihuaztli, the ruler of Tlacopan, being a minor ally, did not argue about his much smaller share. He received his remained fifth of the upcoming tribute gratefully, called himself Lord of the Tepanecs and settled down to enjoy the fruits of his ‘betrayal’.

The Highlanders, as it seemed, were in this enterprise not for the titles. They took a considerable share of the immediate spoils, which were huge as Azcapotzalco was a very rich city, and went back to their mountainous towns and valleys, indifferent to the fame and the glory at being called this or that way. They didn’t care how the lowlanders would portray them in their historical records and, needless to say, the allies, indeed, did not go out of their way to stress the importance of their temporary partners’ part in the conquest of the mighty Tepanec empire.

And so what we came to know as the famous Aztec Empire was born, to change the face of the whole Mesoamerica in the next century to come.

An excerpt from “The Fall of the Empire

The clamor among the Tepanecs took their attention away, and Tlacaelel turned to look, grateful for the distraction. He couldn’t even begin to think about his friend’s suggestion. The damn bastard! Was there nothing sacred in this man’s world? Nothing at all?

With the fighting ceasing, if only temporarily, the ground around them seemed to be an odd island of tranquility in the gushing lake of clashing swords and clubs and screams. The tall leader strolled toward them, the feathers upon his headdress rustling calmly, his brilliant-blue cloak flowing down his wide shoulders, outlining the impressive muscles. Tlacaelel made sure his bearing was as dignified.

“So, Chief Warlord of Tenochtitlan,” said the man calmly, his voice low and growling, his Tepanec accent pleasing the ear. “Do you wish to pit your strength against mine?”

His anger receding, giving way to the strange calmness, Tlacaelel stood the dark, piercing gaze, relishing the feeling, familiar but almost forgotten by now, this calm excitement that one feels before a duel would commence.

“Yes, I wish to fight you, Chief Warlord of Azcapotzalco,” he said, straightening his shoulders, although they were anything but sagging before. “It would be my honor to face you in battle.”

The man’s eyes narrowed, as his glance brushed past Tlacaelel’s entourage, lingering upon the Highlander. “Will I be challenged by the leader of the savages next?”

The silence lasted for less than a heartbeat.

“It would be a pleasure,” he heard the Highlander saying, his voice just a little strained. “But I’m afraid Tenochtitlan’s Chief Warlord would rob me of this opportunity.”

The Tepanec’s lips pressed into a thin line. “Let us commence the fight then,” he said, turning back to Tlacaelel. “Let us start the event in the end of which no more Mexica people or their dubious allies will dare to place their foot on the mainland.”

Tlacaelel watched the large, weathered palms bettering their grip upon the polished hilt of the sword, all obsidian spikes in place, sparkling viciously. He made an attempt to control his temper.

“Our Mexica feet will be treading Azcapotzalco’s plazas this very night, watching your temples going up in flames.” His hands trembled with an effort to keep still, waiting for the man to attack, to start the glorious hand-to-hand that no one would be allowed to interfere.

“The only Mexica that will tread Azcapotzalco’s Great Plaza will be captive warriors sacrificed in the great temple, with your heart being the first to be offered to mighty Tezcatlipoca!”

The heavy weapon pounced as though having no weight, alive in the man’s lethal hands. Ready, Tlacaelel brought his sword up, blocking the powerful blow, his hands trembling with an effort to hold on. The pressure was nearly unbearable, yet he held on, putting all of his energy, all of his will, into it, having every opportunity to duck, to avoid this initial attack. It was not a simple duel, and he needed to make his point.

The Rise of the Aztecs, Part IX, Itzcoatl, the Fourth Emperor of Tenochtitlan

22 February 2013 Comments (0)

In ‘The Rise of the Aztecs Part VIII’, we left Tenochtitlan in turmoil, shattered by the violent death of its lawful Emperor. How dared the Tepanecs to do that? And did it mean war?

The people of Tenochtitlan were worried, fearing the powerful, ruthless, and so far invincible, masters of the Mexican Valley. The Acolhua rebellion of a decade before showed the fruitlessness of the appraising. And while the royal house of Tenochtitlan was determined to face the challenge, the commoners of the city had their doubts.


At those times Tenochtitlan’s council of elders, representatives of four districts and twenty clans, wielded still much influence – something that Itzcoatl, the next Aztec Emperor, had made sure to correct later on – so the rulers could not go to war on their say-so, aristocratic blood or not. They had to reason with their people, and so, many promises were made and many fearful oaths taken, while Itzcoatl, an illegitimate son of the First Emperor Acamapichtli and a warlord of many summers, was chosen to be the next emperor.

A very able, highly experienced man, Itzcoatl got to work. First his own people needed to be convinced, then the preparation for the difficult campaign had to be made, alliances struck and strategic plans attended to.

Luckily another very able man saw the force of his argument. Tlacaelel, the man who is generally held today as the “Architect of the Aztec empire”, was a young man in the middle of his twenties, but already an outstanding warrior and a promising leader, good in organization and administration. A legal son of Huitzilihuitl, the Second Emperor, Tlacaelel seemed to be indifferent to the power the throne of Tenochtitlan was offering, not aspiring for the highest office in the land.

Enthusiastic and passionate, Tlacaelel went about convincing people, even venturing to Azcapotzalco in order to deliver the declaration of war by his own hands. According to some ancient sources he got into a whole bunch of trouble carrying this particular message, yet back to Tenochtitlan he came, unharmed, proving his courage and his worthiness. For such bravery and loyalty he was awarded by the next highest office in the land – Cihuacoatl, the high priest and the closest adviser.

So, now that the people were convinced and the declaration of war ensued, Itzcoatl sought possible allies. The Aztecs could not war on the Tepanecs alone, but there were more than a few discontented nations around Texcoco Lake. The defeated Acolhua for one, although their lawful ruler Nezahualcoyotl was in the Highlands again, hiding from the wrath of the the unscrupulous Tepanec Emperor Maxtla. So the messengers were dispatched to climb the high ridges of the eastern side of the Great Lake, offering the fierce highlanders rich pickings and fame.


The highlanders, by this time a mix of Nahua and Otomi people, had had their doubts. Historical enemies of all Lowlanders, they may have wanted to say a resounding ‘no’, but hosting the heir to Texcoco throne for such a long time made the offer look more reliable, tempting, difficult to resist. Azcapotzalco was rumored to be fabulously rich and the campaign against the Tepanecs could prove interesting. Nezahualcoyotl must have found it surprisingly easy to convince his newly-found allies.

And so the combined forces of the Highlanders, Acolhua and the Mexica Aztecs, joined by some discontented-by-their-own-capital’s policies Tepanecs, crossed Texcoco Lake, ready to war on the Masters of the Valley.

In the next post The Rise of Aztecs Part X, The fall of the Empire we will see what happens to an Empire that had became too large.

An excerpt from “Currents of War

Tlacaelel eased his shoulders, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He eyed the Plaza, far below his feet, enjoying seeing it packed with thousands of people. The excited crowds were spilling into the nearby alleys, watching and talking, and gesturing, their spirits high. Oh, his Mexica people were not fearful, not afraid of the approaching Tepanecs. No, the current Masters of the Valley would not intimidate them anymore.

His chest swelled with pride. The Tepanecs could not win, not this time. Tenochtitlan was not ready, stunned by the death of its Emperor and still alone, with no worthwhile allies, yet now, watching the Plaza from the height of the Great Pyramid, he knew that they would win, eventually. And not in the too distant future. The siege would be short, and it would not harm his beloved altepetl.

He eased his shoulders once again, then made sure his posture was straight and proud, reflecting his mood. This ceremony was being held for his sake. Today at the high noon he had been made Cihuacoatl, the High Priest, achieving the most exalted position, next only to Tlatoani, the Emperor. Itzcoatl, the new Emperor, had made sure to hold this ceremony before throwing all of his energy into the nearing war. He had needed to ensure his Chief Warlord’s absolute loyalty, reflected Tlacaelel, slightly amused.

Hence, the ceremony and the most exalted position in the land.

He grinned. No, he had nothing to complain about. He glanced at Itzcoatl, standing beside him, tall and broad, imposing, a perfect leader, a perfect Emperor. The ideal man to stand up to the Tepanecs.

Oh, yes, thought Tlacaelel, suppressing a grin. Tenochtitlan could have asked for no better Emperor in such difficult times. Despite his humble origins, this man was the right person for this difficult mission.

As though sensing his companion’s scrutiny, Itzcoatl turned his head.

“Not a small gathering.”

“No. And they did not come here only to watch the ceremony. They have come here to show us their trust. They are letting us know that they are not afraid.”

“An interesting observation, Nephew.” Itzcoatl nodded, his lips twisting into an untypically amused grin.

“Too bad we cannot lead our warriors out right away. I should love to spare us the humiliation of a siege.”

“It will be a short siege, Nephew. Never fear.”

“I don’t.”

The Rise of the Aztecs, Part VIII, Chimalpopoca, the Third Emperor of Tenochtitlan

1 January 2013 Comments (0)

In ‘The Rise of the Aztecs Part VII’, we left Nezahualcoyotl enjoying his life in Tenochtitlan, but missing his beautiful Texcoco; and probably, his royal status as well.

Yet, this young man had evidently learned from the mistakes of his father. To try to mobilize his former Acolhua people and his newly acquired allies from the Highlands prematurely was not the wise thing to do, as it might have led to another defeat. He needed to have Tezozomoc, the old Tepanec Emperor, dead first. He needed to see how his successor will deal with too-huge-of-an-empire he’d receive. Then he may act, accordingly.

So he had curbed his impatience and waited, spending his time studying poetry, history and engineering. And touring his former Acolhua lands from time to time. Just a tourist, really. He did nothing that might have aroused the Tepanec suspicion. He was just a harmless noblemen succumbing to the spells of nostalgia from time to time. If he talked to prominent people of his former lands, if he made them arrive to all sorts of conclusions, if he offered on altars of any of the gods, praying for the imminent death of the Tepanec ruler, he did this privately and with no fuss.

In the meanwhile, his friend Chimalpopoca, the third Aztec emperor, felt differently. This young man had ascended the throne in 1417, while being only a boy of ten so years old, upon the death of his father, the Second Aztec Emperor, Huitzilihuitl. Why he had been the one to inherit the throne, no one knows. There were better-fitting candidates among the Second Emperor’s brothers, or even his sons. Tlacaelel, for one, was a few years older, and as legitimate, although sired by Huitzilihuitl’s less exalted wife.Chimalpopoca Chimalpopoca’s mother was impeccably noble and very well connected, being one of Tezozomoc’s favorite daughters. Maybe this was the reason why Tenochtitlan’s council of four districts decided to put Chimalpopoca on the throne. They might have wished to seek a favor with the old horror of the Tepanec ruler (or maybe the ambitious mother was the one to push in this direction. Like all women in history, her way to reach a real power was limited to the possibility of ruling through her underage child).

For this or that reason, Tenochtitlan’s council of four districts crowned Chimalpopoca with the special diadem, anointing him with divine ointment, and placing proper insignia of a shield and a sword in his hands.

Pleased with the fact that Tenochtitlan was ruled by his progeny, Tezozomoc, through the ten years of Chimalpopoca’s reign, demanded less and less tribute, reducing it to a mere token. Many favors were granted to the island-city, such as the permission to build the aqueduct, using the springs of the mainland. And, although the water construction broke often, the relationship between the Tepanecs and the Aztecs remained affable enough.

And then, in 1427, Tezozomoc had died – a very old, very contented man, leaving his invincible empire encompassing all the lands around Lake Texcoco, and far beyond it. There was no point in trying to enlarge it any further, so he had left his throne to one of his numerous sons, a reasonable, quiet, able man.

Yet, one of his other sons, ambitious Maxtla, was not happy with his father’s choice of successor. Being sent to rule the province of Coyoacan, Maxtla didn’t seem to take it well, thinking that the throne of Azcapotzalco had suited his talents better. Only a few months into his reign, the new ruler of the Tepanec Empire had died, probably due to poisoning, and the ambitious Maxtla had taken his place.

Yet, the actions of the new Tepanec Emperor were strange. Maxtla did not rush to change the policies, conquer more lands, or make new laws. Instead he busied himself changing the governments of his tributaries and subjected lands. Successful in disposing of his own brother, he proceeded to commence a few similar projects at once.

First he tried to assassinate Nezahualcoyotl, who had managed to evade death by fleeing back into the Highlands. Unabashed, Maxtla had sent other killers to assassinate the ruler of Tlatelolco, a sister city of Tenochtitlan, situated on a nearby island and governed by another of Tezozomoc’s progeny. This time he was successful and Tlacateotl, ruler of Tlatelolco, had died under mysterious circumstances.

Encouraged by the neatness and easiness of his international policies, Maxtla decided to drive his point home further by trying to murder Chimalpopoca himself, who had previously, very openly and unashamedly, sided with Maxtla’s brother, the Tepanec lawful ruler, angering the ambitious new Emperoro beyond any reason. This time it was personal, so Maxtla had made a special effort. Various sources are debating the possible ways of Chimalpopoca’s death, but most agree that the Third Emperor of Tenochtitlan was murdered in his sleep by a bunch of skilled killers that penetrated the Palace under the cover of the night. He was around the age of twenty by this time and not a bad ruler, his political mistakes notwithstanding.

Tenochtitlan was in turmoil, but if Maxtla had counted on the hated tributaries to huddle on their island, subdued and cowed, his calculations were wrong.

In the next post, The Rise of the Aztecs Part IX, Itzcoatl, we’ll see what happened when the Aztecs were pushed too far.

An excerpt from “Currents of War

The old leader’s grin matched that of his friend.

“My nephew is a law unto himself. But I hope they have more warriors like him.”

“Oh, please,” said Itzcoatl, then fell silent as the slaves brought in plates with refreshments, and two more flasks of octli. “Come to think of it, your nephew can be useful in more ways than just leading warriors and killing useless advisers,” he muttered, almost to himself.

Something in the former Warlord’s voice startled Tlacaelel, and he concentrated, trying to read through the dark, closed up face of his superior.

“What ways?” asked the Tepanec suspiciously, obviously as alerted.

“He can rid us of some people who are rapidly becoming a nuisance.”

“No!” called the old leader sharply. His pipe made a screeching sound, banging against the side of the table. “He is not to be involved in any of this.”

Itzcoatl looked up, unperturbed. “Why not?”

“There are twenty reasons and more, and I won’t go into any of them.” The Tepanec’s voice rose. “We are not ready for that move either, and when we are, my nephew is to be left out of it.”

“The wild beast has a mind of his own, you know. And a great will into the bargain.” Itzcoatl’s eyes glimmered, the way they always did when he was pleased with himself for having thought of a way to solve his problems. After so many summers, fighting under this man’s command, Tlacaelel had learned to read his moods as if they were written on a bark paper. “You tried to keep him away from the Palace’s troubles seven summers ago, Old Friend, and he just pushed himself more forcefully into the middle of the maelstrom. He is a law unto himself, indeed, and a priceless asset, if used correctly.” A shrug. “And anyway, he never has kept away from our politics.”

“He gets involved when his Acolhua friend is involved. But this time, the Texcocan has nothing to do with it.”

Itzcoatl’s lips were pressed thinly, his grin – a mirthless affair.

“He guards the interests of more than one highborn Acolhua. The Emperor’s Chief Wife is involved in this, even if not directly.”

Tlacaelel watched the old weathered face of their host twisting as though the man had eaten something incredibly bitter.

“Leave my nephew out of it,” he repeated stonily. “You can use his warriors’ skills all you like, but don’t make him cause any more trouble in the Palace. What happened seven summers ago was more than enough.” He picked up his pipe, concentrating on the beautifully decorated wood, running his fingers along the carvings, deep in thought. The Highlander must have made this thing for his uncle, reflected Tlacaelel, recognizing the patterns.

“It may be too soon to do the deed,” he said finally. “We should wait and see what happens in Azcapotzalco, what their new Emperor is up to.”

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