Posts Tagged: Mexican Valley

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.

Historical fiction and the true rise of Tenochtitlan

4 March 2014 Comments (0)

I am happy to announce the release of another new book

Below the Highlands

The remnants of the 13 years of his reign, Itzcoatl, the fourth Mexica-Aztec emperor, spent on the attempts to inherit as many of the former Tepanec provinces as he could, making it clear to every neighboring town or city-state who the next rising power of the region would be.

The Acolhua were busy reestablishing their old territories and influences, but the Mexica-Aztecs had no such claims of the past. Only the bright future to look up to. They were the rising power, and they made sure everyone understood that.

With the troubles on the immediate borders settled, the allies turned their eye to the greater distances. The fertile lands of Cuauhnahuac and its surroundings in the south were reported to be a mutual enterprise, with the Mexica and the Acolhua, and their junior Tepanec partners of Tlacopan, acting in tandem, conquering side by side, sharing the spoils and the tribute, leaving a little to their junior partners of Tlacopan to pick.

“I speak for myself and for myself alone,” she said, her gaze wary but firm, not wavering, not dropping. “I do have eyes and ears and a mind to think, and what I see is a blatant inequality.”

Nervously, she licked her lips, but went on, her words coming in a rush.

“They fought alongside the Mexica warriors in Cuauhnahuac. They sent the required amount of forces, and they did everything you and your warriors did. Yet, they now receive only one fifth of the tribute coming from these lands. Why? Have our warriors not fought as bravely as yours? Are our efforts not as valuable as those of the Mexica or the Acolhua people?”

Indeed, the Triple Alliance shared its spoils in not an entirely equal way.

Two fifths of the collected tribute went to Tenochtitlan, located most conveniently between its two allies, in a position to hold the balance of power carefully and wisely, and in the way that put Tenochtitlan in a leading place.

Two fifths went to Texcoco, the aristocratic Acolhua capital, back in power but as always in a refined, reserved manner.

The last fifth went to Tlacopan, an equal partner of the Triple Alliance but only in name. The Tepanecs were defeated, and even though Tlacopan made a wise choice by joining the winning side in time, they were not in a position to demand full equality.

Tlacaelel’s hand came up, stopping the words of protest that were forming upon the girl’s stubbornly pressed lips.

“Tlacopan could not be the equal companion in the Mexica and Acolhua partnership. It will never be a full-time partner in our Triple Alliance. The Tepanecs have lost, young princess. Your husband’s father made the best out of the situation, but in the new world, the Mexica are the leaders, the rulers, the dominant power. The Mexica and the Acolhua,” he added, not sounding convincing for some reason.

Itzcoatl died at 1440, a relatively old man. His mark on Tenochtitlan, and the entire Mexican Valley’s history, was significant, impossible to underplay. Thirteen years that shone on his rule brought the Mexica island-city from an insignificant status of a small vassal city of the Tepanec Empire to a prominent place of a great altepetl, an owner of vast provinces and influence, growing richer and more powerful with each passing moon, feared and respected by every local power, even the distant lands over the Eastern Highlands.

Tenochtitlan mourned the passing of its liberator from the Tepanec yoke, but afraid they were not. Tlacaelel, cihuacoatl, the Head Adviser, the man who had actually conquered Azcapotzalco and other Tepanec city states, the man who had architected these critical changes, was still alive, relatively young and full of power.

True to his word, he declined the offer to became the next emperor, casting his considerable influence behind a candidate of his choosing, his half-brother, Moctezuma Ilhuicamina.

In the Aztec Capital, Tlacaelel, the Head Adviser, is busy reshaping the island-city to fit its rapidly changing status from a regular city-state to a true capital, an owner of provinces and tributaries. The old system is not working anymore, but Tlacaelel’s radical reforms and changes anger influential people, from priests to elders of districts, those whose power is dwindling due to his reforms.

During a ballgame being held between Texcoco and Mexica teams to celebrate the upcoming winter festival—a fierce competition that will add much honor to the winning city-state—one of the players, Coatl, a promising warrior, the Texcoco Warlord’s son, is prepared to do anything in order to win. What he was not prepared for was becoming entangled in a political intrigue that starts while he is busy chasing a pretty girl, with the unexpected arrival of his twin brother complicating matters even further.

An excerpt from “The Triple Alliance (Below the Highlands)

“Good answer.”

The Adviser grinned, then picked up a piece of tortilla soaked in the meat juices. “Our people will not war with each other as long as great leaders like Nezahualcoyotl and your Father are leading Texcoco.”

“And as long as Tenochtitlan is led by great people like you and your emperor,” said Coatl politely, believing in his words.

“Yes, that too.” The man nodded affably. “I hope your emperor decides to join the war against Chalco altepetl. You will enjoy this campaign. It would be the first great-scale war for you, wouldn’t it?”

“Well, yes.” Eager to attack his plate, he forced his thoughts off the tantalizing aroma. “Father wants to join this war. He was advocating our full-time involvement. I hope the emperor listens.”

“Why wouldn’t he?”

He concentrated under the penetrating gaze, not sure how much of what he knew he could relate here, in the Mexica Palace.

“Our emperor does want to fight along with his allies, but he wishes to know more detail before he commits his warriors and their leaders.”

“Well, he would not be required to join us with his eyes blindfolded.” Tlacaelel shrugged, reaching for an exquisite goblet full of clear water. “We would never expect our most esteemed allies to follow us like a subjected nation would.”

“But you would require that from the other less highly esteemed ally of yours.” Citlalli’s voice rang loudly, startling them all. She had been so quiet in her corner, they had forgotten her existence.

The Adviser pressed his lips, while the mistress of these rooms frowned in distress.

“All our allies are highly esteemed and respected, young lady.” Tlacaelel toyed with his cup, his face losing much of its previous mirth. “I don’t think Tlacopan has anything to complain about. It has been treated with an utmost fairness, all things considered.”

“What is there to consider?” Not taken aback by the barely concealed reprimand, Citlalli straightened her shoulders, her yellow eyes sparkling, bringing back the girl Coatl grew up with. It didn’t suit her to be all ladylike, he thought, unsettled by her outburst, but amused at the same time. The Head Adviser would be better off to not engage in this particular battle. “Tlacopan is supposed to be a full-time partner in the Triple Alliance, but it’s treated in exactly the opposite way. It is anything but an equal ally, never consulted or apprised of the plans the way the Acolhua Capital is.”

Invited to the royal feast in the Mexica Palace?

12 June 2013 Comments (1)

A guest post from , an artist, painter, and web designer, a man who knows way too much about anything Mexica-Aztec related, a man who would not miss a single archaeological conference in the Temple Mayor museum.

Enrique is also one of the founders of In Tlilli In Tlapalli – pre-hispanic blog where you can read many more fascinating articles by him, and other knowledgeable, well-versed in history people.

Prehispanic Mexican Food

This article is published because of the great interest that aroused around this data on pre-hispanic food on Twitter some time ago. Many were surprised to discover what our ancestors were feeding on in the Mexican Valley. One or two even mentioned the magic words “It seemed to me ..”. Well, after this brief but fanciful explanation, we can begin with the article.

The four main crops in the valley of Mexico were always of an equal importance: maize (centli), amaranth (huauhtli), beans (etl) and finally the chia. It is noteworthy to mention that the Spanish, due to the religious importance amaranth held – Amaranth statues were being made for the main deities, some mixed with blood, others with honey – tried to prevent its cultivation and use, lest this food would stimulate the original Mexican religions. The amaranth that was particularly appreciated by our grandparents was called wild amaranth (quilitl). Even the mother of the forth Mexica tlatoani Itzcoatl (who was not a woman of noble birth) was selling amaranth-quilitl on Azcapotzalco market.

An important aspect related to the Mexican food were the times when one had one’s breakfast, lunch or dinner. Having no clocks, people were helped to determined the meal-time with the assistance of conch-shells or drums, which were played from the top of the different teocalli (temples), as also by the position of the sun.

The time of any Mexican breakfast was around 10 in the morning. For ordinary people, this was a frugal meal, consisted of a couple of tortillas with beans and salsa, although on one’s way to work or back home one could buy himself a tamalli. In some families after the end of the day, around the 6-8, a light supper was served, usually a gruel accompanied by lake fish or poultry and tortillas.

But the well-invested, royal dinners in the Palace could have started at midnight and lasted until dawn, taking many courses of food and dessert. Such evening would usually end with an invigorating chocolate drink xocolatl (for the journey back home) and a clay pipe filled with vanilla flavored snuff or scented woods. In some banquet, the dessert consisted of the digestives, including peyote, hallucinogenic mushrooms as teonanacatl (mushroom gods) or covered nanacatl miel.

A banquet like that would demand a huge amount of supplies, plenty of beans, corn, 80 to 100 turkeys, a dozen dogs and about 20 loads of cocoa. Only a few rich nobles or unusually rich merchants of pochteca-traders guild could afford such expense.

The only two domesticated animals found in these lands were dark hairless dogs called acutalmente xoloitscuintli and turkeys (uexolotl). The fowl’s meat was usually more appreciated that that of a dog, due to its taste and smoothness. So much so that, when a host had to put up the dish, the parts of turkey were laid prettily above the main bulk of a dog meat. Or so claimed Sahagun.

Some anthropologists have sought the origin of the alleged Aztec cannibalism in the lack of protein in their diet. Nothing of the sort! Prehispanic Mexican food was the most diverse in the world, and filled with all variety of proteins. Our ancestors ate frogs, reptiles such as iguanas, ants and their eggs (escamoles), maguey worms that even today are considered a delicacy. A water shrimp, salamanders, flies and aquatic larvae (aneneztli) added to that diet.

Poor people and peasants were gathering a substance floating in the lake, known tecuitlatl, which were told by the chronicles to be cheesy. This was pressed between the mass of the tortillas to give a bitter and stronger taste. Many interesting foods roamed the swamps of Lake Texcoco at pre-hispanic times.

Among the most appreciated delicacies, the nobility most appreciated tamales stuffed with meat, snails and fruit (the latter served with poultry broth); frogs with chili sauce, white fish from the west of the country with chilli and tomato. Also the axolotl seasoned with ground pepper and yellow nugget was a treat for those times. The old recipe of maguey worms was savored by everyone, from leaders to high priests and common people of the whole Mexican Valley.

Back in pre-hispanic days the lands of central Mexico were very rich in hunting. Deer, rabbits, hares, wild pigs or peccaries, birds like pheasants, doves and various waterfowl species abounded everywhere. But people inclined to favor vegetarian food did not suffer, either. Tlacoyo, green mass, and the traditional red for these foods, accompanied with beans, insects, and the typical cactus salsa provided rich diversion to meat. Just as tamales, atole and pozole those were enjoyed by Chichimeca, Mexica, Acolhuas, Tepaneca matlazincas, Otomi, Nahua and many other nations of ancient Mexico.

In pre-Hispanic times, like in our days, the months of June and July were the period of anxiety and scarcity: “So there was a hunger, when grain of maize was very expensive and had great need of sources, they tell us.” The Mexican government tried to remedy this situation by distributing seeds and foods from the royal granaries, which Tlatoani administered directly with the dignitaries. “The emperor showed his goodwill towards the poor, making tamales and they were given gruel.”

I hope you have enjoyed this brief overview of Hispanic food. In many remote villages in the mountains you can taste these dishes, or even in the heart of the city on Saturdays. This is just one of the great legacies of civilizations that inhabited the territory we now call Mexico. Let’s not forget them or their heirs who still live in our times.

Comments, suggestions or questions by twitter account

Thanks you

Enrique Ortiz Garcia

Prepared to gamble?

2 December 2012 Comments (3)

What wouldn’t you bet while watching a fierce ball game where the players were not afraid to hurt themselves? A kernel of maize? A good obsidian knife? A golden necklace studded with precious stones?

Well, why not? Like anywhere else around the globe, people of the Mexican Valley and its surrounding, the Lowlands and Highlands alike, loved to gamble. Throughout important altepetls, small villages and regular towns, commoners or nobles, warriors or peasants, men or women, they all could be found betting, with patolli, a bean game, being the most popular of them all.

Patolli was a game of luck and skill, requiring practice and a measure of strategic thinking, while the player depended on the caprice of the rolling beans as well.

The players would gamble whatever they felt fit – from blankets, to food, to precious stones, to their freedom even, and the onlookers would hold their breath, liking to watch the game as much as they liked to participate in it.

In the alleys of the marketplace or in the warriors’ camps, in the Palaces and the dwellings of the nobles as much as in the cane-and-reed houses of the poor, crowded neighborhoods, people would challenge each other readily, trusting Xochipilli, the god of gambling, to watch over their luck. Xochipilli – the Prince of Flowers (xochitl – flower, pilli – prince or child) – was the patron of art and beauty, gambling, dancing and music, and feasts. Before the beginning of the game he would be offered sincere prayers, and sometimes even a part of the offerings out of the betting pool.

The board, in a form of a cross, could have been drawn upon the ground, or embroidered on a reed mat, or carved on the floor or a table, and, probably, arranged in a beautiful mosaic all over the Palaces and the houses of the nigh nobility. It would always present 52 landing positions, as this number was sacred according to the calendar. And so was the number four, which would be also represented on the patolli board in the form of the four colored middle squares. A figurine of the player would better not land there for more than one round, as if caught by the figurine of the opponent it would be kicked from the board, resulting in one of the bets switching hands.

Another dangerous area were the triangles on the edges of the board, as landing one’s figurines there the player would be required to transfer to his opponent one of the bets right away.

Twelve figurines would commence the race up the board. Six for each player, unless more than two contesters were involved, and then the number of figurines would be divided accordingly.

The goal of the game was to move one’s figurines across the board, from the starting squires to the finishing ones. To do that the players would cast the beans (the word patolli means beans), that marked with a dot on one side of each bean.

In order to place one’s figurine on the board the player needed to throw his beans until it displayed only one dot, with the other four showing their blank sides. From there the players would move their figurines according to the number of dotted sides each toss of the beans displayed – two dots, two moves, three dots, three, but if all the beans would display their dots the lucky man’s figurine would jump ten squires all at once.

Each figurine that would complete its round across the board would win its owner a bet. Six figurines, six bets. And so someone would go away richer, and happier, than the other.

Totoloque was a simpler game, but one that required more skill and fitted the warriors best. The players were to toss small pellets as close to the target as possible. Each player had five tries and the one who would score more hits would win the bet.

And so, between wars and politics and betting games, the people around Lake Texcoco would not complain of boredom, most of the times.

An excerpt from “The Warrior’s Way

Tecuani cast the beans and watched them rolling over the crude wooden surface.

Three of the beans stopped, displaying their marked sides while the other two remained blank. Absently, he picked a wooden figurine and moved it three squares up.

When he leaned back against the wall, his opponent, a warrior, but of a more common type, grabbed the beans.

“Just don’t fall asleep on us, kid,” he commented to the merriment of the others.

“No. I’ll collect your bets first, then I’ll go to sleep.” Tecuani shut his eyes against the strong midmorning light, his head pounding. He shouldn’t have drunk all that octli last night.

The man snorted. His throw of beans produced only one point, one bean displaying its marked side. Not a bad throw. The man whooped and flung another figurine onto the board.

“Who is collecting whose bets now, eh?”

“No one, yet.” Tecuani shrugged and tossed the beans. This time each displayed its marked side. Five points, ten squares. A lucky throw. Contemplating which of his figurines to move up the board, he paid no attention to the excitement of the watchers – mostly market frequenters and a few of his fellow warriors.

“Lucky frog-eater,” murmured his opponent.

One of the watching warriors raised his cup of octli. “Tecuani is always lucky with beans.”

Who cared about the stupid beans? Tecuani leaned back against the wall, fighting the urge to close his eyes. It was true. His luck would usually hold whenever he played the bean game. Since he’d been a boy he would win many bets, free to spend them on the marketplace afterward. But it had nothing to do with luck. If one played skillfully, one could always manipulate the figurines to the best of one’s ability. People were stupid to assume it was up to the rolling beans and marks.

While his opponent took his time to whisper a prayer, Tecuani’s thoughts drifted. Not cheerful thoughts for once. Since the warriors had left for Lake Chalco, more than half a moon ago, he had had no moment of peacefulness and not much of that alleged luck of his. His wound had healed perfectly, but not in time for him to join the campaign. Oh, how he craved to fight with Atolli, side by side, to show his brother, that outstanding man, once and for all that he, Tecuani, was not a child anymore. What a perfect opportunity, spoiled by a filthy wound.

Tlacaelel, the man who gave the Aztec empire its history

24 July 2012 Comments (5)

Many sources report him to be the First Son of the Second Mexica Ruler, Huitzilihuitl; or at least one of the tlatoani’s first children.

A legitimate son, he possessed it all – the birthright, the brilliance, the drive, the ability to work hard – all the qualities that might have made him a remarkable ruler. Yet, for reasons known maybe only to him, he had preferred to shape what would later on become the famous Aztec Empire from behind the scenes.

Early Tenochtitlan

Only a decade or two before Tlacaelel was born, Tenochtitlan had been nothing but a mediocre town, stuck on an island, with no prospects and no significant future, having no place to grow and no resources to develop it.

Its first Tlatoani, Acamapichtli, was reported to be the son a Mexica nobleman and a princess of Culhuacan, an infinitely better bloodline as far as the Mexican Valley’s (Anahuac) nobility was concerned. Raised in the exquisite aristocratic Acolhua city-state, located on the eastern shore of Lake Texcoco, this man did not hesitated when Tenochtitlan’s elders asked him to become the ruler of the Mexica island. Apparently, he was not a person to shy away from an interesting challenge.

Two decades of his rule saw the puny island town growing into a worthwhile city, with the first level of the future Great Pyramid challenging the skyline, wide canals dug throughout the city to make the traffic and transportation easier, first causeway spread out to connect Tenochtitlan with the mainland, and many cane-and-reed houses giving way to the adobe and stone constructed dwellings.

On the personal level, Acamapichtli made sure to place the royal house of Tenochtitlan in a proper position, recognized by the rest of the Anahuac local powers, from the haughty Acolhua of Texcoco to the powerful Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco; not to mention the people of Chalco, Xochimilco, and other towns and altepetls, city-states, surrounding the vastness of Lake Texcoco. He took quite a few noble wives from all sort of places, managing to acquire even a Toltec princess of Culhuacan, spicing his harem by locally noble women as well, daughters of those same districts elders and other influential Mexicas.

Thus, when Acamapichtli died, Tenochtitlan royal house has no lack of legitimate heirs.

The Second Tlatoani

First to inherit was one of the younger sons, Huitzilihuitl. He was reported to be barely over twenty, a young man of pleasant disposition, suitably smart and nicely tractable. The elders of Tenochtitlan, those who comprised the council of the districts’ leaders, with much influence and responsibilities, including the ratification of the nominated next ruler’s candidacy, were not disappointed with their choice.

About two decades of this Second Tlatoani’s rule saw Tenochtitlan not only growing rapidly, but also expanding, not crushing under the heavy tribute levied by the Tepanecs on the island-city before that.

A wise move of acquiring one of the Tepanec Emperor’s daughters for a Chief Wife saw to it that Tenochtitlan’s tribute was reduced to one fourth of what it used to be paid through the previous decades under Acamapichtli. Many sources state that the clever Tepanec woman had pleaded with her mighty father upon the birth of her son, the prospective heir to Tenochtitlan’s throne, and so the tribute was cut considerably.

Less tribute, more means to invest in the city. Tenochtitlan prospered, but there was a price to pay. The island city was turning into a true tributary of the mighty Tepanecs, less independent, more servile.

When in 1415, Tezozomoc, the Tepanec Emperor, opened an outright war against Texcoco, the Acolhua Capital, Tenochtitlan has no choice but to keep neutral as long as they could, not at liberty to aid their Acolhua neighbors and possible allies of previous years. The Mexica island was in no position to anger its stern overlords in Azcapotzalco.

And its not that the island-city did not gain much from its enforced neutrality. The eastern trading routes, interrupted by nearly two years of hostilities, shifted toward the peaceful Tenochtitlan. The markets filled with unheard-of before excesses, and the economy flourished. With the attention of their overlords elsewhere, Tenochtitlan was also able to strengthen its naval forces and its land-born defenses, all the while maintaining their demure pose of neutrality, reinforcing neither side.

At this time Tlacaelel has already been a youth, probably about to finish his studies in calmecac, the school for nobles that even the royal offsprings attended. Most of the sources are placing his date of birth around 1397-98. So by the time of the Tepanec-Acolhua War he must have seen close to 18 summers.

His mother, Cacamacihuatl, was reported to be a noble woman of Tenochtitlan. But of course she was not noble enough to compete with his father’s, Huitzilihuitl’s, Chief Wife, the daughter of the mighty Tepanec Emperor. Therefore, Tlacaelel was not the prospective heir.

Even at such a young age he must have been wise enough to cherish no farfetched ideas concerning his birthright. A mere youth, the mighty ruler’s son or not, was no match for the Emperor’s Chief Wife, who must have been a dominant woman, as most of the sources mention her in connection to the reduced tribute, and not only as a mother of the next ruler – the lot of the other women who were honored with a mention at all.

Thus, it was her son, Chimalpopoca, who has been groomed for the office of tlatoani, although according to Diego Duran he has been barely a boy of ten or twelve years old by the time Huitzilihuitl died. Too young to inherit, but inherit he did, becoming Tenochtitlan’s Third Tlatoani at the height of the Tepanec-Acolhua War, which dragged on and on, with less success than the Tepanecs must have been expecting. The Acolhua turned out to be a worthy adversary, defending their altepetl and its provinces fiercely, then taking the war into the Tepanec side of the Great Lake for some time.

The implications of the Tepanec-Acolhua War

However, the death of the Second Mexica Emperor changed all that. Tenochtitlan’s neutrality was no more. Whether it was because Chimalpopoca felt obliged to support his grandfather, the Tepanec Emperor, or whether the pressure from Azcapotzalco grew, but Tenochtitlan participated in the renewed attack on Texcoco quite eagerly, sending considerable warriors’ forces to join the invasion.

Planned most cunningly, with a deceptive, well thought out strategy Tezozomoc was famous for, the invasion succeeded, with Texcoco going down quite soundly, its ruler Ixtlilxochitl killed, the surviving heir, Nezahualcoyotl, fleeing into the Highlands with nothing but his life, and the mighty Tepanec Empire absorbing the Acolhua altepetl and its provinces, growing yet larger and wealthier, more invincible than ever.

Tenochtitlan was rewarded with the generous part of the tribute coming from the conquered Texcoco, and the permission to build an aqueduct using the springs of the mainland, also controlled by the Tepanecs of course. The trade flourished even more than before, and the fresh drinking water added to the delights of the ever growing city.

The aftermath of the Acolhua defeat

By this time Tlacaelel was already in the thickest of it, in the midst of his altepetl’s activities, a vigorous young man near his mid-twenties, full of energy and ideas, aiming for the office of Tlacochcalcatl, the Chief Warlord of Tenochtitlan, held by his uncle Itzcoatl for some time.

Taking upon himself the task of guiding his royal nephew, Chimalpopoca, Itzcoatl took the responsibility of become Cihuacoatl, the Head Adviser, thus leaving the office of leading warrior to Tlacaelel, another of his distinguished nephews.

Like his half-brother Huitzilihuitl, father of both Tlacaelel and Chimalpopoca, Itzcoatl was the son of the First Tlatoani, but wherein Huitzilihuitl’s mother was perfectly legitimate wife and a woman of noble origins, Itzcoatl’s mother was a simple concubine, a slave from Azcapotzalco’s marketplace, or just a beautiful commoner, a vegetable-seller according to some of the sources. Either way she was not legitimate enough to warrant her son’s possible ambition to occupy Tenochtitlan’s throne. So Itzcoatl bid his time, advanced his career in the areas he was good at, namely warfare and organization, content to help his ruling nephew, a young man of not a patient or wise enough disposition to conduct himself wisely in front of all the Great Lake’s political upheavals. Or so it seemed.

The upheavals in the Tepanec royal house

In 1426 the old Tepanec Emperor died after ruling Azcapotzalco and, gradually, the entire region around Lake Texcoco for quite a few decades, with a stony fist at that. The Tepanec royal house plunged into turmoil and the waves of unrest spread all over the Mexican Valley.

The official heir, Tayatzin, stepped up to occupy the throne as instructed, but one of his numerous brothers, Maxtla, palmed off with the rulership of a province of Coyoacan, did not think his father chose wisely. Shortly after the ceremony of his anointment, Tayatzin died of unknown cases. Maxtla came to rule Azcapotzalco and hence the entire Tepanec Empire.

Tenochtitlan, along with other Tepanec provinces, began to worry.

Even smaller changes in the Great Capital were bound to reflect on all Tepanec provinces, namely the entire Mexican Valley’s basin, but Chimalpopoca, in addition to this, did not act wisely by supporting Tayatzin openly and vocally while this short-time ruler was still alive. The island city, not very popular with the Tepanec nobility as it was, found itself facing an offended, inimical ruler. Not a good state of affairs.

The revolt against the Tepanecs

Tlacaelel, the Chief Warlord at this point, was reported to prepare for the worst, readying Tenochtitlan for the possible attempt of invasion. Bent on seeing his inherited empire tidy and obedient, Maxtla was already reported to poison not only his own brother, the legitimate heir to the Tepanec throne, but the ruler of Tlatelolco, Tenochtitlan’s sister-city located on the neighboring island, as well.

That without counting the attempt on the heir to the still-subdued Texcoco, Nezahualcoyotl, who after hiding in the Highlands for some time, had emerged back in the Lowlands and was allowed to live in Tenochtitlan and later on even in Texcoco itself by the old Tezozomoc himself for close to eight years since the fall of Texcoco. Well, this prudent young man, already adept in the art of survival, did not stay to see what would happened but fled back into the Highlands, to seek for possible reinforcements and support.

Isolated, Tenochtitlan was left to face the crisis alone. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Some time later, Chimalpopoca, the Third Tlatoani of the island-city, was found dead, slain in his own palace according to many primary sources. Maxtla, already notorious for his political killings, was held to be the supposed instigator, even though some later-day scholars suspect Itzcoatl’s direct involvement. The fourth Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan had everything to gain out of this particular death, the elevation to the throne being one of the benefits, the safety of his island city, another. Chimalpopoca’s policies were not wise or farsighted.

Tlacaelel’s exploits in Azcapotzalco

However, having received a strong, experienced ruler to lead them, Tenochtitlan’s more commonly originated leading elements – influential traders, nobles of the neighboring Tlatelolco and the heads of Tenochtitlan’s districts – were reported to experience a sudden spell of uncertainty.

A delegation came to Itzcoatl, demanding to do everything in order to reach a peaceful agreement with the powerful Azcapotzalco. No common people wanted war, the brunt of which would fall on their shoulders to carry.

Upon hearing this Tlacaelel was reported to launch into a fiery speech, talking of honor and bravery, of Tenochtitlan’s worthiness and its true destination. That had Itzcoatl, the new Tlatoani, convinced, but not the districts and the neighboring Tlatelolco’s representatives.

The offshoot of this argument was a compromise, an embassy to be sent to Azcapotzalco, offering peace but demanding fair treatment and better conditions for relationship than before. Some sources hint that it might have even included Nezahualcoyotl’s case. Not the conditions the Tepanec Emperor was likely to accept, but it was worth a try.

Tlacaelel volunteered to lead the dangerous mission himself. Or so the accepted narration would have it. Retold about a century and a half later, as the original Nahuatl books that might have been containing more authentic accounts were burned when Cortez conquered Tenochtitlan and Texcoco, it may be that the exploits of this particular man were somewhat exaggerated by the this or that descendant retelling his version of history for the benefit of the recording monks. According to those, having taken upon himself such perilous mission, Tlacaelel proceeded to travel to Azcapotzalco, alone and barely armed, reaching the outskirts of the Great Capital and demanding at the first guards house to be let in and escorted straight into the presence of the Tepanec ruler himself. There he proceeded to state his case, with great courage and eloquence, causing notoriously dishonorable Maxtla to hesitated and even behave courteously enough by letting Tenochtitlan’s ambassador go unharmed, with the demand to return on the next day in order to receive his answer.

Tlacaelel had been reported to do just that, leave fearlessly, to return with the break of dawn. Still alone, still displaying no fear. At this point, the undecided Tepanec ruler arrived at the decision, which was a resounding ‘no’ to the islanders’ shameless demands. So Tlacaelel proceeded to offer the customary weaponry and attire, thus ‘arming’ the Tepanec ruler for the upcoming war, while anointing him as the sacrificial victim at the same time – the traditional declaration of war, along with the subtle hint at whom would be the loser of the conflict. Then he went home, having been detained by the guard house on this second exodus of the enemy city. The incident which still saw him back in Tenochtitlan, unharmed, having left a few dead Azcapotzalco’s guards behind him, those who were silly enough to try and detain him by force after all.

A questionable account, from the overnight trips back and forth from Azcapotzalco to Tenochtitlan – an ambassador, even of the enemy city, would be more likely to remain for the night, enjoying the local hospitality, instead of rowing back and forth or running miles of the countryside and the length of the causeway – to the actions of Maxtla himself, notorious for his unscrupulousness and dishonesty but for this particular incident, or the ways Tenochtitlan, not a village of little importance even in those days, was conducting its war and peace business.

The tides have turned

Some sources say that shortly thereafter, the Tepanecs launched the attack on the island, laying a siege to it, but Nezahualcoyotl’s reinforcements of rebellious Acolhua and the friendly Highlanders of Huexotzinco made the difference. Back from the mountainous east the Texcoco heir came, leading hordes of fierce, warlike Highlanders.

Re-conquering the Tepanec-controlled Acolhua towns of the eastern shore south to Texcoco the Highlanders and the upraising Acolhua, with Nezahualcoyotl and Tenocelotl, the Huexotzinco’s war leader, proceeded to cross Texcoco Lake, heading for the Tepanec side of it.

Simultaneously, the besieged Mexica of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco poured out under the overall leadership of Tlacaelel, confronting their attackers with great vigor. A battle fought at the city’s edge was fierce and brutal, with the Mexica ‘…fighting like never before…’.

At the same time, Moctezuma Ilhuicamina, another son of Huitzilihuitl, Tlacaelel’s half brother and Itzcoatl’s nephew, led a large contingent of war canoes toward Tlacopan, threatening this Tepanec second important city in a hope of making it side with the invaders – an offer that has probably been already made beforehand, accompanied by fair promises.

Thus Azcapotzalco was threatened from the south, while the crossing Highlanders and Acolhua did the same from the north.

In the end of the day the Tepanec forces retreated back toward the mainland and Azcapotzalco, with the Mexica hot on their heels.

The tides had turned.

It was now Azcapotzalco besieged and fighting to its life, with even Tlacopan, the Tepanec largest provincial city, switching sides, joining the combined forces of Mexica, Acolhua and the Highlanders of Huexotzinco.

Some sources say that the fight for the Tepanec Capital lasted for up to 114 days; some claim it had taken much less than that. A few more battles were fought, led by the famous Tepanec warlord, Mazatl, until this renowned warrior was killed in a fair hand-to-hand, some say by Tlacaelel himself, some give this honor to Moctezuma Ilhuicamina.

By this time, Azcapotzalco was near its doom, taken shortly thereafter, razed to the ground, its temples burned, pyramids destroyed, citizens slain or sent to the slave markets, everything of value taken. According to the later records, after a few decades or so, the list of Azcapotzalco rulers was renewed, the city allowed to resume its life, but in a small unimportant state, as meaningless tributary as the Mexica Island was for the Tepanecs before.

Tlacopan had inherited some of the old Azcapotzalco’s glamour, joining in the Triple Alliance the victorious Mexica and Acolhua had formed shortly thereafter. Not completely equal in this triumvirate, Tlacopan enjoyed a junior status, representing the Tepanecs but receiving one fifth of the tributes and spoils as opposed to two fifths the other participants took each.

The Triple Alliance and Tlacaelel’s role in it

Tlacaelel, elevated into the status of Cihuacoatl, the Head Adviser, got to work with yet more zeal.

His island city was not just a city anymore but a growing empire, a leading partner in the Triple Alliance, or so he must have envisioned it. Drastic changes were needed, most basic of reforms.

He had applied to this work with his usual vigor and fearlessness, not hindered or intimidated by the challenges or even convention. Tenochtitlan had to adjust to its new status. Absorbing all the Tepanec provinces and tributaries took time, while the fleeing Maxtla was hunted down and towns and altepetls such as Coyoacan, Xochimilco and the others were shown the error of their ways upon their refusal to accept the new Mexica dominance.

Those first conquests are still attributed to Tlacaelel, even though from there it was Itzcoatl and Moctezuma Ilhuicamina, the new Chief Warlord, who would lead the wars of the next decade or so. Tlacaelel had to stay in Tenochtitlan more often than not, reforming and reorganizing, transforming his island city into an imperial capital of his vision.

Tlacaelel’s reforms

Striving to unite his Mexica people, maybe to install a sense of destiny in them, while setting them slightly apart from the rest of the Mexican Valley’s inhabitants, he had elevated Huitzilopochtli, the special Mexica god, above the other deities that were worshiped mutually by every town and altepetl of Anahuac. The festivals dedicated to this divine Mexica patron were larger and more impressive than the celebrations other deities received, and his temple atop the Great Pyramid he had shared with Tlaloc alone.

The distribution of the newly acquired wealth – lands, spoils, manpower, not to mention the outpour of the new tribute – was to be faced as well. First to benefit from any of this was the royal house, of course, personally and as a representative of the state. Each noble was rewarded with tracks of land according to his contribution and his direct involvement in the Tepanec War. Thus the gap between aristocracy and the commoners widened further and further.

Tlatocatlalli were tracks of land granted personally to people, to use as the receiver saw fit. The royal family was first to receive its share, its most ardent supporters next in line, the city authorities trailing after them.

Tecpantlalli was the land allocated to the city itself, the palace’s enclosure and other districts. The proceeds of the palace’s share maintained the governmental expenses, courts, building programs, royal’s enclosure’s schools and temples. The rest of the land was granted to the city districts, to be apportioned by the districts’ leaders according to their consideration. Some of these lands were assigned to the upkeep of local temples and other district’s buildings and offices, schools, local marketplaces and such.

Thus, the formerly powerful council of the districts’ elders, who in the earlier times used to have their say in every important matter, from confirming the appointment of a new ruler to a general management of the city and its activities, lost its say and importance gradually, yielded its place to the more exclusive council comprised of the royal family mostly, Tlatoani and his closest advisers and warlords. Under reforms of Tlacaelel the royal family gained very rapid ascendancy.

Successful warriors were rewarded with lands as well, elevated into a new class of lesser nobility, again ahead of the previously influential city elders. The royal family was not dependent on Tenochtitlan’s commoners anymore, neither in tribute nor in military support. Out of those changes a new warrior class elite emerged.

Tlacaelel’s later reforms and undertakings

Religious, social and economical reforms aside, the Mexica kept extending its reach, conquering far and wide. Tlacaelel remained in his office of Cihuacoatl for the rest of his life, governing Tenochtitlan and its growing provinces and tributaries along with two more tlatoaque that succeeded Itzcoatl after his death.

Moctezuma Ilhuicamina was to become the Fifth Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan, a honor Tlacaelel was reported to decline. It is said that everyone in the city and around it, even Nezahualcoyotl, the ruler of Texcoco and Totoquihuaztli the ruler of Tlacopan, Tenochtitlan’s partners in Triple Alliance, pleaded with Tlacaelel to take the burden of governing his Mexica city in name and not only in fact as he had done until now. Still for reasons unknown, Tlacaelel has declined, and it was his half-brother Moctezuma Ilhuicamina who had inherited the title.

Through the next three decades, he had ruled together with his half brother, strengthening Tenochtitlan’s position in the Triple Alliance and the Mexican Valley and beyond it, subduing altepetl of Chalco, the old time enemy in the south, and venturing far beyond, into Cuauhnahuac, a region rich in cotton and maize, then out into the Hot Lands of the Totonac people in the east, where the riches of goods and food were reported to be staggering.

The terrible years of first flooding, then drought that Tenochtitlan endured between 1452 and 1455 made its rulers anxious to ensure uninterrupted food supplies in case of another failure in the local harvest. Hence the venture into the Totonac lands.

The flooding trouble were solved by the building of nine-mile-long dike that enabled to control the lake’s water levels, an engineering marvel reportedly planned and supervised by Nezahualcoyotl personally. A three-miles-long aqueduct was added to the engineering feats, supplying Tenochtitlan with a constant flow of fresh water from the mainland, a much better construction than the old clay and lime-stone made structure offered, braking down more often than it had worked.

The seventh reconstruction of the Great Pyramid was reported to bring the Mexica Aztecs to the peak of their glory, commenced by Tlacaelel in 1484.

He was reported to die at the year 1487 or Eight Reed, leaving behind a successor to his high position, his second son Tlilpotoncatzin by one of his noble wives Maquiztzin. According to one of the most known ancient biographers, Chimalpahin Cuauhtlehuanitzin, Tlacaelel has left fifteen known children from his collection of wives and concubines and, of course, a firm legacy for his Mexica People, no tributaries of anyone, not anymore.

  1. Pages:
  2. 1
  3. 2