Posts Tagged: Mexican Valley

From the feasts of Tenochtitlan Royal Enclosure to the kitchens of the commoner-folk

11 February 2018 Comments (0)

Between the grand feasts consumed by the Mexica rulers in Tenochtitlan Palace and the daily meals the last of the commoners living by the wharves or the marketplace hastily devoured, the flow of the edible goods entering the island city had to be maintained and regulated on a daily basis, made sure to be supplied with no failures.

To do that, the agricultural effort in the form of chinampas, floating fields, all around the island-city was developed and then improved to perfection, while the mainland goods were hastened to Tenochtitlan through various trading routes.

The four main crops of the Mexican Valley were of an equal importance: centli maize, etl beans, chia (chian means oily in Nahuatl) and huauhtli amaranth. Due to certain religious aspect connected to the amaranth, the Spanish conquerors tried to outlaw its cultivation, because on several ceremonies statues of deities made of amaranth seeds glued with honey were worshiped and consumed after the proper rites

In an island-city such as Tenochtitlan, with a limited space and an obvious urban crowdedness, people of lower walks of life cultivated various basic necessities in small yards besides their houses, growing staples such as chia and beans, but going to markets to purchase maize, meat or fish.

According to various primary sources, fish and other lake offerings were abound, prepared and cooked in various ways. Frogs, reptiles such as iguanas, ants and their eggs, maguey worms that even today are considered a delicacy; water shrimp, salamander-axolotl, flies and aquatic larvae aneneztli. Poor urban people and peasants gathered a substance called tecuitlatl that floated in the lake and which the later-day chronicles described as cheesy but not badly tasting. Wrapped in tortillas, such mash had a strong slightly bitter taste.

Among the most appreciated delicacies, the well-off citizens of Tenochtitlan were reported to enjoy tamales stuffed with meat, snails and fruit, frogs in chili sauce, white fish from the west of the country with chilli and tomato, or salamander-axolotl seasoned with ground pepper and yellow nugget, a treat for those times.

Some meat was grown inside the city, but to a limited extent. Treats such as deer, rabbits, hares, peccaries or birds like pheasants, doves and various waterfowl were brought in by traders, sold on the marketplace to be consumed by the wealthier dwellers of Tenochtitlan who could afford to buy food. The only two domesticated animals were hairless dogs-xoloitzcuintli bred especially for the kitchen pot, vegetarian animals, easy to maintain; and turkeys-huehxolot. Turkey meat seemed to be appreciated more that dog meat due to its taste and smoothness. Some chronicles claim that a clever host might serve a dish coated by the slices of turkey but hiding the bulk of the cheaper dog meat underneath.

Some sources claim that the meal times were announced daily by drumming or blowing conch-shells from the tops of the neighborhood’s temples-teocalli. Others say that the people were responsible for breaking their own working routines according to the position of the sun.

Generally, the time of the traditional breakfast was reported to be held at mid-morning, a frugal meal for ordinary people, consisted of a couple of tortillas with beans and often a spicy salsa. At the end of the work day, a man could spoil himself with tamales bought on the marketplace, or proceed home for an evening meal of a gruel, lake fish or poultry accompanied by tortillas.

Banquets at the Palace or homes of the aristocracy was a different matter. An imperial meal could start at midday and last for a very long time, consisted of many courses and an entertainment services in between, ending with an invigorating chocolate-drink (xocolatl) and a clay pipe filled with vanilla flavored snuff or scented woods. Such meals could consume endless amount of maize, beans and amaranth, 80 to 100 turkeys, a dozen dogs and about 20 loads of cocoa beans to begin with. On special events they could also include peyote (peyotl), hallucinogenic mushrooms teonanacatl (literally translating as mushroom of gods) and other such rare substances. Only the royalty and high aristocracy, and less often especially wealthy pochteca-traders could afford holding such events.

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

“Just look at this procession!”

The people who brought them there were bearing upon them again, followed by servants with trays. Not a small army like that of the imperial women, but promising nevertheless, the aroma of the trays spreading, overwhelming, the most delicious of smells. Their stomachs responded in a loud manner, which made them burst into a renewed bout of snickering.

“You can read paintings, yes? Those things they draw in folded papers?” he asked after they had been directed to the mats in another alcove at the shadow of wide parapet, a low table placed between them and the contents of the trays laden upon it, making their mouths drool.

Necalli was busy grabbing the nearest tamale, hot and dripping, full of delicious stuffing, meat and something else spicy. Dunking it in a nearby bowl of thick sauce, he shoved it into his mouth in its entirety, devouring it in one bite.

“Sort of, yes,” he mumbled through his full mouth. “Don’t like to do that. Only when forced. When the priests shove your face into those books, you can’t do much but to read the glyphs and decipher their meaning. Why?” Miztli busied himself with scanning the contents of the smaller plates, laden with slices of meat and pieces of avocado spread on a bed of tortilla, begging to be grabbed. But for the letter, he would have attacked those as well.

“Can you… would you…” He tried to think of how to put it, or rather to avoid asking at all. How to read her note without anyone else peeking in it? Impossible. He could not recognize one single glyph. He didn’t even know what they called this kind of painting, not until coming to Tenochtitlan, until entering their school. How could one paint one’s words and in a way so the others could decipher those, guess their meaning?

“What are you mumbling there about?” Necalli’s eyes were upon him, his hand, in the process of reaching for another tamale, waving idly, lingering. “What about those books?”

“Can you show me how to read them? How to recognize those paintings, those glyphs? I mean, this note, I don’t know what’s in it, and I need to… I must…”

He didn’t dare to take his eyes away from the loaded plates, but after a heartbeat, the silence became annoying, wearing on his nerves. A fleeting glance confirmed what he suspected. The calmecac boy was staring at him, his eyes unbecomingly round, although his mouth was close, holding its contents but apparently forgetting to keep chewing them.

“You don’t know how to read glyphs?” It came out in an awkward mumble, forcing the speaker to swallow too much, not a properly chewed mass. “I mean, you can’t read that tiny note?”

Miztli felt like springing to his feet and running out and away. To reexamine the contents of the trays became a necessity.

Mocuilxochitzin – the most famous poetess of Tenochtitlan

31 December 2017 Comments (5)

In the Mexica Capital, women composing poetry were not uncommon, if less famous than their fellow contemporary noblemen poets. Sahagun in his “Florentine Codex” presents us with a glyph that is thought to be depicting Nahua noblewomen composing songs, still among the plethora of beautiful, rich, gently flowing poetry produced in pre-contact Nahuatl few seem to be attributed to women, even if some of the surviving songs of unknown authors present an obviously female point of view.

Thus, the famous 15th century poetess Macuilxochitzin seems to make an exception.

Many famous pre-contact writers of noble birth such as Nezahualcoyotl, the most distinguished ruler of Texcoco, produced wonderfully eloquent verses reflecting on the beauty of the surrounding world, seeking its meaning, wrestling with the philosophical aspects of life. The renowned Texcocan library and other such establishments throughout the Mexican Valley abounded with literary works of this kind.

Not so were the poems of Macuilxochitzin.

I raise my chants, I, Macuilxochitl, With them, I cheer the Giver of Life, Let the dance begin! Where does it exist in some way, to the house of Him Are the songs carried? Or only here are your flowers? Let the dance begin!

The offspring of one of Tenochtitlan’s undisputed founders, legendary Tlacaelel who is often called the “architect of the Aztec Empire” and whose contribution to the unparallel raise of Tenochtitlan no historian ever contested, the famous poetess might have been exposed to the politics and grand strategies of her powerful city-state and its inner dealings from her childhood, fascinated by those.

Only one of her works seemed to survive the violent conquest when most of the Nahuatl-written books and libraries burned throughout the entire Mexica Valley at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition – the verse inspired by Axayacatl, the sixth ruler of Tenochtitlan and a renowned warrior and leader according to all accounts. His exploits in the Toluca Valley between 1474 and 1478 gave the renowned poetess an inspiration to produce a poetic verse that referred not only to the glory of warring heroes but also covered the broader political picture as well as the religious aspect of warfare, giving us an interesting insight into the mindset of her people and times.

He makes offerings of flowers and feathers to the Giver of Life. He puts the eagle shields on the arms of his men, there where he war rages, in the midst of he plain. As our songs, As our flowers, Thus you, warrior of the shaven head, Gives pleasure to the Giver of Life. The flowers of the eagle Remain in your hands, Lord Axayacatl. With divine flowers, With flowers of war, Is covered, With this becomes intoxicated, He who is on our side.

Not much is known about this lady’s private life aside from the allegation that she was the seventh child and a second daughter of the famous Head Adviser Tlacaelel by one of his numerous wives cited by the chronicle Alvarado Tezozomoc. Her name MacuilXochiTzin translates as Lady Five Flower (macuilli-five, xochitl-flower, tzin – a honorary addition equivalent to the word ‘lord/lady’). Incidentally, Macuilxochitl is also the name of the deity response for fine arts of music, dance and singing, aside from being a date on the traditional calendar, day five of the month/trecena called ‘flower’. So either the lady poetess was born on this day and just grew living up to her given name, or she might have assumed this alias later on, upon discovering her true call and thus honoring the deity that was related to her craft.

Having undoubtedly grown in the luxury of the aristocratic surroundings, having the Head Adviser, the second most powerful man in the raising and expending Mexica Capital, she must have received a good thorough education. Girls fortunate to be born into aristocratic families were sent to calmecac, the prestigious school of the Ceremonial Center reserved for the offspring of nobility with a few exceptions of overly gifted commoners.

While boys spent there considerable part of their adolescent years, leaving the comforts of their family houses for the rigors of thorough training and education, girls of the aristocratic families were reported to attend calmecac for usually only one year, trained in finer arts than just useful skills of weaving and cooking their more common contemporaries were taught in commoner schools throughout the city. Reading and drawing glyphs must have been a part of calmecac pupils’ education, males as females, as much as rituals, mathematics, oratory, and several other necessary skills for a new generation of future leaders and governors to command.

It is probable that Macuilxochitzin was among gifted students who specialized in huehuetlahtolli, a form of Nahuatl called ‘an old/ancient language’ (huehuetl-old, tlahtolli-language), which usually meant literary language that only the highest of society presumably could use. Thus she provides us with invaluable peek into her times, the only pre-contact source, untainted by the Spanish conquest that was yet in the far enough future to threaten the life of the Mexica Capital. Other primary sources by indigenous and non-indigenous chronicles, extensive important records and documents, are dating the post-conquest time, the 16th and 17th centuries, when all institutions of the Mexican Valley were already changed into lack of recognition, destroyed most of them. However, Macuilxochitzin’s words reach us all the way from the 15th century, when no other continents and their ships neared the Americas’ shores.

Axayacatl puts the eagle shields on the arms of his men, there where the war rages, in the midst of the plain… The flowers of the eagle remain in your hands, Lord Axayacatl… On every side Axayacatl made conquests, in Matlatzinco, in Malinalco, in Ocuilan…

Her account of the famous duel between the invincible Tenochtitlan ruler and the renowned Otomi warrior that sealed the campaign in the Toluca Valley and beyond it like most dramatic accord, adding the fertile southwest to the growing Triple Alliance’s empire, are not matching most of the late-day primary sources. According to Macuilxochitzin, the Otomi warrior who had wounded Axayacatl in the leg so severely the Tenochtitlan ruler limped for the rest of his life, was decreed to be freed by Axayacatl after women came to plead for his life.

There in Xiquipilco brave Axayácatl Wounded in the leg by an Otomi, his name was Tlílatl. That one went in search of his women, He said to them, “Prepare a breechcloth and a cape. Give these to your man.” And Axayacatl called out: “Bring the Otomi who wounded me in the leg.” The Otomi was afraid, he said “Now truly they will kill me.” Then he brought a large piece of wood and a deerskin. With these he bowed before Axayacatl He was full of fear, the otomi But them his women made supplication for him to Axayacatl…

Others (Duran, Tezozomoc, Clavigero, Torquemada) have each his own version, as varying from each other as from what Macuilxochitzin have reported. Some say (Francisco Clavijero) that the Otomi leader was taken prisoner, brought to Tenochtitlan and sacrificed with plenty of honors and pomp. Others (Diego Duran, Juan Torquemada) claim that the man managed to fight his way out and away in the melee of the battle, while the Aztec ruler was tended to, wounded beyond the ability to chase his enemy. Some say (Alvarado Tezozomoc) that the famous duel was not commenced at the battle for Tollocan at all but took place a few years later, then when the Triple Alliance’s forces came to conquer Xiquipilco itself.

Macuilxochitzin’s only surviving song can be found in “Cantares Mexicanos” – an impressive collection of Nahuatl songs available in the National Library of Mexico-city, translated to both Spanish and English as well.

An excerpt from “Valley of Shadows”, The Aztec Chronicles, book #6.

“What was that all about?” breathed Chantli, stirring back to life once again. “Who was this woman?”

“She is the Head Adviser’s sister, one of his sisters,” said Necalli, shrugging in his turn and not disclosing the fact that he had no idea who this woman was until not very long ago himself. “She is the legendary First Head Adviser’s, the old Tlacaelel’s favorite daughter. From his favorite concubine, or so they say. A renowned poetess, famous for her songs.”

“Macuilxochitzin?” cried out Chantli, wide-eyed.

Now it was his turn to stare. “You know her?”

“Her poems. Of course! They are beautiful. We were reciting one of those only a few dawns ago, in one of the morning classes. ‘He makes offerings of flowers and feathers to the Giver of Life; he puts the eagle shields on the arms of the men, there where the war rages in the middle of the plain; as our songs, as our flowers, thus you, warrior of the shaven head, give pleasure to the Giver of Life’.” Her cheeks colored in a darker hue as her smile flashed almost guiltily. “I was thinking of you when we were singing this.”

He felt his stomach tightening in a pleasant knot. “You were?”

“Who is this pompous turkey?” demanded the Fire Girl, done with yet another indignant staring it seemed, and as always with the worst of timing. What other glorious words of heroic songs was Chantli associating with him? “Why is she interested in my sister?”

Necalli forced his eyes off Chantli’s nicely glowing cheeks, her gaze avoiding his now, sliding over the cobblestones.

“We told you who she is, and anyway, what’s your thing with your sister now? Why did you have to harass the Head Adviser and make him mad? It was the stupidest thing to do. That man will not listen to you or your sister anymore, whatever any of you wish to tell him!”

“He didn’t listen to us before as well.” This time, the Fire Girl merely shrugged, curiously not offended by his spirited admonition. “My sister already talked to him back in the Palace. We overheard them, I and Ahuitzotl.”

“When?”

“Not long ago. Just before we found Miztli. And the annoying Adviser. Not the head one,” she added, as though after a thought. “The Emperor’s filthy brother Tizoc.”

“Tizoctzin,” corrected her Chantli, shooting a quick glance around. “So Miztli was brought to the Palace in the end?”

“Of course. Where do you want the Emperor to question him? On the marketplace?”

Seeing Chantli’s eyes sparkling, Necalli brought his arm up before they dove into bickering over the possibilities of other locations where it was appropriate to report to the Emperor. Chantli was no Axolin or Ahuitzotl, but her patience had its limits as well.

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

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