Posts Tagged: Tenochtitlan

School with no Summer Break

31 March 2017 Comments (0)

If you happened to be a teenager in one of the Central Mexico’s prominent altepetls/city-states such as Tenochtitlan, the famous island-capital of the Mexica Aztecs, or their partners of the mainland, Texcoco or Tlacopan, you would be excused from counting on enjoying your life free of schooling.

Unlike most of their contemporary world beyond the oceans, Central Mexico had very strict ideas concerning state education for every youth in each city, if not in smaller towns and villages. Not only various schools, or what we would probably consider today as ‘highschool’, were available and ready to make the youths between the ages 14 and 18 work hard, expanding their knowledge and in the way the state had seen fit, but one’s attendance at such institutions of education was mandatory, not a voluntary decision of a youth or a parent to make.

Tenochtitlan, being one of the largest Mesoamerican cities of the 15th century – one of the largest urban centers for their times worldwide as well – had two types of schools. Divided into twelve large calpulli-districts, the city was reported to provide a school per-district, for local teens to attend upon reaching their 15th year of life. Until then it was the parents’ responsibility to teach the child basic manners and crafts, but from the youth’s mid-teens the state was taking over.

The numerous district schools were called telpochcalli – a house/calli of youth/telpochtli – and, like stated above, they catered for youths between ages of 15 and 18, teaching crafts and martial skills along with instructions in basic manners expected from a future good citizen and certain aspects of ceremonial life. No sources claim that those more ‘common’ youths were taught reading and writing, or mathematics and science, but some references suggests that they might have been educated at basic reading of calendar and do basic math in order to run their future workshops and other small businesses.

The telpochcalli pupils were required to sleep in school, after attending midnight ceremonies, but they were free to visit their homes during afternoons unless punished to stay and work due to various transgressions. As a rule, they were required to contribute to public works by occasionally participating in those on a voluntary basis.

Generally, their lives seemed to be rewarding, offering opportunities to those who were ready to invest in their studies or displayed higher abilities and gifts. Outstandingly talented youths could have hoped to be recommended for transfer to calmecac, the noble school, the only one in the entire city, a very exclusive establishment.

Located in the heart of Tenochtitlan’s ceremonial center, surrounding the city’s most magnificent temples, royal palace, ball court, Great Pyramid and so on, the exclusive calmecac catered to nobility and royal children, preparing the next generation of ruling class – governors, judges, leading warriors, priests, tribute collectors and scribes, artists of higher order, scientists and so on. Gifted commoners sent from various telpochcalli were examined and if found fit admitted into this special institution, then made to work hard acquiring higher education.

The children of the nobility were reported to be admitted to calmecac earlier than their commoner telpochcalli peers. Between the ages of 12 to 14 minor nobility offsprings would be sent to pursue their formal education, with the royal family children starting their school lives as early as seven or eight years old.

Like telpochcalli students, calmecac pupils were sleeping in school, allowed to visit their families through certain afternoon hours, required to return for evening or midnight rites. Here the study was more vigorous and demanding: mathematics, history, astronomy, extensive reading and comprehending of written material, religious and otherwise, calendars, history books, maps, traders’ accounts.

It wasn’t easy to read or write in original Nahuatl that was composed of glyphs rather than letters or characters. It demanded special training which calmecac students were enjoying, or suffering depending on the point of view, on a daily basis. Most students of telpochcalli schools did not train to read beyond basics, even though traders certainly used plenty of reading and writing materials, and so did tribute collectors and probably other commoners.

Yet, the nobility was expected to read properly whatever their occupation was. So it is excusable to assume that the noble children with no special talents might have had it tougher than their fellow telpochcalli contemporaries. On the other hand, the calmecac students were not reported to participate in manual labor of public works, even though, like other school youth, they made their daily trips to the mainland in order to bring firewood and other required necessities.

Also even the calmecac highborn youths were expected to clean their classes and sleeping halls, and even cook for themselves, or so some sources state. According to various codices, Tenochtitlan schools made sure no install measure of humbleness in all students and future full time citizens of the great city.

So Tenochtitlan youth were required to attend public schools, every source agree on that, even if they don’t agree on details. But what about the girls?

Some sources state that most girls learned from their mothers, being their sole responsibility; like boys were the responsibility of their fathers until the age of the mandatory schooling. Yet, there are sources who hint that Tenochtitlan girls were provided with the opportunity to attend their local district schools as well, for at least a period of one year. A priestess of the local temple that would be usually adjacent to the district schools as well as to the exclusive calmecac – this one had several temples surrounding it – would teach the girls skills needed in their future marital lives. Creating cotton and maguey cloths was first and foremost job expected of every woman, commoner and lady alike, their skills at their looms praised and required. More intricate crafts of delicate embroidery might have been taught in both schools, or maybe in noble calmecac alone. Cooking and sewing might have been a prerogative of the commoner telpochcalli female students.

Again unlike their telpochcalli peers, the calmecac girls might also have been taught reading and writing, and basics of mathematics. Expected to run households of their rich husbands they had to deal with complex economics of management plentitude of slaves and supplies. A girl that did well in the ceremonial studies might have counted on staying in school in order to become a priestess, responsible for certain deities and their ceremonies – a highly respectable position that would not require a life commitment. Priestesses often got married, leaving their offices to their younger fellow women to take, their status assured for their entire lives as a respectable woman, a minor nobility maybe, liable for a good marriage, even with noblemen.

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

Embarrassed, Chantli turned back toward the wooden platter. “Are there any other commoners in calmecac?”

“Of course. There are always a few of them in this school.” Squinting, the girl turned to study the newcomers, who in the meanwhile began progressing in their direction, clearly heading for one of the curtained niches, about to make an offering. “Gifted commoners, you know. Enough of those flooding the calmecac halls, at all times. My brother says they should open a school for all this gifted scum, because it’s—” Abruptly, the girl turned back, her eyes brushing past Chantli, gauging. “Well, I didn’t mean it that way. That is, he didn’t mean it, I think. It’s just that there are plenty of students in this school and, you know, not enough room, you see?”

Chantli hid her resentment as best as she could. “I haven’t seen much of the school yet.”

“Oh, you won’t see much of it anyway. We are not allowed outside our hall. Too many boys out there, you know.” Her companion’s wink held a clear measure of relief and for some reason, it touched her. That girl, while silly and terribly snobbish, didn’t wish to offend her and wave her humble origins before her face.

“My cousin was examined by calmecac authorities,” she related, arranging the cups with thorns while noticing one of the visiting men disappearing behind the curtain of the niche, his bearing forceful, warrior-like, his cloak flowing self-assuredly down his shoulders, sporting rich patterns and unfamiliar insignia.

“Was he accepted? Is he gifted, your cousin?”

She put her attention back to the tools of offering. “My cousin, yes, he is very gifted. He can read at a glance, without taking time to think before interpreting what is written. And he is always correct, always!”

“Oh, then he’ll be put to study the priestly duties, or maybe the trade of the imperial scribes.” The girl was glancing toward the niche that concealed the newcomer as well. “Not like that new boy whom the Emperor himself put in our calmecac.” Her gaze returned to Chantli, flickering with excitement. “Imagine that! A real commoner. Not like you, pillis from traders’ families, but truly a commoner. They say he is put to train with weaponry and such, but not in any other classes. I saw him a few dawns ago, bringing fir branches to the main temple. He does look like a commoner, so very broad in his limbs and face. Good looking too. But really, you can see that he is a commoner. Acoatl says he can’t even read or write or do any ceremonial stuff. Only to fight, they say. But the Emperor put him in our calmecac, so they can’t kick him out. Imagine!”

“Who is Acoatl?” asked Chantli, not truly curious but wishing to conceal her thoughts. It was clear that the chatty thing was talking about Miztli, who indeed, even with his pretty school cloak and his newly gained spells of confidence, did carry himself like the villager he was, someone out of the fields, fit to carry heavy loads, lacking that forceful elegance of a warrior that Necalli displayed in abundance. A pity the snotty nobles could see it as well, and much too easily. Poor Miztli!

“Oh, Acoatl is a cousin of mine. A nice boy and the best ball player in the entire school. So handsome too. You should look at him. I’ll show him to you tomorrow when they train out there. There is this place where one can peek into the courtyard when they are training.” The girl giggled. “He can barely read either. So he can’t really complain about the illiterate commoner, can he?” A conspiratorial wink. “But his bloodline is impeccable. His father is related to the royal family through his aunt, who has been given to the fifth emperor as his second wife. Not so very shabby, to be a second wife of the emperor, eh? Not a poor concubine or some minor unimportant wife.”

Absently, Chantli nodded, stretching her back in relief. It had been a long day. “We can go back now, I suppose.”

“About time!” The girl beamed. “Come, let us hurry. If they aren’t waiting for me with their litter out there, we may linger at the temple until the boys come out. Then I’ll show you my cousin. Or maybe we’ll run into our good looking YoloNecalli, eh?” The long-lashed eye winked again. “You talked to him yesterday. We saw you, Cuicatl and I. Beneath the temple’s stairs.”

Part XV: The Conquest of Tlatelolco

28 February 2017 Comments (0)

After the unsuccessful night attack on Tenochtitlan described in the Tenochtitlan’s Conquests Part XIV Tlatelolco found itself in a dire dilemma: to try and fight in an open battle that they had not much chances of winning, or to crawl before their powerful but now enraged neighbors and try to make amends?

Moquihuixtli seemed to be undecided, wavering between pretty speeches full of warlike rhetoric and threats, and any lack of actual deeds, any attempt to prepare his city for the immediate invasion. Both altepetls were reported to be on guard, patrolling their streets and other mutual borders. As I mentioned before, in the preceding article, some of the ancient accounts claimed that Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco shared the same island, while others reported those altepetls to be separated by a small amount of water that had been filled later on, after the Tlatelolco had been conquered by Tenochtitlan. Either way, any possible routes to both cities were guarded at this point, while their rulers tried to decide what to do.

Diego Duran says that even after the treacherous night attack, Axayacatl did not wish to war on the neighboring sister-city, a true kin to Tenochtitlan dwellers, the same Mexica-Aztecs that Tenochtitlan folk were. It would be wrong, claimed the young ruler; and it would also look bad to the various powerful neighbors of the mainland, to see both Mexica-Aztec cities squabbling over quite pitiful dispute, warring on each other – “… shame would descend upon both when other people heard of the rancor and enmity that existed between these two groups of kinsmen…”

Thus, a delegation from Tenochtitlan set forward in order to address Moquihuixtli and try to reason with him – “…a nobleman named Cueyatzin was commissioned to take message to Tlatelolco…”, said Duran in his “The History of the Indies of New Spain.”

Whether it was a nominal gesture to make Tenochtitlan look good and not overly aggressive in the eyes of its powerful partners, the members of the Triple Alliance, or not, the words of reconciliation were spurned in an indignant manner, and so this same Cueyatzin was sent to Tlatelolco again, this time carrying appropriate weaponry and tizatl, the bright clay ointment with which the Nahua people of the entire region anointed their dead for burial. This was the customary declaration of war that Tlatelolco seemed to neglect issuing while executing their first night attack. A shameful negligence. Yet their reaction to the customary gesture managed to surpass even this.

Duran goes into great detail describing the events in the Tlatelolcan Palace. Presented with the customary insignia accompanied by the most appropriate address, Moquihuixtli was said to rise and push the messenger away with his own hands. “… Tell your master that these ointments are for him!” And while he spoke “… Teconal appeared, sword in his head, and with one blow cut off Cueyatzin’s head…” The head was reported then to be carried to Tenochtitlan, causing, as expected, a huge uproar. Duran says that Axayacatl and his advisers and warriors marched on Tlatelolco at once.

The following battle developed first on the outskirts of the city, on either the causeway or another sort of boundary, then spilled toward the marketplace, where Moquihuixtli and Teconal led the defenders, according to Duran. Even a hastily organized “squadron” of women and little boys, clad indecently and throwing at the attackers everything they had, is mentioned, again in great detail.

In contrast to this account, Chimalpahin does not mention marketplace fighting at all, but goes straight for the dramatic warring upon the Great Pyramid and its staircase. On this, both historians agree – the last stage of the drama took place on the top of the great pyramid, as was customary. Chimalpahin claims that Moquihuixtli tried to bribe Axayacatl into letting him go with “… an entire jar of green stones…”; however, when the Tlacopan ruler Chimalpopoca joined the indignant Tenochtitlan emperor in his charge up the wide staircase, demanding that Moquihuixtli should come down and fight, the defeated Tlatelolcan ruler threw himself off the pyramid’s side and died in a spectacular fashion. Duran says that Axayacatl was the one to slay both Moquihuixtli and Teconal, then “… cast them down the steps of the temple…”

And so Tlatelolco fell, to become Tenochtitlan’s tributary and then, gradually, to be absorbed into the giant city that the Great Capital of the Mexica Aztecs kept growing into. The tribute it was made to pay was heavy and strict, not only in items of food and wear but also in manpower to participate in Tenochtitlan’s building projects upon uncompromising requests. On this, every ancient source agrees.

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

“What is the news?” he demanded from the group of boys who seemed to be out for some time, crowding the spacious yard, breathless with excitement.

“They brought the head here! Just like that. Carried it on the litter!”

He cursed the insistent teacher some more. “Who? Did you see it?”

“No! Old Yaotzin kept us in.” One of the boys swore quietly but colorfully. “But Ihuitl was out there, and he saw it all. All of it! Even the head!”

“How?”

“They were sent out to work in the round temple,” burst out another boy. “So when the commotion began, they sneaked out, said that they had to return to school.”

“Clever bastards.”

They all snickered.

Necalli felt his envy rising to dangerous levels. “Whose heads did they see? How many?”

“Only one, Ihuitl said. It was in the litter the warriors carried, open curtains and all. And they were covered with blood too. The warriors, that is.”

“Where is Ihuitl?”

“Sneaked back out. Said they wanted him back in the round temple.”

“He made it up. I know he did.”

“No way! The priests would know.”

“Who cares if he could get out there?”

“No, it was Etl who got out. Ihuitl is in here, see?”

They were crowding the open grounds next to the fence, the commotion coming from behind it deafening, gushing like the Great Lake on stormy nights of the rain moons. Another group centered around the taller boy Necalli knew well from quite a few mutual adventures. Neither closest of friends nor rivals, they had happened to wander away on various afternoons if thrown together in the same class or a temple duty. As he began making his way toward the additional crowding, his current companions trailing after him as well, his eyes picked out Acoatl’s broad frame among those listening to Ihuitl’s stories. Damn it. On an eventful day like this and with everything he wanted to know, he didn’t need his filthy enemy’s banter and needling.

“It was the head of the royal guards’ leader himself, I’m telling you!” Ihuitl was claiming, waving his hands in agitation, anxious to convince. “I saw it with my own eyes!”

“It can’t be. They wouldn’t send the leader of the royal guards on such a mission,” protested one of the listeners. “It’s beneath someone of such high status.”

“No, it’s not.”

“And I saw it with own eyes,” cried out their only witness, momentarily out of the limelight and evidently not liking that. “Etl saw it too. We were very close at some point. When they had to squeeze through beside the ball court.”

“They can send the leader of the royal guards on such a mission,” contributed Necalli. “It’s not a small village they are declaring war on.”

“So what?” As expected, Acoatl, who had been surprisingly quiet until now, came to life all at once, his face looking the worst, all blue with bruises, one eye almost closed, swollen badly

The sight pleased Necalli, but made him wonder too. What happened to that one? Acoatl never looked so beaten before. Only his occasional victims did. “Tlatelolco is not the capital of the world. They are nothing but a stinking town stuck in our backyard.”

“They are the same people as us and deserve a worthy declaration of war.” He didn’t feel like defending the annoying neighboring island, but Acoatl always did it to him, made him wish to argue and claim the opposite.

“And see what they did with it!” someone ventured, yet before they could dive into a heated argument, one of the boys appeared from behind the outer building.

“They sent the priestly apprentices out there into the temples and most of the priests left as well.”

They looked at each other, aware of the possibilities.

“If we sneak out, they’ll know,” someone muttered.

“Unless we go to the temples too, ask if they need any help.” Out of habit, Necalli glanced around, looking for worthwhile company to take along. “Who is to know what answer we got?”

They murmured in consent, still undecided, most of them. Resolutely, he began working his way toward the opening in the fence. There was no one whom he might wish to take along. Both the workshop boy and Axolin were not even around, let alone available and ready. Damn them both into the lower level of the Underworld, traitorous pieces of rotten meat. Especially Miztli, scampering away as he did, stupid villager with no basic loyalty.

Part XIV: The conflict with Tlatelolco intensifies

28 January 2017 Comments (0)

Tlatelolco, indeed, had taken a dubious course when, following the demonstrative competition upon the Great Plaza described in the Tenochtitlan’s Conquests Part XIII, Moquihuixtli and his adviser Teconal began sending messengers to various independent cities of the mainland, asking for help and support against Tenochtitlan. Custom dictated that an offer of “shields and swords,” or sometimes other weaponry of offense, constituted an invitation to participate in this or that altepetl‘s war preparations, for the recipients of those to accept or send back according to their consideration.

Chimalpahin claims that such messages were delivered to many towns and even large altepetls. Even the members of the Triple Alliance – Tenochtitlan’s partners, Texcoco and Tlacopan – received their share of the offered weaponry. According to his account, Chimalpopoca, Tlacopan’s vigorous, warlike ruler, flatly refused to even receive the Tlatelolcan delegation and their dubious cargo – “… as lord of Tlacopan, I am of no consequence except for my kinsman, my relative, the lord of Mexica Tenochca…” he was reported to state.

Texcoco, on the other hand, is said to listen to the Tlatelolco messengers and then declare that they would rather stay neutral – “… I stand on both sides… if all are to be endangered by the lord of the Mexica Tenochca, I shall go in favor of the lord of Tlatelolco. But if all are to be endangered because of the lord of Tlatelolco, I shall go in favor of the lord of the Mexica Tenochca…”. A somewhat puzzling statement in the light of many decades of mutual cooperation and closest of ties both Tenochtitlan and Texcoco maintained since 1428, when they resisted and then conquered the might of the Tepanec Empire side by side. According to Chimalpahin, the famous Acolhua emperor Nezahualcoyotl was still alive, even though other sources state that he was dead by this time, succeeded by his son, Nezahualpilli. In the light of this puzzling reaction, I preferred to go with the claim that the old Texcoco Emperor was not alive while the aforementioned events took place. Otherwise, his response is not an easy one to understand or explain.

Yet, having received no encouragement from the Triple Alliance’s members, Tlatelolco did not steer from its warlike course. Various less important towns and settlements were approached with the offering of “swords and shields.” Toltitlan, Cuauhtitlan, and several other towns of the mainland were reported to accept the offer, even though the Lake Chalco rulers went as far as arresting the Tlatelolcan messengers while sending them bound and under an ample escort to Tenochtitlan and its emperor’s judgment.

Which is how, according to Chimalpahin, Axayacatl came to learn about the involvement of the mentioned above settlements towns. The captured messengers were made to talk and so warriors were dispatched to watch the road leading to Toltitlan and Cuauhtitlan through the town of Acachinanco. Needless to say, their mission was successful and thus no positive answer reached Tlatelolco.

Not to be deterred, Moquihuixtli, at Teconal’s instigation, according to Duran, devised another plan; that of a midnight surprise attack. “… Their plan was one of treachery… they suggested that Tenochtitlan should be attacked suddenly in the middle of the night… King Axayacatl was still young, they said, and once the leading men in whom he confided were dead, there would be no need to worry about him…”

Yet, such an enterprise demanded laborious preparations and, according to Duran, some of it managed to “leak”, while alerting Tenochtitlan dwellers. There were incidents of marketplace brawls between shoppers of both altepetls, with the Tlatelolcan women yelling at their Tenochtitlan peers that soon they would be made to pay for their insolence, or even sell their inner parts on the marketplace of Tlatelolco. “… So you want to sell your intestines, your liver, or your heart?…”

Reported to Axayacatl, such words made the young emperor suspicious, and so spies were sent to the neighboring city, to walk its markets and streets and listen to what had been said and done.

In the meantime, Tenochtitlan messengers went to the mainland cities and settlements as well, probably asking to keep away from this conflict rather than to participate in the war on Tenochtitlan’s side. It seemed that Tenochtitlan was much more than a match to the smaller Tlatelolco, lacking in provinces and tributaries as it was.

Still, the nightly attack went on as planned. On the day before it happened, Moquihuixtli was reported to confide in his wife, Axayacatl’s sister, who begged him not to do it, but to speak to the Tenochtitlan ruler and try to make amends. According to Duran, the Tlatelolcan ruler was having second thought; however, his adviser Teconal would not divert from his chosen course of warring.

Further disheartening, according to Duran, were the omens that the Tlatelolco ruler encountered while strolling through his Palace, a man talking to a dog and being answered back, birds dancing in the boiling pot in the kitchen houses, a mask hanging on the wall beginning to “… moan in a sorrowful way…”, the mask that the distracted ruler was reported to pick and dash against the floor.

Spies sent to Tenochtitlan reported a lack of awareness on the part of Axayacatl, who was said to spend his day “…playing ball with his noblemen… ignorant of any trouble…”. Yet, according to Duran, “… the Aztecs had done this intentionally so as to mislead the Tlatelolcas and convince them that nothing was known of their plans…”.

Indeed convinced, Moquihuixtli put his trust in Teconal and his strategy, and so half of the Tlatelolcan warriors hid in “… the city limits of Tenochtitlan…”. The other half was sent to block the causeways that led out of the city, and probably to attack the accessible parts of the island-capital as well.

The strategy, Tenochtitlan heard all about from its own spies, and so at midnight, while signal had been given, a surprise awaited none other than the attacking Tlatelolcans. The battle Duran reports was bloody but short, with the Tlatelolcan warriors slaughtered in great numbers, forced to retreat to their own city limits and try to barricade any possible access to it as best as they could. According to Duran, their anger was as great as the humiliation of their defeat.

An excerpt from “Field of Fire”, The Aztec Chronicles, book two

“We don’t have time for all this,” she said, pouring from the half-empty flask, disgusted to discover that the water was honeyed to the point of being barely liquid, rolling rather than dripping, annoyingly thick. “You must leave before Father talks to the Emperor. It should happen tonight.”

The woman was on her feet, staring, wide-eyed. Tlemilli tried to drink the thick liquid despite the nausea it brought, grimacing. Was there no water around these quarters at all? “What is your game, girl?” This came in a relatively normal voice, no strident shouting.

She put the cup back in its place, her hands remarkably steady, just like her mind; cold, uninvolved. It was a good feeling.

“My father will prevail upon the Emperor to have you executed for treason. You should leave this Palace, return to Tenochtitlan. You must have ways to do that.”

“And why would I listen to the advice of the little snake who spied on me and betrayed me, turning even the messengers of my brother against me, hurrying to inform her vile monster of a father in order to implicate me?” Again, the climbing tones.

Tlemilli shook her head tiredly. “You don’t have to trust me or like me or listen to me,” she said, wondering where this patience to talk and elaborate was coming from, she who had always been notoriously renowned for impulsiveness, for childish tantrums and hasty deeds. Now it was as though she had been a grown-up person, with everyone, from the shrill princess looking as though about to throw her pretty pottery cup at her, to helplessly weeping Citlalli, to Father who was lashing out with no care, beating his own daughters in front of the entire Palace or attacking the invincible city with not much thought or even a much-necessary declaration of war; to the uncertain Emperor even, afraid of omens but unable to stand up to his forceful adviser. Oh, but didn’t they all behave like children, with no discretion and no sense?

“I came to warn you because I have my reasons to do that. I hate you as much as I did before, as much as you hate me.” A shrug came with difficulty, the memory of his worried admonition to keep away from that dangerous woman and their devious politics threatening to shatter the walls of her newly found, wonderfully numb indifference, the memory of his voice and his arms. She clenched her fists tight. “But what I tell you is true. My father will talk to the Emperor against you, will bring evidence of your disloyalty. And if the night attack on Tenochtitlan succeeds, the Emperor will be forced to execute you with no fear of reprisal.”

But this came out well. She marveled at the sound of her short speech, so neatly composed, so eloquent. The woman was staring at her as though she had sprouted another head or limb, like this old water monster in one of Tlaco’s stories. Briefly, she wondered if her maidservant was still in her old quarters, not harmed by Father already. Later, not now.

“The night attack?” The princess’s lips lost much of their pretty coloring, turned as pale as her face became. Their movement was barely noticeable and the words they produced difficult to hear. “But he said he won’t do it.”

She remembered Citlalli’s stories. “Yes, the Emperor doesn’t believe it will bring us victory, but it will be done all the same. It will happen this night.”

Actually, she wasn’t certain about that, having no information besides Citlalli’s reported conversation with the Emperor. Still, Father wanted it to be done this way. He had schemed, planned, and prepared, tunnels with weaponry and the rest. His tunnels! Another wrong turn of thought. She forced her gaze to concentrate on the woman in front of her. Not a haughty, hostile, dangerously mean fowl, not anymore. Lost, frightened, staring, the full lips having no color, almost invisible, opening and closing, emitting no sound.

“It will happen tonight and then you will not be safe in this Palace and this city.” She kept listening to herself, her thoughts crystal clear, like her words. “Should we win or lose, it will not make difference to your safety here. Yours and your son’s. You should try and sneak away before nightfall. You must have enough faithful servants and others to help you with that.”

Another heartbeat had passed. The woman in front of her was changing again. She saw the lips pressing tighter, gaining no color but somehow turning strong with decision. The eyes lost their haunted spark, turned resolute. The cup in the royal hand – obviously a chocolate drink, such a heavy sweetish aroma – made a soft clanking sound as it touched the surface of the reed podium, not crashing at it, fallen with no will, but being put there with much care. The woman straightened up, her eyes still boring, piercing, but now probing rather than accusing, willing to listen.

“What do you want from me in exchange for your warning?”

Somehow, she knew it would come, a straightforward question requiring a straightforward answer. No flowery speech of high nobility, not in such a moment.

“I want you to deliver a note from me, a message.”

“Whom to?” The high forehead creased slightly in genuine puzzlement.

“That boy. The one who was spying for you.”

Part XIII: What triggered conflict between Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco

28 January 2017 Comments (0)

In the mid-15th century, Tenochtitlan‘s influence spread already far and wide, even though it was still nowhere near what it would be only a few decades later, under the rule of the vigorous eighth ruler Ahuitzotl, who would conquer lavishly, stretching Tenochtitlan’s influence almost from coast to coast. Axayacatl, the first of the three ruling brothers, was a renowned warrior and leader, but it was the youngest, Ahuitzotl, who would spread the Mexica domination truly far and wide. However, this story deals with somewhat earlier times.

Unlike other cities, towns, and villages spread around the great Texcoco Lake and deeper inland, Tlatelolco, located on the adjacent island or even the same island, as some claim, were true kin, a sister-nation, the same Mexica-Aztec people as Tenochtitlan citizens were. Tenochtitlan’s partners in the Triple Alliance, altepetls of Texcoco and Tlacopan, were no Mexica. The first, Texcoco, were Acolhua, ruling eight other Acolhua provinces; the second, Tlacopan, was the remainder of the Tepanec Empire, ruling a few provinces of their own, the Tepanec ones. Tenochtitlan, as mentioned before, ruled farther and wider than its partners, and their Mexica nationality was exceptional. Besides them and this same troublesome Tlatelolco, no one else claimed to belong to the Mexica roots.

According to the most widely accepted narrative, both altepetls were founded not so far apart from each other, in the first part of the 14th century, both suffering a fair share of contempt and oppression from the surrounding cities and regional powers. Some say they had been sharing the opposite sides of the same island; others claim that they had been two separate islands that had been united by artificial means later on, after Tenochtitlan had conquered Tlatelolco.

However, before it happened, both sister-cities got along fairly well despite their rapidly changing circumstances. In 1428 Tenochtitlan was the one to participate in the revolt against the mighty Tepanec Empire alongside other subjected or just threatened nations, such as Acolhua of Texcoco or the dwellers of the Eastern Highlands. While the radical politics and the subsequent great wars rocked the entire Mexican Valley, Tlatelolco kept quiet and carefully neutral and out of the way, thus sealing its future history. Left out of the postwar dealings and invited to partake in no rich pickings off the fallen Tepanec Empire, Tlatelolco remained what it was, a fairly large independent altepetl that could not complete with the expanding giants of the Triple Alliance, especially the one in their backyard, the most ambitious, industrious entity out to grow and expand.

Still, it had taken nearly half a century for the real trouble to erupt, and what exactly happened there we might never know for certain, as the most detailed accounts of those few market intervals in the middle of the dry season of 1473 came to us via two different historians living two centuries later, after the entire Mexico had been destroyed by the Spanish invasion. One was Diego Duran, a Spanish monk (Dominican friar) enamored by the local Nahua culture, language, and history to the extent of displeasing his superiors and the church. The other, Domingo Chimalpahin, the 16th century Nahua annalist from Chalco – both post-conquest historians, both clearly relaying Tenochtitlan’s point of view. However, they give us the most detailed accounts of this period, aside from the Codex Mendoza, which doesn’t go into as many juicy details but supports the above-mentioned historians on the main developments.

In 1469, Axayacatl, Tenochtitlan’s sixth ruler, came to occupy his grandfather’s throne. A vigorous young man of reportedly great valor and outstanding leadership skill, he had waged a few successful and less so campaigns, gaining respect of the capital despite his young age.

At the same time, the neighboring Tlatelolco had also seen a change in rulers. Moquihuix or Moquihuixtli was also a relatively young man of presentable appearance and good orating skills. No tension between the two neighboring cities seemed to accompany those changes. On the contrary, to strengthen their ties, a customary exchange of a marital nature had taken place. Axayacatl’s elder sister, ChalchiuhNenetzin, Noble Jade Doll, was offered to the Tlatelolco ruler and promptly accepted as his chief wife, bearing him a son upon the very first year of their marriage.

The lives of both island-cities went on as usual until, according to both Chimalpahin and Duran, a certain nobleman Teconal came to occupy the reed-woven chair and the office of the head adviser to the Tlatelolco ruler. Suddenly, Moquihuixtli became less enamored of the neighboring island’s capital, the rich influential giant growing by leaps and bounds, a somewhat threatening presence. According to both Duran and Chimalpahin, his royal wife of Tenochtitlan origins did not please him greatly, not anymore. A void that Teconal’s daughter had managed to fill, added to the collection of imperial wives, and probably promoted to the highest rank among those. Polygamy was a way of life for the Mesoamerican nobility, so what must have been angering Tenochtitlan royal house or, rather, its female representative in the Tlatelolco Palace, was the advancement of the new wife above the other.

Chimalpahin and Duran both report various different complaints Axayacatl’s sister was flooding her powerful brother with through the old nobleman Tepecocatzin, a Tlatelolcan high aristocrat with apparently certain sentiment for Tenochtitlan. And yet, the busy young emperor did not interfere. Not until several other incidents made him start glancing at the neighboring island with suspicion.

One day a newly dug canal across Tlatelolco was found partly filled with rubbish (according to Duran). The suspicious Tlatelolcans accused their powerful neighbors of ill will. Sometime later, again according to Duran, a group of young Tenochtitlan nobles were reported to harass, or even molest, Tlatelolcan noble girls. A complaint was lodged with the Tenochtitlan authorities, but it is unclear what came out of it.

The storm clouds kept gathering, and it was in this uneasy atmosphere that Moquihuixtli decided to hold a competition of young Tlatelolcan warriors described by Duran in great detail. More than two thousand men came, summoned to the central plaza in order to ‘practice arts of war,’ or so their ruler had put it. A stone statue in the image of a fully armed warrior was erected upon a podium, to be taken down by slingshots aimed from a close range. “… He who aims best at the statue will receive the honor and glory as the most outstanding warrior…” were Moquihuixtli’s alleged words, accompanied with the promise of a personal reward for the best shooter (Duran). The statue was shattered in no time, to be replaced by another warlike likeness, this time made out of wood. The warriors were required to take down the new target using their spears and bows, which they did, with ‘great skill and valor.’ The Tlatelolcan ruler was impressed, telling his warriors that he could not judge the winner, as no warrior outshone his peers.

The eventful day was finished with an improvised hunt upon the shores of the Great Lake, where plenty of waterfowl was spooked, with the warriors required to use their shooting devices but only on the birds in ‘full flight.’ Again, the Tlatelolcans had reportedly outdone themselves, receiving much praise and flowery speeches but no promised rewards, which seemed to satisfy everyone nevertheless. The warriors went home puzzled but happy. Moquihuixtli and Teconal remained less puzzled but full of ideas. The emperor’s closing speech, reported by Duran, gave a clear indication. “…Tlatelolcas, I have been well pleased to see your ability… if some day you must wage war against the enemy, you will know that their flesh is not stone, that it is not wood, and that since your intrepid arms break through wood and stone, how much easier will it be to destroy flesh. You will be like ferocious jaguars and pumas. I also want you to know that our enemies are not birds that can fly and can slip between one’s fingers. Today few flying birds slipped between your fingers. Therefore, have courage, for soon you will you have need of your hands, and Mexica-Tlatelolco will be honored and all the nations will be subjected to us. Tlatelolco will rejoice in all those things that had been Mexica-Tenochtitlan’s prerogative up to now…”

So has spoken Moquihuixtli through the dry moons of 1473, counting on the Tenochtitlan emperor’s youth and lack of experience, edged by Teconal, a reportedly wise man but a very ambitious, ruthless, and single-minded individual of great willpower. Not relying on his emperor’s pretty speeches or the valor of their young warriors alone, he had sent envoys to the Eastern Highlands, the towns that were not a part of the Triple Alliance’s vastly diverse relationships. However, the Highlanders answered with suspicious reserve and no commitments. They did not see the difference between the two Mexica-Aztec towns and did not wish to be involved in what might turn out to be nothing but a fishy plot.

Yet, at this point, the Tlatelolcans would not be budged.

An excerpt from “Obsidian Puma”, The Aztec Chronicles, book one

“What was the nobleman’s name?”

“I…” He racked his brains, desperate to remember – the memory wasn’t coming, making him cold with fear. “I don’t, don’t know. Revered Emperor.”

“Leave the titles alone for now.” The contemplative eyes shifted, staring past him, very absorbed. “The name Tepecocatzin tells you something?”

He gasped. “Yes, yes! That was the name of the old man!”

The Emperor shook his head. “Thought so.”

“And you’ve been disregarding this noble person’s repeated messages,” said the Emperor’s mother reproachfully. “He has sent you plenty of warnings, taking the plight of your sister closer to his heart than you, her full brother, did.”

The suddenly fierce glare of the ruler cut the rest of the tirade short, making even the haughty noblewoman subdued, leaning back on the upholstery of her chair, the nostrils of her delicate nose widening with the strongly drawn breath.

“Go on.”

This time, it was a curt order with no encouraging softness to it.

Miztli clenched his palms tight. “Yes, Revered Emperor.” At least the title came out in time now. He collected his thoughts hastily. “Well, this nobleman Tepecocatzin, he sent word to the princess, I suppose, as later, she came as well.”

“You talked to my daughter?” Again, the Emperor’s mother had a hard time keeping her peace despite her illustrious son’s repeated demands. “You actually talked to her?” Her eyes bored at him, wide open, round with astonishment. “What did Noble Jade Doll tell you?”

He fought down a hysterical snicker, remembering the alternative nickname the people in the boat used, interpreting the word nenetl – “doll” – with its different second meaning. No doll, this one.

“She told me… she asked me to send word to Ahuitzotl. I mean, she wanted to send word through me.”

“Revered Lady!” This time, the correction was spoken in a cutting ice-cold tone.

He quailed once again. “Revered Lady.” It came out as a pitiful whisper.

“No titles for now, I said.” The Emperor’s voice rang with matching coldness, its fury unconcealed. “I will be asking this boy questions, and no one besides me. I will not be repeating myself.”

The recipient of this curt reprimand tossed her head high and leaned back in her chair once again, her own eyes ablaze.

“Go on, boy. What else did the Lady Noble Jade Doll tell you?”

“She told me to watch… to watch the contest held on the Central Plaza, and then report it all to Ahuitzotl, so he would able to… to pass the word.”

A decisive nod. “Go on.”

He could feel his fellow calmecac companions holding their breaths, staring at him as incredulously as the royal family did.

“And well, there was a competition, Revered Emperor.” Oh, but did this man say not to use the titles now? He bit his lower lip hard. “There were many hundreds of warriors and their emperor, he talked to them, encouraged them to show their valor and spirit. He said they were invincible, that even Tenochtitlan warriors can’t defeat them.” He remembered the gesticulating ruler upon the edge of the dais. “They shot their slings at the stone statue that was made especially for this occasion, in the likeness of a warrior, with obsidian sword and a shield. The Emperor promised to reward the best shooter, slinger, or spear-thrower, but not before another competition was held. When the stone statue was shattered by the missiles of the slingers, it was replaced with a wooden statue, another replica of a man with a shield, wielding its sword. This time, it was to be taken down using mainly spears, hurled or shot from atlatls, but some warriors shot their bows as well.”

Historical fiction and the war on Tlatelolco, part 1

27 December 2016 Comments (0)

By the second part of the 15th century, Tenochtitlan was already an important, dominant altepetl with quite a few provinces to rule. A member of the Triple Alliance, situated between its powerful allies and so probably playing a central role, the great island-city was thriving, growing in proportions and might. The provinces it ruled on the mainland were many, already more numerous than those controlled by its allies, yet Tlatelolco, a fairly large city, located practically in Tenochtitlan’s backyard, remained untouched until 1473, when unexpected trouble broke.

Situated on the nearby island, or maybe on the side of the same island Tenochtitlan occupied, Tlatelolco was inhabited by the people of the same Mexica-Aztec origins, the only two settlements in the entire Mexican Valley to claim that.

Both altpetls were founded not so far apart from each other, in the first part of the 14th century, and both suffered a fair share of contempt and oppression from the surrounding regional powers, mainly from the all-powerful Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco.

When in 1428 the tides have changed, with Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan turning against their oppressor, conquering its capital and thus inheriting the riches of the former Tepanec provinces as well, Tlatelolco remained neutral, enjoying the sudden freedom of the tribute-free life, but not benefiting from the lavish conquests its sister-city had set upon. The Triple Alliance that the conquering altepetls formed had a huge impact on the history of the Mexican Valley and those who did not take an active part could not complete with the expanding giants.

Still until 1473, no major conflicts troubled the neighboring sister-cities. Until two younger rulers succeeded the thrones of their older predecessors. Axayacatl, Tenochtitlan’s new tlatoani was vigorous, warlike, with mounting marital achievements behind him despite his unimpressive count of years. On the other hand, Moquihuixtli, the new Tlatelolco ruler, was of a more refined type, a good looking man and an eloquent orator, but seemingly given to other people’s influences, especially this of his adviser, dominant, militantly vigorous Teconal.

According to both 16th century annalists Diego Duran and Chimalpahin, Teconal was the one who desired to explore the warring course, even though Moquihuixtli did not oppose. His chief wife, Axayacatl’s full sister, did not please him anymore, and so did Tenochtitlan’s dominating, overpowering presence.The existence under the shadow of the glorious, more powerful neighbor began wearing on Tlatelolcan royal house’s nerves.

The problem the Tlatelolcan ruler solved by replacing his Tenochtitlan chief wife with the daughter of the same notorious Teconal, then by proceeding to hold warring competitions and conducting military exercises with considerable amount of warriors while making plenty of militant speeches. According to Duran, Moquihuixtli’s words indicated not only his willingness to break free from the overpowering influence, but also a clear wish to switch places, setting the tone to Tenochtitlan instead of the other way around; and maybe also collecting nicely rich tribute along the way. Or so both Duran and Chimalpahin report to us. To what degree of accuracy, we’ll probably never know.

Little did Miztli’s father know when he decided to send his promising youngest son to the Great Capital of the Aztecs in hopes of a better future. A miner from a small village, he believed that, in the big city, the boy might have a chance at developing his talents, becoming a metalworker and not just a simple miner or a peasant like the rest of the family. A glorious future for a simple villager, as shiny as the golden-copper jewelry his son would be producing after learning the intricate trade.

However, the great island capital with its towering pyramids and gushing industrial life was busy with its internal politics, disdainful of foreigners, especially barefoot villagers among those, indifferent to their small aspirations. A civil war was brewing, preying on everyone’s minds, and when the actual trouble erupted Miztli found himself in the heart of it, swept by the powerful surge that cared nothing for his private frustrations with the big city, thrown in with the most unexpected company: from pretty Chantli, the workshop owner’s daughter, to a pair of adventure-seeking noble school pupils Necalli and Axolin, to the wildest kid of them all, Ahuitzotl, the youngest brother of none other than the Emperor himself.

A fun escapade of sneaking into the underground tunnel full of hidden weaponry and other anticipated treasures turned out to be not as harmless as they expected, pitting them against ruthless smugglers and worse, unleashing a series of events none of them could have foreseen or foretold.

An excerpt from “Obsidian Puma

She grinned with one side of her mouth. “That would be nice.” Then the smile widened, evened out. “You can repay me now. Tell me what your story is. Why were you running all over as though all the worst spirits of the Underworld were after you?”

“It’s a long story,” he said, feeling surprisingly at ease, not threatened or even troubled for a moment. But it was good to be here in this hideaway, to relax for a little while, not to think of all the terrible things, from the games of Tenochtitlan or Tlatelolco nobility, to the kidnappers who were after him, to the troubles that awaited him back in the workshop. His mood began to plummet once again. “What are they going to do now, these people out there on the plaza?” he asked, thinking about his possibilities. “Go home?”

She made a face at him, opening her huge eyes too widely, her eyebrows arching in different ways. A funny mask.

“You wish!” Her thin arms flew up, outlining wild pictures. “I told you it was just the beginning. Now as we speak, or so I’d say, they are cleaning the pieces of the stone statue, rewarding the best shooters and all that.”

Pursing her lips, she fell silent, leaning toward the opening once again, the image of attentive listening, an exaggerated one. “Yes,” she confirmed, nodding in confirmation to her own words. “He is speaking now. Can’t you hear? Rewarding the winner or winners, I bet.”

“And then?” he prompted. “What will he do afterwards?”

“Oh, then they’ll put up a wooden statue to replace the stone one. And they’ll make the other young warriors, those who brought along spears and bows and atlatls, to show their skills, against a wooden enemy this time. But it’ll be as huge and as heavily armed, I can promise you that. To represent all sorts of enemies, you know.” Her grin again turned uneven, one corner of her mouth climbing up, the other down. “Like presumptuous Tenochtitlan brutes, eh?”

“Tenochtitlan?” he asked, frowning. “But your islands are not at war!”

Her eyebrows lifted high again. “Maybe not now, but that may change. They do presume to tell us what to do. All the time they do that. And they are violating our rights, and sometimes even our citizens. Think about it.”

One of the narrow palms came up, extending a long slender finger. “They violated those girls on the marketplace not so long ago. Then, only a market interval later, they filled up our canal one night.” Another finger thrust forward. “And they have been full of all sorts of demands, all because our ruler put that fat whiny fowl aside, preferring my sister in her stead.” She nodded sagely. “And my sister is so much prettier than the complaining turkey, so much more fitting to be the Emperor’s Chief Wife.”

His head reeled from so much information, delivered again in a breathless rush. But what was she talking about, this strange, curiously chatty girl?

“Also, our altepetl is not a tributary of Tenochtitlan. They can’t lord it over us as though we were nothing but a tiny village. They can’t tell us what to do!”

He watched her eyebrows knitting, creating a single line below her high forehead, her expressions changing as rapidly as her spilling words, too rapid to follow.

“Will you slow down?” he asked, when she paused for a heartbeat, probably in order to draw a quick breath. If she dove under water, she would be able to stay there for a long time, he decided, longer than many boys he knew. It would be funny to see her taking part in such a competition. “Tell me how to get away from this plaza without drawing all these thousands of warriors’ and onlookers’ attention. There must be a way to do that.”

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