Ahuitzotl: Powerful Ruler in the Aztec Golden Age

Ahuitzotl: Powerful Ruler in the Aztec Golden Age

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Ahuitzotl was a tlatoani (meaning ‘speaker’) of the city of Tenochtitlan, and the eighth ruler of the Aztec Empire. This emperor reigned from 1486 AD to 1502 AD, a period which is regarded by some modern historians as the Aztec Golden Age. It was during Ahuitzotl’s reign that the Aztecs Empire was expanded to its greatest territorial extent and consolidated. In addition, huge building projects were undertaken. This Golden Age, however, did not last for very long, and ended following Ahuitzotl’s death. The emperor was succeeded by his nephew, Moctezuma II, who is perhaps best remembered as the last independent Aztec ruler before the empire’s conquest by the Spanish.

Moctezuma II, from Historia de la conquista de México by Antonio de Solis

The name Ahuitzotl (meaning ‘spiny aquatic thing’) is associated with a mythical creature that lived at the bottom of a lake, and preyed on those unfortunate enough to come to the bank of its dwelling place. It is not entirely clear as to when Ahuitzotl was born, but he is recorded as being the grandson of Itzcóatl, the fourth tlatoani of Tenochtitlan, and the founder of the Triple Alliance (Tenochtitlán, Texcoco, and Tlacopan), which is the foundation of the Aztec Empire.

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Map showing the expansion of the Aztec empire through conquest.

Ahuitzotl is recorded as having two brothers, both of whom were rulers before him. Axayacatl was the sixth ruler of the Aztecs, whilst Tizoc was the seventh. The former was a successful ruler who was victorious in war, and undertook many building projects. Tizoc, by contrast, was a failure, whose death after a short reign of five years was followed by Ahuitzotl’s ascension to the Aztec throne. It has been suspected that Tizoc was poisoned.

Tizoc in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis.

As Ahuitzotl was a mere youth when he was elected as emperor, there was some opposition to his election. He soon proved his worth, however, as he was an aggressive war leader. His first military campaign was against former vassals located to the northwest of the Aztec lands. He returned to his capital victorious. Other campaigns followed, and Ahuitzotl managed to extend the territorial control of the Aztec Empire as far south as present day Guatemala and in the territory along the Gulf of Mexico.

These new conquests resulted in the pouring in of tribute to the Aztec Empire from all the defeated peoples. In other words, the Empire grew to be immensely wealthy. In addition, the campaigns also enabled the Aztecs to capture a huge number of prisoners of war. These captives were brought back to the capital to be used as human sacrifice in the various Aztec religious ceremonies aimed at appeasing the gods, as well as to celebrate the military victories. A Spanish chronicler, Fray Diego Durán wrote famously that as many as 80400 prisoners of war were sacrificed over a period of four days on top of the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlán. Some modern scholars, however, argue that this number is an exaggeration.

Drawing of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan ( Public Domain )

Apart from his military campaigns, Ahuitzotl is also remembered for his grand building projects. One of the most significant of these was the expansion of the Templo Mayor, which was completed in 1487 AD. Human sacrifices were performed during the inauguration of this new temple to the rain god Tlaloc and the war god Huitzilopochtli, and the number of victims was given by Durán’s, 80400, as mentioned earlier. Another notable project was the building of a canal to bring water to the capital from Coyoacan. According to Durán’s account, the project started off badly, as too much water was brought in, and the city was flooded. Additionally, Ahuitzotl’s priests blame this disaster on the emperor’s killing of a ruler of Coyoacan, and that the flood was a punishment sent by Chalchiuhlicue, the water goddess.

Huitzilopochtli, as depicted in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis.

Ahuitzotl died in 1502 AD, and there are several versions of the way he died. One of these, for instance, is that his sandal slipped on a wet rock whilst his garden was flooded due to a broken dike. The emperor hit his head on a stone lintel, and, as a result, died of a subdural hematoma. Another version suggests that he contracted some fatal disease, which raises the suspicion of poisoning.

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In 2007, it was reported that ground penetrating radar had revealed that there may be a tomb hidden under the Templo Mayor. It was the discovery of a stone monolith during the previous year that sparked the survey. This stone monolith had the image of a goddess holding a rabbit with 10 dots in her right foot, interpreted as 10 Rabbit, the year of Ahuitzotl’s death. It has been pointed out that if the tomb does indeed belong to Ahuitzotl, it would be the first royal Aztec tomb to be discovered. No further reports about this discovery seem to be available.

Ahuitzotl: Powerful Ruler in the Aztec Golden Age - History

The Aztec Empire, or the Triple Alliance (Classical Nahuatl: Ēxcān Tlahtōlōyān, [ˈjéːʃkaːn̥ t͡ɬaʔtoːˈlóːjaːn̥]), was an alliance of three Nahua altepetl city-states: Mexico-Tenochtitlan , Tetzcoco , and Tlacopan . These three city-states ruled the area in and around the Valley of Mexico from 1428 until the combined forces of the Spanish conquistadores and their native allies under Hernán Cortés defeated them in 1521.

The Triple Alliance was formed from the victorious factions of a civil war fought between the city of Azcapotzalco and its former tributary provinces. Α] Despite the initial conception of the empire as an alliance of three self-governed city-states, Tenochtitlan quickly became dominant militarily. Β] By the time the Spanish arrived in 1519, the lands of the Alliance were effectively ruled from Tenochtitlan , while the other partners in the alliance had taken subsidiary roles.

The alliance waged wars of conquest and expanded rapidly after its formation. At its height, the alliance controlled most of central Mexico as well as some more distant territories within Mesoamerica, such as the Xoconochco province, an Aztec exclave near the present-day Guatemalan border. Aztec rule has been described by scholars as "hegemonic" or "indirect". Γ] The Aztecs left rulers of conquered cities in power so long as they agreed to pay semi-annual tribute to the Alliance, as well as supply military forces when needed for the Aztec war efforts. In return, the imperial authority offered protection and political stability, and facilitated an integrated economic network of diverse lands and peoples who had significant local autonomy.

The state religion of the empire was polytheistic, worshiping a diverse pantheon that included dozens of deities. Many had officially recognized cults large enough so that the deity was represented in the central temple precinct of the capital Tenochtitlan . The imperial cult, specifically, was that of Huitzilopochtli , the distinctive warlike patron god of the Mexica. Peoples in conquered provinces were allowed to retain and freely continue their own religious traditions, so long as they added the imperial god Huitzilopochtli to their local pantheons.

Aztec Empire at its Height in Mexico

The Mexica people came a long way from homeless and oppressed wanderers between 1200 and 1300 to masters of the Valley of Mexico during the 1400s. They built the city of Tenochtitlan in 1325 and turned it into a magnificent capital of an expanding kingdom. The Mexica realm became bigger when its kings established the Aztec Triple Alliance with the cities of Tlacopan and Texcoco. During the fifteenth century, the Aztec empire stretched from Central Mexico into the Gulf and Pacific Coasts. They also conquered the northern frontiers of Guatemala. The Aztec Empire’s height in Mexico is recorded on the Bible Timeline Chart with World History during the late 1400s.

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The Rise of the Aztec Empire

Before they became the undisputed masters of Central Mexico, the Mexica people were ruled by the powerful and cruel Tepanec rulers of Azcapotzalco. This kind of arrangement continued until the Tepanec lords decided to murder Chimalpopoco, the Mexica’s third king, along with his half-Tepanec son while they slept in his palace.

The Mexica people and their council of elders hastily elected a successor to replace their murdered king. The successor was Prince Itzcoatl, the son of the previous king Huitzilihuitl. He became the new ruler of Mexicas in 1426/1427. After the celebrations, King Itzcoatl sent his nephew to negotiate for peace with King Maxtla, the Tepanec king of Azcapotzalco. But Maxtla did not want peace between his people and the Mexicas, so he declared war on them.

Itzcoatl had no choice but to tell his people to prepare for war. The rulers of the cities of Texcoco and Tlacopan also agreed to join him in battle as their people were also oppressed by the Tepanecs. It became the Mexica (Tenochtitlan)-Texcoco-Tlacopan Triple Alliance, and as the years passed, it would be known as the Aztec Empire. The armies of the Triple Alliance defeated the Tepanec warriors and killed many of their people. They also brought the city of Azcapotzalco to the ground as revenge for their oppression. King Itzcoatl then allowed his soldiers to loot the city’s treasures and added these to Tenochtitlan’s wealth.

King Itzcoatl died in 1440, but not before he led his army to conquer the cities of Coyoacan and Xochimilca. When he died, he left behind a stronger, bigger, and wealthier empire.

Aztec Golden Age

King Itzcoatl was succeeded by his son Moctezuma I Ilhuicamina. He ruled a wealthy and powerful empire, so he decided that it was time to honor Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war. Moctezuma ordered his people to build the Great Temple right in the center of Tenochtitlan. It took many years before they finished the building. It remained unfinished when he died and was only completed by his son Ahuitzotl. He folded the city of Texcoco and the lands of the Chalcas into the Aztec empire during his reign and expanded his domain east into the Gulf of Mexico. He ruled for thirty years. These years were considered to be the Aztecs’ golden age in political influence and military might.

Two of his sons succeeded Moctezuma I when he died, but both kings were unremarkable and their years were marked with crushing defeats. The second son, King Tizoc, was so unpopular that he was murdered by his own men. The council elected Moctezuma’s youngest son, Prince Ahuitzotl, as Tizoc’s successor in 1486.

Luckily, their gamble paid off as King Ahuitzotl was a young and brave warrior who was favored by his people. It was during his reign that the Aztecs completed the construction of the Great Temple. This event was celebrated with a feast and the sacrifice of tens of thousands of slaves and captives in honor of their god.

Ahuitzotl proved to be a capable ruler and a great military commander. He expanded the empire’s borders into Oaxaca, Guerrero, Veracruz, and even as far south as Guatemala. He died in 1502 after returning from a war in Oaxaca.


Ahuitzotl was an Aztec ruler who reigned between 1486 and 1502 AD.

He was one of the greatest generals of the ancient Americas, according to historical records

He left to his nephew, Montezuma, an enlarged and consolidated empire which had been ruthlessly terrorised into submissive acceptance of Aztec rule.

With huge building projects and victories celebrated by mass sacrifices of captured enemies to honour the gods, the reign of Ahuitzotl was the Aztec Golden Age.

Ahuitzotl is known primarily for having occasioned the greatest orgy of in Aztec history.

In 1487 he decided to dedicate his new temple at Tenochtitlán.

The ceremonies, lasting four days, consisted of prisoners of war forming four lines, each one extending over three miles.

As the captives were marched up to the altar, priests and Aztec nobles, including Ahuitzotl, had the honour of cutting open their chests and tearing out their hearts.

Although actual numbers remain in dispute, as many as 20,000 prisoners may have been killed this way, while guests from the conquered provinces were asked to watch.

Ahuitzotl was later killed when he hit his head on a stone lintel trying to escape the great flood that devastated Tenochtitlán in 1503.

The History Blog

Excavations in Mexico City run into momentous finds every other week, it seems. It’s like Rome. As soon as anyone puts a shovel a couple of feet into the ground, they bump into a treasure trove of the city’s ancient history. The latest announcement is of a discovery made by archaeologists in April of this year: the remains of a sacrificial wolf literally draped in gold. The final tally is 22 intact pieces of jewelry made from thin sheets of gold elaborately decorated with symbols. Most were pendants, the tie that held them together long since decayed there’s also a nose ring and a chest plate.

/>The wolf was about eight months old when it was ritually killed. Its body was adorned with gold ornaments and a belt of shells from the Atlantic. It was then placed on a bed of flint blades inside a stone box and buried near the staircase of the Templo Mayor (behind the colonial-era Metropolitan Cathedral), the primary center of worship in the sacred precinct of Aztec Tenochtitlan. It was buried facing west and was meant to represent Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war and of the sun. Archaeologists found layers of offerings in the burial pit, items representing air, earth and sea and laden with religious meaning.

In forty years of excavations around the Templo Mayor area in Mexico City’s Zocalo, or central square, the gold covering this little wolf is far and away the finest in both metal quality and in its crafting. More than 200 ritual sacrifices and offerings have been found over the four decades. Only 16 of them contained gold, and little wonder since the Cortes and his successors took every last atom of Aztec gold they could find and melted it down for the Spanish treasure ships. Looters, both deliberate (treasure hunters) and incidental (workmen stumbling on something and pocketing it for sale on the black market), despoiled what was left underground. The Aztec, famous for their prized gold work, have been archaeologically denuded of it in Mexico City, the modern city built over their great capital of Tenochtitlan.

This small wolf burial, therefore, is of oversized historical importance as well as great pecuniary and artistic value. It came very close to disappearing from the archaeological record before it was ever documented. A city sewage line built in 1900 interfered with the burial, damaging the box. Thankfully the contents were not exposed, because one little glint of gold and the crew would have helped themselves to all of it, leaving nothing but scattered bones.

The golden wolf was buried during the 1486-1502 reign of King Ahuitzotl, the most feared and powerful ruler of the Mexica, who extended the empire as far south as present-day Guatemala. The reign of Ahuitzotl was particularly brutal, which may also explain the fate of the young wolf.

[Lead archaeologist Leonardo] Lopez said tests on its ribs will be needed to confirm his theory that the animal’s heart was torn out as part of the sacrifice, just as captured warriors were ritually killed on blood-soaked platforms of Aztec temples.

But this was no ordinary violence, noted [Harvard historian and Aztec expert David] Carrasco.

“These people didn’t just kill these things. They didn’t just kill people and throw them away,” he said. “They took elaborate, symbolic care for them because they knew that the presence that they represented, the presence of god, had to be nurtured.”

This entry was posted on Saturday, July 8th, 2017 at 11:42 PM and is filed under Modern(ish), Treasures. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.


The Nahuatl pronunciation of his name is [motekʷˈsoːma] . It is a compound of a noun meaning "lord" and a verb meaning "to frown in anger", and so is interpreted as "he is one who frowns like a lord" [3] or "he who is angry in a noble manner." [4] His name glyph, shown in the upper left corner of the image from the Codex Mendoza above, was composed of a diadem (xiuhuitzolli) on straight hair with an attached earspool, a separate nosepiece, and a speech scroll. [5]

Regnal number Edit

The Aztecs did not use regnal numbers they were given retroactively by historians to more easily distinguish him from the first Moctezuma, referred to as Moctezuma I. [2] The Aztec chronicles called him Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin, while the first was called Motecuhzoma Ilhuicamina or Huehuemotecuhzoma ("Old Moctezuma"). Xocoyotzin (IPA: [ʃokoˈjotsin] ) means "honored young one" (from "xocoyotl" [younger son] + suffix "-tzin" added to nouns or personal names when speaking about them with deference [6] ).

The year in which Moctezuma was crowned is uncertain. Most historians suggest the year of 1502 to be most likely, though some have argued in favor of the year 1503. A work currently held at the Art Institute of Chicago known as the Stone of the Five Suns is an inscription written in stone representing the Five Suns and a date in the Aztec calendar, 1 crocodile 11 reed, which is the equivalent to 15 July 1503 in the Gregorian calendar. Some historians believe this to be the exact date in which the coronation took place. [7] However, most documents say Moctezuma's coronation happened in the year 1502, and therefore most historians believe this to have been the actual date. [8]

After his coronation he set up thirty-eight more provincial divisions, largely to centralize the empire. He sent out bureaucrats, accompanied by military garrisons. They made sure tax was being paid, national laws were being upheld, and served as local judges in case of disagreement. [9]

First interactions with the Spanish Edit

In 1517, Moctezuma received the first reports of Europeans landing on the east coast of his empire this was the expedition of Juan de Grijalva who had landed on San Juan de Ulúa, which although within Totonac territory was under the auspices of the Aztec Empire. Moctezuma ordered that he be kept informed of any new sightings of foreigners at the coast and posted extra watch guards to accomplish this. [10]

When Cortés arrived in 1519, Moctezuma was immediately informed and he sent emissaries to meet the newcomers one of them was an Aztec noble named Tentlil in the Nahuatl language but referred to in the writings of Cortés and Bernal Díaz del Castillo as "Tendile". As the Spaniards approached Tenochtitlán they made an alliance with the Tlaxcalteca, who were enemies of the Aztec Triple Alliance, and they helped instigate revolt in many towns under Aztec dominion. Moctezuma was aware of this and sent gifts to the Spaniards, probably in order to show his superiority to the Spaniards and Tlaxcalteca. [11]

On 8 November 1519, Moctezuma met Cortés on the causeway leading into Tenochtitlán and the two leaders exchanged gifts. Moctezuma gave Cortés the gift of an Aztec calendar, one disc of crafted gold and another of silver. Cortés later melted these down for their monetary value. [12]

According to Cortés, Moctezuma immediately volunteered to cede his entire realm to Charles V, King of Spain. Though some indigenous accounts written in the 1550s partly support this notion, it is still unbelievable for several reasons. As Aztec rulers spoke an overly polite language that needed translation for his subjects to understand, it is difficult to find out what Moctezuma really said. According to an indigenous account, he said to Cortés: "You have come to sit on your seat of authority, which I have kept for a while for you, where I have been in charge for you, for your agents the rulers. " However, these words might be a polite expression that was meant to convey the exact opposite meaning, which was common in Nahua culture Moctezuma might actually have intended these words to assert his own stature and multigenerational legitimacy. Also, according to Spanish law, the king had no right to demand that foreign peoples become his subjects, but he had every right to bring rebels to heel. Therefore, to give the Spanish the necessary legitimacy to wage war against the indigenous people, Cortés might just have said what the Spanish king needed to hear. [13]

Host and prisoner of the Spaniards Edit

Moctezuma brought Cortés to his palace where the Spaniards lived as his guests for several months. Moctezuma continued to govern his empire and even undertook conquests of new territory during the Spaniards' stay at Tenochtitlán. [ citation needed ]

At some time during that period, Moctezuma became a prisoner in his own house. Exactly why this happened is not clear from the extant sources. The Aztec nobility reportedly became increasingly displeased with the large Spanish army staying in Tenochtitlán, and Moctezuma told Cortés that it would be best if they left. Shortly thereafter, Cortés left to fight Pánfilo de Narváez, who had landed in Mexico to arrest Cortés. During his absence, tensions between Spaniards and Aztecs exploded into the Massacre in the Great Temple, and Moctezuma became a hostage used by the Spaniards to ensure their security. [N.B. 2]

Death Edit

In the subsequent battles with the Spaniards after Cortés' return, Moctezuma was killed. The details of his death are unknown, with different versions of his demise given by different sources.

In his Historia, Bernal Díaz del Castillo states that on 29 June 1520, the Spanish forced Moctezuma to appear on the balcony of his palace, appealing to his countrymen to retreat. Four leaders of the Aztec army met with Moctezuma to talk, urging their countrymen to cease their constant firing upon the stronghold for a time. Díaz states: "Many of the Mexican Chieftains and Captains knew him well and at once ordered their people to be silent and not to discharge darts, stones or arrows, and four of them reached a spot where Montezuma could speak to them." [14]

Díaz alleges that the Aztecs informed Moctezuma that a relative of his had risen to the throne and ordered their attack to continue until all of the Spanish were annihilated, but expressed remorse at Moctezuma's captivity and stated that they intended to revere him even more if they could rescue him. Regardless of the earlier orders to hold fire, however, the discussion between Moctezuma and the Aztec leaders was immediately followed by an outbreak of violence. The Aztecs, disgusted by the actions of their leader, renounced Moctezuma and named his brother Cuitláhuac tlatoani in his place. In an effort to pacify his people, and undoubtedly pressured by the Spanish, Moctezuma was struck dead by a rock. [15] Díaz gives this account:

"They had hardly finished this speech when suddenly such a shower of stones and darts were discharged that (our men who were shielding him having neglected for a moment their duty, because they saw how the attack ceased while he spoke to them) he was hit by three stones, one on the head, another on the arm and another on the leg, and although they begged him to have the wounds dressed and to take food, and spoke kind words to him about it, he would not. Indeed, when we least expected it, they came to say that he was dead." [16]

Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún recorded two versions of the conquest of Mexico from the Tenochtitlán-Tlatelolco viewpoint. In Book 12 of the twelve-volume Florentine Codex, the account in Spanish and Nahuatl is accompanied by illustrations by natives. One is of the death of Moctezuma II, which the indigenous assert was due to the Spaniards. According to the Codex, the bodies of Moctezuma and Itzquauhtzin were cast out of the Palace by the Spanish the body of Moctezuma was gathered up and cremated at Copulco.

Aftermath Edit

The Spaniards were forced to flee the city and they took refuge in Tlaxcala, and signed a treaty with the natives there to conquer Tenochtitlán, offering to the Tlaxcalans control of Tenochtitlán and freedom from any kind of tribute. [17]

Moctezuma was then succeeded by his brother Cuitláhuac, who died shortly after during a smallpox epidemic. He was succeeded by his adolescent nephew, Cuauhtémoc. During the siege of the city, the sons of Moctezuma were murdered by the Aztecs, possibly because they wanted to surrender. By the following year, the Aztec Empire had fallen to an army of Spanish and their Native American allies, primarily Tlaxcalans, who were traditional enemies of the Aztecs.

Bernal Díaz del Castillo Edit

The firsthand account of Bernal Díaz del Castillo's True History of the Conquest of New Spain paints a portrait of a noble leader who struggles to maintain order in his kingdom after he is taken prisoner by Hernán Cortés. In his first description of Moctezuma, Díaz del Castillo writes:

The Great Montezuma was about forty years old, of good height, well proportioned, spare and slight, and not very dark, though of the usual Indian complexion. He did not wear his hair long but just over his ears, and he had a short black beard, well-shaped and thin. His face was rather long and cheerful, he had fine eyes, and in his appearance and manner could express geniality or, when necessary, a serious composure. He was very neat and clean, and took a bath every afternoon. He had many women as his mistresses, the daughters of chieftains, but two legitimate wives who were Caciques [N.B. 3] in their own right, and only some of his servants knew of it. He was quite free from sodomy. The clothes he wore one day he did not wear again till three or four days later. He had a guard of two hundred chieftains lodged in rooms beside his own, only some of whom were permitted to speak to him. [18]

When Moctezuma was allegedly killed by being stoned to death by his own people, "Cortés and all of us captains and soldiers wept for him, and there was no one among us that knew him and had dealings with him who did not mourn him as if he were our father, which was not surprising, since he was so good. It was stated that he had reigned for seventeen years, and was the best king they ever had in Mexico, and that he had personally triumphed in three wars against countries he had subjugated. I have spoken of the sorrow we all felt when we saw that Montezuma was dead. We even blamed the Mercedarian friar for not having persuaded him to become a Christian." [19]

Hernán Cortés Edit

Unlike Bernal Díaz, who was recording his memories many years after the fact, Cortés wrote his Cartas de relación (Letters from Mexico) to justify his actions to the Spanish Crown. His prose is characterized by simple descriptions and explanations, along with frequent personal addresses to the King. In his Second Letter, Cortés describes his first encounter with Moctezuma thus:

Moctezuma [sic] came to greet us and with him some two hundred lords, all barefoot and dressed in a different costume, but also very rich in their way and more so than the others. They came in two columns, pressed very close to the walls of the street, which is very wide and beautiful and so straight that you can see from one end to the other. Moctezuma came down the middle of this street with two chiefs, one on his right hand and the other on his left. And they were all dressed alike except that Moctezuma wore sandals whereas the others went barefoot and they held his arm on either side. [20]

Anthony Pagden and Eulalia Guzmán have pointed the Biblical messages that Cortés seems to ascribe to Moctezuma's retelling of the legend of Quetzalcoatl as a vengeful Messiah who would return to rule over the Mexica. Pagden has written that "There is no preconquest tradition which places Quetzalcoatl in this role, and it seems possible therefore that it was elaborated by Sahagún and Motolinía from informants who themselves had partially lost contact with their traditional tribal histories". [21] [22]

Bernardino de Sahagún Edit

The Florentine Codex, made by Bernardino de Sahagún, relied on native informants from Tlatelolco, and generally portrays Tlatelolco and Tlatelolcan rulers in a favorable light relative to those of Tenochtitlan. Moctezuma in particular is depicted unfavorably as a weak-willed, superstitious, and indulgent ruler. [23] Historian James Lockhart suggests that the people needed to have a scapegoat for the Aztec defeat, and Moctezuma naturally fell into that role. [24]

Fernando Alvarado Tezozómoc Edit

Fernando Alvarado Tezozómoc, who may have written the Crónica Mexicayotl, was possibly a grandson of Moctezuma II. It is possible that his chronicle relates mostly the genealogy of the Aztec rulers. He described Moctezuma's issue and estimates them to be nineteen – eleven sons and eight daughters. [25]

Some of the Aztec stories about Moctezuma describe him as being fearful of the Spanish newcomers, and some sources, such as the Florentine Codex, comment that the Aztecs believed the Spaniards to be gods and Cortés to be the returned god Quetzalcoatl. The veracity of this claim is difficult to ascertain, though some recent ethnohistorians specialising in early Spanish/Nahua relations have discarded it as post-conquest mythicalisation. [26]

Much of the idea of Cortés being seen as a deity can be traced back to the Florentine Codex, written some 50 years after the conquest. In the codex's description of the first meeting between Moctezuma and Cortés, the Aztec ruler is described as giving a prepared speech in classical oratorical Nahuatl, a speech which as described verbatim in the codex (written by Sahagún's Tlatelolcan informants) included such prostrate declarations of divine or near-divine admiration as, "You have graciously come on earth, you have graciously approached your water, your high place of Mexico, you have come down to your mat, your throne, which I have briefly kept for you, I who used to keep it for you," and, "You have graciously arrived, you have known pain, you have known weariness, now come on earth, take your rest, enter into your palace, rest your limbs may our lords come on earth." While some historians such as Warren H. Carroll consider this as evidence that Moctezuma was at least open to the possibility that the Spaniards were divinely sent based on the Quetzalcoatl legend, others such as Matthew Restall argue that Moctezuma politely offering his throne to Cortés (if indeed he did ever give the speech as reported) may well have been meant as the exact opposite of what it was taken to mean, as politeness in Aztec culture was a way to assert dominance and show superiority. [27] Other parties have also propagated the idea that the Native Americans believed the conquistadors to be gods, most notably the historians of the Franciscan order such as Fray Gerónimo de Mendieta. [28] Bernardino de Sahagún, who compiled the Florentine Codex, was also a Franciscan priest.

Indigenous accounts of omens and Moctezuma's beliefs Edit

Bernardino de Sahagún (1499–1590) includes in Book 12 of the Florentine Codex eight events said to have occurred prior to the arrival of the Spanish. These were purportedly interpreted as signs of a possible disaster, e.g. a comet, the burning of a temple, a crying ghostly woman, and others. Some speculate that the Aztecs were particularly susceptible to such ideas of doom and disaster because the particular year in which the Spanish arrived coincided with a "tying of years" ceremony at the end of a 52-year cycle in the Aztec calendar, which in Aztec belief was linked to changes, rebirth, and dangerous events. The belief of the Aztecs being rendered passive by their own superstition is referred to by Matthew Restall as part of "The Myth of Native Desolation" to which he dedicates chapter 6 in his book Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. [29] These legends are likely a part of the post-conquest rationalization by the Aztecs of their defeat, and serve to show Moctezuma as indecisive, vain, and superstitious, and ultimately the cause of the fall of the Aztec Empire. [24]

Ethnohistorian Susan Gillespie has argued that the Nahua understanding of history as repeating itself in cycles also led to a subsequent rationalization of the events of the conquests. In this interpretation the description of Moctezuma, the final ruler of the Aztec Empire prior to the Spanish conquest, was tailored to fit the role of earlier rulers of ending dynasties—for example Quetzalcoatl, the mythical last ruler of the Toltecs. [30] In any case it is within the realm of possibility that the description of Moctezuma in post-conquest sources was colored by his role as a monumental closing figure of Aztec history. [ citation needed ]

Aztec Civilization

In just a century, the Aztec built an empire in the area now called central Mexico. The arrival of the Spanish conquistadors brought it to a sudden end.

Anthropology, Archaeology, Sociology, Social Studies, Ancient Civilizations, World History, Storytelling

Pyramid of the Sun

The Teotihuacan pyramids are some of the largest of their kind in the Americas. Ancient Teotihuacanos constructed the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon in the year 100 C.E., centuries before the Aztec had arrived in Teotihuacan. These marvels still stand at an incredible height of around 65 meters (213 feet) and 43 meters (141 feet) respectively.

The legendary origin of the Aztec people has them migrating from a homeland called Aztlan to what would become modern-day Mexico. While it is not clear where Aztlan was, a number of scholars believe that the Mexica&mdashas the Aztec referred to themselves&mdashmigrated south to central Mexico in the 13th century.

The Mexica founding of Tenochtitlan was under direction from their patron god Huitzilopochtli, according to legend. The legend recounts that Huitzilopochtli told them to found their settlement in the place where a giant eagle eating a snake was perched on a cactus. This settlement, in the region of Mesoamerica called Anáhuac located on a group of five connected lakes, became Tenochtitlan. Archaeologists date the founding of Tenochtitlan to 1325 C.E.

At first, the Mexica in Tenochtitlan were one of a number of small city-states in the region. They were subject to the Tepanec, whose capital was Azcapotzalco, and had to pay tribute to them. In 1428, the Mexica allied with two other cities&mdashTexcoco and Tlacopan. They formed the Aztec Triple Alliance and were able to win the battle for regional control, collecting tribute from conquered states.

Key to the rise of Tenochtitlan was the agricultural system that made it possible to feed the population. Chinampas, small, artificial islands created above the waterline, were one feature of the system. Recordkeeping was important to tracking tributes. Two pictographic texts that survived Spanish destruction&mdashthe Matricula de tributos and Codex Mendoza&mdashrecord the tributes paid to the Aztecs. The codices also recorded religious practices.

A 260-day ritual calendar was used by Aztec priests for divination, alongside a 365-day solar calendar. At their central temple in Tenochtitlan, Templo Mayor, the Aztecs practiced both bloodletting (offering one&rsquos own blood) and human sacrifice as part of their religious practices. The Spanish reaction to Aztec religious practices is believed to be partially responsible for the violence of the Spanish conquest.

The Spanish, led by conquistador Hernando Cortés, arrived in what is now Mexico in 1519. They were looking for gold, and the gifts from the Mexica ruler, Motecuhzoma, proved that gold was present. Upon arriving in Tenochtitlan, Cortés took Motecuhzoma prisoner and attempted to rule on his behalf, but this did not go well, and Cortés fled the city in June of 1520.

This was not the end of the interactions, however. The Spanish conquistadors laid siege to the Aztec capital from the middle of May of 1521 until they surrendered on August 13, 1521. They were aided by Texcoco, a former Triple Alliance member. A great deal of Tenochtitlan was destroyed in the fighting, or was looted, burned, or destroyed after the surrender. Cortés began to build what is now known as Mexico City, the capital of a Spanish colony of which he was named governor, atop the ruins.


Although Ahuitzotl undertook war campaigns, he was best remembered for concluding, after eight kings and endless struggles, the construction of the Great Temple dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, their supreme deity.

King Ahuitzotl invited all the people that inhabited his vast lands to celebrate every noble, warrior, commoner, and slave was commanded to attend the festivities that would represent the culmination of Aztec supremacy over the Valley of Mexico. There was no distinction of class, gender, or ethnicity. Tenochtitlan erupted with people, and it is said that from an aerial view, the city resembled a gigantic ant colony.

Acamapichtli – the first ruler of Tenochtitlan

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.

Ideology and State

Rulers, be they local teteuctin or tlatoani, or central Huetlatoani, were seen as representatives of the gods and therefore ruled by divine right. Tlatocayotl, or the principle of rulership, established that this divine right was inherited by descent. Political order was therefore also a cosmic order, and to kill a tlatoani was to transgress that order. For that reason, whenever a tlatoani was killed or otherwise removed from their station, a relative and member of the same bloodline was typically placed in their stead. The establishment of the office of Huetlatoani understood through the creation of another level of rulership, hueitlatocayotl, standing in superior contrast to the lesser tlatocayotl principle. [62]

Expansion of the empire was guided by a militaristic interpretation of Nahua religion, specifically a devout veneration of the sun god, Huitzilopochtli. Militaristic state rituals were performed throughout the year according to a ceremonial calendar of events, rites, and mock battles. [63] The time period they lived in was understood as the Ollintonatiuh, or Sun of Movement, which was believed to be the final age after which humanity would be destroyed. It was under Tlacaelel that Huitzilopochtli assumed his elevated role in the state pantheon and who argued that it was through blood sacrifice that the Sun would be maintained and thereby stave off the end of the world. It was under this new, militaristic interpretation of Huitzilopochtli that Aztec soldiers were encouraged to fight wars and capture enemy soldiers for sacrifice. Though blood sacrifice was common in Mesoamerica, the scale of human sacrifice under the Aztecs was likely unprecedented in the region. [64]

A code of law seems to have been established under the reign of Moctezuma I. These laws served to establish and govern relations between the state, classes, and individuals. Punishment was to be meted out solely by state authorities. Nahua mores were enshrined in these laws, criminalizing public acts of homosexuality, drunkenness, and nudity, not to mention more universal proscriptions against theft, murder, and property damage. As stated before, pochteca could serve as judges, often exercising judicial oversight of their own members. Likewise, military courts dealt with both cases within the military and without during wartime. There was an appeal process, with appellate courts standing between local, typically market-place courts, on the provincial level and a supreme court and two special higher appellate courts at Tenochtitlan. One of those two special courts dealt with cases arising within Tenochtitlan, the other with cases originating from outside the capital. The ultimate judicial authority laid in hands of the Huetlatoani, who had the right to appoint lesser judges. [65]

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