Monday, 17 July 2017

Ahuitzotl IV

Ahuitzol's conquests (in yellow)
Ahuitzotl’s Conquests

In the first year of his reign Ahuitzotl visited Malinalco to receive the allegiance of the local chieftains. Ahuitzotl was unable to extend into Tarascan lands as the Tarascans had a series of fortresses built along the border with the Aztec empire. In answer the Aztecs built their own fortresses south of the border at Oztoman, Oztotipac[i], and Alahuistan after a campaign lasting from Nine Flint Knife to Ten House (1488-9). Ahuitzotl had all the adults in these areas massacred and their children were rehomed throughout the empire. Two thousand settlers from central Mexico were resettled in the region.

His armies took Acapulco and then ranged north-westwards for over one hundred miles along the Gulf Coast. After conquering Tepoztlan[ii], near what is now Mexico City, Ahuitzotl had a temple built overlooking the Valley of Morelos and, as frequently happened, a festival of the local deity Mayahuel[iii] was co-opted by the victors and added to the festivities relating to agriculture celebrated in Tenochtitlan.

In the year Twelve Reed (1491) Ahuitzotl’s armies conquered Guerrero on the Pacific coast. Here he was extending Aztec rule, as early as 1414 the Aztecs had started nibbling away at the region piecemeal. He may have been hoping to establish a series of tributary towns in an attempt to outflank the Tarascan forts.

List of Ahuitzol's conquests from Codex Mendoza
Around the year Two Rabbit (1494) Ahuitzotl’s armies conquered the central valleys of Oaxaca. The area was rich in cotton, gold and cochineal. In Five House (1497), building on his capture of the Oaxaca region, Ahuitzotl’s armies conquered Tehuantepec. In either Seven Reed (1499) or Nine House (1501) Ahuitzotl’s armies reached Xoconochco[iv] close to the modern day frontier of Guatemala, he subdued the region adding the cacao growing regions to his empire. Early in the new century Ahuitzotl conquered the Huaxteca[v] peoples

This proved to be furthest that Ahuitzotl could press his armies. Beyond Xoconochco the supply lines became too unwieldy; although the armies usually lived off the land their essential but bulky battle insignia, arms and other items needed transporting, and his warriors refused to proceed further.

By the end of his life Ahuitzotl had regained most of the lands lost during the reign of Tizoc. After each victorious campaigning season great feasts were held and the guests were inundated with gifts, using up much of the booty from the fighting.


Temple at Calixtlahuaca
During his reign Ahuitzotl came to an accommodation with the merchants of Tlatelolco; their rumblings of discontent had been growing throughout the years of Tizoc’s reign. He gave them extensive privileges in Tenochtitlan itself and the Aztec armies fought on their behalf. Ahuitzotl reassigned the city of Calixtlahuaca, conquered during Axayacatl’s reign, for colonisation by residents of the Valley of Mexico to consolidate the Aztec hold on the region.

Ahuitzotl’s consort was Tlilancapatl. His sons were Chimalpilli II[vi] and Cuauhtémoc[vii] and he also had a daughter. Little is known of his personal life save that, unlike his brother Axayacatl, Ahuitzotl was not prone to the poetry writing that characterised many previous Tlatoani and other nobles.

Much to the disgust of his successor, Ahuitzotl used the yardstick of service rather than birth when appointing his officials; Moctezuma II[viii] complained bitterly that Ahuitzotl appointed ‘men of low birth’ to be his advisers.

End Times

Ahuitzotl’s major project, apart from the Templo Mayor. was the construction of a large canal to bring fresh water from Coyoacan to Tenochtitlan. Ahuitzotl and his priests celebrated the completion of the project with the priests dressed in the signature green robes of Chalchiuhtlicue, the water goddess.

‘As the water rushed in they reached down to present incense, ground turquoise, and sacrificial quail to the life-giving element; at the same time they spoke to the water itself as a living object of the offering.’[ix]

Some histories relate that the project got off to a bad start when it brought so much water that it flooded the city. There was a flood in Eight Flint Knife (1500) which destroyed many houses; Ahuitzotl was told by Netzahualpilli, Tlatoani of Texcoco, that the gods must be enraged.

Aztec legends relate tales of the terrible destruction caused by a flood sent by Chalchiuhtlicue and ending what the Aztecs called the fourth world. The ending of the fourth world was followed by the fifth world, courtesy of the death of the gods. The priests and people feared that this new major flooding presaged the ending of the fifth and current world and the possible death of their particular deity, the Hummingbird of the South.

Temple of the Jaguars, Malinalco
Certainly the priests blamed the disaster on the fact that Ahuitzotl had rashly killed the ruler of Coyoacan when he had suggested that the canal construction project was unwise, and that the flood had been caused by Chalchiuhtlicue in revenge. A great reconstruction project was launched and the palaces of Tenochtitlan were rebuilt, dykes strengthened and willows and poplars planted along the canals.

Spanish chroniclers relate that Ahuitzotl and the priests frequently performed obsequious ceremonies to Chalchiuhtlicue to drive back floods which must have been fairly prevalent in their lakeside city.

One of Ahuitzotl’s last projects was to arrange the building of a temple in Malinalco which held historical significance for the Aztecs. The work started in Nine House (1501) using forced labour[x].

Death by Misadventure

Ahuitzotl’s reign came to a mysterious end when he allegedly contracted a strange and fatal wasting disease, From a vigorous adult he gradually became just skin and bone which led to suggestions that he may well have been poisoned, like his predecessor. Ahuitzotl’s death in the year Ten Rabbit (1502) was announced to the city by the cries of his female relatives and other persons hired to cry out on the death of the nobility. Whilst they cried the mourners bowed to the earth and clapped their hands. In another version of events the king died from a blow to the head while he was trying to escape the flood at Tenochtitlan.

Ahuitzotl’s corpse was then dressed in his finest robes by the Tlatoani of Texcoco and tied in a squatting pose and then wrapped in cloth and daubed in pitch. This funerary bundle was then cremated in a lavish ceremony on a funeral pyre atop the Great Temple, in front of the temple of Huitzilopochtli. The war captains in their full regalia along with the notable of the Triple Alliance were also in attendance.

Aztecs were buried with supplies to help them through their journey into the afterlife. The manner of a person’s death decided where they would go after death. Those who died in battle entered the eastern paradise Tonatiuhichan, joining the entourage of the sun god[xi]. They were often accompanied by the corpse of their dog to guide them through the afterlife.

If Ahuitzotl did die in the flood then he would have been bound for the paradise ruled over by Tlaloc. Otherwise he was destined for the underworld whose ruler was the skeletal god Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the Dead and his wife Mictecachuatl. Those entering the underworld were doomed to;

‘Wander through eight hells for four long years. The way through the hells was strewn with obstacles. In the first the souls of the dead were met with a turbulent and rushing river….then they had to pass between two mountains… the seventh hell wild beasts lay in wait to eat up the dead. The soul finally came to rest in the ninth hell.’[xii]

Moctezuma II
Ahuitzol’s ashes, along with those of his attendants[xiii] who had been sacrificed in order to accompany him on his journey, are believed to be buried beneath a sculpture of Tlaltecuhtli near the Zócalo in Mexico City. Ahuitzotl had chosen his nephew Moctezuma II as his successor and Moctezuma was duly elected to be Tlatoani.

Much of what we know about the Aztecs comes from books such as the Codex Mendoza[xiv] and the Codex Borgia[xv] compiled by the conquering Spanish as reports home explaining the complex culture of the enemy, so very different than at home in Europe.


The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico – Nigel Davies, Penguin 1985

The New World – Nicholas Hordern, Aldus Books/Jupiter Books 1971

The Ancient American Civilisations – Friedrich Katz, Phoenix Press 2000

Moctezuma and the Aztecs – Elisenda Vila Llonch, the British Museum Press 2009

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Aztecs and Maya – Charles Phillips, Hermes House 2010

The Aztecs – Richard F Townsend, Thames & Hudson Ltd 2010

Conquistadors – Michael Wood, BBC Worldwide Ltd 2001


[i] Now Nogales
[ii] According to Aztec legend the birthplace of the god Quetzalcoatl
[iii] Associated with the maguey plant
[iv] Or Soconusco
[v] In modern Veracruz; an offshoot of the Maya
[vi] Who became Tlatoani of the Nahua Ecatepec
[vii] He became Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan after the death of his cousin Cuitlahuac, 11th son of Axayacatl
[viii] The last Tlatoani of the Aztecs, Moctezuma was killed during the Conquest by Hernán Cortés men
[ix] The Aztecs - Townsend
[x] The work was completed during the reign of his successor
[xi] This concept was relatively new and was introduced shortly before the Spanish conquest
[xii] Ancient American Civilisations – Katz
[xiii] On the assurance that in the next life they would be reborn as nobles
[xiv] Created for Charles V it was sent back to Spain but the fleet was attacked by French privateers and eventually the manuscript passed into the hands of the Bodleian Library in the 17th century
[xv] Held in the Vatican

Monday, 10 July 2017

Ahuitzotl III

Jaguar Warrior
Elite Warriors

There were two groupings of elite warriors; the cuauhchique[i] and the otontin or Otomies to which the feared Eagle Warriors and the Jaguar Warriors belonged. The tlacochcalcatl[ii] along with the other four members of the military council[iii], the tlaccatecatl, the etzhuanhuanco and the tillancalqui were all members of one or the other order.

To be admitted within the ranks of these two orders a warrior must have committed twenty or more deeds of valour and captured a number of prisoners for sacrifice. The elite were permitted to wear feather jewellery and cotton clothing as marks of their standing in society as well as drink pulque[iv] in public, keep courtesans and dine in the palace. One chronicle relates that announcements of yet another war was an event greeted by pleasure; by the warriors

‘Everyone was glad to go to war, that no more warriors remained in the cities, for all wanted to go to war since they fared so well in it.’[v]

The Aztecs did not have a standing army but each calpulli was required to contribute 400 men. The unit marched under its own standard commanded by community leaders. The army’s basic unit was 8,000 men and long distance expeditions would include porters for supplies and equipment contributed by subordinate towns.

The Short Reign of Tlatoani Tizoc

Tizoc had been tlacochcalcatl to Axayacotl and he now came to power in the year Two House (1481)[vi] following his brother’s death. He made his brother Ahuitzotl his tlacochcalcatl. Tizoc’s coronation war was a dismal failure, producing very little in the way of prisoners for sacrifice.

Metztitlan was the chosen objective, 125 miles away from the heart of the empire. The resultant battle was saved by a formation of teenage warriors who took 40 prisoners. Tizoc’s coronation went ahead but the meagre display of sacrifices was viewed as an unfavourable omen. Tizoc’s future wars were not ones of conquest but repressing rebellions against Aztec rule. As his reign continued the empire faced increasing sedition, aggression and rebellion.

Tizoc started the extensive rebuilding of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan[vii], the rebuilding was to be finished during the reign of his younger brother. There are rumours that Tizoc was poisoned which was not unusual for a highly contested position, particularly that of Tlatoani of the Triple Alliance. It is possible that Ahuitzotl was involved in bringing his brother’s reign to an end. Four days after Tizoc’s death the elective council met and chose the ambitious Ahuitzotl as the next Tlatoani of the Aztecs.

The Coronation of Ahuitzotl

Ahuitzotl became Tlatoani in year Seven Rabbit (1486). He was relatively young to become Tlatoani, being barely out of his teens. He took the name Ahuitzotl[viii] and was to prove himself a warrior par excellence, living and fighting with his men. He inspired his soldiers with his own personal valour.

After his election and a four day period of retreat of fasting and penitence, Ahuitzotl was taken before the Great Pyramid where, in front of a silent crowd, he was stripped down to his loincloth, he was led up the pyramid by the Tlatoani of Texcoco and Tlacopan. At the summit, in the shrine to Huitzilopochtli, Ahuitzotl was dressed in a dark green robe decorated with skulls. He then burned incense in the god’s honour and descended the pyramid.

Ahuitzotl led the crowd to one of the palaces where the Tlatoani of Texcoco, Nezhualpilli, dressed him;

‘In a robe of shining fabric with a glistening waistband, solemnly placed a greenstone crown on his head and adorned him with fabulous jewellery including emerald earrings and nosepiece, gold armbands and anklets, and jaguar skin sandals. He led him to a splendid throne covered with jaguar skins and eagle feathers.’[ix]

Next came a public ceremony; Ahuitzotl was carried on a litter back to the Templo Mayor where at Huitzilpochtli’s shrine he used jaguar claws to let his own blood[x] and offered quails as a sacrifice. Further sacrifices were made to the sun. Ahuitzotl was then carried on his litter to the coateocalli[xi] where he made further blood sacrifices. He then carried on to a temple dedicated to the earth and spring planting where he once again gave his blood to the god.

Finally Ahuitzotl returned to the palace where a series of speeches gave him to understand that he was now raised above his fellow man for he was imbued with the powers of the gods. As leader of his people Ahuitzotl now had the power to speak to the gods and was their embodiment on earth.

Coronation War

Tlaxcolotongo Falls near Xicotepec
Ahuitzotl was tough and fearless, proving himself to be Tenochtitlan’s most fearsome leader; he lived and fought with his men on campaign. His campaigns were short, sharp and brutal and Ahuitzotl took murderous retribution against his enemies. The coronation war was a circuit into the Toluca valley and then northward to Xicotepec, before turning to the northern Valley of Mexico.

The fighting killed two birds with one stone; Ahuitzotl suppressed the rebellious cities and reasserted the Tlatoani’s dominion over the army which had become demoralised in Axayacatl’s declining years and under Tizoc’s lacklustre leadership. The booty Ahuitzotl and his army collected on their foray was equal to one year’s tribute. Almost immediately Ahuitzotl marched out on a second punitive campaign to the Gulf Coast, where many cities had refused to send tribute.

Conquered realms were forced to send tribute every year and altogether Tenochtitlan received 123,000 cotton[xii] blankets from its tribute cites annually. Other goods sent as tribute included enough food to feed 360,000 people per annum[xiii], food, gold, silver, precious stones, armour made of feather and cotton, rubber, rubber balls, cotton, cotton textiles and worked products. Everything had to be carried on the back of porters as there were no draught animals.

This wealth was recorded and then stored in special depositories; much of it was used to venerate the gods. For cities close to the empire labour was also a form of tribute demanded by the victors.

Commemoration of the Tlatoani

Resplendent Quetzal
Following his successful coronation war Ahuitzotl had plenty of prisoners to sacrifice and he used them both to commemorate the completion of the Great Temple’s reconstruction in Eight Reed (1487) but also as the final sequence in the rituals that confirmed him as Tlatoani.

The commemoration festival lasted four days. On the first day, to demonstrate the primacy of Tenochtitlan within the Triple Alliance, Ahuitzotl presented the Tlatoani of Texcoco and Tlacopan with symbols of their status and then the three leaders led a 2,000 strong company of nobles and warriors in a stately dance. He then made a triumphant entrance in a costume adorned with quetzal feathers and jewellery and was surrounded by the dancers. Ahuitzotl made formal presentation of the insignia of office to the officials surrounding him, to underline his pre-eminence.

‘All the gentry of the neighbourhood were invited….the calpixques[xiv] and administrators….brought together all the necessaries for the feast….The ruler himself arrayed the nobles in rich blankets, and he told them this was the reward for their brave deeds.’[xv]

The final part of the commemoration was the sacrifices. Between 20,000 and 80,000 victims[xvi] are alleged to have been killed in what one chronicler described as;

‘Butchery….without equal in human history.’[xvii]

Tlacealel, as cihuacoatl[xviii], dedicated the seventh reconstruction of the Templo Mayor but it was Ahuitzotl himself who made the first sacrifice, attended by his co-rulers of Texcoco and Tlacopan. He cut out the victim’s heart with his obsidian blade, holding it up to the sky before making his obeisances to the new temples. In accordance with custom the body was then thrown down the temple steps before the army of priests in attendance took over the remainder of the killings which took four days to complete.


The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico – Nigel Davies, Penguin 1985

The New World – Nicholas Hordern, Aldus Books/Jupiter Books 1971

The Ancient American Civilisations – Friedrich Katz, Phoenix Press 2000

Moctezuma and the Aztecs – Elisenda Vila Llonch, the British Museum Press 2009

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Aztecs and Maya – Charles Phillips, Hermes House 2010

The Aztecs – Richard F Townsend, Thames & Hudson Ltd 2010


[i] The shaved ones
[ii] Master of the House of Darts or General of the Army; often a last promotion before being elected Tlatoani. Tizoc had been Axayacatl’s Tlacochcalcatl
[iii] Usually close relatives of the Tlatoani
[iv] A fermented drink made from the sap of the maguey plant
[v] Ancient American Civilisations - Katz
[vi].The year Two House was the anniversary of the foundation of the empire, which was believed to foreshadow the fall of the empire
[vii] One of the artefacts of that rebuilding is the stone of Tizoc
[viii] Ahuitzotl is the name of a legendary doglike aquatic creature with a hand at the end of its tail; they drowned their prey
[ix] The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Aztecs and Maya – Phillips
[x] ‘Made to the earth as a sign of truth and a bond with the land he was to govern’ – Townsend p. 106
[xi] Holding the statues of gods captured from conquered cities
[xii] Cotton was especially prized by the peoples of central America
[xiii] The cities paying a food tribute were those closest to the Aztec empire, while more far-flung lands contributed textiles
[xiv] Stewards who oversaw conquered lands
[xv] Ancient American Civilisations - Katz
[xvi] Allegedly making four lines that stretched for over four kilometres; although Davies suggests that these figures do not take account of the Aztec method of calculating and that the figure was probably closer to 4,000
[xvii] The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Aztecs and Maya – Phillips
[xviii] Following Tlacaelel’s death later in 1487 his successor as cihuacoatl was his son Tlilpotonqui