Texcoco was situated on the eastern bank of Lake Texcoco[i], on the opposite side of the lake from Tenochtitlan. The eastern lakeshore was fringed by marshes and brackish water[ii], rendering it impossible to use the chinampa system of agriculture practised in Tenochtitlan[iii]. Texcoco pioneered irrigation works, building a system of canals and aqueducts bringing fresh water from springs in the mountains to the east of the city, a system much admired by the Conquistadors;
‘Thanks to the greatness and industry of the ruler of Tetzcoco [Nezahualcoyotl] water was led into canals from a distance of 2 leagues in order to irrigate the hill. Mountains were removed and valleys filled up in order that the water might flow by its own impetus until it reached the top of the hill, where it could then pour downwards in order to water all trees and plants.’[iv]
Relatively sophisticated hydraulic engineering was required to build these aqueducts and in several places great embankments were raised to bridge ravines and saddles in the hills.
The water from the mountains irrigated the agricultural terraces around Texcoco. These feats of engineering overseen by Nezahualcoyotl helped increase food production. In Texcoco the irrigation works led to a stronger economy and an increase in population and sustained the position of Texcoco as the second city of the Triple Alliance.
Having secured his own water supply, Nezahualcoyotl assisted Tenochtitlan to install irrigation systems on their side of the lake. These systems included dykes between the salty and freshwater lakes and required the work of tens of thousands of labourers supplied under compulsion by the other cities of the region.
Extending Texcoco’s Influence
Nezahualcoyotl encouraged the spread of agriculture across Texcoco; the soil around Lake Texcoco was exceptionally fertile and farmers could expect two crops a year, the staple crop being maize[v]. The lake provided fish and lake eels whose eggs were a highly prized delicacy. The lakes, in a region where draught animals were not available, were ideal for transporting goods, acting as a stimulus to trade and political and social integration.
Under Nezahualcoyotl’s rule Texcoco was to gain a reputation for learning, gold-work, jewellery and fine picture manuscripts. Texcoco was the centre of artistic and intellectual life under the Triple Alliance. Nezahualcoyotl sent invitations to more than thirty craft groups from throughout the region suggesting that they might like to settle in Texcoco. He offered craftsman the most favourable working conditions, drawing in craftsmen who worked textiles, leather workers, sculptors along with gold and silversmiths.
The city also grew rich on the back of its merchants who not only traded their manufactured goods for raw materials but also sold salt and fish with lowland countries[vi]. Nezahualcoyotl also ensured that Texcoco became the premier scientific centre in the region; the irrigation systems that fed the lake towns with fresh water were built with the assistance of skilled artisans from Texcoco.
New councils were set up to govern Texcoco; a council of war, council of finance and a council of justice which acted as the final authority for all legal matters, receiving appeals from provincial courts.
Nezahualcoyotl created a new legal system, an adaptation of the Mexica system, with eighty severe and standardized laws; correct behaviour was defined with punishment meted out impartially. Trials were to be held in specially designated venues and any judge hearing cases elsewhere[vii] were deemed to have been bribed; their punishment was to be strangled[viii].
Laws were enacted matching every crime with its own punishment including treason, robbery, adultery, homicide, homosexuality, alcohol abuse, misuse of inheritances, and military misconduct as depicted in the Mapa Quinatzin. Other punishments included burning, strangulation or stoning. For the crime of adultery there were different punishments according to the degree of adultery and the status of those involved.
Adulterers were stoned, burned, or hanged if they had committed murder because of their extramarital affair. In cases of military misconduct, for example those soldiers who did not follow orders or killed captives, the condemned were hanged or beheaded. Nobles, too, were not immune to such punishments. Sons who stole from their father’s property were suffocated. Drunkards, incestuous men and women, and homosexuals were hanged as well.
A number of citizens were allowed to join the nobles and professionals on the councils; they were only barred from a fourth council, the council of state which advised the Tlatoani. This council was made up of fourteen chiefs who assisted with official business.
The three Tlatoani of the Triple Alliance arranged the marriages of their lesser lords and children and required their attendance at court. Nezahualcoyotl used his numerous children to bond his nobles and their families to him.
In the cities of the Triple Alliance the Tlatoani was expected to house and feed members of the nobility in his palace to emphasise the closeness between the Tlatoani and his nobles and to underline their dependence upon him. The Spanish estimated the annual consumption figures at Nezahualcoyotl’s palace as;
’31,600 fanegas[x] of maize, 243 loads of cocoa, 8,000 chickens, 5,000 fanegas of chili, 2,000 measures of salt; and for the clothing of the ruler and the rest of the nobility in his house….547,010[xi] are registered all made of the finest materials and of great value.’[xii]
After victories the nobility and warriors would be treated to huge feasts at which gifts were distributed to all and sundry to underline the relationship between ruler and ruled.
|Bath of the kings|
Nezahualcoyotl built his three hundred room palace, which covered amount a square mile, and was surrounded by high adobe walls around two large courtyards. The first courtyard was used as a market place and the second was surrounded by the council chamber, in which stood a throne of gold encrusted with turquoise, and the halls of justice with apartments providing accommodation for foreign ambassadors, nobles and men of learning. The public archives were kept here too, along with barracks for the royal guard and the counting houses where Texcoco’s tribute was stored.
The Tlatoani’s apartments adjoined this second court and included a harem. The walls were encrusted with alabaster and stucco work, or hung with tapestries adorned with feathers. Accommodation was provided nearby for Nezahualcoyotl’s one hundred and ten children[xiii] by his wife and numerous concubines.
The ruler’s apartments let out into the gardens created by Nezahualcoyotl with baths, ponds filled with exotic fish, and fountains all connected by waterways and fed by the watercourses from the mountains. Amidst the terraced gardens which had plants from all over central America were aviaries and a zoo. Birds and animals that could not be obtained for the zoo were represented by models made in gold or silver.
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
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Aztecs and Maya – Charles Phillips, Hermes House 2010
The Conquest of Mexico – WH Prescott, JM Dent and Sons Ltd 1978
The Aztecs – Richard F Townsend, Thames & Hudson Ltd 2010
[i] Later drained by the Spaniards in an effort to control flooding; mostly covered now by Mexico City
[ii] This salty water lake had a lower level than the other lakes, but in times of flood could burst its banks and overflow into the sweet water lakes and cause large amounts of damage to crops. In order to prevent this, dams were built between the salty and fresh water lakes.
[iv] The Ancient American Civilisations - Katz
[v] The Aztecs had two versions of the myth of the creation of maize; in one Quetzalcoatl turned himself into an ant and brought back maize from the ‘food mountain’. The other claimed that when the original human couple lost their only son Centeotl, the gods caused his body to produce foods and plants. Maize came from his fingernails, sweet potatoes from his fingers and cotton from his hair. Other plants sprung forth from other parts of his body. Centeotl is one of the Aztec maize gods.
[vii] Such as in their own homes; cases against judges were made on a case by case basis with precedents taken into account, rather than the prescribed punishments for many crimes
[viii] A similar system was incorporated in Tenochtitlan and Tlacopan
[ix] The Mapa Quinatzin shows the layout of the palace
[x] A Spanish measurement equal to about 55.5 litres
[xi] It is believed that the chronicler made a mistake and put an additional zero on this figure
[xii] The Ancient American Civilisations - Katz
[xiii] Nezahualcoyotl had four of his sons executed for having sexual relations with his concubines