Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations

Brief history of the Aztec Empire

Category: Aztec

In the period from 1068 to 1168 AD (Presumably in 1168) Chichimecas tribe left their legendary homeland – the island Aztlan (“the place where herons live”, “the place of herons”). The exact location of the island is unknown, but many researchers believe that it was somewhere in the northern Gulf of California. From the word “Aztlan” comes a name “Aztec” (they called themselves “Mexica”).

More than 200 years, the tribe of the Aztecs wandered in search of their new home before they settled on two islands of Lake Texcoco. Mythological and historical sources indicate that the Aztecs first reached mythical starting point Chicomoztoc (“Seven Caves”) (Chicomoztoc served as a “transit” point for many wandering tribes, for example tlaxcaltecs, tepanecs, Chalco), and from then went on a long travel south to more fertile lands of the Valley of Mexico.

Before they get to the Valley of Mexico, they often stayed for long time: erected temples, settled down internal tribal conflicts. Its first sanctuary, they erected on the hill of Chapultepec (“grasshopper hill”), owned by the city-state Azcapotzalco, where they lived from 1253 to 1295 AD. The first celebration of the New Fire, they celebrated in Coatepec, the second – in Apatzco (in the Valley of Mexico), the third – in Tezpayocan (on the shores of Lake Texcoco), and a fourth – in Chapultepec (Lake Xochimilco).

Many tribes which lived around the lake have met them very unfriendly (they called them “people without a face”) and led the fight to them. In the Valley of Mexico the Aztecs were attacked by a coalition of coastal cities, caught up and exiled as slaves in Culhuacan (Culhua – “the place of those who have ancestors”) – there they were warriors, mercenaries, and later for their courage they deserve honor and respect. But in 1322 Culhuacan drove them from their lands, and the Aztecs moved inside of the lake in the swampy islands. According to another version, they get independence and leave the area – Tizapan (“at chalky water”).

In 1325 on a small island in Lake Texcoco in reality Aztecs saw an ancient prophecy, which was revealed to the chief Tenoch – the main Aztec god Huitzilopochtli had predicted them to settle where they saw an eagle holding a snake in its claws, and sitting on a cactus. In the same year the capital of a future founded the Aztec empire – Tenochtitlan was founded, named after the legendary leader Tenoch (hence another name for the Aztecs – tenochca). There is another translation of the name of the city – “a place where cactus grows on a rock.” Later the city were divided into 4 quarters: Teopan, Moyotlan, Cuepopan and Aztacalco, and in the middle of the city was located a giant ceremonial center.

Foundation of Tenochtitlan (1325)

From 1325 to 1430 the Aztecs are in service (mostly as military mercenaries) to the most powerful city-states of that period in the Valley of Mexico – Azcapotzalco. As a reward for the service they received land and access to natural resources. During this period they are with great zeal rebuilt their city, extending it with the help of artificial islands – chinampas and tried to enter alliances (often through marriage – the first such marriage occurred with a woman from Culhuacan) with the ruling dynasties of neighboring peoples, who has its origin to the Toltecs.

In 1337, north of Tenochtitlan Aztec group, separated from the main tribe and founded City of Tlatelolco.

In 1348, a war with tepanecs during which were destroyed many manuscripts from the Texcoco royal archives.

In 1359 Cholula was conquered by the kingdom Huexotzingo.

In 1375 the Azcapotzalco ruler authorized the Aztecs to elect formally their own ruler, and in the period between 1375 and 1376 the Aztecs elect a first supreme leader – Acamapichtli (1376-1395). During his reign, he strengthen political position of the Aztecs strengthened both external and internal.

Probably in 1390 was founded the Great Temple, dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, but it is likely it could be built earlier.

In 1395 Acamapichtli dies (after his death, a period of troubles), his successor becomes Huitzilihuitl (1395-1405/14).

In 1405/14 (the one given in 1405, on the other – in 1414) the third emperor of the Aztecs became Chimalpopoca (1405/14-1428), brother of Huitzilihuitl. He approved a complex system of dynastic succession. Tlatoani (supreme ruler) was elected by four military commander appointed by the Supreme Council. They could choose tlatoani among brothers of died tlatoani, and if they were not, among the sons and nephews in the male line.

By 1418 tepanecs of Azcapotzalco conquer the entire area Texcoco.

In 1428, came to power Itzcoatl (1428-1440).

Itzcoatl Emperor and his nephew (or brother) Tlacaelel (advisor of the emperor) was the first who officially sanctioned the practice of sacrifice. Identifying the main Aztec god Huitzilopochtli as the sun, they must periodically feed the heavenly body of fresh human blood, so it did not stop its motion path across the sky.

In the same year Azcapotzalco opposed Tenochtitlan, but the Aztecs created an alliance with the Tlatelolco, Tlacopan, Texcoco, Tlaxcala, Huexotzingo and eventually defeated tepanecs of Azcapotzalco in 1430.

Azcapotzalco tepanecs defeated in 1430

Itzcoatl forms a powerful triple alliance of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, Tlacopan (Mexica, acolhua and tepanecs) with the supreme council, in which foreign policy issues solved by Aztecs, trade issues – by tepanecs and law issues – by acolhua. War Spoils in such an alliance was divided in the ratio 2:2:1. A Tlacaelel began to lead an army of the Triple Alliance, because he manifested itself at war with tepanecs as outstanding commander.

Itzcoatl reign (1428-1440)

Itzcoatl captured the agricultural south and north of the Valley of Mexico. Council of elders, warlords and priests has been replaced by the Council of Four, the highest advisory body to the tlatoani, consisting of his relatives and had the right to choose a new tlatoani. Itzcoatl also destroyed the old pictographic manuscripts, in which the Aztecs and their deities assigned a modest role in the history of the Valley of Mexico. Instead, they wrote new manuscripts, which magnified the Aztecs and kept silent about a primitive tribal past.

In 1440, Montezuma I came to power (1440-1469). During his rule sacrifices in the form of fights between captive enemies became popular. If during such bouts captives showed courage and provided stubborn resistance, priests awarded valuable gifts to one who captivated them. In this form of sacrifice also appeared a political subtext – Montezuma I often invited to such fights leaders of the not yet conquered kingdoms.

Between Triple Alliance and other city-states – Tlaxcala, Huexotzingo, Cholula – by mutual agreement there were the “war of flowers”, the main purpose was to get prisoners to offering a sacrifice to the Sun.

Aztec Empire acquired new lands and needed administrative reforms. There was introduced a special order management, new rules to promote the social ladder. Montezuma I laid the foundations of the judicial system distinct from community and clan law. Tlatoani still retain their deified status, and the ongoing process of concentration in the hands of the ruler of the military, political, religious, ideological, legislative and judicial branches.

In the mid-15 th century the Aztecs continued to equip his capital and built a huge dam across the lake, which can supply the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan with fresh water and protect the city from flooding. Aztecs built the first aqueduct to the city.

Motecuhzoma I reign (1440-1469)

In 1445 the Aztecs organize a military campaign in Oaxaca.

In 1446 they conduct military operations against the Confederation of Chalco-Amecamecan.

From 1450 to 1454 AD Aztecs were a subject of natural disaster: there were prolonged droughts and untimely frosts. The result of it was famine and disease – many people died. There have been numerous cases of cannibalism.

1458 – conquest of Veracruz and Coixtlahuaca.

In 1465 the Aztecs defeat the Chalco and conquer them.

1467 – was born a son of Axayacatl, the grandson of Montezuma I – the future ruler of Tenochtitlan, Montezuma II Xocoyotzin.

In 1469, came to power Axayacatl (1469-1481) and in 1473 he conquered Tlatelolco, after the ruler of this city Mociuxtli declares its independence.

In the 1470-1480-ies. Aztecs gain a series of military victories and extend the western boundaries of the empire: in 1476 they conquered the Valley of Toluca.

In 1481, Tizoc Calchihutlatonac, grandson of Montezuma I, became the Aztec emperor (“pierced Emerald) (1481-1486) – during his reign empire experience its heyday. After 2 years from the beginning of his reign, he decides to rebuild the pyramid, dedicated to Huitzilopochtli (Great Temple). He decided to make Temple a significantly higher, grander and more powerful – it took a lot of human resources: not only the adult population of the city and the slaves worked under the construction of the temple, but also children.

In 1486 Tizoc was poisoned (this is assumption) and the Emperor became the third grandson of Montezuma I – Ahuitzotl (1486-1502). He had become famous as an outstanding military leader. The next year (Feb. 19, 1487) was completed the construction of the Great Temple. In honor of the temple Aztecs invited tribal leaders who belonged to the empire, which brought a lot of subjects to sacrifice. There have also been festively decorated all the temples in Tenochtitlan at that time (about 300). The first one who tore the victim’s heart and handed it to the priest was the emperor himself. At the same moment in all the temples in the city started a mass sacrifice, which lasted from morning until late evening. Feast lasted 3 days. According to various estimates, there was from 4000 to 80,600 sacrificed men (but it seems more accurate figure of 20,000 prisoners).

During his reign Ahuitzotl was forced to do the construction of irrigation and drainage facilities, due to the periodic lack of food and fresh water in Tenochtitlan (the city’s population was growing rapidly). Thus, the second aqueduct was built in the city.

Ahuitzotl reign (1486-1502)

1496 – boundaries of the Aztec Empire are located near the border Mixtec state (Valley of Oaxaca). Ahuitzotl can not ignore the territory of Mixtec State and he begins military expansion of the Aztecs, which turns into a protracted.

Solar eclipse occurs which scared all the inhabitants of the empire.

In the same year died the great commander of the empire – Tlacaelel – he was 98 years old.

By early 16th century the city-states which conquered by triple alliance in the early days of the Alliance, are deeply integrated into the imperial structure – the rulers of these cities participated in the wars of conquest, organized by Aztecs and received for this award in the form of titles and lands. The triple alliance comprised of about 50 city-states and subordinated to more than 400 villages. There was 38 provinces from which aztecs collect tribute.

In 1502, came to power Montezuma Xocoyotzin (“young”) (Montezuma II – 1502-1520), son of Axayacatl. During his reign, the empire has mainly been engaged not only in capture new lands, but the consolidation of previously captured and the suppression of uprisings and revolts. Montezuma II was unable to as his predecessor to win the west Tarascan, and on the east tlaxcaltecs (the latter provided military assistance to the Spanish conquistadors, united with them against Aztec).

Montezuma II left a memory of himself as a consummate diplomat. He continued the policy of military expansion, but his policies differ from the policies of his predecessors. In place of a lightning attack came the successive events on the active inclusion of different peoples in the economic life of the country. During his reign into state were included numerous enclaves, as a result – the Triple Alliance territory covered all of central Mexico, including Veracruz, Hidalgo, Puebla, Mexico, Morelos and partially Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas. In Tenochtitlan was built a special temple, where were the statues of the gods of the conquered tribes.

During this period, continued the practice of mass sacrifice – it is known for us that once Montezuma II ordered in one day to sacrifice more than 1000 prisoners.

In 1503, the Aztecs begin anew protracted and bloody war against Oaxaca. Montezuma II attacks mixtec city Achiotlan and Xaltepec. This year heavy rains flood the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.

In 1504 the Aztecs carried out military action against the enclave of Puebla.

From 1505 to 1509 Aztecs begin a military campaign against the cities Quetzaltepec, Tototepec, Teuctepec, Miauatlan, Yanuetlan and Zozallan.

In 1509, the Aztecs in horror were watching the comet.

In the years 1511-1512 Aztecs defeated in the war against Oaxaca.

In 1514 there happened natural disasters as drought and severe cold that perished the harvest and after it begins hunger.

In 1515 starts the rebel of Ixtlilxochitl. The war began Texcoco vs Tlaxcala.

Arose rumors about the appearance of the bearded white men.

In 1518, Juan de Grijalva on four well-equipped ships, made an expedition to the Yucatan Peninsula, and then, on his return to Cuba, he sailed along the coast of the Aztec Empire.

1519 – Aztecs conquered the capital of the Totonac – Zempoala.

By this time period the empire has already a huge territory with a variety of rich natural resources of the northern regions of Mexico to the current boundaries of Guatemala: arid areas north of the Valley of Mexico, mountain gorges of the current state of Oaxaca and Guerrero, coastal Gulf of Mexico, Pacific ridges.

By this time the Aztecs Tenochtitlan has become one of the largest cities in the world with a population of 150-200 thousand people and has become a huge trading center with a large market in the satellite city of Tlatelolco, where in the trading day attended up to 25 thousand people. The second largest city of the empire was Texcoco with a population of 30,000 people. In many other cities population were of 10-25 thousand people.

In 1519 began the expedition of Hernando Cortez. He sailed from Cuba on February 18 with 11 ships on board which were 508 soldiers, 16 horses and a few guns. First he sailed with 10 ships to Cozumel. He then rounded the Yucatan Peninsula and sailed to the Mexican coast, where he founded the city of Veracruz.

After the arrival of the Spaniards, the Aztec emperor was brought the report: “The gods have returned. Their spears spewing flames. Their warriors has two heads and six legs, and they live in floating homes.” Montezuma expected performance of the ancient prophecy of the return of Quetzalcoatl in the year Ce Acatl (year of cane rod), which corresponded to 1519. During the ten years prior to this event in the Aztec empire was 8 omens of an impending disaster:

– Every night during the year the flames appeared in the eastern sky.

– For unexplained reasons, was burned the temple of Huitzilopochtli in Tlacateccan.

– Lightning struck a temple of Xiutecuhtli in Tzonmolco.

– One afternoon there was a comet, collapsed into three parts.

– The water in Lake Texcoco boiled up and destroyed the surrounding houses.

– One night a voice of weeping woman was heard: “My dear children, we must go! Where can I take you?” (Florentine Codice).

– One fisherman caught heron, tufted in the form of a mirror in which Montezuma saw the heavens and the army, riding on animals like deer.

– There were found people with two heads and one torso, which then mysteriously disappeared.

During his stay on the Gulf Coast, Cortez repeatedly clashed with local tribes, but the force of arms of the Indians were not comparable to European – powder did the trick. Meanwhile, Montezuma received the reports, which said that white people shooting lightning and dressed in armor made of silver and stone, and can not be defeated in open battle. To somehow appease the “gods” Montezuma sends Cortez different gifts. But the Spaniards were not ready yet to go to Tenochtitlan. Constant skirmishes took their toll – the bread, bacon and salt were in the end, the soldiers are tired of wearing heavy armor, and many were afraid of freezing in the mountains, as well as they were afraid a huge Aztec army. However, Cortes was not going to come back with empty hands and the desire for easy and quick gains, as well as the speaking skills of leader of the Spaniards, have convinced all to take a march on Tenochtitlan.

August 16, 1519 the Spaniards began their march on the capital of the Aztec empire, which lies about 450 kilometers to the west. Along the way they were joined by several thousand Indians.

November 8, 1519 the Spaniards came to Tenochtitlan, and Moctezuma greeted them: “Welcome, we’ve been waiting for you. This is your house.” He waited for God, Quetzalcoatl. But they were not gods … In the ensuing weeks the Aztec emperor discovered that he actually became a hostage, and the Spaniards began to destroy all relics of Indians and put in place of them Christian shrines. Then the Indians were more and more convinced that posing as gods Spaniards were in fact no less bloodthirsty and greedy for gold trafficking. There was growing dissatisfaction with the actions of Montezuma who continued to support the white newcomers. One day he was taken to the roof to calm down the raging crowd, but some threw stones from the wounds of which he died three days later (according to the Spaniards, but there are other versions which say that the Spaniards themselves killed the emperor before their escape from the city). After Montezuma the Emperor became for a short time his brother Cuitlauak (1520-1520). Soon after the onslaught of a huge number of Aztecs, Cortez with his army was forced to leave the city. That same year Cuauhtémoc of Tlatelolco (“descending (falling) Eagle” – 1520-1521) became the last sovereign ruler of the Aztec Empire. In that year he turned 18 years old.

Escaped from the town Cortes had no intention of giving up. Build ships and trusting to luck, allies, gunpowder, horses and iron, led this united army to attack Tenochtitlan.

August 13, 1521 the Spaniards captured Tenochtitlan, together with the latest tlatoani Cuauhtemoc and several of his supreme advisors. Subsequently, Tenochtitlan was completely looted and destroyed, Cuauhtémoc was executed (in 1525), and the Aztec empire was completely conquered by the Spaniards.

Aztec rulers (years of reign):

Acamapichtli (1376-1395)

Huitziliuitl (1395-1405/14)

Chimalpopoca (1405/14-1428)

Itzcoatl (1428-1440)

Montezuma I (1440-1469)

Axayacatl (1469-1481)

Tizoc (1481-1486)

Ahuizotl (1486-1502)

Montezuma II (1502-1520)

Cuitlahuac (1520-1520)

Cuauhtémoc (1520-1521)

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