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The Americas

Central American Native Kingdoms

 

 

 

Azcapotzalco (Chichimec) (Mesoamerica)

The Chichimec people were formed of semi-nomadic groups which occupied the Bajio region of modern Mexico. They and other Nahuatl speakers dominated large parts of Mesoamerica from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries AD, although they first made an appearance several centuries before that. Their semi-nomadic nature meant that they freely moved back and forth between newly-occupied territories in central Mexico and other settlements in Texas, and perhaps even as far north as Utah in the USA. The Chichimec name was picked up by the Toltec city-dwellers to the south, but more in reference to their barbaric nature as they were predominantly hunter-gatherers. The name was retained by their Nahuatl-speaking cousins, the Aztecs, when they adopted civilisation, and it stuck when the Spanish copied it. However, some Chichimec groups did settle, and quite early on too.

From the thirteenth century, the Valley of Mexico was at the heart of Nahua-speaking civilisation, and it was here that the powerful city of Tenochtitlan was constructed upon raised islets in Lake Texcoco. The settlement of Azcapotzalco, though, was reputedly founded by Chicimecs in AD 995, presumably elements of the most southerly of Chichimecs who had picked up a taste for civilisation from the city-dwellers. Pronounced 'askapo-tsal-co', the name means 'at the anthill'. This settlement and the later city into which it developed lay in the Valley of Mexico, on the western shores of Lake Texcoco. The Chichimec hold on the city was not especially strong, and they became dominated by the Tepanecs from the thirteenth century, and then by the Aztecs.

The Chichimec name is a lumping together of various tribal groups, up to eight 'nations' which spoke different versions of Nahuatl. These groups included the Caxcanes (leaders of the 1540 Mixtón War against the Spanish), Guachichiles, Guamares, Tecuexes, and Zacatecos, the now-extinct Eudeve and Opata, and the still-surviving Chichimeca Jonaz, Coras, Huicholes, Mayos, O'odham, Otomies, Pames, Tepehuanes, and Yaquis.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Codex Chimalpahin: Society and Politics in Mexico Tenochtitlan, Tlatelolco, Texcoco, Culhuacan and Other Nahua Altepetl in Central Mexico, concerning the writings of seventeenth century Nahua historian Chimalpahin Cuauhtlehuanitzin, otherwise known as Don Domingo Francisco de Antón Muñón, (Ed) Arthur J O Anderson & Susan Schroeder, from Discovering the Chichimeca, Charlotte M Gradie (The Americas, Vol 51, No 1:67-88, 1994), and from External Link: The political collapse of Chichén Itzá in climatic and cultural context (Science Direct).)

995

According to the historian Chimalpahin Cuauhtlehuanitzin, the city of Azcapotzalco is founded by Chichimec groups, although modern archaeological evidence suggests some form of occupation from around AD 600. Presumably these earlier inhabitants are semi-nomadic types just like the Chichimec groups who inhabit it now, and the 'city' at this time is likely to be nothing of the kind.

At some point between this date and the city's colonisation by Aztecs, it appears to be dominated by the Toltec empire. However, it is probably the cultural influence of the Toltecs which has encouraged these southern Chichimecs to settle in the first place, whether the settlement is permanent at first or simply a seasonal refuge. The Toltecs are probably vital for supplying the materials of a settled life.

Map of Central America c.AD 950
By the middle of the tenth century AD the Toltecs were swiftly creating an empire centred around their capital at Tula, although Toltec influence spread a great deal further than their military might (click on map to view full sized)

c.1175

Around this time the Toltec empire undergoes a sudden and violent collapse. This is possibly due to a long period of drought which induces large population movements, most notably by nomadic Chichimec groups which largely occupy northern territories in Mexico and Texas. The changes bring disruption to the region. Researchers have noticed a slump in construction at numerous sites across the northern territory of the Mayans in the Yucatan which takes place against a backdrop of severe drought. But the drought here is far more severe than usual - the worst drought that the region has seen for fully two thousand years - a so-called megadrought.

It is entirely possible that the more northerly regions of Mesoamerica are similarly affected, triggering migrations which could include the Chichimec, Mixtec, and early Aztecs, and causing the sudden crash of an establishing farming-based society like that of the Toltecs. Pressure from arriving Aztecs could also serve as a further trigger point for Chichimec movement, since the Aztec are clearly superior in warfare and perhaps more numerous too.

1222 - 1283

As part of a general migratory invasion into the Valley of Mexico by Nahuatl-speaking northern peoples, tribes begin to arrive on the central plateau. Keen to intermarry into surviving Toltec royalty and nobility and claim the honour of Toltec descent, four of these peoples influence the rise of the Aztec empire, the Chichimecs, the Tepanecs, the Acolhua, and the Mexica. A direct descendant of the Toltecs is Atotoztli, fourteenth century ruler of Culhuacan. The Tepanec take control of the former Toltec cities of Coatepec and Coyoacan, as well as many others, probably including Azcapotzalco.

Azcapotzalco of the Chichimecs (Tepanecs / Aztecs) (Mesoamerica)

The Nahuatl-speaking people which formed the Aztecs and other major migratory groups consisted of several ethnic divisions. The Nahuatl language was predominant among these, and its speakers dominated large parts of Mesoamerica from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries AD, all of which territory later formed parts of central Mexico. The name itself, 'aztec', means 'people from Aztlan', a mythological location for the region's Nahuatl-speaking culture, but it was this that was later adopted to define the Mexica people. From the thirteenth century, the Valley of Mexico was at the heart of Aztec civilisation, and it was here that the powerful city of Tenochtitlan was constructed upon raised islets in Lake Texcoco.

The Tepanec were closely-related Nahua migrants who arrived in the same region in the thirteenth century. Sharing their culture with the Aztecs, they also bore some relation to Acolhua culture, another Aztec branch which settled at Tetzcoco. The Tepanec arrived earlier than the Mexica (Aztecs), and they conquered a domain on the western shores of Lake Texcoco from which they expanded during the late thirteenth century. They took over several cities, including Azcapotzalco of the Chichimecs. It took about two centuries for these newcomers to turn the city into one of the most powerful in the region, during the reign of Tezozomoctli, to the point that it dominated the eventual seat of the Aztec emperors, Tenochtitlan. However, Tezozomoctli's successors were less fortunate, and Azcapotzalco quickly became subject to the overlordship of the Aztec empire.

Following its conquest by the Spanish, the city of Azcapotzalco gradually became incorporated within the ever-expanding boundaries of the modern Mexico City. Located at the north-eastern edge of the city, Azcapotzalco has supplied its name to the local administrative borough. The seventeenth century chronicler of Central American history, Chimalpahin, provides dates for some rulers. Some modern scholars have suggested revisions, especially for the succession of Tezozomoctli to 1371, but in general the original dates are reliable enough.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Codex Chimalpahin: Society and Politics in Mexico Tenochtitlan, Tlatelolco, Texcoco, Culhuacan and Other Nahua Altepetl in Central Mexico, concerning the writings of seventeenth century Nahua historian Chimalpahin Cuauhtlehuanitzin, otherwise known as Don Domingo Francisco de Antón Muñón, (Ed) Arthur J O Anderson & Susan Schroeder, from Tetzotzomoc, James Grant Wilson & John Fiske (Eds), 1889, from Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography Vol 1, and from Discovering the Chichimeca, Charlotte M Gradie (The Americas, Vol 51, No 1:67-88, 1994).)

Maxtlacozcatl / Matlacohuatl

Tepanec tribal leader?

1168

Maxtlacozcatl is given as the first of this line of Tepanec rulers, possibly either because it is he who takes control of Chichimec Azcapotzalco. More likely, though, the Tepanec are still migratory semi-nomads at this time. The Toltec still command the region, despite being on the edge of a disaster of their own, and the Tepanec are not thought to arrive in any serious numbers until the thirteenth century.

Pre-Columbian Lake Texcoco
Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico formed the heartland of later Aztec power, but it was also home to several powerful city states which predated the rise of the Aztecs, and this included the city of Azcapotzalco

The placement after Maxtlacozcatl of Acosta Acolhua is problematical, as he clashes with the (apparently) ruling ancestors of Acolnahuacatl and his son, Tezozomoctli (see below). Even Acosta's existence is doubtful when considering the fact that it is given by the dubious Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography Vol 1 (which contains several faked biographies). The Acolhua peoples found the city states of Tetzcoco and Tanayucan around this time in history - the late twelfth century - so perhaps Acosta (if he is real) is linked to these events. Xólotl is claimed as the first ruler of Tetzcoco and Tanayucan, which makes Acosta's placement there unlikely.

1168 - late 12th C

Acosta Acolhua

Of the Acolhua? Placement here & existence uncertain.

Chiconquiauitl

Son of Maxtlacozcatl?

Tezcapoctli

Son?

Tehuehuactzin

Son? Gained control of Azcapotzalco?

1222 - 1283

As part of a general invasion into the Valley of Mexico by Nahuatl-speaking northern peoples, tribes begin to arrive on the central plateau. Keen to intermarry into surviving Toltec royalty and nobility and claim the honour of Toltec descent, four of these peoples influence the rise of the Aztec empire, the Acolhua, the Chichimecs, the Mexica, and the Tepanecs. A direct descendant of the Toltecs is Atotoztli, fourteenth century ruler of Culhuacan. The Tepanec take control of the former Toltec cities of Coatepec and Coyoacan, as well as many others, probably including Azcapotzalco.

1239

Another dubious entry in Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography Vol 1 - actually the very same entry as for Acosta Acolhua, above - mentions that Tetzotzoaloc begins to rule Azcapotzalco in 1239. Again, this raises a conflict with the ancestors of Acolnahuacatl and Tezozomoctli, so Tetzotzoaloc's existence is uncertain.

1239 - c.1250

Tetzotzoaloc

Merged with Acosta Acolhua's dubious Appleton entry.

Micacalcatl

Son of Tehuehuactzin?

1283 - 1414

The Nahua-speaking Tepanec people expand, taking Cuauhnahuac, Cuitlahuac, and Culhuacan to the east, and many other cities besides. However, while their cities of Azcapotzalco and Tepanec originally seem to be part of a unified state, by the mid-fourteenth century at the latest they appear to become independent of one another, possibly following the reign of Acolnahuacatl.

fl c.1280s?

Tezozomoctli / Tezozomoc (I)

Placement here and relationship to the others uncertain.

fl c.1290s?

Xiuhtlatonac

Son of Micacalcatl?

1302 - 1367

Acolnahuacatl

Son? Last ruler of a unified Tepanec state?

1367

Acolnahuacatl (otherwise known as Aculnahuacatl or Acolnahuacatzin) had married Cuetlaxochitzin, daughter of king Xolotl of Tenayuca. His death means that the couple's son succeeds him (and also seems to be the point at which Tepanec is ruled by a separate dynasty for around a century). The reign of Tezozomoctli propels the city to new heights of power. An aggressive and proud leader, he grows to a great age, and creates dynastic matches with many other cities.

Map of Aztec cities around Lake Texcoco AD 1519
This map shows the principle Aztec cities at the height of their power, but it also includes other cities such as Azcapotzalco which was largely a Tepanec stronghold by this time (click on map to view full sized)

1367 - 1426

Tezozomoctli / Tezozomoc (II)

Son. Military genius and strong political leader.

1372

Tezozomoctli's son, Cuacuapitzahuac, is offered the throne of Tlatelolco. Tezozomoctli Yacateteltetl himself is one of the region's most powerful rulers, and he manages to secure Tenochtitlan and Tetzcoco as tributary states. He also marries one of his daughters to Huitzilihuitl, ruler of Tenochtitlan, and later installs a son as ruler of a new city or settlement by the name of Atlacuihuayan.

c.1416

Relations between Ixtlilxochitl of Tetzcoco and Tezozomoctli have been deteriorating for some time, and now open hostilities break out. Tezozomoctli is supported by his son-in-law, Huitzilihuitl of Tenochtitlan, and together they conquer and sack many Aztec cities, including Acolman, Chalco, Cuauhtitlan, Otompa, Tetzcoco, Tollantzingo, Tultitlan, and Xaltocan.

1427

Tayatzin / Tayauh

Son. Throne usurped by Tepanec, and later killed.

1427 - 1520

Following Tezozomoctli's long reign and death, he is succeeded by his son, Tayatzin. However, Maxtla of Tepanec, the older half-brother of Tayatzin, soon incites a rebellion among Azcapotzalco's nobles and usurps the throne. Chimalpopoca of Tenochtitlan allies himself with Tayatzin, and the two conspire to retake the throne and kill Maxtla. In the end, Tayatzin is killed and Maxtla secures his hold over Azcapotzalco. This means that he is also Atlacuihuayan's new overlord, although Tlatelolco seems to escape this fate.

The Azcapotzalco title, Tepaneca tecuhtli, 'Lord of the Tepanecs', is inherited by Totoquilhuaztli of Tlacopan. With the defeat of Maxtla the following year by the Triple Alliance under the new ruler of Tenochtitlan, Itzcoatl, Azcapotzalco is incorporated within the Aztec empire. The fate of Atlacuihuayan is not known but it has to be assumed that it too is incorporated into the empire.

1520 - 1530

Azcapotzalco is conquered by the foreign invaders and, after a period of Spanish governance from Tenochtitlan, is soon incorporated into the colonial administrative region of New Spain. However, the Chichimecs themselves fiercely resist Spanish dominance. Their initial resistance results, in 1530, in the death of Andres de Tapia Motelchiuh, Spanish interim governor of Mexico City.

1540 - 1542

Having conquered the Aztecs with relative ease, the going is suddenly not quite so easy for the Spanish. The two year Mixtón War (1540-1542) sees the Caxcanes and other semi-nomadic natives of north-western Mexico fighting fiercely against the Spanish invaders and their allies, the Aztec and Tlaxcalan. The Caxcanes are usually categorised as Chichimecs, while the war is named after Mixtón, a hill in southern Zacatecas state in Mexico which is used as a stronghold by the natives. The Caxanes are defeated and incorporated into New Spain, but various areas of resistance continue, leading into the Chichimeca War in 1550.

Seventeenth century glyph
This illustration is of a seventeenth century glyph that denotes the Aztec city state of Azcapotzalco, although by this date the Aztecs were firmly under Spanish domination

1550 - 1591

The Chichimeca War sees the Spanish forces of New Spain fighting the Chichimec confederation in Mexico's lowlands, centred on the Bajio region. Being triggered eight years after the conclusion of the Mixtón War, it is largely a continuation of that conflict and near-unbroken unrest and resistance in between. The defeated Caxanes are now incorporated into the Spanish forces. The Chichimecs are excellent and highly-deadly archers who inflict heavy casualties upon the invaders and their allies, and Spain is unable to defeat them fully. Instead a new colonial policy of gradual integration is pursued over the next three centuries, minimising organised resistance of this form. The surviving Chichimec groups later form part of modern Mexico.