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FeatureTenochtitlan / Emperors of the Aztecs / Mexica

The Aztec people were formed of several ethnic groups that occupied central Mexico. Predominantly this included groups that spoke the Nahuatl language and it was they who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries AD. 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 civilization, and it was here that the powerful city of Tenochtitlan was constructed upon raised islets in Lake Texcoco.

Tenochtitlan was an important city for the Aztecs, or Mexica. It was founded about 1325 by Tenoch, a respected chief of the early Aztecs during their migration from Aztlan. This was the ancestral (and possibly legendary) homeland of the Aztecs (or Nahua peoples), and is yet to be identified by archaeologists. An acceptable location would be in modern California. The migration towards the extensively populated Valley of Mexico in the south began on 24 May 1064, the start of the first Aztec solar year. The seven tribes of the Nahua were the Acolhua, Chalca, Mexica, Tepaneca, Tlahuica, Tlaxcalan, and Xochimilca, and each of them was supposedly responsible for founding an Aztec city state, most notably Matlatzinca and Tepanec.

The 'tlatoani' (or 'speakers') of the Aztecs were its kings. Tenochtitlan sought to cement its own position by electing Acamapichtli, one of the Culhua who successfully fought off Aztec takeover attempts. Although the city was for a time a vassal, it prospered and managed to increase the size of its island location on the western shore of Lake Texcoco by adding extra soil to the east and by capturing lakeshore chinampas from other cities. Some lists increase the length of reign for Tenoch by four years, decreasing Huitzilihuitl's by three, and Chimalpopoca's by one. Scholars are uncertain whether Tenoch himself is real or mythological.

(Original list by Luiz Gustavo. Additional information from Codex Chimalpahin Vol 1: 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, (Eds) Arthur J O Anderson, Susan Schroeder, & Wayne Ruwet (1997), and from An Analytical Dictionary of Nahuatl, Frances E Karttunen.)

c.1250 - 1300

Various tribes have been migrating towards the prosperous and flourishing Valley of Mexico. One of them is that of the Nahuatl-speaking Mexica, and they are initially allowed to settle within the territory of Culhuacan. Although they are largely forced to be subservient thanks to their raids on other settlements for women, they generally live in peace. In time they are forced to found their own settlement (around 1325), which becomes the city of Tenochtitlan.

1325 - 1372

Tenoch / Tenuch

Founder of the city.

1372 - 1391

Acamapichtli

Elected founder of royal line. 'Reed Fist'.

1372

Acamapichtli is the son of Atotoztli of Culhuacan, and is a direct descendant of the Toltecs. In the same year that the city of Tlatelolco gains an outsider as king, he is offered the throne of Tenochtitlan in an attempt to secure the city's position. However, during his reign, Tenochtitlan falls under the suzerainty of Azcapotzalco, the major regional power at the time. The city still thrives, building the earliest level of the Great Pyramid (Temple II).

1377

Tezozomoctli of Azcapotzalco attacks Culhuacan with a large body of troops, mostly Mexica, and subjugates the city.

1391 - 1416

Huitzilihuitl

Son. 'Hummingbird Feather'.

The eldest son of Acamapichtli, Huitzilihuitl proves to be a good politician. He cements alliances with other cities, and marries the daughter of the ruler of Azcapotzalco, obtaining a reduction in tribute payments to that powerful ruler. He joins his father-in-law in attacking other Aztec cities, including Acolman, Chalco, Cuauhtitlan, Cuitlahuac (in 1403), Mixquic (also in 1403), Otompa, Tetzcoco, Tollantzingo, Tultitlan, and Xaltocan, sacking and conquering most of them.

Artist's recreation of Tenochtitlan
This is an artist's impression of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan at the height of its glory and power, shortly before the arrival of the Spanish quickly put an end to it

1416 - 1427

Chimalpopoca

Son (or brother). 'Smokes like a Shield'.

Chimalpopoca's son is Ixtlilxochitl, the ruler of Tetzcoco. Tenochtitlan is still tributary to Azcapotzalco and a reward for its faithfulness is being granted the conquered Texcoco as a tributary in 1418. Chimalpopoca is attributed with the conquest of Tequizquiac, and the ruler also constructs a wooden aqueduct and a causeway to Tlacopan. When Tayatzin succeeds to the throne of Azcapotzalco, Maxtla of Tepanec soon incites a rebellion among Azcapotzalco's nobles and usurps the throne. Chimalpopoca allies himself with Tayatzin, and the two conspire to retake the throne and kill Maxtla, unsuccessfully in the end. Chimalpopoca offers himself as a sacrifice but is captured by Maxtla and imprisoned, where he commits suicide.

1427 - 1440

Itzcoatl

Son of Acamapichtli. 'Obsidian Serpent'.

1427

The kings of Tenochtitlan are crowned in accompaniment with the subjugated Tetzcoco and the ruler of Tlacopan, members of the Triple Alliance which forms the Aztec empire. As primary leader of the alliance, Itzcoatl lays the foundations for the Aztec empire with victories over the Tepanec and their subject cities of Coyoacan and Azcapotzalco (1428), Xochimilco (1430), Mixquic (1432), and Cuitlahuac (1433), and he also defeats Culhuacan, and Tezompa, securing agricultural resources and cementing the Triple Alliance's control of the southern half of the Valley of Mexico.

Other cities have either already joined the alliance through marriage - including Itztapalapan - or treaty, or they now quickly do so. As an early member of the alliance, governance of Itztapalapan is passed more diplomatically to the new Aztec social elite. It is formed into a union of four city states which also includes Culhuacan, Huitzilopochco, and Mexicaltzingo, and which is governed more remotely by Tenochtitlan. Later in his reign, Itzcoatl places his son, Huehua Cuitlahuatzin in command of Itztapalapan and in return the city has no taxes to pay.

1433

Miquiuix of Cuauhnahuac rebels against Tenochtitlan, but is quickly subdued by Netzahualcoyotl of Tetzcoco on behalf of the Aztec emperor.

1440 - 1468

Moctezuma I Ilhuicamina ('Montezuma')

Son of Huitzilihuitl. 'Frowned like a Lord, Pierces sky with Arrow'.

The empire is strengthened under Itzcoatl's successor, his nephew Moctezuma of Cuauhnahuac, with Tenochtitlan becoming the dominant member of the Triple Alliance. Moctezuma extends the alliance's borders to include the Huastec and Totonac peoples on the Gulf Coast.

1458

Forces from Tenochtitlan and Tetzcoco embark on a campaign that will expand the boundaries of Aztec territory dramatically. Their first major gain is the reconquest of Cuauhnahuac. The army goes further, into Mixtec territory, to defeat the city of Coixtlahuaca, killing the Mixtec ruler in the process. Tribute is paid to Tenochtitlan.

1466 - 1472

Atotoztli / Huitzilxochtzin

Dau. 'Queen of Tenochtitlan'.

1466 - 1472

Some sources indicate that Atotoztli may act as ruler during a six-year gap between the reigns of Moctezuma and Axayacatl. This possibility is raised by the document Los Anales de Tula. The Relación de la Genealogía goes further, claiming that Atotoztli actually rules for more than thirty years. She remains undocumented by Aztec scribes who are not used to having a woman in charge. Instead, they fill the gap either by extending the reign of Moctezuma beyond his death, or by pushing back the beginning of Axayacatl's reign to a date before his actual inauguration.

1468 - 1481

Axayacatl

Brother. 'Water Mask'.

1473

Tenochtitlan's sister city, Tlatelolco, is subjugated by Axayacatl, and he places a military governor in charge there.

1481 - 1486

Tizoc / Tizocicatzin

Brother. 'He has bled People'. Poisoned or died of illness.

Tizoc is credited with conquering the altepetl or ruling bodies of Atezcahuacan, Cillan, Ecatepec, Ecatliquapechco, Mazatlan, Miquetlan, Tamapachco, Tecaxic, Tlappan, Tolocan, Tonalimoquetzayan, Toxico, Xochiyetla, and Yancuitlan.

1486 - 1502

Ahuitzotl

Brother. 'Otter'.

FeatureAhuitzotl is an empire builder, and the last before the arrival of the Spanish. He more than doubles the size of the Aztec empire. His efforts include putting down a rebellion by the Huastec people, and conquering the Mixtec (1494) and Zapotec peoples (plus many others) from the Pacific coast down to the western part of Guatemala. He also grandly rebuilds Tenochtitlan after it has been seriously flooded by Lake Tenochtitlan.

1492

Christopher Columbus first reaches the Americas on 12 October in a three-ship expedition from Spain. He is initially credited with being the first European to reach the Americas, although he uses a route that sailors have been aware of for at least a generation. By 5 December, Columbus arrives at western Hispaniola, where he founds the colony of La Navidad. Then he sails to eastern Cuba.

1502 - 1520

Moctezuma II Xocoyotzin

Son of Axayacatl. 'He frowned like a Lord, the Younger'.

1519

The Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes and his second-in-command, Pedro de Alvarado, arrive at Tenochtitlan from Cuba. Moctezuma welcomes Cortes, thinking he is the legendary god-king, Quetzalcoatl, returned to claim his kingdom as he had prophesied. Some of his men claim that the city of Moctezuma (Montezuma) is one of the largest in the world, comparable to Paris and Venice. Alvarado orders the 'Massacre of the Great Temple', finally spurring the Aztecs into resisting them. Moctezuma is killed during the breakout from the city by Cortes and his men.

1520

Cuitalahuac II

Brother. 'Excrement Owner'. Ruler of Itztapalapan. Lasted 80 days.

1520

Despite being captured initially, Cuitalahuac is freed and leads his people to drive the Spanish out of the city on 30 June. Unfortunately, he is claimed by smallpox, introduced by the Spanish into the Americas. Between thirty to forty per cent of the population is killed alongside him, drastically weakening the Aztec defensive efforts and making their final stand seem all the more heroic.

1520 - 1521

Cuauhtemoc

Brother. 'Descends like an Eagle'.

1521

Following a siege which destroys much of the city, Tenochtitlan is defeated by Spain on 13 August, and is drawn into what is becoming New Spain. This defeat marks the end of Aztec civilisation. The city is ordered to be rebuilt by Cortes, with the natives banished to its outer areas. Much of the Aztec city is eventually built over and lost under Mexico City (so named because it had also been the capital of the Mexica, the name by which the Aztecs had been contemporarily known. Some of it has since been rediscovered and saved for posterity).

Colonial Rulers of Mexico City

Following Cortes' destruction of the Aztec empire, a series of Latinised members of the previous ruling elite were appointed to govern the outer sections of the city, now renamed San Juan Tenochtitlan. The city was divided into the same subdivisions as previously, but now excluded the Spanish central area. The first two rulers were selected by Hernan Cortes himself, while he governed Mexico and began the process of establishing what would eventually become New Spain in the Americas. The first four rulers were termed 'Indian ruler and governor' of the city, while subsequent, non-dynastic governors were referred to more simply as judge governor.

1521 - 1524

Hernan Cortes

Conquistador captain of the expedition to conquer the city.

1523 - 1527

Pedro de Alvarado is sent out by Hernan Cortes to conquer the highlands of Guatemala.

Hernan Cortes
Hernan Cortes parades before the defeated Aztecs

1525 - 1526

Juan Velazquez Tlacotzin

Puppet ruler under Cortes. Died before reaching Tenochtitlan.

1526 - 1530

Andres de Tapia Motelchiuh

Interim ruler. Died on expedition against the Chichimeca.

1530 - 1538

Pablo Xochiquentzin

Interim ruler.

1535

With the colonial Audiencia proving to be unwieldy, the king of Spain appoints the first viceroy to take command of New Spain.

1538 - 1541

Diego Huanitzin

Son of Tezozomoctli Aculnahuacatl.

1541 - 1554

Diego de San Francisco Tehuetzquititzin

Tezcatl Popocatzin. Last indian ruler.

1554 - 1557

Esteban de Guzman

Judge in residence from Xochimilco.

1557 - 1562

Cristobal de Guzman Cecetzin

Son of Diego Huanitzin. Installed by Guzman.

1563 - 1565

Luis de Santa María Nanacacipactzin

Judge governor.

1565 - 1568

Luis is the last pre-conquest native ruler of Tenochtitlan. After a gap of three years, the final, non-local judge governors are appointed to command the city for the rest of the century.

1568 - 1569

Francisco Jimenez

Judge governor from Tecamachalco.

1573 - 1599

Antonio Valeriano

Judge governor from Azcapotzalco.

1599 - 1608

Geronimo Lopez

Judge governor from Xaltocan.

1609

Juan Bautista

Judge governor from Malinalco.

1610 - 1614

Juan Perez de Monterrey

Judge governor.

1614

De Monterrey is the last judge governor of Tenochtitlan within the viceroyalty of New Spain.