History Files

The Americas

Central American Native Kingdoms


Atlacuihuayan (Aztecs) (Mesoamerica)

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 civilisation, and it was here that the powerful city of Tenochtitlan was constructed upon raised islets in Lake Texcoco.

The Tepaneca tribe of Aztec/Nahua migrants arrived in Valley of Mexico in the thirteenth century, and took over cities such as Azcapotzalco from the native inhabitants. Becoming one of the most powerful cities under Tezozomoctli to the point that it dominated Tenochtitlan, the eventual seat of the Aztec emperors, the city set about creating new colonies or taking over existing cities throughout the region. Atlacuihuayan was probably founded by Tezozomoctli of Azcapotzalco when he installed one of his sons - Epcoatl - as its ruler (another son was installed as the ruler of Tlatelolco). This 'founding' doesn't rule out the existence of a settlement before this, though. Cities could often be founded by new rulers who rebuilt the efforts of the rulers or people they were replacing or now dominating. Koch seems to suggest that it was an abandoned town when the Mexica were battling against Culhuacan for land, possibly a generation or two before Epcoatl's time. The name seems to mean 'place where the water is taken', which would be appropriate for this city's location on the western shore of Lake Texcoco, around ten kilometres to the south of its parent city. Today it forms part of the Tacubaya region of Mexico City.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with 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), from An Analytical Dictionary of Nahuatl, Frances E Karttunen, from The Tenochca Empire of Ancient Mexico: The Triple Alliance of Tenochtitlan, Tetzcoco, and Tlacopan, Pedro Carrasco, and from The Aztecs, the Conquistadors, and the Making of Mexican Culture, Peter O Koch.)

fl 1420s


Son of Tezozomoctli of Azcapotzalco.

1427 - 1519

Following the long reign and death of Tezozomoctli of Azcapotzalco, he is succeeded as ruler of the city by a 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 into the Aztec empire. The fate of Atlacuihuayan is not known but it has to be assumed that it too is incorporated into the empire. Epcoatl's fate is equally unknown. His survival probably depends upon how quickly he submits to Maxtla or Itzcoatl.

Map of Aztec cities around Lake Texcoco AD 1519
Aztec human sacrifice
Shown in this rather basic image is a depiction of human sacrifice, something that was practised throughout the Aztec empire, built on similar customs that greatly predated the Aztecs themselves, while above is a map showing the principle Aztec cities (click or tap on map to view full sized)


The Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes and his second-in-command, Pedro de Alvarado, arrive at Tenochtitlan from Cuba. Emperor 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.


Following a siege which destroys much of the city, Tenochtitlan is defeated by Spain on 13 August. Along with its tributary states which include Atlacuihuayan, it is drawn into what is becoming New Spain. This defeat marks the end of Aztec civilisation. Cortes orders the rebuilding of the city, 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).