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The Americas

Central American Native Kingdoms


Cuauhnahuac (Tlahuica / Aztecs) (Mesoamerica)

The Aztec people were formed of several ethnic groups which occupied central Mexico. Predominantly this included groups which 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 which 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 Tlahuica were the first major culture to inhabit this region of Mexico. It was they who founded the city of Cuauhnahuac in a fertile region with a stable all-year-round temperature. The name meant 'place for trees' or, more literally, 'near the woods'. The general area seems to have been inhabited since at least 1000 BC, with some burials being found to the north of the city, in Gualupita.

Later conquered or assimilated by the Aztec/Mexica, the city was located approximately eighty-five kilometres to the south of Tenochtitlan. Like the Valley of Mexico, this region just over the Ajusco Mountains enjoyed abundant rainfall and a semi-tropical climate. It quickly became the home of a dense Aztec population which was organised into city states and was reliant upon intense agricultural practices. The land around the city was always fertile, making it a target of conquest for several Aztec rulers. In fact, the number of claims for the Aztec conquest of Cuauhnahuac are far too high to be realistic. In all probability some of them were merely raids, campaigns, or the subjugation of rebellions.

In time the nobles of Cuauhnahuac were intermarried into the Aztec ruling nobility, making any true reconquest much less likely. Unfortunately Cuauhnahuac is really only mentioned when it involves Aztec interaction. There are plenty of gaps in its timeline and in the names of its rulers. By the time of the Spanish conquest and incorporation into the Spanish Colonies, the city was densely populated and wealthy thanks to its part in maintaining the glory of the Aztec empire. It made a prime target for the Conquistadors, and an important settlement area for the subsequent colonial period. Today it is Cuernavaca (an Hispanicised version of the name), the capital and largest city in Mexico's Morelos state.

Aztec Hero

(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 Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopaedia, Susan Toby Evans & David L Webster (Garland Publishing, 2001), from Visions of Paradise: Primordial Titles and Mesoamerican History in Cuernavaca, Robert Stephen Haskett (University of Oklahoma Press, 2005), and from External Link: In Morelos, Cuernavaca springs eternal (Mexconnect).)

12th century

The Tlahuica arrive in the region, integrating with and probably commanding whatever indigenous population has been here since at least 1000 BC. They found the settlement of Cuauhnahuac in a fertile valley which is located to the south of the Valley of Mexico, separated from it by the Ajusco Mountains.

Ajusco Mountains
The Ajusco Mountains separate the Valley of Mexico - core home of the Aztecs and their later empire - from the territory to the south which was inhabited by the Tlahuica


No more than two centuries after the arrival of the Tlahuica, Xólotl, apparently the first ruler of Tetzcoco and Tanayucan, conquers much of the Valley of Mexico and perhaps ventures into the region of Cuauhnahuac (which may, at this time, be known as Tlalnahuac).

An allied Chichimec tribe also moves south into what is now northern Morelos state, making Techintecuitla lord of the Cuauhnahuac region. The Tlahuica concentrate their numbers in the nearby towns of Yecapixtla and Yautecatle. Seemingly soon afterwards, Tepanec expands, taking Cuauhnahuac, Cuitlahuac, and Culhuacan to its east, and many other cities besides.

fl 1290s?


Chichimec ruler of the Cuauhnahuac/Tlalnahuac region.

fl 1365


Lord of Cuauhnahuac/Tlalnahuac.


As mentioned in the Tlatelolco Annals, Macuilxochitl attempts to conquer territory as far as the Valley of Mexico, but is halted in his ambitions by Tzalcualtitlan of Chalco, who has the same idea.

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 or tap on map to view full sized)

? - 1396

Tezcacohuatzin / Ozomatzinteuctli

A sorcerer, one of a dynasty of 'magician lords'. Defeated.

1396 - 1398

In 1396, Huitzilihuitl of Tenochtitlan begins to expand his empire into Cuauhnahuac's regional space. He requests the hand in marriage of the ruler's daughter, which is refused. This starts a war which ends with the Aztec ruler victorious in the same year (perhaps the real intention of the proposal), and Tezcacohuatzin's daughter is taken anyway.

She becomes the mother to Moctezuma, later Moctezuma I of the Aztec empire at Tenochtitlan, while Cuauhnahuac appears to become tributary (although still regionally dominant) to Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs are claimed as being responsible for renaming Tlalnahuac as Cuauhnahuac.

1398 - 1433


Aztec governor for Tenochtitlan.

1403 - 1427

Cuauhnahuac maintains its high standing, and is able to call on troops from Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco to act as auxiliaries in a campaign in what is now the Mexican state of Guerrero (immediately to the west of Cuauhnahuac and reaching to the Pacific coast). Neighbouring peoples such as the Coauixcas are conquered.

However, this high standing ends in 1427, the year in which the Triple Alliance is formed by the Aztec cities. Even so, the city remains a favourite holiday retreat for the Aztec upper class.

Cuauhnahuac's main temple
Cortes razed Cuauhnahuac's central temple and used the base of the pyramid as the foundation for his own residence, the Palacio de Cortés (now a history museum)


Cuauhnahuac's governor, Miquiuix, rebels against Tenochtitlan, but is quickly subdued by Netzahualcoyotl of Tetzcoco on behalf of the Aztec emperor. The region is divided in two for the payment of tribute, one governed by Cuauhnahuac's new governor and the other by Huaxtepec (modern Oaxtepec, within the municipality of Yautepec in the northern part of the Mexican state of Morelos). Alternative dates of 1430, 1437, or 1439 can be ascribed to this event, depending upon the source text.

1433 - ?


Son of Tezcacohuatzin? Father of Atotoztli of Tenochtitlan.


Tezcacohuatzin's grandson, Moctezuma I, is the offspring of his daughter, Miahuaxihuitl, and Huitzilihuitl of Tenochtitlan. In 1440, Moctezuma becomes ruler of the now-powerful city. Cuauhnahuac retains local rulers, one of whom ascends the Aztec imperial throne in 1487, but Cuauhnahuac itself apparently enjoys a period of independence before 1458.


Aztec forces from Tenochtitlan and Tetzcoco embark on a campaign which will dramatically expand the boundaries of Aztec territory. Their first major gain is the reconquest of Cuauhnahuac (for reasons which remain unclear). The city presumably remains an integral part of the empire until its fall, although with local rulers in place.

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

1487 - ?


Aztec emperor of Tenochtitlan (1486-1502).

FeatureAhuitzotl is an empire builder, and the last before the arrival of the Spanish (see feature link). 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.

bef 1491 - 1504


Aztec governor for Tenochtitlan.

? - 1520

Itzohuatzin / Itzcoatzin

Aztec governor for Tenochtitlan.

1520 - 1521

Cuauhnahuac is swiftly conquered by the invading Spanish, before even Tenochtitlan. The Tlahuica, fiercely loyal to the Aztec empire, do not give in without a fight. Ultimately the Spanish invaders burn the city to the ground and destroy the central pyramid.

From the smouldering remains of the destruction, Hernan Cortés builds what will metamorphose into two of the city's main tourist attractions: the Palacio de Cortés (now a history museum), and the Catedral de la Asunción (which is built to double as a fortress).

Cuauhnahuac itself is soon incorporated into the Spanish Colonial administrative region of New Spain. The city eventually becomes Cuernavaca, capital of the Mexican state of Morelos.

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