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The Americas

Central American Native Kingdoms


Itztapalapan (Toltecs / 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. These people came from the north-west and were perhaps influenced by the mound-building traditions of many Native American woodland tribes which manifested itself in the Mississippian culture and others.

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.

When the Aztec/Nahua migrants arrived in the region of the Valley of Mexico in the thirteenth century, they took over cities such as Azcapotzalco from the native inhabitants, while founding others themselves. Unfortunately, it isn't known into which category Itztapalapan falls - native or migrant Aztec - but by the start of the sixteenth century it was definitely an Aztec settlement.

Its name is also Aztec, meaning 'in the waters of the banks' in Nahuatl, a reference to its position on the southern shore of Lake Texcoco. If the Aztecs took control of the city from previous inhabitants then they either translated the previous name into Nahuatl or gave it an entirely new name. An example of this may also be relevant for the city of Tepanec.

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, and from External Link: Aztec History.)

c.550 - 800s

The great city of Teotihuacan to the north-east of Lake Texcoco is sacked and its grand buildings burned around this time. Somewhat reduced in circumstances, the city may survive into the eighth century AD but refugees find a new home on the southern shore of Lake Texcoco.

Map of Aztec cities around Lake Texcoco AD 1519
The Aztec rise to dominance in the mid-fifteenth century saw them create some cities themselves, conquer others by force, and dominate the remaining ones, with Itztapalapan located at the south-western corner of Lake Texcoco, on the Itztapalapa peninsula (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Under the leadership of a chieftain named Mixcoatl, the settlement of Culhuacan is founded as the first city of the Toltecs. Itztapalapan begins in a more humble fashion, and perhaps a little later. Like its neighbours it uses chinampas - artificial islands in the lake - on which to grow its food.

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.


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 empire with victories over the Tepanec and their subject cities of Coyoacan and Azcapotzalco (1428), Xochimilco (1430), Mixquic (1432), and Cuitlahuac (1433).

Artist's recreation of Tenochtitlan
This is an artist's impression of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan at the height of the glory and power of the Aztec empire

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 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.

fl c.1440s

Cuitalahuac I / Huehua Cuitlahuatzin

Son of Itzcoatl of Tenochtitlan.

? - c.1476



c.1476 - 1520

Cuitalahuac II

Maternal grandson of Cuitlahuatzin. Died of smallpox.


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 which 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.

Aztec god of the air Quetzalcoatl
Quetzalcoatl, god of the air, was predicted to arrive in 1519, heralding the beginning of the Nine Hells - coincidentally, perhaps, the Spanish seemed to fit the bill entirely


The Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes and his second-in-command, Pedro de Alvarado, arrive at Tenochtitlan from Cuba. The Aztec 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. Moctezuma himself is killed during the breakout from the city by Cortes and his men.


With the death of his brother, Cuitalahuac now becomes ruler of Tenochtitlan (for just eighty days) and governance of his home city of Itztapalapan is passed to his son while he continues the fight against the Conquistadors.


Ixhuetzcatocatzin (Alonso)

Son. Possibly remained as Spanish vassal governor.


Despite being captured initially, Cuitalahuac is freed and leads his people to drive the Spanish out of Tenochtitlan on 30 June. Unfortunately, he is soon 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.

Hernan Cortes
Hernan Cortes parades before the defeated Aztecs following the final fall of the native empire and the beginnings of Spanish conquest of further regions of Central America


Tenochtitlan is defeated by Spain on 13 August, and is drawn into what will soon become New Spain within the greater Spanish Colonies. This defeat marks the end of Aztec civilisation.

It is possible that Ixhuetzcatocatzin, christened as Alonso by the Spanish, remains in place as a provincial governor under the new regime. In modern Mexico, Itztapalapan is a borough in the federal district of Mexico City.

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