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The Americas

Central American Native Kingdoms


Tepanec (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 former Toltec city states of Azcapotzalco and Tepanec were taken over by the Tepanec or Tepaneca tribe of Aztec/Nahua migrants when they arrived in the region (which most likely means that the city of Tepanec previously had another name or an earlier version of its Aztec name). Their culture was a sister to that of the Aztecs themselves, and also bore some relation to Acolhua culture, another Aztec branch which settled at Tetzcoco. The Tepanec arrived earlier than the Mexica (Aztecs), conquering a domain for themselves on the western shores of Lake Texcoco from which they expanded during the late thirteenth century.

During most of the fifteenth century, one of Tepanec's subject cities was the aforementioned, once-powerful Azcapotzalco, which supplied a new king to Tlatelolco in 1372. Modern Tepanec itself is now called Azcapotzalco, a borough which lies at the north-western edge of Mexico City's environs.

Aztec Hero

(Information by Peter Kessler, with original ling list by Luiz Gustavo, and 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, (Eds) Arthur J O Anderson & Susan Schroeder, from Tetzotzomoc, James Grant Wilson & John Fiske (Eds), 1889, and from Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography Vol 1.)

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 Chichimecs, the Tepanecs, the Acolhua, and the Mexica.

Aztec human sacrifice
This rather gruesome illustration shows a human sacrifice in action, a ritual that was practised by many of the region's natives and which reached its height during the apogee of the Aztec empire

A direct descendant of the Toltecs is Atotoztli, fourteenth century ruler of Culhuacan. Following their arrival into the region, the Tepanec take control of the former Toltec cities of Coatepec and Coyoacan, as well as many others. How they do this and how long it may take has largely been lost to history.

1283 - 1414

Tepanec expands, taking Cuauhnahuac, Cuitlahuac, and Culhuacan to its east, and many other cities besides. However, while the Tepanec 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 for approximately a century, possibly following the reign of Acolnahuacatl.


Acolnahuacatl (otherwise known as Aculnahuacatl or Acolnahuacatzin) had married Cuetlaxochitzin, daughter of Xolotl of Tenayuca. His death now means that the couple's son succeeds him in ruling Azcapotzalco (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 formulates dynastic matches with many other cities.

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)

1367 - 1426

Tetzotzomoc / Tezozomoctli

'Fractured Stone'.


Tayauh / Tayatzin

Son. Probably poisoned by Maxtla.

1426 - 1428


Bro. 'Breechcloth'. Older bro of Tayatzin of Tenochtitlan.


Following the long reign and death of Tezozomoctli of Azcapotzalco, he has been succeeded by his son, Tayatzin. Maxtla (sometimes referred to as Maxtla of Coyoacan, a city which Tepanec controls) 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, but Tayatzin is killed instead and Maxtla gains Azcapotzalco. This means that he is also Atlacuihuayan's new overlord.


Maxtla is defeated by the Triple Alliance under the new ruler of Tenochtitlan, Itzcoatl. Azcapotzalco is sacked and Tepanec is made subject to Tlacopan. Maxtla himself is sacrificed by the exiled ruler of Tetzcoco, Netzahualcoyotl. The fate of Atlacuihuayan is not known but it has to be assumed that it too is incorporated into the empire.

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


Following a siege which destroys much of the city, Tenochtitlan is defeated by Spain on 13 August 1521. Along with its tributary states which include Atlacuihuayan and Tepanec, it is drawn into what is becoming New Spain within the greater Spanish Colonies, which is administered from Cuba and then Mexico City. This defeat marks the end of Aztec civilisation.

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