History Files

The Americas

Central American Native Kingdoms


Tlacopan / Tacuba (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 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.

Tlacopan (also known later as Tacuba) was founded alongside Azcapotzalco around 1400 by Tezozomoctli when he installed one of his sons as its ruler. This city state - or altepetl - quickly became a founding member of the Aztec Triple Alliance. Unfortunately the fortunes of its rulers is very poorly recorded, even by later Spanish writers. Most of the easily-available information comes via a small group of early historians.

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 Aztec City-States (Issue 18), Mary G Hodge (University of Michigan Press, 1984), and from External Links: Aztec History, and Encyclopaedia Britannica.)

c.1400 - 1430


Son of Tezozomoctli of Azcapotzalco.


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. In the late 1420s and 1430s, the Triple Alliance defeats many cities, including Tepanec (1428), and Culhuacan.

Tlacopan palace glyph
The palace glyph for Tlacopan as displayed in the Codex Osuna, an Aztec codex which was written down on European-supplied paper and which eventually came into the collection of the twelfth duke of Osuna in Spain

Totoquilhuaztli takes the title 'Tepaneca Tecuhtli', 'Lord of the Tepanecs', and twenty percent of the territory which is captured by the alliance goes to Tlacopan. Other cities have either already joined the alliance through marriage - including Itztapalapan - or treaty, or they now quickly do so.

1430 - 1469

Totoquilhuaztli (I)

Son? Vassal of Tenochtitlan.

1440 - 1468

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 and a garrison is installed in the Zapotec city of Mitla.

1469 - 1489

Chimalpopoca / Chimalpopocatzin

Son? Vassal of Tenochtitlan.


FeatureAhuitzotl of Tenochtitlan is an empire builder, and the last before the arrival of the Spanish (see feature link regarding his eventual death). He more than doubles the size of the Aztec empire, but his accession seems to mean obscurity for the rulers of Tlacopan. They have already been relegated to an inferior political role anyway.

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)

1489 - 1518

Totoquilhuaztli (II)

Son? Vassal of Tenochtitlan.

1519 - 1521


Son? Vassal of Tenochtitlan. Hanged 1525.


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

1520 - 1521

Despite being captured initially, Cuitalahuac of Tenochtitlan is freed and leads his people to drive the Spanish out of the city on 30 June. He is joined by other Aztec leaders in Tenochtitlan but, sensing the tide of battle turning against the Aztecs, other cities rebel.

Emperor Cuitalahuac is claimed by smallpox, introduced by the Spanish into the Americas. Between thirty to forty percent 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

Tlacopan falls along with the empire and is soon incorporated into the Spanish Colonial administrative region of New Spain. Tetlepanquetzal is taken to Honduras by Hernan Cortes, the new ruler of Mexico City and is hanged there. Over subsequent centuries, the city expands to encompass the former site of Tlacopan, which today lies in the Mexican borough of Miguel Hidalgo.

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