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The Americas

Central American Native Kingdoms


Tlatelolco (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 the Valley of Mexico in the thirteenth century, taking over cities such as Azcapotzalco from the native inhabitants. Whether this was done violently or through settlement and gradual integration is largely unrecorded, but the former seems more likely. Becoming one of the most powerful cities under Tezozomoctli to the point that for a time 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.

Tlatelolco was founded around 1372 by Tezozomoctli when he installed one of his sons as its ruler (although it has to be wondered whether there was already a settlement there). Another son was installed as the ruler of Atlacuihuayan. Tlatelolco became the sister city of Tenochtitlan but, despite the closeness in relations, it was still conquered by what became its bigger and far more powerful neighbour.

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.)


In the same year that Acamapichtli is offered the throne of Tenochtitlan, Tlatelolco also selects an outsider to take its throne. While all Aztec towns have their market place, located near the city centre, that at Tlateloco has the grandest, drawing up to 60,000 visitors on a daily basis. 'Shopping' is done through trade, usually involving cacao beans for small, everyday items.

Tlatelolco's ruins
This view of the excavated ruins of the heart of Tlatelolco also have a Spanish church behind them, overlooking the site, along with twentieth century high-rise apartment buildings which are in use by today's population

1372 - 1407

Cuacuapitzahuac / Quaquapitzahuac

Son of Tezozomoctli of Azcapotzalco.

1407 - 1426

Tlacateotl / Tlacateotzin

Son. Killed by the Acolhua (sister culture to Aztecs).

1426 - 1460


Grandson. Killed by the Tenochca.

1427 - 1428

Following the long reign and death of Tezozomoctli of Azcapotzalco, he is succeeded by another 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 within the Aztec empire. The fate of Atlacuihuayan is not known but it has to be assumed that it too is incorporated into the empire.

Map of Aztec cities around Lake Texcoco AD 1519
The Aztec rise to dominance in the mid-fifteenth century Valley of Mexico saw them create some cities themselves, conquer others by force, and dominate the remainder (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Quauhtlatoa is killed by the Tenochca - usually equated with the people of Tenochtitlan. Moquihuix is installed as the city's new ruler by Moctezuma of Tenochtitlan. If he is supposed to be a quiescent vassal ruler, he certainly does not act like one.

1460 - 1473

Moquihuix / Moquihuixtli

Tenochtitlan vassal. Killed by Axayacatl of Tenochtitlan.

1473 - 1520

Moquihuix is determined to end the twin cities arrangement with Tenochtitlan, but his intentions result in the city being subjugated by the Aztec emperor, Axayacatl. Moquihuix is killed and a military governor is placed in charge, causing long-lasting ill-will on the part of the populace.

1520 - 1521

Invaders have arrived! Despite being captured initially, Cuitalahuac of Tenochtitlan is able to lead his people to drive out the Spanish from the city on 30 June 1520. He is joined by other Aztec leaders in Tenochtitlan but, sensing the tide of battle turning against the Aztecs, the people of the city states of Xochimilca and Cuitlahuac turn against the Aztecs and take the opportunity to loot.

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

Other Aztec-dominated cities also express anti-Aztec sentiments, just as smallpox appears, drastically weakening the Aztec defensive efforts and making their final stand seem all the more heroic.

Following a siege which destroys much of the city, Tenochtitlan is defeated on 13 August 1521, and is drawn into the growing Spanish Colonies. This defeat marks the end of Aztec civilisation.

The city is ordered to be rebuilt by Cortes, with the natives banished to its outer areas. Tlatelolco is also conquered and is soon incorporated into New Spain which is initially governed from the former Aztec Mexico City. However, Tlatelolco does for a generation have its own Colonial Rulers.

Colonial Rulers of Tlatelolco

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. 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.

Following Cortes' destruction of the Aztec empire in 1520-1521, a series of Latinised members of the previous ruling elite were appointed to govern the outlying areas of Tenochtitlan. The first two rulers of Tenochtitlan were selected by Hernan Cortes himself, while he governed Mexico from Mexico City and began the process of establishing what would eventually become New Spain in the Spanish Colonies within the Americas, formalising Spanish central control. The colonial governors of individual cities were then no longer needed or their positions became relatively insignificant.

The Spanish did not have it entirely their way during the initial conquest of the Aztec empire. It was Cortes who recorded the capture by natives of a Spanish convoy in 1520. Only a few tens of kilometres from the relative safety of the Spanish army, the convoy of conquistadors and allies encountered a local people known as the Acolhuas, allies of Tetzcoco.

Somehow, the caravan was captured and its European and indigenous members were imprisoned and cannibalised over the course of six months or so. Other horror stories also exist, mostly from the European perspective of events.

Aztec Hero

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Discovering the Chichimeca, Charlotte M Gradie (The Americas, Vol 51, No 1. 51 (1): 67-88, 1994), and from External Links: Terrifying Mesoamerican Skull Racks Were Erected to Deter Enemies (Ancient Origins), and Conquistadors sacrificed and eaten by Aztec-era people (The Guardian).)

1549 - 1562

Diego de Mendoza

Native vassal governor. Son of 'Zayoltzin'. Died 1562.

1550 - 1591

The Chichimeca War sees the Spanish forces of New Spain fighting the Chichimec confederation in Mexico's lowlands, centred on the Bajio region. Being triggered eight years after the conclusion of the Mixtón War, it is largely a continuation of that conflict and near-unbroken unrest and resistance in between. The recently-defeated Caxanes are now incorporated into the Spanish forces.

The Chichimecs are excellent and highly-deadly archers who inflict heavy casualties upon the invaders and their allies, and Spain is unable to defeat them fully. Instead a new colonial policy of gradual integration is pursued over the next three centuries, minimising organised resistance of this form.

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


Luis de Santa María Nanacacipactzin is the last pre-conquest native ruler of Tenochtitlan - now Mexico City. After a gap of three years, the final, non-local judge governors are appointed to command the city for the rest of the century, while Tlatelolco retains its native governor for a further fourteen years.

1567 - 1579

Miguel García Oquiztzin

No information available.


Miguel García Oquiztzin is the last local ruler of the city within the viceroyalty of New Spain. The judge governors of Mexico City remain in office until 1614 but it can be imagined that the old ways and leaders with knowledge of the old empire are both fast disappearing. Spanish Colonial power is now centred on New Spain.

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