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The Americas

Central American Native Kingdoms


Mixtecs of Coixtlahuaca (Mixteca)

The peopling of the Americas remains a complicated subject, and one which is open to a great deal of debate. While earlier migrations are especially debated, it is generally accepted that there was a broad phase of migration (involving several individual waves of migration) into the 'New World' of the Americas between 25,000 and 15,000 years ago. These first arrivals made the most of the Bering land bridge that joined Asia to North America during the most recent ice age. Others may have followed the coastline in canoes, moving much more quickly than they would on foot. Over thousands of years these new arrivals filtered eastwards and southwards to produce the Native American civilisations that are known to archaeology and history. Elements of modern native American society prefer to propose that they have always been living in the New World and that a migration simply did not take place, despite overwhelming evidence which places human evolution firmly in Africa.

Mixtec means 'place of the cloud-people', and these people were one of pre-Columbian Central America's major civilisations. The ancient capital was at Tilantongo, while also important at various times were the sites of Achiutla, Cuilapan, Huajuapan, Juxtlahuaca, Mitla, Tlaxiaco, Tututepec, and Yucunudahui.

The Mixtec city state of Coixtlahuaca formed the dominant capital of these people on the eve of the Spanish invasion of the Americas. Their territory covered areas of the Pacific coast in what is now central Mexico. It lay to the south-west of the Aztecs, with the Zapotecs positioned on their south-eastern flank. Today, the former Mixtec territory forms the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Puebla in the La Mixteca region.

(Additional information from Conquest of the Sierra: Spaniards and Indians in Colonial Oaxaca, John K Chance (1989).)

fl 900s?


early 1000s

Five Alligator


Eight Deer Ocelot-Claw

United the Mixteca.

11th century

Lord Eight Deer conquers and unites most of the Mixteca territory. During this period of superiority, the Mixtec also occupy some former Zapotec sites which include the former great capital of Monte Alban. However, despite the Zapotec decline, they are still capable of fighting to defend their land, and the period is marked by incessant warfare between them and the Mixtec. Both peoples also come into conflict with the growing power of the Aztecs to the north.

? - 1458

Dzawindanda / Atonal (II)

Ruler of the Mixtec peoples from Coixtlahuaca. Executed.


Moctezuma of Tenochtitlan leads an expedition into Mixtec territory against Coixtlahuaca on the pretext of the mistreatment of Aztec merchants. The Mixtec ruler calls on the support of contingents of Tlaxcala and Huexotzingo warriors who are traditional enemies of the Aztecs, but the Mixtecs are defeated. Most of the local chieftains are allowed to retain their positions, but Dzawindanda is ritually strangled and his family are taken as slaves. Tribute is paid to Tenochtitlan, but the Mixtec would appear to retain their independence, at least to an extent.

Mixtec warrior
An artist's rendition of a Mixtec warrior


The Mixtec peoples are conquered by Tenochtitlan's Aztec empire under Ahuitzotl and the capital city of Coixtlahuaca is sacked. Some sources state that this is a complete conquest, while others state that the Mixtec are never fully conquered by the Aztecs.

1520 - 1550s

Envoys from Coixtlahuaca apparently surrender to the Spanish in September 1520. The city is governed from the former Aztec capital of Mexico City, before being incorporated into the Spanish Colonial administrative region of New Spain. However, other Mixtec groups need to be conquered by force, and their resistance is determined and bloody.

1522 - 1527

The core Zapotec cities may have opened their gates to the newcomers but the Sierra Zapotec to the north are in a state of total war. One important area of expansion is the Bixanos Zapotec community of Choapan, which counts as its allies Comaltepec and Latani, amongst others.

This alliance is led by a powerful cacique (chief) called Tela and his son, Theolao, and various cadet branches of illustrious royal forbears. It has founded Comaltepec and several other towns during its expansion, and may still be at war with its Zapotec neighbours even after the Spanish arrival. However, it is more likely that these Zapotec have united in the face of a greater threat as they are also at war with the neighbouring Mixtecs.

Several campaigns are required before the Spanish can say for certain that they have subdued the rest of the Zapotec and also the Mixtecs, perhaps even setting up a fort in the border between the two lands. Although Cocijopi Xolo seemingly remains on the Zapotec throne, his lack of resistance to the Spanish still leads to others assuming the mantle of resistance leader.

fl c.1550s


Other Mixtec Cities

Documentation for Mixtec civilisation is not highly detailed, but a few other city states are known of in basic detail from the pre-Colombian period. The Mixtec also raised some major constructions at the former Zapotec city of Monte Alban, which they captured from their eastern neighbours.


The Olmec cave at Juxtlahuaca and its near neighbour at Oxtotitlan contain the earliest-known examples of sophisticated central American art. Estimations of the dating for the cave art places it in the Early Pre-Classic period of 1200-900 BC. How the caves came to be connected with the Olmecs is unknown, as the heartland of their territory was on the opposite coast, on the Gulf of Mexico, while Juxtlahuaca is approximately a hundred kilometres (62 miles) inland from the Pacific coast.


The site of Mitla was occupied by around 500 BC after having been built by the Zapotecs, but the earliest constructions date to around AD 200. Following the Spanish conquest of the Mixtec, the town of Mitla was continually inhabited, with parts of the original settlement being built over. Excavations and repairs which were carried out in the 1930s and 1960s have preserved some of the surviving buildings.


The Aztec 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 at the Zapotec city of Mitla, although whether this is before or after it has fallen to the Mixtecs is unknown.

Tututepec (Yuca Dzaa)

Located in the Oaxacan highlands which formed the heartland of Mixtec territory, the city state of Tututepec thrived from the twelfth century until its conquest by the Spanish. At one point it had political influence which stretched over more than 25,000 square kilometres of territory. The modern town of Villa de Tututepec de Melchor Ocampo in Mexico occupies the site.

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