Monday, 15 January 2018

Hungry Coyote II


Texcoco was situated on the eastern bank of Lake Texcoco[i], on the opposite side of the lake from Tenochtitlan. The eastern lakeshore was fringed by marshes and brackish water[ii], rendering it impossible to use the chinampa system of agriculture practised in Tenochtitlan[iii]. Texcoco pioneered irrigation works, building a system of canals and aqueducts bringing fresh water from springs in the mountains to the east of the city, a system much admired by the Conquistadors;

‘Thanks to the greatness and industry of the ruler of Tetzcoco [Nezahualcoyotl] water was led into canals from a distance of 2 leagues in order to irrigate the hill. Mountains were removed and valleys filled up in order that the water might flow by its own impetus until it reached the top of the hill, where it could then pour downwards in order to water all trees and plants.’[iv]

Relatively sophisticated hydraulic engineering was required to build these aqueducts and in several places great embankments were raised to bridge ravines and saddles in the hills. 

The water from the mountains irrigated the agricultural terraces around Texcoco. These feats of engineering overseen by Nezahualcoyotl helped increase food production. In Texcoco the irrigation works led to a stronger economy and an increase in population and sustained the position of Texcoco as the second city of the Triple Alliance.

Having secured his own water supply, Nezahualcoyotl assisted Tenochtitlan to install irrigation systems on their side of the lake. These systems included dykes between the salty and freshwater lakes and required the work of tens of thousands of labourers supplied under compulsion by the other cities of the region.

Extending Texcoco’s Influence

Nezahualcoyotl encouraged the spread of agriculture across Texcoco; the soil around Lake Texcoco was exceptionally fertile and farmers could expect two crops a year, the staple crop being maize[v]. The lake provided fish and lake eels whose eggs were a highly prized delicacy. The lakes, in a region where draught animals were not available, were ideal for transporting goods, acting as a stimulus to trade and political and social integration.  

Under Nezahualcoyotl’s rule Texcoco was to gain a reputation for learning, gold-work, jewellery and fine picture manuscripts. Texcoco was the centre of artistic and intellectual life under the Triple Alliance. Nezahualcoyotl sent invitations to more than thirty craft groups from throughout the region suggesting that they might like to settle in Texcoco. He offered craftsman the most favourable working conditions, drawing in craftsmen who worked textiles, leather workers, sculptors along with gold and silversmiths.

The city also grew rich on the back of its merchants who not only traded their manufactured goods for raw materials but also sold salt and fish with lowland countries[vi]. Nezahualcoyotl also ensured that Texcoco became the premier scientific centre in the region; the irrigation systems that fed the lake towns with fresh water were built with the assistance of skilled artisans from Texcoco.

Legal Matters

New councils were set up to govern Texcoco; a council of war, council of finance and a council of justice which acted as the final authority for all legal matters, receiving appeals from provincial courts.

Nezahualcoyotl created a new legal system, an adaptation of the Mexica system, with eighty severe and standardized laws; correct behaviour was defined with punishment meted out impartially. Trials were to be held in specially designated venues and any judge hearing cases elsewhere[vii] were deemed to have been bribed; their punishment was to be strangled[viii].

Laws were enacted matching every crime with its own punishment including treason, robbery, adultery, homicide, homosexuality, alcohol abuse, misuse of inheritances, and military misconduct as depicted in the Mapa Quinatzin. Other punishments included burning, strangulation or stoning. For the crime of adultery there were different punishments according to the degree of adultery and the status of those involved.

Adulterers were stoned, burned, or hanged if they had committed murder because of their extramarital affair. In cases of military misconduct, for example those soldiers who did not follow orders or killed captives, the condemned were hanged or beheaded. Nobles, too, were not immune to such punishments. Sons who stole from their father’s property were suffocated. Drunkards, incestuous men and women, and homosexuals were hanged as well.

A number of citizens were allowed to join the nobles and professionals on the councils; they were only barred from a fourth council, the council of state which advised the Tlatoani. This council was made up of fourteen chiefs who assisted with official business.

The Palace[ix]

The three Tlatoani of the Triple Alliance arranged the marriages of their lesser lords and children and required their attendance at court. Nezahualcoyotl used his numerous children to bond his nobles and their families to him.

In the cities of the Triple Alliance the Tlatoani was expected to house and feed members of the nobility in his palace to emphasise the closeness between the Tlatoani and his nobles and to underline their dependence upon him. The Spanish estimated the annual consumption figures at Nezahualcoyotl’s palace as;

’31,600 fanegas[x] of maize, 243 loads of cocoa, 8,000 chickens, 5,000 fanegas of chili, 2,000 measures of salt; and for the clothing of the ruler and the rest of the nobility in his house….547,010[xi] are registered all made of the finest materials and of great value.’[xii]

After victories the nobility and warriors would be treated to huge feasts at which gifts were distributed to all and sundry to underline the relationship between ruler and ruled.

Bath of the kings
Nezahualcoyotl built his three hundred room palace, which covered amount a square mile, and was surrounded by high adobe walls around two large courtyards. The first courtyard was used as a market place and the second was surrounded by the council chamber, in which stood a throne of gold encrusted with turquoise, and the halls of justice with apartments providing accommodation for foreign ambassadors, nobles and men of learning. The public archives were kept here too, along with barracks for the royal guard and the counting houses where Texcoco’s tribute was stored.

The Tlatoani’s apartments adjoined this second court and included a harem. The walls were encrusted with alabaster and stucco work, or hung with tapestries adorned with feathers. Accommodation was provided nearby for Nezahualcoyotl’s one hundred and ten children[xiii] by his wife and numerous concubines.

The ruler’s apartments let out into the gardens created by Nezahualcoyotl with baths, ponds filled with exotic fish, and fountains all connected by waterways and fed by the watercourses from the mountains. Amidst the terraced gardens which had plants from all over central America were aviaries and a zoo. Birds and animals that could not be obtained for the zoo were represented by models made in gold or silver.


The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico – Nigel Davies, Penguin 1985

The New World – Nicholas Hordern, Aldus Books/Jupiter Books 1971

The Ancient American Civilisations – Friedrich Katz, Phoenix Press 2000

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Aztecs and Maya – Charles Phillips, Hermes House 2010

The Conquest of Mexico – WH Prescott, JM Dent and Sons Ltd 1978

The Aztecs – Richard F Townsend, Thames & Hudson Ltd 2010


[i] Later drained by the Spaniards in an effort to control flooding; mostly covered now by Mexico City
[ii] This salty water lake had a lower level than the other lakes, but in times of flood could burst its banks and overflow into the sweet water lakes and cause large amounts of damage to crops. In order to prevent this, dams were built between the salty and fresh water lakes.
[iv] The Ancient American Civilisations - Katz
[v] The Aztecs had two versions of the myth of the creation of maize; in one Quetzalcoatl turned himself into an ant and brought back maize from the ‘food mountain’. The other claimed that when the original human couple lost their only son Centeotl, the gods caused his body to produce foods and plants. Maize came from his fingernails, sweet potatoes from his fingers and cotton from his hair. Other plants sprung forth from other parts of his body. Centeotl is one of the Aztec maize gods.
[vi] Tlacopan also had an expanding merchant class that was absent in Tenochtitlan, whose sister-city Tlatelolco had a ruling class of merchants rather than warriors.
[vii] Such as in their own homes; cases against judges were made on a case by case basis with precedents taken into account, rather than the prescribed punishments for many crimes
[viii] A similar system was incorporated in Tenochtitlan and Tlacopan
[ix] The Mapa Quinatzin shows the layout of the palace
[x] A Spanish measurement equal to about 55.5 litres
[xi] It is believed that the chronicler made a mistake and put an additional zero on this figure
[xii] The Ancient American Civilisations - Katz
[xiii] Nezahualcoyotl had four of his sons executed for having sexual relations with his concubines

Monday, 8 January 2018

Hungry Coyote

Ixtlixochtlotl I
Losing Texcoco

Nezahualcoyotl[i] was the son of Ixtlixochtlotl I, Tlatoani of Texcoco, and Matlalcihuatzin, the daughter of Huitzilhuitl, Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan. Nezahualcoyotl was born on April 28th 1401[ii]. Little is known of Nezahualcoyotl’s youth but like any Aztec scion of the nobility he would have been taught at the Texcoco calmecac[iii].

Ixtlilxochitl, a descendant of the Acolhua[iv], like his father before him, paid tribute to the Tepanec city of Azcapotlzalco[v]  Ixtlilxochitl did not care to be tied to the Tepanec and in preference to marrying the daughter of Tezozomac, the aggressive Tepanec Tlatoani, chose to marry Matlalcihuatzin. Ixtlilxochitl openly challenged Tezozomac, calling himself Lord of the Chichimecs, as his family was descended from Xolotl, the first Chichimec ruler.  

Tezozomac responded by gaining the support of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco[vi], leaving Texcoco friendless. He then sent Ixtlilxochitl cotton that he was to have woven for use by Tezozomac, thus emphasising his subordinate status. Ixtlilxochitl refused to do so, he claimed that he could put the material to best use as cotton armour for his troops.

Mount Tlaloc
From Thirteen Rabbit (1414) to Four Rabbit (1418) Tezozomac waged war against Ixtlilxochitl and Texcoco. At one point Ixtlilxochitl reached the outskirts of Azcapotlzalco but was driven back and eventually superior numbers won the day and Ixtlilxochitl fled Texcoco, heading for the mountains. He was murdered in the foothills of Mount Tlaloc, in the presence of Nezahualcoyotl.

On the Run

Unlike the precedents followed in Tenochtitlan[vii], in Texcoco leadership was passed on from father to son. Nezahualcoyotl was now unofficially the Tlatoani of Texcoco at the age of fifteen. He had no lands but did have the loyalty of his people. Nezahualcoyotl fled to Huexotzinco[viii] and then travelled to Tenochtitlan in Eight Rabbit (1422) seeking refuge with his mother’s family.

Texcoco was forced to pay tribute to Tenochtitlan rather than Azcapotlzalco, presumably as a reward for Tenochtitlan’s support in the fight against a neighbouring city. Nezahualcoyote’s grandfather Huitziilhuitl died in Three House (1417) and the new Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan was Tezozomac’s grandson Chimalpopoca.

Nezahualcoyotl’s aunts allegedly bribed Tezozomac who allowed Nezahualcoyotl to be partially educated as one of the family[ix]. While resident in Tenochtitlan Nezahualcoyotl came of age as a warrior and it is alleged that, although confined to within the city limits, Nezahualcoyotl handed over prisoners to Tezozomac. In exile Nezahualcoyotl was able to keep the spirit of resistance alive and well in Texcoco.

Tezozomac died in Twelve Rabbit (1426) and was succeeded by his son Maxtla, who was far less able than his father. Maxtla arranged the assassination of Chimalpopoca after a series of conflicts between the Tepanecs and Tenochtitlan.

After Maxtla became ruler of Azcapotzalco, Nezahualcoyotl returned to Texcoco, but had to return to exile a second time when he learned that Maxtla plotted against his life. Maxtla sent a delegation to Texcoco ostensibly as an embassy, but in reality under orders to kill Nezahualcoyotl. The plot was uncovered by Nezahualcoyotl’s attendants and Nezahualcoyotl took refuge in Huexotzinco once again.

The Triple Alliance

Chimalpopoca was succeeded by his uncle Iztcoatl who forged an alliance to defeat Maxtla. Nezahualcoyotl was aware of his need for allies to regain his city and he was only too happy to fall in with his uncle Iztcoatl’s plans. In One Flint Knife (1428) the city state of Texcoco joined the cities of Tenochtitlan and Tlacopan to form the Triple Alliance[x]. One of the architects of the alliance was the Cihuacoatl or Snake Woman of Tenochtitlan Tlacaelel[xi].

Backed by alliance forces Nezahualcoyotl returned to his patrimony in Texcoco, which became the headquarters of the revolt. Nezahualcoyotl was prominent in the coalition and led a force of warriors from Texcoco and Huexotzinco across the lake in a fleet of canoes. Tlacopan also rose up in revolt against Maxtla’s forces.

Maxtla’s capital was besieged by a force possibly as large as 100,000 men. After 114 days of the siege and a battle[xii], led by Nezahualcoyotl[xiii], Azcapotzla fell and Maxtla was captured in a ritual sweat-bath by his own embittered countrymen.

‘The allied powers, after a series of bloody engagements with the usurper [Maxtla], routed him under the walls of his own capital. He fled to the baths whence he was dragged out, and sacrificed with the usual cruel ceremonies of the Aztecs; the royal city of Azcapulzalco was razed to the ground.’[xiv]

It fell to Nezahualcoyotl to sacrifice the son of his father’s killer. The sacrifice offered the victim’s lifeblood to safeguard the soil, ensure the coming of the rains and it would validate the state and the power of its ruler. The sacrifice was also an act of respect towards Maxtla as it was shameful for a ruler to be kept prisoner[xv].

Tlatoani of Texcoco

Following the fall of Azcapotzla the Triple Alliance armies once again set out on campaign against the fertile Tlalhuica territories to the south[xvi]. They conquered Cuauhnahuac, the main town of the region and then the settlements of Cuitlahuac, Culhuacan, Mixquic, and Xochilmilco.

Tlacopan took the lands in the western part of the Valley of Mexico, while Texcoco received most of the eastern lands. Tenochtitlan took lands in both north and south. Tenochtitlan became the apex of the alliance with Texcoco in second place. The conquered regions paid tribute to the Triple Alliance in the way of goods and victims for sacrifice[xvii]. Nezahualcoyotl pioneered the policy of leaving local leaders in charge and Iztcoatl soon followed suit as it reduced the chances of revolt.

When he returned victorious to Texcoco Nezahualcoyotl apparently took the maxim;

‘That a monarch might punish, but revenge was unworthy of him’[xviii]

to heart. With Iztcoatl’s support he eliminated elements of the Texcoco nobility who were hostile to his return but pardoned others of the turncoat nobles and gave some posts of honour and his confidence.

Nezahualcoyotl created eight districts among his thirteen tribute paying towns and assigned a tribute collector to each one who was assigned the task of providing the palace with food and firewood on a rotational basis. The provinces were also required to pay tribute in the form of military service and the provision of labour for the construction and maintenance of temples; Nezahualcoyotl had a number of temples refurbished or reconstructed within the Texcoco heartlands.

In addition to the other councils set up by Nezahualcoyotl when he became Tlatoani was one which must have been close to his heart; that of the council of music which was devoted to encouraging the study of science and art. Works on astronomy, chronology, history and other sciences had to be approved by the council before they could be publicised. Wilful perversion of the truth was a capital offence.

The council of music was staffed with specialists with no regard to rank and had supervision over the production of all artworks and the finer fabrics. The council also decided on the qualifications of teachers and the quality of their teaching. Poor teaching was a punishable offence and the council instituted exams for the students. On set days the students had to present their work before a tribunal of the three heads of the Triple Alliance who then deliberated with the council members on the merits of the work presented to them. Prizes were distributed to those found worthy.


The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico – Nigel Davies, Penguin 1985

The New World – Nicholas Hordern, Aldus Books/Jupiter Books 1971

The Ancient American Civilisations – Friedrich Katz, Phoenix Press 2000

Moctezuma and the Aztecs – Elisenda Vila Llonch, the British Museum Press 2009

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Aztecs and Maya – Charles Phillips, Hermes House 2010

The Conquest of Mexico – WH Prescott, JM Dent and Sons Ltd 1978

The Aztecs – Richard F Townsend, Thames & Hudson Ltd 2010


[i] Hungry Coyote is one translation of the name Nezahualcoyotl; another is Fasting Coyote
[ii] By the Aztec calendar his birth date was Four Rabbit (day), One Snake (month), Thirteen House (year)
[iv] Unlike the other rulers of towns in the Valley of Mexico
[v] Founded by the Chichimecs in 995 AD
[vi] Both cities were part of the Chicimec empire and Tezozomac promised to make these two cities the pillars of the empire
[viii] A town south-east of Mexico City
[ix] His exposure to the culture and politics of Tenochtitlan would influence how he later governed Texcoco
[x] Which was to become the Mexica Empire
[xii] The battle consolidated the supremacy of the warrior class
[xiii] Some sources say that Tlacaelel was general of the army but this would appear to contradict the practise of leaving the Cihuacoatl in charge of the city while the Tlatoani went to war
[xiv] The Conquest of Mexico - Prescott
[xv] Azcapotzla was razed to the ground and the land was used for a slave market
[xvii] Each area only paying tribute to the city that claimed their region; it was down to Nezahualcoyotl’s influence that Texcoco garnered two fifths of all tribute given to the three towns of the Triple Alliance; Tenochtitlan took three fifths while Tlalopec took only one fifth
[xviii] The Conquest of Mexico - Prescott