Monday, 17 July 2017

Ahuitzotl IV

Ahuitzol's conquests (in yellow)
Ahuitzotl’s Conquests

In the first year of his reign Ahuitzotl visited Malinalco to receive the allegiance of the local chieftains. Ahuitzotl was unable to extend into Tarascan lands as the Tarascans had a series of fortresses built along the border with the Aztec empire. In answer the Aztecs built their own fortresses south of the border at Oztoman, Oztotipac[i], and Alahuistan after a campaign lasting from Nine Flint Knife to Ten House (1488-9). Ahuitzotl had all the adults in these areas massacred and their children were rehomed throughout the empire. Two thousand settlers from central Mexico were resettled in the region.

His armies took Acapulco and then ranged north-westwards for over one hundred miles along the Gulf Coast. After conquering Tepoztlan[ii], near what is now Mexico City, Ahuitzotl had a temple built overlooking the Valley of Morelos and, as frequently happened, a festival of the local deity Mayahuel[iii] was co-opted by the victors and added to the festivities relating to agriculture celebrated in Tenochtitlan.

In the year Twelve Reed (1491) Ahuitzotl’s armies conquered Guerrero on the Pacific coast. Here he was extending Aztec rule, as early as 1414 the Aztecs had started nibbling away at the region piecemeal. He may have been hoping to establish a series of tributary towns in an attempt to outflank the Tarascan forts.

List of Ahuitzol's conquests from Codex Mendoza
Around the year Two Rabbit (1494) Ahuitzotl’s armies conquered the central valleys of Oaxaca. The area was rich in cotton, gold and cochineal. In Five House (1497), building on his capture of the Oaxaca region, Ahuitzotl’s armies conquered Tehuantepec. In either Seven Reed (1499) or Nine House (1501) Ahuitzotl’s armies reached Xoconochco[iv] close to the modern day frontier of Guatemala, he subdued the region adding the cacao growing regions to his empire. Early in the new century Ahuitzotl conquered the Huaxteca[v] peoples

This proved to be furthest that Ahuitzotl could press his armies. Beyond Xoconochco the supply lines became too unwieldy; although the armies usually lived off the land their essential but bulky battle insignia, arms and other items needed transporting, and his warriors refused to proceed further.

By the end of his life Ahuitzotl had regained most of the lands lost during the reign of Tizoc. After each victorious campaigning season great feasts were held and the guests were inundated with gifts, using up much of the booty from the fighting.


Temple at Calixtlahuaca
During his reign Ahuitzotl came to an accommodation with the merchants of Tlatelolco; their rumblings of discontent had been growing throughout the years of Tizoc’s reign. He gave them extensive privileges in Tenochtitlan itself and the Aztec armies fought on their behalf. Ahuitzotl reassigned the city of Calixtlahuaca, conquered during Axayacatl’s reign, for colonisation by residents of the Valley of Mexico to consolidate the Aztec hold on the region.

Ahuitzotl’s consort was Tlilancapatl. His sons were Chimalpilli II[vi] and Cuauhtémoc[vii] and he also had a daughter. Little is known of his personal life save that, unlike his brother Axayacatl, Ahuitzotl was not prone to the poetry writing that characterised many previous Tlatoani and other nobles.

Much to the disgust of his successor, Ahuitzotl used the yardstick of service rather than birth when appointing his officials; Moctezuma II[viii] complained bitterly that Ahuitzotl appointed ‘men of low birth’ to be his advisers.

End Times

Ahuitzotl’s major project, apart from the Templo Mayor. was the construction of a large canal to bring fresh water from Coyoacan to Tenochtitlan. Ahuitzotl and his priests celebrated the completion of the project with the priests dressed in the signature green robes of Chalchiuhtlicue, the water goddess.

‘As the water rushed in they reached down to present incense, ground turquoise, and sacrificial quail to the life-giving element; at the same time they spoke to the water itself as a living object of the offering.’[ix]

Some histories relate that the project got off to a bad start when it brought so much water that it flooded the city. There was a flood in Eight Flint Knife (1500) which destroyed many houses; Ahuitzotl was told by Netzahualpilli, Tlatoani of Texcoco, that the gods must be enraged.

Aztec legends relate tales of the terrible destruction caused by a flood sent by Chalchiuhtlicue and ending what the Aztecs called the fourth world. The ending of the fourth world was followed by the fifth world, courtesy of the death of the gods. The priests and people feared that this new major flooding presaged the ending of the fifth and current world and the possible death of their particular deity, the Hummingbird of the South.

Temple of the Jaguars, Malinalco
Certainly the priests blamed the disaster on the fact that Ahuitzotl had rashly killed the ruler of Coyoacan when he had suggested that the canal construction project was unwise, and that the flood had been caused by Chalchiuhtlicue in revenge. A great reconstruction project was launched and the palaces of Tenochtitlan were rebuilt, dykes strengthened and willows and poplars planted along the canals.

Spanish chroniclers relate that Ahuitzotl and the priests frequently performed obsequious ceremonies to Chalchiuhtlicue to drive back floods which must have been fairly prevalent in their lakeside city.

One of Ahuitzotl’s last projects was to arrange the building of a temple in Malinalco which held historical significance for the Aztecs. The work started in Nine House (1501) using forced labour[x].

Death by Misadventure

Ahuitzotl’s reign came to a mysterious end when he allegedly contracted a strange and fatal wasting disease, From a vigorous adult he gradually became just skin and bone which led to suggestions that he may well have been poisoned, like his predecessor. Ahuitzotl’s death in the year Ten Rabbit (1502) was announced to the city by the cries of his female relatives and other persons hired to cry out on the death of the nobility. Whilst they cried the mourners bowed to the earth and clapped their hands. In another version of events the king died from a blow to the head while he was trying to escape the flood at Tenochtitlan.

Ahuitzotl’s corpse was then dressed in his finest robes by the Tlatoani of Texcoco and tied in a squatting pose and then wrapped in cloth and daubed in pitch. This funerary bundle was then cremated in a lavish ceremony on a funeral pyre atop the Great Temple, in front of the temple of Huitzilopochtli. The war captains in their full regalia along with the notable of the Triple Alliance were also in attendance.

Aztecs were buried with supplies to help them through their journey into the afterlife. The manner of a person’s death decided where they would go after death. Those who died in battle entered the eastern paradise Tonatiuhichan, joining the entourage of the sun god[xi]. They were often accompanied by the corpse of their dog to guide them through the afterlife.

If Ahuitzotl did die in the flood then he would have been bound for the paradise ruled over by Tlaloc. Otherwise he was destined for the underworld whose ruler was the skeletal god Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the Dead and his wife Mictecachuatl. Those entering the underworld were doomed to;

‘Wander through eight hells for four long years. The way through the hells was strewn with obstacles. In the first the souls of the dead were met with a turbulent and rushing river….then they had to pass between two mountains… the seventh hell wild beasts lay in wait to eat up the dead. The soul finally came to rest in the ninth hell.’[xii]

Moctezuma II
Ahuitzol’s ashes, along with those of his attendants[xiii] who had been sacrificed in order to accompany him on his journey, are believed to be buried beneath a sculpture of Tlaltecuhtli near the Zócalo in Mexico City. Ahuitzotl had chosen his nephew Moctezuma II as his successor and Moctezuma was duly elected to be Tlatoani.

Much of what we know about the Aztecs comes from books such as the Codex Mendoza[xiv] and the Codex Borgia[xv] compiled by the conquering Spanish as reports home explaining the complex culture of the enemy, so very different than at home in Europe.


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 Aztecs – Richard F Townsend, Thames & Hudson Ltd 2010

Conquistadors – Michael Wood, BBC Worldwide Ltd 2001


[i] Now Nogales
[ii] According to Aztec legend the birthplace of the god Quetzalcoatl
[iii] Associated with the maguey plant
[iv] Or Soconusco
[v] In modern Veracruz; an offshoot of the Maya
[vi] Who became Tlatoani of the Nahua Ecatepec
[vii] He became Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan after the death of his cousin Cuitlahuac, 11th son of Axayacatl
[viii] The last Tlatoani of the Aztecs, Moctezuma was killed during the Conquest by Hernán Cortés men
[ix] The Aztecs - Townsend
[x] The work was completed during the reign of his successor
[xi] This concept was relatively new and was introduced shortly before the Spanish conquest
[xii] Ancient American Civilisations – Katz
[xiii] On the assurance that in the next life they would be reborn as nobles
[xiv] Created for Charles V it was sent back to Spain but the fleet was attacked by French privateers and eventually the manuscript passed into the hands of the Bodleian Library in the 17th century
[xv] Held in the Vatican

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