To the south and west of Lake Texcoco spread fertile areas of easily cultivated valleys bordered by highlands of various elevations. Plenty of cities and towns dotted those, some subdued by Tenochtitlan prior to the second part of the 15th century and Axayacatl‘s rule, some “unattended” as yet.
The southern parts of this region were reported to join the growing empire when those areas were annexed by the joined forces of Tenochtitlan and Texcoco under their famous rulers and the founders of the Triple Alliance – Itzcoatl, the fourth emperor of Tenochtitlan and Nezahualcoyotl the emperor of Texcoco. Back then, in the early 15th century, this same fertile south was reported to be divided in two areas of tribute collection: Oaxtepec in the south, and Cuauhnahuac in the southwest, a large, very important city that rebelled several times and was finally re-conquered by Tenochtitlan fifth emperor, Motecuhzoma Ilhuicamina or Moctezuma I.
By the time of Axayacatl’s rule and the later parts of the 15th century, the people of these regions talked Nahuatl, absorbed into the growing empire quite thoroughly, but their native tongues – Matlatzinca, Mazahua, and several Chichimes dialects – were still dominant and well known.
The southwest beyond Cuauhnahuac was barely touched by Tenochtitlan at this time. However, after the fall of Tlatelolco, the young Aztec emperor had to set his sight on the unexplored west and the fertile Toluca Valley with its dominant cities and their political rivalry, especially between the strong and influential Tollocan and less important but no less ambitious Tenantzinco, who promptly came to Tenochtitlan asking for help against their troublesome neighbors.
And yet, Axayacatl didn’t hurry.
While Tlatelolco was being incorporated and then absorbed in the growing Tenochtitlan’s Empire, with an appointed governor and certain reconstructions such as the latter-day famous marketplace hosting tens of thousands of people described by the invading conquistadors in great detail half a century later, the young Tenochtitlan emperor became reportedly busy with various renovating projects of his own altepetl. A new story was commissioned to be added to the Great Pyramid and the famous Sun Stone was fashioned, the monument that managed to survive the Spanish conquest and is displayed in Mexico City today.
These days, the Sun Stone’s symbolic significance important to various modern movements of national pride; it also keeps the modern-day historians and anthropologists busy with arguments as to the actual purpose of this imposingly huge monolith. No one knows what the Sun Stone represented for Axayacatl, but as he was busy supervising the engineers working on it, according to Duran, a plea for help came from the south.
In the fertile Toluca Valley to the south-west of the Lake Texcoco, local cities in power were in disagreement. Tenantzinco, who must have been paying tribute to Tenochtitlan or at least recognizing the Aztec Capital’s power in this or that way, came asking for help against their neighbors to the northwest, independent cities of Tollocan (Toluca of today) and Calixtlahuacan (before the Aztec conquest known as Matlatzinco). Tenochtitlan’s reach did not extend to those south and northwestern areas as yet, but to the north of the Toluca Valley and behind the above-mentioned cities, spread the unknown, people and cities that we came to recognize today as Purehpecha/Tarascan Empire.
Not as powerful or at least not as bent on expansion as the growing Triple Alliance was, this regional power of the Western Mexico was nevertheless strong and well organized, enough to challenge Axayacatl’s advance and then to actually stop it in the following years.
However, back in the beginning of 1474, this western empire was not widely known or of a great concern to Tenochtitlan. The Toluca Valley, on the other hand, was. So when Tezozomoctli, the ruler of Tenantzinco, came asking for help, Axayacatl did not hesitate.
According to Codex Mendoza, there must have been a rivalry in this same Toluca Valley and in their ruling Matlatzinca society, between more powerful and influential Calixtlhuaca-Tollocan dynasty led by Cachimaltzin (or Chimaltecuhtli, according to Diego Duran) and the lesser center of power of this same referred above Tenantzinco ruled by Tezozomoctli. The need to establish a firm buffer zone between Mexica Valley and the little known Purehpecha/Tarascans is also pointed out by several 16th century historians (Alvarado Tezozomoc among them) as additional motive for Axayacatl to embark on this new series of conquests.
In any case, according to Duran, Axayacatl received the delegation of Tenantzinco favorably, accepted their shields and swords as customary, then presented the petitioners with even more lavishly decorated weaponry to cement the agreement. His building projects occupied most of his time, but even this situation he used to his advantage when, upon discovering some allegedly missing building materials, he didn’t hesitate to send the request for those to none other than the same troublesome rulers of the Toluca Valley, altepetls of Tollocan and Matlatzinco.
As expected, neither city-state reacted favorably to such an audacious demand, their barely polite refusal presenting Axayacatl with another excuse to get involved in the southwestern affairs. The Tenantzinco delegation went home satisfied and in a hopeful mood. While Tenochtitlan got busy preparing for yet another war enterprise.
An excerpt from “Warrior Beast”, The Aztec Chronicles, book #4.
“Stay here with me and don’t dream.” Ahuitzotl’s commanding voice broke into his reverie, bringing him back to the sunlit Plaza and the noblest of people swarming all around, listening to the Emperor’s measured voice, paying respects. “Just remember all those names you used, like Cuauhnahuac and such. Don’t forget any of these. And don’t get all scared like you always do. My brother isn’t scary, and I’ll talk to him most of the time instead of you, so don’t worry. You just answer his questions and remember what you told me about Cuauhnahuac and that other tongue those others are speaking, in that village of yours where our nobles’ villas are. Just tell him what you told me.”
Miztli tried not to roll his eyes, cursing himself for turning talkative back in the schoolyard, where this same Ahuitzotl and two other boys made him show them his skill with a sling that the enterprising royal offspring produced like a magician, with just enough style and flair. A real warriors’ sling, all crisp leather and sturdy maguey, with a few clay balls to match. Reminded of his hopelessly lost possession back in Tlaquitoc’s workshop, Miztli made a face but could not fight the temptation. The schoolyard was so blissfully abandoned, and those fellow students of his so eager and not hostile or malicious, all expectancy, even the royal force of nature.
Careful not to break their limited ammunition, he chose softer targets, certain bushes, and branches of trees. But the clay balls were cracked all the same in the end, because the others wanted him to help them practice, again and again, hitting everything of course but the targets themselves.
In the end, Ahuitzotl declared that he, Miztli, would now train them daily, or at least every time they managed to have the schoolyard all for themselves, and then, somehow, he had found himself telling them about his village and how they would make slings whenever they would grow bored, just weaving simple plants and fibers, because if interwoven correctly, everything could make a good enough sling to take down a rabbit or a bird.
And then, as expected, Ahuitzotl was demanding to make such makeshift weaponry for them all, the temporarily absent Necalli included, and then more questions made him talk about Oaxtepec and Cuauhnahuac and even some further settlements out there in the west and the south, all of the places he had heard Father mentioning, usually in connection to their relationship with their own region of mining and copper-making businesses, places where people didn’t even talk Nahuatl but that other tongue called Matlatzinca by the Nahua speakers.
When queried, he reluctantly admitted that yes, he could speak or understand that other tongue, of course he did. Everyone could speak Matlatzinca, even the traders and tribute collectors. And then before he knew it, Ahuitzotl was on his feet, all agog with excitement, telling them of the petition for help his brother the Emperor received only a few dawns ago from this or that ruler of those same areas and that they must – must! – let his brother know.
Know what? he had asked, taken aback, cursing his loose tongue once again.
It didn’t matter, declared the forceful pilli. This information that he just told them, about alliances of the south, might be important, as was his command of this southern tongue. Axayacatl might wish to learn of this fact. And so here they were, pushing their way into the Emperor’s vicinity just as the Tenochtitlan ruler was busy with important matters and people, hoping not to be punished for their temerity. Well, at least that was what he, Miztli, hoped for. Ahuitzotl was surely not preoccupied with such petty concerns. He had his news to relate, his opportunity to gain more attention, to situate himself in the center of the events again, something he clearly did not enjoy since Tlatelolco fell. A fierce beast!