In ‘The Rise of the Aztecs Part VIII’, we left Tenochtitlan in turmoil, shattered by the violent death of its lawful Emperor. How dared the Tepanecs to do that? And did it mean war?

The people of Tenochtitlan were worried, fearing the powerful, ruthless, and so far invincible, masters of the Mexican Valley. The Acolhua rebellion of a decade before showed the fruitlessness of the appraising. And while the royal house of Tenochtitlan was determined to face the challenge, the commoners of the city had their doubts.


At those times Tenochtitlan’s council of elders, representatives of four districts and twenty clans, wielded still much influence – something that Itzcoatl, the next Aztec Emperor, had made sure to correct later on – so the rulers could not go to war on their say-so, aristocratic blood or not. They had to reason with their people, and so, many promises were made and many fearful oaths taken, while Itzcoatl, an illegitimate son of the First Emperor Acamapichtli and a warlord of many summers, was chosen to be the next emperor.

A very able, highly experienced man, Itzcoatl got to work. First his own people needed to be convinced, then the preparation for the difficult campaign had to be made, alliances struck and strategic plans attended to.

Luckily another very able man saw the force of his argument. Tlacaelel, the man who is generally held today as the “Architect of the Aztec empire”, was a young man in the middle of his twenties, but already an outstanding warrior and a promising leader, good in organization and administration. A legal son of Huitzilihuitl, the Second Emperor, Tlacaelel seemed to be indifferent to the power the throne of Tenochtitlan was offering, not aspiring for the highest office in the land.

Enthusiastic and passionate, Tlacaelel went about convincing people, even venturing to Azcapotzalco in order to deliver the declaration of war by his own hands. According to some ancient sources he got into a whole bunch of trouble carrying this particular message, yet back to Tenochtitlan he came, unharmed, proving his courage and his worthiness. For such bravery and loyalty he was awarded by the next highest office in the land – Cihuacoatl, the high priest and the closest adviser.

So, now that the people were convinced and the declaration of war ensued, Itzcoatl sought possible allies. The Aztecs could not war on the Tepanecs alone, but there were more than a few discontented nations around Texcoco Lake. The defeated Acolhua for one, although their lawful ruler Nezahualcoyotl was in the Highlands again, hiding from the wrath of the the unscrupulous Tepanec Emperor Maxtla. So the messengers were dispatched to climb the high ridges of the eastern side of the Great Lake, offering the fierce highlanders rich pickings and fame.


The highlanders, by this time a mix of Nahua and Otomi people, had had their doubts. Historical enemies of all Lowlanders, they may have wanted to say a resounding ‘no’, but hosting the heir to Texcoco throne for such a long time made the offer look more reliable, tempting, difficult to resist. Azcapotzalco was rumored to be fabulously rich and the campaign against the Tepanecs could prove interesting. Nezahualcoyotl must have found it surprisingly easy to convince his newly-found allies.

And so the combined forces of the Highlanders, Acolhua and the Mexica Aztecs, joined by some discontented-by-their-own-capital’s policies Tepanecs, crossed Texcoco Lake, ready to war on the Masters of the Valley.

In the next post The Rise of Aztecs Part X, The fall of the Empire we will see what happens to an Empire that had became too large.

An excerpt from “Currents of War

Tlacaelel eased his shoulders, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He eyed the Plaza, far below his feet, enjoying seeing it packed with thousands of people. The excited crowds were spilling into the nearby alleys, watching and talking, and gesturing, their spirits high. Oh, his Mexica people were not fearful, not afraid of the approaching Tepanecs. No, the current Masters of the Valley would not intimidate them anymore.

His chest swelled with pride. The Tepanecs could not win, not this time. Tenochtitlan was not ready, stunned by the death of its Emperor and still alone, with no worthwhile allies, yet now, watching the Plaza from the height of the Great Pyramid, he knew that they would win, eventually. And not in the too distant future. The siege would be short, and it would not harm his beloved altepetl.

He eased his shoulders once again, then made sure his posture was straight and proud, reflecting his mood. This ceremony was being held for his sake. Today at the high noon he had been made Cihuacoatl, the High Priest, achieving the most exalted position, next only to Tlatoani, the Emperor. Itzcoatl, the new Emperor, had made sure to hold this ceremony before throwing all of his energy into the nearing war. He had needed to ensure his Chief Warlord’s absolute loyalty, reflected Tlacaelel, slightly amused.

Hence, the ceremony and the most exalted position in the land.

He grinned. No, he had nothing to complain about. He glanced at Itzcoatl, standing beside him, tall and broad, imposing, a perfect leader, a perfect Emperor. The ideal man to stand up to the Tepanecs.

Oh, yes, thought Tlacaelel, suppressing a grin. Tenochtitlan could have asked for no better Emperor in such difficult times. Despite his humble origins, this man was the right person for this difficult mission.

As though sensing his companion’s scrutiny, Itzcoatl turned his head.

“Not a small gathering.”

“No. And they did not come here only to watch the ceremony. They have come here to show us their trust. They are letting us know that they are not afraid.”

“An interesting observation, Nephew.” Itzcoatl nodded, his lips twisting into an untypically amused grin.

“Too bad we cannot lead our warriors out right away. I should love to spare us the humiliation of a siege.”

“It will be a short siege, Nephew. Never fear.”

“I don’t.”