Aztec Rulers: Axayacatl, Sixth Tlatoani

Life:1449-1481 Reign: 1469-1481
Name: Face of water
The son of prince Tezozomoc, a grandson of tlatoque Moctezuma and Itzcoatl, Axayacatl was seemingly destined to become ruler of Tenochtitlan. But his military record helped him rise above his two older brothers, Tizoc and Ahuitzotl, to become favored by the elite decision makers, like Tlacaelel. He had served as Captain General and High Priest before ascending to the throne.

Painting of Axayacatl, from the Tovar Codex.

After the death of his grandfather, Moctezuma, Tlacaelel met with the other leaders of the Triple Alliance, Totoquihuatzli and Nezahualcoyotl and Axayacatl was chosen. The new tlatoani would be a lifelong friend of Nezahualcoyotl, attending his funeral in 1472. His rule was eventful. Following instigations from Moquihuix, ruler of Tlatelolco, Axayacatl attacked his Mexica neighbors in Tlatelolco starting a brief civil war, ending with the subjugation of the city and death of Moquihuix. He also expanded the empire west into the Toluca Valley. Beyond Toluca were the Tarascan people who handed Axayacatl a disastrous defeat in 1476, the only major defeat ever suffered by Tenochca armies, to that point. The defeat in Michoacan came to define his rule and he died five years later in 1481 of illness.

Forty years later Axayacatl’s palace would serve as living quarters, and fortress to Cortes and the Spanish-Tlaxcalan force. Perhaps a coincidence, but according to the History of the Chichimeca Nation, Axayacatl had temples to the gods built in his palace ahead of a war with Chalco. Cortes and his men described effigies of the gods in the palace when they stayed there. Perhaps the ones built 40 years earlier in preparation of war.

Axayacatl’s Accomplishments

  • Sanctioned carving of the “Aztec Sunstone”
  • Was a poet
  • Expanded the empire north, west and east
  • Loved the great ballgame, and played
  • Was wounded in battle, left with lame leg

Moctezuma <<- Axayacatl ->> Tizoc