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The following table combines material from many sources. Dates vary from source to source. Further, even when the Aztec year is known, the conversion to Western years may vary because the year ends do not coincide. Many of these dates are far more problematic than some authors suggest, but I have followed the ones that seemed to me most coherent.
Related links on this site:
- A much fuller chronology of Mesoamerican archaeology
- Alternate reign dates for Aztec monarchs
- Genealogy of Aztec royal house (Bottom of this page)
- Simplified maps: Valley of Mexico, Names of Mexican States
- The Aztecs: A Tributary Empire
(A brief history of the Aztecs)
with frames, without frames
- An Aztec Folio (Primary sources in bilingual format)
On this page:
- Names of individual people or gods are tagged in maroon. (Holding your mouse over numbered monarchs will produce translations of their names.)
- Names of places (except the word "Mexico") are in blue-green.
- Names of ethnic groups (and pseudol-ethnic groups) are in italics. In some cases they spoke different languages from the Aztecs, but in most cases they were speakers of Nahuatl, the lingua franca of late pre-Columbian central Mexico.
There is far more detail here than you need to know. The most important events are boldfaced. I suggest reading through the whole list, however, noting how the Mexica (Aztecs) come to consolidate their power and dominate the entire region.
The picture above and to the right, shows the Valley of Mexico as painted by José María Velasco, 1840-1912, one of Mexico's finest landscape artists. Much of Lake Texcoco still remained at that time. The lower picture, also by Velasco, shows the snow-capped mountains Popocatépetl "Smoking Peak" (right) and Iztaccíhuatl "White Lady" (left), which dominated the landscape of the valley.
- 600 Fall (sacking?) of Teotihuacan, a major urban center near modern Mexico City; the language group to which the builders of Teotihuacan belonged is unknown, but may have been an early form of Nahuatl.
- 856 Founding of Tollan (modern Tula also called Tula Hidalgo) by people called Toltecs, almost certainly Nahuatl speakers, who create a military empire of unknown size but wide influence
- 1000 Dominance of all central Mexico by Toltecs of Tollan
- 1111? Mexica leave mythical homeland of Aztlan and settle for a time at Chicomoztoc ("Seven Caves")
Mexica emerge from Chicomoztoc en route from their creation below the earth into the daylight of their surface homeland at Aztlan. Having offended their patron god Huitzilopochtli by cutting down a forbidden tree, they were condemned to leave Aztlan and wander until they received a sign permitting them to settle.
(Nobody is sure where Chicomoztoc was. La Jolla has seven caves, but it is doubtful that the Mexica came from La Jolla. After all, if they had done that, they would have taken my class and would have known what would happen if they continued to do what they were doing.)
- 1163 Wandering Mexica arrive and settle at Coatepec, near Tollan, engaging in irrigation agriculture, but are driven out by the failure of the irrigation system.
- 1168 Destruction of Tollan by Chichimecs, a Mexica cover term for largely nomadic peoples from the northern, desert regions. (The Aztecs classed themselves among the Chichimecs and probably participated in the sack of Tollan.)
Legendary Toltec king Quetzalcoatl flees in 1168.
(Quetzalcoatl is also the name of a widely worshipped central Mexican god, after whom the Toltec king was presumably named, but the legends of the king and the god tend to be closely intermingled.
- 1200 Latest possible date for total abandonment of Tollan
Toltec out-migration results (among other things) in foundation of Cholollan (modern Cholula) in central Mexico & Chichén Itzá in Yucatán.
- 1200-1400 competition among various minor successor states
The two dominant towns among the successor states are:
|Azcapotzalco||Tepanecs||W of Lake Texcoco|
|Colhua||SE of Lake Texcoco|
Both towns boast "Neo-Toltec"dynasties, that is, their rulers claim to be descended from Toltec "nobility" and claim to be entitled to re-establish the old Toltec hegemony. Like the Mexica, the others are also Nahuatl speakers. Also like the Mexica, they each aspire to become the new rulers of the universe. Unlike the Mexica, they do not see much reason why the Mexica should have a piece of the action.
- 1250 non-Nahuatl-speaking Otomí found a town at Xaltocan
(The Otomí are sufficiently fierce warriors that the Mexica later will this term to refer to the most violent of their own forces. Otomí arrival in the area makes everybody nervous.)
- 1299 Mexica settle near Azcapotzalco at the hill called Chapoltepec ("Grashopper Hill," now in downtown Mexico City) and are tolerated by the Tepanec leader of Azcapotzalco on the understanding that they will work as mercenaries and laborers. Other Tepanec have misgivings. Their worries are fanned by a certain Copil, apparently a descendant of a sorceress who was ostracized and ejected by the Mexica on their trip south. He spreads word of the unpleasant ways of the Mexica and stirs up sentiment against them.
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- 1300s Texcoco (an old Toltec town N of Lake Texcoco) attracts additional northern immigrants, allowing it to become a major political player.
- 1315 & 1319 (or 1299) Mexica ejected from Chapoltepec by the Tepanecs
As they are driven out of Chapoltepec, the Mexica capture Copil, cut out his heart, and cast it into the lake. (Whoever does this does it with remarkable zest; it lands, according to tradition, some miles away on the island that will eventually become the center of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan.)
The Mexica propose to make common cause against the Tepanecs with Coxcoxtli, a leader of the Tepanec-hating town of Colhuacan on the southeastern shore of Lake Texcoco, and receive permission to settle at a miserable snake-field called Tizaapan ("Place of White Water"), 10 km west of Colhuacan itself. (He apparently hopes that the dangerously violent Mexica will be done in by the snakes.)
- 1323 Mexica are ejected from Tizaapan by the Colhua
In a moment of spectacular bad judgement, the Mexica sacrifice a Colhua princess intended for marriage and invite the king, her father, to celebrate the "wedding," where he sees a priest dancing around in her skin. The Colhua decide that enough is enough and attack the Mexica.
They flee to marshes and a small island at Acatzintlan, where they see an eagle perched on a cactus, the divine sign of their ultimate home.
Since they now facing hostility from Colhuacan, the Mexica place themselves back under the nominal protection of the Tepanecs, who are always eager to do whatever will annoy the Colhua.
- 1325 Tenochtitlan founded by the Mexica on islands extended by extensive chinampas.
Chinampas are fields made in swamps by piling up dirt from the bottom, in effect creating a world of dredged canals and artificial islands. (Click here for More About Chinampas. ) The heart of Tenochtitlan is at the present "Zócalo" (a.k.a. "Plaza de la Constitución") in the heart of Mexico City.
- 1358 Tlatelolco founded apparently by migrants leaving Tenochtitlan in a land dispute, as a second Mexica town on an island adjacent to Tenochtitlan
(The island is probably not completely without prior inhabitants, but there is no evidence of it being heavily populated before 1358.) There is never much differentiation between the two towns, and the constant expansion of made land on both soon unites them into what is, in effect, one continuous urban entity occupying a single artificial island. However from 1358 until 1473, Tlatelolco has separate and parallel institutions. In time Tlatelolco becomes Mexico's biggest market center.
- 1372 Political Reorganization
Tradition records that the Mexica have been led by a mysterious figure named Tenochtli, who apparently died in 1372.
In a process we can only imagine, Mexica leaders decide to form a Neo-Toltec pseudo-monarchy, choosing for this purpose Acamapichtli, whose father is a trustworthy Mexica leader, but whose mother is the daughter of the Neo-Toltec Colhua leader.
Acamapichtli, while claiming this "Toltec blood," takes a wife from each of the Mexicacalpolli (usually interpreted as "clans"), creating the beginnings of a cross-clan "Toltec" nobility. (His first wife, Ilancuetl, is also a Colhua noble; she has no children, but strengthens the Toltec claim.)
- The title given is "tlahtoani" or "spokesman," and the office was always technically elective, despite its totalitarian power. The title is a nod to earlier traditions of the Mexica being governed by the consent of the calpolli elders, who remain powerful under the new scheme, since war booty left over after what is paid to the Tepanecs, is divided among calpolli (an arrangement which will later be changed).
At the same time, in the second Mexica town of Tlatelolco, Cuacuapitzhuac is chosen as monarch, the son of Tezozomoc, the Tepanec leader of Azcapotzalco. There is thus a marriage alliance with each of the dominant towns, and each of the Mexica towns can claim to have a "Toltec" royal house.
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- 1372-1391 Reign of tlahtoani (= emperor) #1 Acamapichtli, "descendant of the god Quetzlacoatl"
- 1372-1407 Reign of Cuacuapitzhuac of Tlatelolco
- 1375-1465 The 90-year War Against Chalco
- 1391-1414 Reign of tlahtoani #2 Huitzilihhuitl, son of tlahtoani #1 Acamapichtli
- 1395?? Mysterious death of tlahtoani #2 Huitzilihhuitl's first wife
She was a princess of the minor town of Tacoba, and her death provides
a convenient opportunity for a match with a daughter of the aging Tezozomoc
of the powerful city of Azcapotzalco.
- 1397 Birth of Chimalpopoca, the son of tlahtoani #2 Huitzilihhuitl and grandson of Tezozomoc
The kid must be really cute, since Tezozomoc immediately begins to get soft on Mexica, worrying his advisers. (This kid's winning smile may have led to the ultimate destruction of Azcapotzalco and the triumph of the dreaded Mexica.)
- 1406 Mysterious death of tlahtoani #2 Huitzilihhuitl's second wife
This death allows Huitzilihhuitl to wed Miahuaxihuitl, a princess from Cuauhnahuac (modern Cuernavaca), a city to the south of the Valley of Mexico occupied by Nahuatl speakers referred to as the Tlahuica. The Tlahuica, like everybody else, have no use for powerful imperialists in the Valley of Mexico, and probably see an alliance with the scrappy but minor Mexica as useful against the Tepanecs and the Colhua.
- 1407?? Conquest of Xaltocan, an agricultural community north of the Valley of Mexico, broadens Mexica resource base
- 1407-1426 Reign of Tlacateotl at Tlatelolco
- 1409-1418 Reign of Ixtlilxochitl at Texcoco
- 1411 Chalco captured by the Mexica but liberated by the intervention of other states, including Azcapotzalco, the putative patron of the Mexica. (!)
- 1415-1426 Reign of tlahtoani #3 Chimalpopoca (the one-time cute kid)
- 1418 Ixtlilxochitl, leader of Texcoco, driven from that city by forces from Azcapotzalco under the leadership of Tezozomoc.
Ixtlilxochitl is killed and succeeded by his son Nezahualcoyotl (1402-1472) (today famed as a major Nahuatl poet), who is forced to bide his time in exile plotting to retake Texcoco. Nezahualcoyotl's mother was from the newly created Mexica nobility, and he had some sympathy to Mexica views, especially to their hostility to Azcapotzalco.
- 1418-1472 Reign of Nezahualcoyotl, king of Texcoco
- 1426 Tezozomoc cooperates with his cute grandson, tlahtoani #3 Chimalpopoca, in building a new aquaduct at Tenochtitlan, infuriating his Mexica-hating subordinates and plunging Azcapotzalco into chaos.
- 1426 Death of Tezozomoc of Azcapotzalco; succession of his anti-Mexica son Maxtla
(Some say Maxtla comes to power by murdering his older brother Tayauh, whom he regards as soft on Mexica.)
- 1426 Nexahualcoyotl immediately reconquers his home town of Texcoco from Maxtla.
- 1426 Tlahtoani #3 Chimalpopoca and Tlacateotl, ruler of Tlatelolco, are both killed by assassins sent by Maxtla from Azcapotzalco.
(Some whisper that the death of Chimalpopoca was set up by his uncle Itzcoatl,
who thought he was too subsurvient to the Tepanecs.)
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- 1427-1440 Reign of tlahtoani #4 Itzcoatl
His second-in-command, a sort of Grand Vizier, bears the odd title Cihuacoatl, or Woman-Snake, although the office is held by a man.
The only bearer of the "Woman-Snake" title who matters to history is the long-lived Tlacaelel, the nephew of tlahtoani #4 Itzcoatl, and adviser to four tlahtoanis. Tlacaelel seems to be a cold-hearted but brilliant and utterly pragmatic strategist.
At his suggestion, tlahtoani Itzcoatl distributes war booty to warriors, not
calpolli leaders, with the result that power moves to ruler as calpolli leaders
lose power to distribute prestitious resources. This is a major change in
the structure of Mexica society as it moves more completely toward monolithic totalitarianism.
Also at his suggestion, we are told in post-Conquest sources, all historical
records (whatever they may have consisted of) were destroyed and replaced
with falsified accounts designed to make the Mexica look legitimate, even glorious.
- Tlacaelel also seems to be the inventor of "flowery wars," conducted against friendly states with no miliary objective whatsoever, but with the "religious" goal of capturing thousands of young men to be sacrificed in ever larger rituals in honor of Huitzilopochtli as the patron of the régime.
He is complicit, possibly central, in the enormous expansion, toward the end of his life, of sumptuary laws, the legal restrictions designed to confine luxury goods and special privileges to particular politically defined categories of people.
It is ironic that this cold-blooded combination of Machiavelli and Göbels is honored today as one of the architects of Mexican civilization.
- 1428 Maxtla, leader of Azcapotzalco, lays seige to Tenochtitlan
Nobody gets to lay seige to Tenochtitlan. tlahtoani #4 Itzcoatl receives assistance from Texcoco (under Nezahualcoyotl), plus towns originally settled by Tepanecs and therefore long allied with Azcapotzalco, but apparently oppressed by the fanatical Maxtla and his dynasty.
The most important of these "Post-Tepanec" towns is Tlacopan (modern Tacuba) under Totoquihuatzin. Others are Huexotzingo (modern Cholula in the state of Puebla, a shrine center in much earlier centuries) and Tlaxcala.
Tlacopan is destined to become the long-term ally of the Mexica, Tlaxcala their long-term enemy.
All of these peoples are Nahuatl speakers, despite the tendency to refer to them by "ethnic" labels.
- 1428 Fall of Azcapotzalco
The allies at last succeed. Nezahualcoyotl is given the "pleasure" of cutting out Maxtla's heart and scattering his blood. It is clear that the alliance structure is the route to domination of surrounding polities.
- 1428 Birth of Triple Alliance:
(& Woman-Snake Tlacaelel)
The various parts of Lake Texcoco have different names, from Lake Zumpango in the north to Lake Chalco in the South.
Map modified from Ciencias Sociales: Tercer Grado
Consejo Nacional de Fomento Educativo, Mexico City, 1975, page 131.
Whatever the term "alliance" implies, this is never an group of equals. Tenochtitlan (and with it the other Mexica town of Tlatelolco) was always the dominant player, and Tlacopan was always the weakest.
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- 1440-1468 Reign of tlahtoani #5 Moteuczoma Ilhuicamina ("Montezuma I"), still assisted by "Woman-Snake" Tlacaelel
- 1445 Conquest of Oaxaca by Mexica
- 1446-1453 Era of Devastating Natural Disasters
Locusts, drought, floods, snowfall, early frosts and the human responses
to all of these produce widespread starvation, emigration, sale of children,
and other effects. Tlacaelel advocates massive human sacrifice as the solution.
His advice is followed.
- 1455 Abudant rain and abundant crops follow the largest-scale human sacrifices ever held.
- 1458-1466 Wars of conquest by tlahtoani Moteuczoma Ilhuicamina
Mexica strategy shifts towards conquering areas outside the ecosystem of the Valley of Mexico that did not suffer from the same natural disasters.The principal accomplishments persuant to this policy were:
- Conquest of Coixtlahuaca & Veracruz (1458)
- Conquest of Coixlahuaca, a Mixtec town in the modern state of Oaxaca and possible stepping-stone to further conquests in Mixtec territory. (The Mixtec did not speak Nahuatl.)
- Conquest of Cempoala (on the Gulf Coast) in the territory of the Totonacs, another non-Nahuatl-speaking group.
- Conquest of the Huastecs on the Gulf coast north of the Totonacs
- Conquest of Chalco (1465)
- Conquest of the Tepeaca, south of Tlaxcala (an enemy state near Tenochtitlan that was never conquered)
- 1469-1481 Reign of tlahtoani #6 Axayacatl, grandson of tlahtoani #5 Moteuczoma Ilhuicamina
- 1470? Rebellion crushed in Cotaxtla
- 1473 tlahtoani #6 Axayacatl attacks Tlatelolco
ruler of Tlatelolco, is married to tlahtoani #6 Axayacatl's sister and apparently has abused her, providing a pretext for direct control from Tenochtitlan.
Tlatelolco is never again independent, but is instead ruled by a military governor.
- 1474 tlahtoani #6 Axayacatl seizes Toluca and Tenancingo when their rulers ask him to arbitrate a feud for them
- 1476 Conquest of the Valley of Toloca by Mexica
- 1478 The last of the Huastecs conquered near Tuxpan on the Gulf Coast
- 1478 Mexica defeated in disastrous attack on the Tarascans to the west
- 1472-1516 Reign of Nezahualpilli (1464-1516) at Texcoco (Not to be confused with his father and predecessor, Nezahualcoyotl.)
- 1478-1486 Reign of tlahtoani #7 Tizoc, older brother of tlahtoani #6 Axayacatl
Vast expansion of the great temple of Tenochtitlan
- 1486 tlahtoani #7 Tizoc dies, possibly murdered by assins sent by the ruler of Ixtapalapa
- 1486-1502 Reign of tlahtoani #8 Ahuitzotl, younger brother of tlahtoanis #6 Axayacatl and #7 Tizoc
- Second aqueduct to Tenochtitlan is built.
- Further expansion of massive human sacrifice.
- New war technique is introduced against Xiquipilco, Chiapa, and Xilotepec:
total destruction of the population and replacement by Mexica immmigrants. (The adults are killed immediately or in a few cases saved to be sacrificed. Children are taken as slaves or sacrifical victims.)
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- 1487 (?) Woman-Snake Tlacaelel dies
- 1487 Dedication of enlarged great temple
Teloloapan, SW of Tenochtitlan, does not send representatives so all its
inhabitants are immediately destroyed. The same happens in Oztoma and Alahuiztla.
Oztoma, on the edge of Tarascan territory is heavily fortified in fear of a future assault.
- 1488 Destruction of the town and population of Oaxaca
- 1491-1495 Conquest of the Pacific coast from Zacatula to Acapulco
- 1492 Columbus lands in the Bahamas thinking he is in Asia
- 1498 Conquest of Tehuantepec at the south end of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec
Meanwhile, first European colonists arrive in Haiti
- 1500 Conquest of Xoconoxco (modern Soconusco) on the coast due south of the Yucatan peninsula
Meanwhile, Amerigo Vespucci discovers that America is not part of Asia
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- 1503-1520 Reign of tlahtoani #9 Moteuczoma Xocoyotl (or Xocoyotzin) ("Montezuma II"), son of tlahtoani #6 Axayacatl
- 1503 Flooding of Tenochtitlan
- 1519 Tenochtitlan has grown to 150,000-200,000 people, Valley of Mexico to 1,000,000 to 1,600,000 people
(Cf.: Paris 300,000, London 50,000, Seville 65,000)
- 1519 Landing of Hernán Cortés near Veracruz
He allies himself himself with Huastec and Totonac populations in that region, and eventually with the Nahuatl-speaking but non-Mexica city of Tlaxcala, the beleaguered but never conquered enemy of the Tenochtitlan régime. These alliances rapidly multiply into a general rebellion against Mexica hegemony. (Western accounts tend to portray events as the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish. Native accounts tend to represent the Spanish as convenient tools suddenly available to help overthrow oppressive enemies.)
- 1516-1519 Reign of Cacama at Texcoco
- 1520 Noche Triste: Spanish temporarily defeated at Tenochtitlan
- 1520-1520 Four-month reign of tlahtoani #10 Cuitlahuac, who dies of smallpox
- 1520-1522 Reign of tlahtoani #11 Cuauhtemoc
He lives till 1425, so some sources end his reign then.
- 1521 Tenochtitlan falls to Spain
- 1536 Founding of the Real Colegio de Santa Cruz Tlatelolco by Franciscans in Mexico City under the patronage of Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza and Bishop Juan de Zumárraga. Faculty include Bernardino de Sahagún, creator of the Florentine Codex.
- 1545 Epidemic sweeps central Mexico.
- 1576 Epidemic sweeps central Mexico.
Genealogy of the Aztec Royal House
Green = Emperor (tlahtoani), Yellow = Royal Woman, Blue = Royal Man
This diagram is based on several sources and is under constant revision.
Dates are compromises among various sources. For more on conflicting dates,
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