If you were to offer a thirsty man all wisdom, you would not please him more than if you gave him a drink. — Sophocles

Young Folk's History of Mexico - Frederick Ober

Mexico in Her Glory

[A. D. 1471.] Axajacatl, the sixth king of Mexico, was animated by the same desires for conquest as his predecessor. He invaded the kingdom of Michoacan, and subjected several provinces lying on its borders. He was repulsed with great slaughter of his troops from the capital of Michoacan, called Tzintzuntzan, and in one of the engagements about this time was severely wounded. The fine valley of Toluca, and much other territory lying west of Mexico, was annexed to his kingdom; and he had the pleasure of sacrificing a great number of prisoners, including the two brave captains who had caused him his wound.

[A. D. 1477.] At last he died, just after his return one day from Chapultepec, where he had been for recreation. On the face of a cliff, that supports the present castle of Chapultepec, was carved an image of this monarch, and also one of that still greater warrior, Montezuma I. He had been out to examine these sculptures on the day of his death. The king was a great lover of the Aztec games, and especially that of ball-playing. He once compelled the lord of the Xochimilcas to engage with him in a contest of this kind, wagering the revenues of the city of Mexico for a year against the freedom of the Xochimilcas. He was beaten by his adversary; but in order to avoid paying the forfeit he caused him to be strangled, by means of a wreath of flowers in which was hidden a noose.

[A. D. 1482.] Tizoc was the name of the seventh king of Mexico, a grave and serious man, who did not seem to be barbarous enough for his subjects, since he was murdered in 1482, after reigning but five years. He collected a vast amount of material for the building of a temple to their great war god, that should surpass all others, but died without carrying out his design.

The son of the last king of Tezcoco was now about twenty years old, having been but eight at his father's death. He experienced much opposition from his brothers, when he had taken possession of the throne, who considered themselves entitled to some recognition. They were a great deal older than Nezahualpilli, and could not endure the thought of being reigned over by one so young. So they excited a rebellion. And here the meaner traits of Nezahualcoyotl showed themselves strongly in the son. Even as his father had caused the death of a brave captain, to gratify his lust, so did Nezahualpilli destroy one of his most valiant officers to save his own miserable life. The enemy had found out what armor the king would wear, and the rebel general had directed his men to seek out and capture or kill the wearer of this armor. Hearing this, Nezahualpilli made one of his officers change garments with him;  and after that unfortunate soldier had been set upon and killed, and while his foes were chanting songs of victory, he came up with his men and utterly routed them. In the eyes of men, this may have seemed perfectly justifiable; but in the sight of Him who considers all life sacred, and does not recognize the petty distinctions among men, it could not have been considered else than murder. If Nezahualcoyotl was the David of this history, his son, Nezahualpilli, was also the Solomon. Born, as was Solomon, of a woman whose husband his father had murdered, he seems to have striven to emulate him in the number of his wives.

After the rebellion had been quelled he turned his attention to the building of a new palace, of granaries, and the laying-out of magnificent gardens. He caused to be enclosed by a great wall "exactly as much ground as was occupied by the rebels, when they came to the defence of their general, and gave the place the name of that day on which he had obtained the victory." Perhaps that noble grove of cypresses, called at this day "El Basque del Contador,"—giant trees set out in double rows, and enclosing a great space,—is a monument to this very achievement.

Though the King of Tezcoco had many wives, he had no legitimate queen, and so he demanded and obtained a grand-daughter of King Tizoc. Now this lady had a beautiful sister whom she loved so much that she did not wish to be separated from her. And when Nezahualpilli saw how lovely she was, he loved her also, and did not want to be separated from her. The easiest way to settle the difficulty, in his mind, was to marry them both, and this he did; for one queen more or less mattered not to Nezahualpilli. His first queen was the mother of Cacamatzin, who succeeded his father to the throne; the second was mother of three other sons, two of whom will figure conspicuously in the period of the Spanish Conquest. We shall see then how the sins of these two monarchs were visited upon their sons, and were instrumental in causing the destruction of their people.

[A. D. 1486.] The Mexicans had chosen Ahuitzotl as their eighth king, at the death of Tizoc, brother of their two previous monarchs. For four years, this fiend devoted himself to war and the accumulation of victims for a sacrifice without a parallel in history, At the end of this time the great temple was finished, from the material gathered by King Tizoc, and by the aid of an incredible number of Workmen. Such a temple was called by the Aztecs a Teocall  (literally House of God),—or holy pyramid. The first ones, constructed at different periods, had been of wood; but this one finished by King Ahuitzotl, in 1486, was of stone—a great pyramid of earth faced with cut stone, one hundred and twenty feet high. Two altars were erected upon the flat surface of the pyramid, the tops of their cupolas being one hundred and seventy feet above the pavement of the great square in which the temple was erected (dimension given by Humboldt). The pyramid was built in five stages, or stories, and steps led up to each in such a manner that the whole structure must be encircled before the ascent could be made from one to the other.


When he had completed the temple, and had placed the god of war, the terrible Huitzilopochtli, in position in one of the adoratories on the summit, Ahuitzotl invited the two allied monarchs to be present at the dedication. He also extended invitations to all persons of distinction within the valley. Even people at war with the Mexicans came to witness the ceremonies, and were assigned seats where they could have an unobstructed view. This terrible feast of blood lasted four days, in which time were sacrificed all the prisoners they had made in the past four years. Were it not that all historians agree in estimating the number sacrificed as enormous, we could not believe that human beings were capable of such a wholesale slaughter of unarmed men. Sixty thousand prisoners  were sacrificed during the four days of this festival The demon who presided at the feast, in the person of King Ahuitzotl, commenced the work of blood with his own hands, and then the priests took it up, each continuing the slaughter until he was exhausted, when his place was filled by another. Sixty thousand is the lowest number estimated, and some historians say seventy thousand, were murdered on that day. All are agreed that the prisoners were arranged "in two long files, each a mile and a half in length, which began in the roads of Tacuba and Iztapalapan, and terminated at the temple, where, as soon as the victims arrived, they were sacrificed."

It is said by some writers that six millions of people witnessed this ceremony. To all the principal personages Ahuitzotl gave rich presents, intending, no doubt, that this dedication of the great temple should live in the memory of the Indians forever. This cruel and vindictive monarch lived long after this, and the historian regrets that no signal calamity befell him or the nation to show the displeasure of the God whom they had thus offended by such a display of their hellish passions. Such a terrible reputation did this king create for himself that in Mexico, to this day. the people characterize a ferocious villain by his name: es un Ahuitzotl,—"he is an Ahuitzotl,"

[A. D. 1496.] War succeeded war, for this destroyer of men was never satisfied. We are happy to chronicle reverses as well as victories in the invasions of the Mexicans. At one time they marched into the valley of the Atliscas, who, wholly unprepared, sent for a brave chief of the Hueotzincas, named Toltecatl, to assist them. Toltecatl was at a game of ball when the embassadors arrived asking assistance. He at once organized a band of troops, rushed upon the Mexicans, unarmed, slew the first one with his fist, and committed such slaughter that the invaders retreated to their own valley. On account of his bravery his people made him chief of their republic, but he was subsequently driven out by the priests, who were plotting against law and order, and finally murdered, and his body sent to the Mexicans.

In 1489, had died Chimalpopoca, King of Tacuba, who had succeeded the first king of that province of Tlacopan. This small kingdom had taken little part in the wars, except to furnish such troops as were required by her ally, and collect the tribute.

[A. D. 1498.] The close of the fifteenth century found this atrocious villain, King Ahuitzotl, still in power. In 1498 finding that Lake Tezcoco was growing shallow, he undertook to replenish it by diverting into it the waters of a spring in the mountains. The city of Cohoacan  was already supplied by this spring, and the lord of that city was commanded to assist in conducting it to the city of Mexico.

Another form of Temple.

This lord represented to Ahuitzotl that the attempt would be dangerous to the safety of the city, as at times the fountain overflowed its banks, and if it were diverted into the valley in a stream it might cause great damage to be done. At this, the tyrant, believing the lord of Cohoacan had other motives for wishing to keep the water from him, ordered him to be murdered, A great aqueduct was constructed and the water finally received with rejoicing, the priests sacrificing birds and offering incense to the god of waters. That very year was the murdered lord avenged, for the waters rose so high as to inundate the city; and King Ahuitzotl himself, being caught by the flood in one of the lower rooms of his palace, received such a blow on his head, in getting out, as caused his death a few years later. He was obliged to call upon the King of Tezcoco to aid him in arresting the flood; the old dike was repaired, and the same priests that offered incense and sacrifices to the god of waters for the gift of the fountain, defiled the spring with their offerings in their vain attempts to make him take it back,

As kings went, in that barbaric age, old King Ahuitzotl was a very fair specimen of the whole. There was not one of them that we can recall that did not merit the punishment the Spaniards meted out to their descendants. Making every allowance for the ignorance of the age in which they lived, they were yet willfully, woefully perverse. They allowed themselves to be led by the priests, whose appetite for blood was never satisfied. And we shall see, that the nearer the rulers came to the priestly influence the more cruel they became. If you will look back through the vista afforded by this dark record, you will not fail to perceive how the priests had been preparing a structure, composed of the bones and cemented by the blood of their victims, that was to fall upon and crush its builders out of existence! Mexican progress began when Tenochtitlan was founded, in 1325; its glory culminated at the dedication of the temple, in 1486, during the reign of Ahuitzotl.

Grand Chamber, Mitla.

[A. D. 1500]. The Mexicans swept their armies southward, as far as Guatemala, nearly nine hundred miles distant. An Aztec army of 60,000 men cleared the country of the Miztecs and Zapotecs as far as the sacred city of Mitla, where was the burial-place of the Zapotec kings, and sent its priests to be sacrificed on the altar of Mexico. There was one Zapotec king whom they could not defeat, Cocioyeza, who fortified a great plateau, defended by ravines and barrancas, and twice defeated the Mexican armies sent against him. The King of Mexico was glad to conclude a peace with him, and he also gave him one of the royal princesses in marriage. In fact, the Zapotecan king fell in love with this princess, a sister of Montezuma, before he saw her, for she appeared to him in a vision as he was taking his bath, and after exhibiting to him a peculiar mark on her hand, disappeared, saying she would return when sent for. When he sent his officers to select a queen for him from the Mexican court, he instructed them to look for the beautiful princess with the peculiar mark in the palm of her hand. At the court, they noticed one of the beauteous damsels frequently raising her hand to arrange her hair, so as to expose the palm of her hand. Of course, she was the one the Zapotec had seen in the vision, and, of course, they were married and lived happily together. King Montezuma, her brother, when he came to the throne, tried to persuade her to poison her husband,—after the fashion of that dark period,—but she refused, thinking, very wisely, that a royal spouse alive was worth more to her than one dead, and a royal brother into the bargain!

Aztec urn.

It is a pleasure, at last, to be able to chronicle the death of that wicked old monarch, Ahuitzotl, who departed, full of honors and much lamented, to his fathers. He left Mexico a more magnificent city than when he found it. He had built temples and palaces, and had pushed her to the pinnacle of her power; but he had also sown the seeds of distrust and terror that were to cause her to dissolve before her enemies like the mist about a mountain-top.