Get to know the man who actually built and formed the Aztec Empire, that the Conquistadores later found, when they walked around Central Mexico: Tlacaelel. His complete name is Huehue Tlacaeleltzin – “The old, great Tlacaelel”. He never was in charge of the throne of Tenochtitlan, even though he could have been able to, if we wanted – but he simply didn’t want.
It’s one of those typical carriers of family bounds, getting an adviser with high intelligence who adds to the charismatic leader with smart advise and vision. His uncle was Itzcoatl, the “Obsidian Serpent”, nowadays well known for his great achievements for the Mexica. He was the one liberating the Mexica from the reign of the Tepanecs in a war, in which he was allied with Texcoco. After that war, Tlacopan joined that nice little group and those three cities formed the Aztec triple alliance. The following picture of the Codex Mendoza shows Itzcoatl (the tiny one left) and the cities he conquested.
It was at this time of the forging of the Triple Alliance, that Tlacaelel became the first advisor of his uncle and also later his brother, the famous Moctezuma I.
In this time, he introduced many reforms to politics and religion. The later famous Aztec god Huitzilopochtli, merely a lower tribe god first, got promoted to the top of the hierachy of gods by him, thereby strengthening the identity of the Mexica as the chosen people. He was the one optimizing the military system, also by establishing the “flower wars” that were described in a previous post. Many war captives were needed for new religious rituals, that he also introduced, thereby increased the rate of human sacrifice.
The respected Mexican anthropologist and historian Miguel León-Portilla also names him as the architect of a borad systematical book burning of other tribe’s books to get a homogenous identity of the conquered tribes with the Aztec Triple alliance. He separated the different castes stronger than they were ever before, with nobles now being distinguishable from “normals” simply by special parts of clothing.
We can really say, that he laid the foundation for the very successful Aztec Triple Alliance and kept on forming it, until his death in 1487.
If you have a look at this map, you will see by the year, that he was the adviser until the end of the reign of Tizoc. So, add the red, pink, blue and orange layers, and you can see, what the Aztec Empire looked like at his death. A great achiever that formed the Aztec Empire as we know it, often forgotten in the shadows of great emperors.