A Rain of Darts: The Mexica Aztecs 0292739931, 9780292739932

This book was the first serious scholarly attempt in nearly a century to put in narrative form the exciting and importan

396 44 38MB

English Pages 372 [379] Year 1972

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

A Rain of Darts: The Mexica Aztecs
 0292739931, 9780292739932

Citation preview


Brundage_236.pdf 1

1/27/2014 1:38:45 PM


The Texas Pan American Series

Brundage_236.pdf 3

1/27/2014 1:38:46 PM


A Rain of Darts THE



by Burr Cartwright Brundage


Brundage_236.pdf 5

OF T E X A S P R E S S , A U S T I N

1/27/2014 1:38:46 PM

The Texas Pan American Series is published with the assistance of a revolving publication fund established by the Pan American Sulphur Company and other friends of Latin America in Texas.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Brundage, Burr Cartwright, 1912A rain of darts. (Texas pan-American series) Bibliography: p. 1. Aztecs—History. I. Title. F1219.B89 970.3 72-680 ISBN 0-292-77002-2 Copyright © 1972 by Burr Cartwright Brundage All Rights Reserved Composition by G&S Typesetters, Austin Printing by The University of Texas Printing Division, Austin Binding by Universal Bookbindery, Inc., San Antonio

ISBN 978-0-292-76237-4 (library e-book) ISBN 978-0-292-76238-1 (individual e-book)

Brundage_236.pdf 6

1/27/2014 1:38:46 PM



in friendship and gratitude

Brundage_236.pdf 7

1/27/2014 1:38:46 PM



Preface . . . . . . Introduction . . . . . 1. The Fall of Tula 2. The Mexica Gain a King 3. Mexico under Tezozomoc 4. The Tepaneca War 5. The Composition of Heaven and Earth 6. Moteuczoma I and the State . 7. The Wars of Moteuczoma 8. The Sacred Nature of the Mexican State 9. The Reign of Axayacatl 10. Two Kings of the Middle Period . 11. Moteuczoma II and the Presences . 12. The Failure of a Mexican Tlatoani . 13. Of What Advantage Pride? Abbreviations . Notes Chronological Chart References Index

Brundage_236.pdf 9

1/27/2014 1:38:46 PM


1. The World of the Aztecs 2. Anahuac . . . 3. The Aztec City of Mexico: An Approximation .

Brundage_236.pdf 10

. .

. .



. .

following p. 6 following p. 14


following p. 30

1/27/2014 1:38:46 PM


This book came about because, as a historian, I have long felt the lack of a dependable and informative history of one discrete Aztec state. Books written up to now on the Aztecs have mingled bits of several histories along with heavy doses of the culture of all the Aztec states together, as if the many Aztec states had had no separate existence of their own. I have chosen to concentrate on that one Aztec state with the most abundant records and with certainly the most renown, Mexico. This is a political history; it depicts customs, cults, and myths only insofar as these are necessary to clarify the narrative. Those who wish to immerse themselves in the social, literary, technological and economic details of Aztec life—all of which is of the greatest interest— are advised to go to general surveys of the culture, of which there are many. The story of how a certain people comported themselves in their years on earth is then the essential task here, and if the story falters or the narrative becomes muddy, I have failed. I should particularly like to draw attention to the fact that there is a theme to this history: the keen realization by the Mexica of the illegitimacy of their claim to the land and their expectation of the proprietorial return of the god. This theme appears throughout Mexican history—in the origination legends, in the final catastrophe that befell the state, and in all the fury and arrogance of the interim years.

Brundage_236.pdf 11

1/27/2014 1:38:46 PM



To the uninitiated, Nahuatl names appear unpronounceable, and where there was any choice I have used their shorter forms or those least offensive to the untutored eye, such as Cuacuauhtzin for the more correct Cuacuauhpitzahuac. All Nahuatl words are accented on the penultimate syllable. The letter x is pronounced like sh in English. The records relied on in writing this history have been the wellknown primary and secondary sources, ranging from the Andes de Tlatilulco down through Veytia and Clavigero. Tertiary sources (from Orozco y Berra to Barlow, Krickeberg, Kirchhoff, Pina-Chan, Bernal, et al.) have been read and very occasionally cited. The Handbook of Middle American Indians has aided me in many matters of geography and culture. Volumes 10 and 11 of that series were issued when this work was in proofs. Consequently, none of the pertinent material there could be assimilated for this writing. This is regrettable, particularly in the case of articles such as that by Charles Gibson on the geographical extension of the Aztec empire. By and large, however, the work rests directly on the sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century sources. The quantity of such sources, both published and in manuscript, is vast and I make no claim to have consulted more than the essential works. Due to the sporadic and somewhat unusual circumstances of notetaking in preparation for this book, it has inadvertently happened that two or three primary sources used have been cited in the bibliography and notes in more than one translation or edition. This will appear awkward to the eye of the critic, but it in no wise lessens the work, for, in regard to each statement of fact, the citation will lead the interested party to the proper source. A word on chronology. In this area I have been immeasurably helped by Dr. Howard F. Cline, late director of the Hispanic Foundation of the Library of Congress. He not only read this work in manuscript and offered valuable suggestions, but he allowed me access to an article of his on Christian-Aztec synchronology, which is to be published in the Journal des Americainistes in Paris. This article and his own personal advice convinced me that the traditional founding date for Tenochtitlan (1325) was in error and that KirchhofFs date of 13691370 was correct. (See Paul Kirchhoff, "The Mexican Calendar and

Brundage_236.pdf 12

1/27/2014 1:38:46 PM



the Founding of Tenochtitlan-Tlatilulco," New York Academy of Science, Transactions, series 2, 12:126-132.) After making this fundamental correction, all surrounding dates could then be more accurately placed. Dr. Cline also brought to my attention the latest datings of Teotihuacan and Tula, which I have also incorporated in this work. Because Dr. Cline, at the time of his death, was preparing a book to be published by the University of Texas Press, which will discuss this antecedent material at length, I have only briefly touched on it here. We differed on one important point. Dr. Cline (private communication) set 1380 as the true date for the founding of Tlatilulco, eleven years after the founding of Tenochtitlan. I cannot give a precise date to that founding, but I believe it to have been several years before 1369 and I have so depicted it in these pages. I wish to express my gratitude for the help given me by Dr. Cline and for his interest in this book. His untimely death was a very great loss to the scholarly world. The three maps in this volume have been painstakingly drawn by Mr. Geza Knipfer of The University of Texas at Austin; his skill is greatly appreciated. My efforts to gain competence in the field of Aztec studies have been supported by a grant from the Board of Higher Education of the Presbyterian Church. Additionally my own institution, Eckerd College (formerly Florida Presbyterian College), has taken a real and continuing interest in both the inception and the realization of this study and with numerous grants of money has supported my library acquisitions and sent me to Mexico to carry on my research. I received gracious help in an important matter of translation from Dr. A. J. O. Anderson of San Diego State College and Dr. Charles Dibble of the University of Utah. It is a pleasure to acknowledge this aid and to express my gratitude.

Brundage_236.pdf 13

1/27/2014 1:38:46 PM

Brundage_236.pdf 14

1/27/2014 1:38:46 PM


The story of the Aztecs, whatever else it may be, is a tale of midnight murders, intrigues, and wild revenges. Disguises and espionage were commonplace and came to their culmination in the most hair-raising escapades. The din of battle was relentless and unceasing. All this, added to the constantly shifting loyalties that marked the relationships among the various Aztec states during the short period of their floruit, sows confusion in the mind of the scholar, tempting him to believe that Aztec history is before all else passionate and episodic in character. The Mexica, that branch of the Aztec people investigated in this book, seem to exemplify nicely this view of Aztec history. Indeed the Tlascalans described them as a "people who seem to have been born never to rest, never to leave anyone in peace,"1 while the Otomi cried out to all who would hear: "The Mexican is an inhuman person. He is very wicked. . . . The Mexicans are supremely bad. There is none who can surpass the Mexican in evil." 2 The history of the Mexica—microcosmic of the whole Aztec world —has a lurid quality not often met with in the chronicles of nations. The historian feels that he is looking back upon a people adrift in a great tempest of their own making. Yet these same Mexica were in no sense a heaven-storming people; they were, on the contrary, most submissive and melancholy servants of their gods. The perturbations and egotisms in their political lives

Brundage_236.pdf 15

1/27/2014 1:38:46 PM



were merely enchantments thrown upon them. In fact they formed a steadfast and sacred society, disciplined by their belief in the sacrament of human sacrifice and forever humble under the bans and demands of gods and demons. The lordship of the heavens was the salient fact in all their calculations. Deep under the tumults of their daily lives, they were eminently quiet slaves. The personage who stood in the very center of Aztec history was the teuctli. We will have much to say about him later, but a short introduction is necessary here. He was both the hero and the victim of his society. The word teuctli referred primarily to the successful warrior, but beyond that it carried implications of superior social status. Proper translations of the title should undoubtedly be taken from among that constellation of words so well known to us from the Middle Ages: "knight," "baron," and "lord." Certainly all of the connotations of those terms are present in the Nahuatl word, as well as others that are specific to the Aztec world. It was this teuctli whose voracious hunger for battle, whose boastfulness, whose monstrous dignity and unending search for honors form the dynamic in Aztec history. The Aztec states were institutions shaped by his hand and geared to the fulfillment of his needs. These states were therefore platforms displaying him in all his armorial gaudiness to the world at large. Out of his knightly enterprise was to come the energy, the treachery, and the tumult of the times. But this Aztec baron was in addition the high priest of his culture, scrupulously intent on advancing the millenial purposes of the gods. More was asked of the teuctli than of any man. The sacrifices he was called upon to make were very great indeed, and his death on the field of battle or on the sacrificial stone was in every sense redemptive for his people. Still he knew himself to be a defeated man whose end was certain, and in bitterness he could and did lament the enchantment in which he was locked: We came here only to sleep, Only to dream— It is not true that we came to live on the earth.3 The basic stuff of Aztec history is the appearance of this teuctli, his

Brundage_236.pdf 16

1/27/2014 1:38:46 PM



seizure of power (or rather his reformulation of it) upon the ruins of the Toltec empire, and his attempts to find a legitimacy for that power. Mexican history shares in this common Aztec history but is unique both in the high intensity of its political life and in its final solution to the problem of legitimacy. The Mexica are probably as controversial to us today as they were to themselves in their own times. Their catastrophic end is better known to most than the events of the fall of Rome, but their beginnings and their corporate life as they lived it for a few fleeting decades are generally not known to the majority of serious readers. The whole tale is, as it were, a skeleton, its bones split and scattered about by the years. These we can inspect one by one and even curiously reassemble them. Within those bones lies, still fat, the historic marrow of an amazing people. Their tale should be known and is here offered.

Brundage_236.pdf 17

1/27/2014 1:38:46 PM

Brundage_236.pdf 18

1/27/2014 1:38:46 PM


Brundage_236.pdf 19

1/27/2014 1:38:46 PM

Tlacochquiaui tlaltkpac in nepapan xochitli on yohuda tea ya tetecuica In ilhuicatl. A rain of darts falls on the earth. Flowers of many hues wilt under the dark cloud And the heavens in anguish bellow. From a poem attributed to Cacama

Brundage_236.pdf 20

1/27/2014 1:38:47 PM

1. The Fall of Tula

The Scene The present borders of the Republic of Mexico do not adequately define the scene of the events we are about to describe. The name given by the Aztecs to the central portion of the Mesoamerican plateau that would become their world was Anahuac, meaning literally "in the vicinity of the waters" or "on the shore." Specifically, the word Anahuac referred to the lacustrine world within the present Basin of Mexico, but in a more extended sense it also was used to include the lands just over the mountains to the east, which lands were sometimes called Tlateputzco, "the land at the back." We shall treat this greater Anahuac not as a political but as a cultural province, keeping its geographic outlines purposefully vague.1 Long before the arrival of the Aztecs in the area, Anahuac was a much coveted and beautiful land, being then a part of the Toltec empire. Four gigantic mountains, among the most majestic in the world, dominate the landscape: the snow-capped pair, Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl define the eastern wall of the Basin, the other two, Malinche

Brundage_236.pdf 21

1/27/2014 1:38:47 PM


A Rain of Darts

and the Nevado de Toluca, respectively, post the eastern and western boundaries of greater Anahuac. As long as the traveler could keep any one of these four peaks within sight, he was still in Anahuac or skirting its frontiers. At the center of Anahuac was the great central Basin of Mexico, which was defined by circumambient mountains clothed with immense forests. Streams carried the melted snows into Lake Tezcoco, which, shallow and vast, glittered like a mirror. Its edges were crowded with beds of stiff reeds, the air over it was filled with squalling, wheeling flights of aquatic birds, while monstrous volcanic islands invaded the surface of the lake like great wedges that had been lazily shoved out into the waters and left there. Cities and cultivated fields ringed the lake, adding the touch of man to the vastness and solemnity of the scene. The northern portion of the Basin differed from the other three sides in being unimpressive and far less verdant. Here the hills were low and widely spaced, and they gave easy access to the arid lands beyond where there grew thickets of cactus trees and mesquite and often little else. When one had gone north beyond the old city of Tula, the last outposts of Anahuac were left behind and one entered a territory roamed over by a near-naked and barbaric people called the Chichimecs. This steppe country, austere and endless, was to loom largely in the background of all the Aztec peoples; it was always mentioned with as much aversion as respect. It was called Teotlalli, "Godland."2 "It is a place of misery, pain, suffering, fatigue, poverty, torment. It is a place of dry rocks, of failure; a place of lamentation; a place of death from thirst; a place of starvation. It is a place of much hunger, of much death. It is to the north."3 Teotihuacan and the Fall of Tultf The geographic backgrounds of our history are these northern fringes of Anahuac. By A.D. 200 certain peoples had formed themselves in the northern part of the Basin into the first of the great cities of Mesoamerica, which we refer to by its later Aztec name, Teotihuacan. The knowledge the Aztecs had of this vast urban site—totally ru-

Brundage_236.pdf 22

1/27/2014 1:38:47 PM

The Fall of Tula


ined even in their day—was confused with that of another city, Tula, successor in time and in prestige to Teotihuacan. As an imperial center Teotihuacan was destroyed possibly about A.D. 650 and thereafter for a century sheltered only a weak and dwindling population. Tula, situated to the northwest, carried on the torch, itself to give way and founder on a date that has been traditionally accepted as sometime in the twelfth century. Both Teotihuacan and Tula had created empires and an indelible way of life, but details are vague and shifting, for the Aztecs afterwards telescoped these two cities and their histories together. Here in a brief sketch is what the Aztecs cared to remember of them. The ancient splendors of Teotihuacan finally came to an end, its resounding fall marking in the mythology of later people the end of a cosmic aeon as well. In this cataclysm the sun and all the heavenly bodies flared out leaving the world in darkness. A new aeon had to be created, and this act was accordingly performed in the silent temple courtyards of Teotihuacan, a new sun and a new moon being called up out of the ashes of two gods who voluntarily immolated themselves to this end. The first men of this latest aeon were the Toltecs, intruders from the upper Atoyac watershed near Cholula. They were wise beyond knowing, curers, magicians, builders, in all ways fantastically accomplished; their name in fact (Tolteca) would eventually come to mean "men wise in the arts." In 770 the Toltecs elected their first prince and prepared the foundations of their capital city. Here in Tula they worshipped Quetzalcoatl, a god peculiarly their own, for he represented to them the highest reaches of sanctity and wisdom. In that pre-Aztec state the royal office seems to have been dual; the conduct of war was carried on by a functionary called the huemac, and the priestly charge was in the care of a personage called the quetzalcoatl? The Toltecs spoke that most elegant of tongues, Nahuatl, while the peoples round about spoke, in addition, Otomi. Out from Tula a vigorous empire soon spread to engulf many peoples and to provide fiefs for the Toltec barons. The land of Anahuac was a part of this empire.

Brundage_236.pdf 23

1/27/2014 1:38:47 PM


A Rain of Darts

A legend was born out of this period that was later to become of paramount importance to the Aztecs. It goes as follows. A certain prince who bore the name Topiltzin became the quetzalcoatl, but he was a divisive figure in the state, for his strange ways of doing things included cult innovations featuring prohibitions on human sacrifice. Factions arose to oppose him. Even the gods, it was believed, became envious of him and his righteousness, and they instituted a successful cabal to tempt him from his self-imposed state of purity. His eventual fall from grace into sin brought about his expulsion from the city. The party that had shared in his career and accomplishments accompanied him on the legendary peregrinations that now followed. Finally, on the shores of the Mexican Gulf near Coatzacoalcos, he threw himself upon a pyre and perished in the flames. His heart rose upward as that rare scintilla of brightness, the morning star. Before his end he had prophesied that he would return on the anniversary of his birth date, Ce Acatl ("one-Reed"), and that he would then reclaim the empire of Tula as his, ruling as Quetzalcoatrs anointed one, his exile behind him and the legitimacy of his rule at last vindicated. All of this took place at a time close to the end of the Toltec empire. So much for the legend. The facts appear to have been that the last quetzalcoatl of Tula was indeed a prince called Topiltzin, and that he greatly alarmed the traditional cultists of that city. His tenure of office was contemporary with a period of severe drought and consequent famine. The political structure of the empire underwent a rapid erosion in his time, and with this came the appearance of ghastly signs and wonders. Guilt became attached to him and he was forced out. He fled southward with a band of loyal followers and eventually came out on the Gulf coast. From here in a fleet of canoes he departed eastward to Yucatan, possibly to Chichen Itza, a city which for many years previous to this had been subject to the Toltecs. In 1168 Tula was burned and broken up in a great act of vengeance.6 Its stately pillars were tumbled down and its treasures dispersed. The last huemac of Tula fled from the conflagration southward.7 Folk memory pretended to know what happened to him. Leading his last veterans he moved down into the midst of the plundered Toltec cities around Lake Tezcoco and settled at the foot of the rock of Chapulte-

Brundage_236.pdf 24

1/27/2014 1:38:47 PM

The Fall of Tula


pec. This was a Toltec community that had been weakened in the wars and famine and consequently offered him little refuge. On the rock he met his end. Whether shot with arrows or dying by his own hand, he was still supposed to have cheated death by magically disappearing into a holy cave called Cincalco.8 Here in the deep heart of the mountain he was revived to rule a land where all was beauty and freshness and where those fortunate enough to pass the scrutiny of his gimlet-eyed guardians lived forever. In the distant future a Mexican king, Moteuczoma II, in fear of the ominous appearance of certain bearded men from the sea, would seek refuge in this paradise of Cincalco—but would find it closed to him. 9 The People of Godland Toltec rule had undoubtedly weakened from internal excesses as well as from the treasons of the great earls, but the storm that finally swept it away came from the north and west, from Teotlalli. It came not with the force of a single hurricane but in wild gusts and squalls with intervals of quiet. We refer to it in toto as the Chichimec invasion, but even that oversimplifies the matter. In the succeeding centuries, most of the Aztec groups were to point in pride to their Chichimec descent. They believed that their Chichimec blood endowed them with toughness, independence, endurance, valor —all the virtues befitting a warlike people—and one may guess without fear of error that their ancestors did indeed evince these very characteristics. Certainly the perils of Teotlalli would not have produced a feeble people. In later times distinguished Aztec warriors took pride in the designation of themselves as Chichimecs. Know that when our ancestors lived in the wilds, in the thorny deserts, they lived by the bow and arrow—if they were not assiduous they did not eat—and that was in the days of those godlike Chichimecs, our ancestors.10 What distinguished the Chichimecs was not their language, for in addition to Nahuatl they spoke other tongues, but rather the stringent way of life imposed upon them by the steppe. The Chichimecs comprised three major groups, which can be placed in a descending order of cultural sophistication: Otomi, Tamime, and Teochichimecs.11 The

Brundage_236.pdf 29

1/27/2014 1:38:47 PM


Lake Chapala Lake Patzeuaro _ TZINTZUNTZAN C

H 0 A C ^











Mexoala (Balsas)



\ A «•

Atoyao R. #ACATLAN