Ahuitzotl was the eighth emperor of the Aztec Empire. He succeeded his older brother Tizoc.
Despite other Aztec leaders' misgivings because of Ahuitzotl's age, he proved to be one of the most
successful emperors of the Aztecs.
During his reign, the empire was expanded to its greatest extent. Ahuitzotl is also remembered for
the massive human sacrifices he ordered during the dedication of the Great Temple at Tenochtitlán.
The exact date and year of Ahuitzotl's birth is unknown. He was the grandson of the emperor
Itzcóatl, the fourth Aztec emperor and founder of the triple alliance between Tenochtitlán, Texcoco, and Tlacopan
that laid the foundation for the Aztec Empire. Both of Ahuitzotl's elder brothers, Axayacatl and Tizoc, served as emperor before Ahuitzotl.
While Axayacatl was a ruler successful in war and left many impressive building projects, Tizoc
was a failure. The wealth and power of the Aztec Empire was measured by the tribute and prisoners sent to it by
neighboring cities and tribes. During Tizoc's rule, both declined, so that many allies and enemies of the Aztecs
lost respect and considered war. Tizoc died after only five years on the throne, and it was suspected that he was
The office of emperor was not hereditary among the Aztecs. Four days after Tizoc's death in
1486, the leaders of the people met to elect a new emperor, or tlatoani. Some opposed Ahuitzotl because they felt
only an older ruler would regain respect for the Aztecs.
Still, Ahuitzotl was selected. He soon proved that he was an aggressive military leader. His
first campaign was to the northwest, against former vassals. The city of Chiapa was taken, along with many
prisoners. The prisoners were taken to Tenochtitlán and sacrificed during Ahuiztotl's coronation. Allied and enemy
leaders were invited to celebrate with the new emperor so that all might know the degree of respect with which the
Aztecs were held.
Those who did not attend were considered to be rebels and were the targets of future conquests.
Ahuitzotl displayed the extremes of his personality at the coronation. Generous toward his friends, he spent the
equivalent of a year's worth of tribute on gifts and celebrations. Immediately after the ritual was completed, he
began the serious business of conquest.
Ahuitzotl was a dynamic leader. When the Huaxtec province
rebelled, he quickly mobilized his army and demanded support from allied and
He used a combination of forced marches, ambushes, and
surprise attacks to quickly overwhelm the rebels.
During the campaign, Ahuitzotl turned down the offer of
quarters in an ally's palace, stating that the place for a king was with his
soldiers. Those who fought well were rewarded; those who did not were
During 1487, work on the Great Temple in Tenochtitlán,
ordered by Tizoc, was completed.
To dedicate the temple, Ahuitzotl arranged for large numbers of captives. Surrounding rulers
were again invited. Those who were enemies of the Aztecs arrived in secret to avoid questions from the common
people. On the appointed day, lines of prisoners radiated in the four compass points from the temple.
Contemporary accounts indicate that one line was more than three miles long. Ahuitzotl and
leading nobles stood at the top of the Great Temple. Using sacrificial knives, they cut open the captives' chests
and removed their still-beating hearts. The holocaust went on for four days. Estimates of the number of victims
range from 20,000 to 80,000 people. Accounts described the rivers of blood that ran down the sides of the
During the remainder of his reign, Ahuitzotl conquered the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and Chiapas.
He also established control over the Maya in the jungles of Peten. He conquered the valley of Oaxaca and the
Pacific coast down to Guatemala. The sole opponent whom Ahuitzotl could not conquer were the Tarascans in
By his death, he had expanded the borders of the Aztec Empire as far as 700 miles from
Tenochtitlán, a huge distance for a people without beasts of burden or wheeled vehicles. Ahuitzotl's other
accomplishments included ordering another aqueduct to be constructed to bring more fresh water to the capital.
Ahuitzotl reportedly died in 1502, when his garden was flooded after a dike broke. His sandal
apparently slipped on a wet rock, and he hit his head on a stone lintel. Doctors removed parts of his skull, but he
apparently died of a subdural hematoma.