the sixth emperor, or tlatoani (speaker), of the Aztec Empire.
He followed the great Montezuma I, who had ruled for nearly
30 years and expanded the empire.
Axayacatl continued to expand the Aztec Empire and to demand
tribute and prisoners from the people around its borders. He ordered the
construction of public buildings, which added to the grandeur of his capital,
The exact date of Axayacatl's birth is unknown, though it was probably around 1450. He was the
grandson of Itzcoatl, the fourth emperor of the Aztecs. When Montezuma died in 1469, the leaders of the Aztecs in
Tenochtitlán met to elect a successor. The office of tlatoani was not hereditary, and Montezuma's only brother was
too old to take the throne.
The rulers of Tenochtitlán's allied city states, Texcoco and Tacuba, were consulted as well. The
choice settled on Axayacatl, reportedly only 19 years old at the time. His nickname was "Water Face" because of his
strong tendency to sweat profusely. He had already proven himself to be a courageous warrior.
Before his coronation, Axayacatl led an expedition to the rebellious province of Cotaxtla to
obtain prisoners for his coronation. The province was soon subdued, which was regarded as a good omen for
Axayacatl, and victims were captured for the human sacrifices that accompanied the coronation.
Axayacatl continued the practice of Guerra Florida (Wars of Flowers) began by Montezuma I. The
Guerra Florida were ritual combats that provided prisoners for both sides so they could be sacrificed to the gods.
These rituals prevented the massive destruction of life and property that actual wars would have caused.
Besides these wars, Axayacatl conquered several neighboring
peoples. He captured Toluca after a hard combat. In the fighting, Axayacatl was
himself wounded and nearly captured.
The Aztecs won, but Axayacatl walked with a limp from that
point on. He also added Malinalco and other Matlatzinca polities west of
Tenochtitlán to the empire. He subdued the Tuxpan area on the Gulf of Mexico
coast as well.
Axayacatl's greatest triumph may have been against the
neighboring township of Tlatelolco in 1473.
Both cities were settled by Aztecs and were allies.
Tlatelolco was the elder settlement and was known for its merchants and
The ruler, Moquihuix, was married to Axayacatl's sister, and Moquihuix' abuse of his wife is
usually given as the reason for the war.
Axayacatl summoned his allies to fight against his brother-in-law. He warned Moquihuix of his
attack, since a surprise attack against an Aztec would have been considered unethical. The men of Tenochtitlán soon
had the upper hand. Moquihuix took refuge at the top of the temple pyramid, but he and his chief followers were
thrown to their deaths by Axayacatl. Tlatelolco was made a vassal of Tenochtitlán and not allowed its own
The last years of Axayacatl's reign were not good ones. In 1478, he led an expedition of 20,000
men against the Tarascans in Michoacan. The expedition was poorly planned, and the Aztecs were outnumbered by as
much as two to one. When he realized the numerical difference, Axayacatl was disheartened. He considered calling
off the expedition, but his generals urged him to continue.
The Aztecs attacked but were quickly routed. That evening, they fortified themselves with
yolatl, an alcoholic drink intended to bring courage. The next morning, they again charged the Tarascans. The
result was a disaster. Most of the army was killed or captured. The survivors fled back to Tenochtitlán. By all
accounts, those who reached the capital did not number more than 200, and most were wounded. It was the greatest
defeat for the Aztecs until the Spanish invasion in the early 1500s.
Axayacatl was remembered most for his military exploits, but he also added to the impressiveness
of Tenochtitlán. He ordered the construction of the last phase of a temple dedicated to the god Huitzilopochtli
(the Aztec god of war). He also had a temple built dedicated to Tlaloc, the rain god, who in Aztec lore provided
the water for the lake on which the capital was built. Axayacatl commissioned the carving of the great Aztec
"calendar," a huge stone that allowed the Aztecs to measure time with precision.
Axayacatl died around 1483 at about the age of 30, from unknown causes. His nephew was Montezuma
II, the tlatoani when the Spanish arrived.