Tizoc was the
seventh emperor of the Aztec Empire and served from 1481 to 1486.
He is famous for having the shortest and most unsuccessful
reign of all the emperors in Aztec history.
Considered weak by Aztecs and outsiders alike, Tizoc
suffered military defeat and constant rebellions throughout his reign. It is
believed that he was poisoned in a plot by Aztec noblemen, including his
brother, in order to preserve the powerful reputation of the empire.
Tizoc was born in the capital city of Tenochtitlán in the 1450s. He came from a distinguished
line of Aztec nobles; he was the nephew of the fourth Aztec emperor, Itzcóatl, and the brother of the sixth
emperor, Axayacatl. Educated in Tenochtitlán, Tizoc served as a warrior captain following his childhood. Under his
emperor brother, he became the commanding general of the Aztec armies. Despite his many promotions, Tizoc never
earned a reputation as a particularly successful military commander.
Following the death of Axayacatl, a council of Aztec noblemen elected Tizoc to serve as the
seventh emperor. Tradition demanded that the newly selected emperor wage a military campaign against a neighboring
kingdom. The prisoners gained from those battles would then be sacrificed at the emperor's coronation
This first campaign represented the single most important event in an emperor's life, as the
highly religious and warlike Aztecs viewed it as an omen of the coming reign. The campaign also permitted the new
ruler to prove his abilities as a strategist and renew military ties with the city-states allied with the Aztecs.
The coronation wars were considered essential in maintaining the integrity of the alliance that had enabled the
Aztecs to conquer most of central Mexico.
Tizoc decided to wage his coronation war against the towns of Metztitlan and Itxmiquilpan in the
northeastern portion of the central valley of Mexico. The Aztec Army, commanded directly by Tizoc, fought a large
battle in a narrow valley near Metztitlan.
As a result of cramped fighting space, Tizoc only fielded a
few hundred of his warriors at the same time. This neutralized the main
advantage that the Aztecs had always enjoyed over their enemies, overwhelming
The defenders fought the Aztecs from a superior defensive
position, and several hundred Aztec warriors were killed and many more wounded.
In the end, the campaign resulted in only 40 prisoners for Tizoc's coronation
The militaristic and superstitious Aztecs immediately had
doubts about their new emperor's abilities. Their worries were confirmed when
the failed campaign was followed by a long series of military defeats.
Within a year of his coronation, Tizoc was widely considered a weak and inept ruler. His
shortcomings as a military commander furthermore led to a marked decrease in the trade and tribute that flowed
into the Aztec capital. The resultant shortage of luxury goods greatly affected the Aztec nobility, who began to
resent their leader.
Under Tizoc's leadership, the Aztec Empire went into a brief period of decline. Not only did it
lose territory and manpower in unsuccessful wars, but many of the towns and provinces conquered previously by the
Aztecs rebelled against the ineffective Tizoc.
A serious rebellion in the towns of Chicpantlan and Tlaollan forced Tizoc to send an Aztec army
to the gulf coast in 1483. Additional towns in the region rebelled in 1484, with the townspeople of Tzinacantepec
killing an Aztec tribute collector. Tizoc had great difficulty in suppressing those rebellions but eventually
succeeded through sheer force of numbers by the end of 1485.
Besides his military failures, Tizoc distinguished himself in no other way during his time as
emperor. He instituted no changes or reforms to the Aztec imperial army, society, or administration. His sole
contribution to the architecture of the capital came with the commissioning of the stone of Tizoc.
Like the famous Aztec calendar stone, the stone of Tizoc is a huge round basalt disk. Six feet
in diameter and four feet high, the stone commemorated Tizoc's victory over neighboring tribes. Interestingly, the
image of Tizoc appears 15 times on the stone. The artwork clearly represented an attempt to glorify his military
conquest despite an otherwise lackluster series of military campaigns.
By 1486, the Aztec Empire had been seriously weakened by Tizoc's failures, and its army was
beginning to lose its reputation as an unbeatable fighting force. The resultant loss of fear led to a further
series of rebellions in subject townships, which seriously weakened Tizoc's legitimacy as both emperor and military
commander. That weakness inspired many of the Aztec nobility, including kinsmen, to conspire against him.
According to Spanish sources, members of Tizoc's own court at Tenochtitlán attempted to save the
Aztec Empire from ruin by poisoning his food. Whether poisoned or not, Tizoc died at a very young age in 1486,
despite his evident good health. Following his death, a council of nobles chose his warlike brother, Ahuitzotl, as
the next emperor. Many modern scholars hold Ahuitzotl responsible for the death of his brother, but there is little
conclusive evidence of his involvement.