1809 Flower Wars and Hungry Gods: Warfare of the Aztecs

“The battlefield is the place: where one toasts the divine liquor in war,
Where are stained red the divine eagles,
Where the tigers howl,
Where all kinds of precious stones rain from ornaments,
Where wave headdresses rich with fine plumes,
Where princes are smashed to bits.”

The poet of these verses, the Aztec emperor Nezahualcoyotl, captures the spirit and pageantry of Aztec warfare. The empire known to us as the Aztecs was an alliance of city-states in the Valley of Mexico. From 1428 to 1521, the Aztecs ruled and terrorized Mesoamerica. The Mexica, once a scorned, nomadic people, ultimately became the dominant power in this alliance. “Aztec” – a name these people did not use – derives from Atzlan, the semi-legendary homeland of the Mexica.

Like many nomadic groups, the Mexica were a tough, warlike people. In the late 14th century they became the vassals of the Tepaneca, one of the great states of Mesoamerica. Tezozomoc, the Tepanec king, a shrewd statesman and general dubbed the “Mexican Machiavelli,” steadily expanded the breadth of his conquest. In these campaigns he relied upon the Mexica as the tip of his spear. Yet they grew so powerful Tezozomoc struggled to control them. After Tezozomoc’s death, the Tepanec went to war with the upstart vassals. The Mexica’s victory set them toward a bold new destiny. With the city-states Texcoco and Tlacopan, the Mexica formed the “Triple Alliance” – and gave birth to the Aztec Empire.  

This episode was written by Scott Forbes Crawford

Scott is now in his seventh year living in Beijing, he works primarily as a screenwriter for the Chinese and American film industries, with a movie he co-wrote going into production this year. Scott has also written The History Network episodes “The Battle of Carrhae” and “The Taiping Rebellion.” To check out what he’s doing or to get in touch, please visit scottforbescrawford.com.