Huitzilíhuitl (Nahuatl language; English: Hummingbird Feather, Spanish: Pluma de colibrí) was the second tlatoani of the Mexica (Aztecs), governing from 1396 to 1417. He introduced a type of advisory council to assist in governance. He did not expand the territory controlled by the Aztecs since his involvement in conquest was as an ally of others. He was a vassal of the Tepanec chief, as was his son, Chimalpopoca. However, his policy of forging alliances by marriage as well as by diplomacy, keeping good relations with larger, and more powerful city-states eventually resulted in the Aztecs emerging as the dominant regional power. He did much to turn Tenochtitlan into the city that impressed even its Spanish conquerors, who said that it was as fine a city as they have ever seen. When they reached Mexico, Tenochtitlan was probably the largest city in the world. The artistic and technological achievements of the empire Huitzilíhuitl helped to create, and the rich mythology which it evolved, represent a high level of cultural development. He deserves credit for ensuring the survival of his city at a time when it was still vulnerable to attack from larger, expansionist neighbors.
Huitzilíhuitl was born in Tenochtitlan, and was the son of Acamapichtli, first tlatoani of the Mexica, founder of the Aztec Empire. Only 16-years-old when his father died, Huitzilíhuitl was elected by the principal chiefs, warriors and priests of the city to replace him. At that time, the Mexica were tributaries of the Tepanec city-state of Azcapotzalco.
Huitzilíhuitl, a skilled politician, continued the policies of his father, seeking alliances with his neighbors. He founded the Royal Council or Tlatocan and established four permanent electors to advise the new king, in his inexperience, at the beginning of each reign.
He married Ayaucíhuatl, daughter of Tezozómoc, the powerful tlatoani of Azcapotzalco, and obtained a reduction of tribute payments to the symbolic level. Their son Chimalpopoca would succeed his father as tlatoani. After the death of Ayaucíhuatl, Huitzilíhuitl married a second time, to Miahiaxóchitl, daughter of the tlatoani of Cuerhavaca. His second wife bore him Moctezuma Ilhuicamina, who also succeeded to the throne as the fifth tlatoani of the Mexica, or Aztecs.
During his reign, the weaving industry grew. It provided cotton cloth not only for Tenochtitlan, but also for Azcapotzalco and Cuerhavaca. The Mexicas no longer had to dress in coarse ayates of maguey fibers, but were able to change to soft, dyed cotton.
Huitzilíhuitl also wanted to introduce potable water into the city, bringing it to the island from the mainland over the brackish water of the lake. However, the nobles did not approve the cost, so he was unable to put his plan into operation. He constructed a fort on a rock on the island, thus improving the defense system.
In 1409, the ruler of Texcoco, Techotlala, died and the throne passed to Ixtlilxóchitl I. In the following years, relations between Ixtlilxóchitl and Tezozómoc of Azcapotzalco deteriorated, breaking into open hostilities circa 1416.
In spite of having given his daughter Matlalcihuatzin in marriage to Ixtlilxóchitl, Huitzilíhuitl joined his father-in-law in making war on Texcoco. He assisted in the conquest and sacking of the cities of Tultitlan, Cuauhtitlan, Chalco, Tollantzingo, Xaltocan, Otompa, and Acolman. Huitzilíhuitl profited from the booty of these conquests and also from the traffic of the canoes on the lakes surrounding Tenochtitlan.
Huitzilíhuitl died, probably in 1417, before the end of the war between Azcapotzalco and Texcoco. His successor, his son Chimalpopoca, continued to support Tezozómoc and Azcapotzalco. When Chimalpopoca and his son were assassinated in 1427 by Maxtla the new king of Tepanec, it was his uncle Itzcoatl who revenged his death and defeated the Tepanec. The rise of the Aztecs was now in motion. The cause of the assassination appears to have been a request for help with obtaining drinking water, which appears to have resulted in Tepanec sending spies to Tenochtitlan to check the situation out, who reported that the city was growing and would soon rival their capital, Azcapotzalco.
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