Aztec History


The Aztecs

Aztlan is the mythical place of origin of the Aztec peoples. In their language (Nahuatl), the roots of Aztlan are the two words: aztatl tlan(tli) meaning "heron" and "place of," respectively. 'Tlantli' proper means tooth, and as a characteristic of a good tooth is that it is firmly rooted in place, and does not move, the prefix of this word is commonly used in Nahuatl to denote settlements, or place names, e.g. Mazatlan (place of deer), Papalotlan (place of butterflies) or Tepoztlan (place of metal). The Nahuatl language is often said to include three levels of meaning for its words or expressions: literal, syncretic and connotative. The connotative meaning of Aztlan, due to the plumage of herons, is "Place of Whiteness." The mythical descriptions of Aztlan would have it to be an island.
You would replace -tlan with -tecatl to identify a resident or person from the given place. So, for the examples above, we have that people from Mazatlan would be Mazatecatl, someone from Tepoztlan a Tepoztecatl, and someone from Aztlan an Aztecatl.
In the origin myths of the Aztecs, they emerged originally from the bowels of the earth through seven caves (Chicomostoc) and settled in Aztlan, from which they subsequently undertook a migration southward in search of a sign that would indicate that they should settle once more. This myth roughly coincides with the known history of the Aztecs as a barbarous horde that migrated from present-day northwestern Mexico into the central plateau sometime toward the end of the first millennium AD, when high civilizations of great antiquity were already well established in the region. It is known that the Aztecs had a sector ("barrio") in the Toltec city of Tollan, and the cultural influence of the Toltecs on the rough-edged Aztecs was subsequently to be very marked. 
On the view of some scholars (e.g., Nigel Davies), all of Aztec cultural development was an effort to recreate the grandeur that they knew at Tollan.The exact physical location of Aztlan is unknown, other than it must have been located near estuaries or on the coast of northwestern Mexico, though some archaeologists have gone so far as to locate the present town of San Felipe Aztlan, Nayarit, as the exact place.
In Chicano folklore, Aztlan is often appropriated as the name for that portion of Mexico that was taken over by the United States after the Mexican-American War of 1846, on the belief that this greater area represents the point of parting of the Aztec migrations. In broad interpretation, there is some truth to this in the sense that all of the groups that would subsequently become the various Nahuatl-speaking peoples of central Mexico passed through this region in a prehistoric epoch, as attested by the existence of linguistically related groups of people distributed throughout the US Pacific Intermountain region, the US southwest and northern Mexico, known as the Uto-Aztecan-Tanoan group, and including such peoples as the Paiute, Shoshoni, Hopi, Pima, Yaqui, Tepehuan, Rarámuri (Tarahumara), Kiowas and Mayas.

Source: Colorodo Education


The Mexica

1345 to 1521 ce

The Aztecs are the people who came from Aztlan the place of origin of the Aztec peoples. Aztec in Nahuatl means the people who came from Aztlan. The Aztecs who left Aztlan had wandered for many years and finally settled in Coatepec (Snake Hill in Nahuatl) near Tula. 
There the Aztecs built a city and lived for many years. When the Aztecs were in Coatepec, a dispute arose. Some of the Aztecs who followed Huitzilopochtli wanted to leave and some of the Aztecs who followed Coyolxauhqui (Huitzilopochtli's Sister) wanted to stay in Coatepec. In the battle that ensued the followers of Huitzilopochtli won and they changed their name to Mexicas. The Sculpture of Coyolxauhqui's dismembered body lies today at the foot of the Templo Mayor the religious center of the Mexica people.
The Aztecs turned into Mexica once Huitzilopochtli appeared in a dream to four priests (Teomama) when our people settled at Chapultepec. Huitzilopochtli gave his name to the Aztecs since his was also known as Mexi. So Mexica also means sons of Mexi or Huitzilopochtli. Apparently in the Mexicayotl Chronicle, Mexi is one of the names given to Huitzilopochtli.Mexicas, therefore, are the Aztecs that split from the other Aztecs in Coatepec. The Mexicas were led by Huitzilopochtli. They continued south and founded the city of Tenochtitlan or Mexico (what is now Mexico City) in Anahuac. 

Source: Mexica . Net



Tenochtitlan in Nahuatl means the place of prickly pear cactus. Tenochtitlan was also referred to as Mexico. The Empire of the Mexicas was also called Mexico. Mexicas means people from Mexico. Hence, Mexicano or Mexican means the same as Mexica, people from Mexico
The City of Tenochtitlan was built in the middle of Lake Texcoco. Anahuac or the Valley of Mexico was full of lakes. Anahuac in Nahuatl means "Near the water or sea."Tenochtitlan was a city built on water with many canals. 

Source: Wikipedia

Our World



Ānāhuac is the ancient core of Mexico. Ānāhuac is a Nahuatl name which means "close to water." It can be broken down like this: A(tl) + nahuac. Atl means 'water' and nahuac, which is a relational word that can be affixed to a noun, means "close to." Anahuac is sometimes used interchangeably with Valley of Mexico, but  Ānāhuac properly designates the south-central part of the Valley, where well-developed Mexica (more commonly known as the Aztecs) culture traits had created distinctive landscapes now hidden by the urban sprawl of Mexico City. ("Valley of Mexico" is misnamed. It is a closed basin of internal drainage, not a valley.)

The ancient Mexica term Ānāhuac (close to water) and the phrase Basin of Mexico are both used at times to refer to the Valley of Mexico. ... The Valley of Mexico can be subdivided into four basins, but the largest and most-studied is the area which contains Mexico City.
Ānāhuac is "limited by the traditional and vaguely defined boundaries of an ancient American empire the Mexica previous to the Spanish conquest.

Ānāhuac could be described as all the plateau region of Mexico, and extending between the eastern and western coast ranges from Rio Grande to the isthmus of Tehuantepec. A more exact and more commonly used description, however, limits it to the great plateau valley in which the city of Mexico is now located.

Source: Wikipedia



Cēmānāhuac was the name used by the Mexica (aka Aztecs) to refer to their world. It is a Nahuatl name derived from the words "cē" one/whole and "Ānāhuac", which in turn derives from the words "atl" (water) and "nahuac", a locative meaning "circumvented or surrounded". Hence, the name can be literally translated as "land completely surrounded by water", or "the totality of what is next to water". The term refers to the conscience that the Mexica had of the “American” territory they knew, surrounded by two great oceans, the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. 

Tahuantinsuyu, (Quechua: “Realm of the Four Parts”) , also spelled Tawantinsuyu, territories spread over parts of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina that, by the 1500s, were all part of a single Inca state. The Incas divided their empire into four parts, or suyus, each extending from the capital city of Cusco, the so-called “Navel of the Earth.” Collectively, the Incas referred to their empire as the Tawantinsuyu, which can be roughly translated as “Land of the Four Quarters” or “The Four Parts Together.” These four regions were known as Chinchaysuyu, Antisuyu, Cuntisuyu and Collasuyu.  

Source: Wikipedia

The Enlarged Concept of Anahuac


"Anahuac" as a Nation

Guillermo Bonfil Batalla (1996) In his book Mexico Profundo: Reclaiming A Civilization, Guillermo Bonfil Batalla suggests that the creation of the modern area of "Mexico" after Spain accepted Mexico's independence in  1821 - could also be equated with an enlarged concept of Anahuac:" 

Independence created a new sociopolitical entity, Mexico, or "Anahuac", as was suggested at one point" (Batalla, 1996, p.97).

The original use of Anahuac applied mainly to the Anahuac Valley. Most scholars interpret the meaning of Anahuac to be something like "The land near the waters" or "the land in between the waters". 

When "Mexico" achieved formal "independence" from Spain in 1821, its territory extended from modern-day Mexico to the far north in the "U.S. Southwest"... far beyond the original conception of Anahuac in its earlier form. In fact, this version of Anahuac would encompass the majority of "North America"!

Source: Nican Tlaca University of Cemanahuac

Nican Tlaca/Nican Titlaca (We People Here)


The term Nican Tlaca has been a part of the historical record for nearly 500 years. But the term Nican Tlaca is problematic if it is taken to mean “we people here”, since that meaning would be more accurately assigned to the term Nican Titlaca. Linguistically speaking, it appears that the term Nican Titlaca is the original term, from which Nican Tlaca was derived, either by social convention or some unknown decision by elites. It would seem then, that Nican Titlaca is the more “etymologically / grammatically correct” term for expressing personal-possessive identity, even though “linguistic evolution” morphed the term into Nican Tlaca.The term Nican Tlaca can be definitively shown to have originated around the mid-1500's and was used well into the 1600's. No individual can be identified as its originator. The term seems to have originated as a way to differentiate Indigenous People from Spaniards/Europeans. 

In 1992, with the publication of The Nahuas After the Conquest, James Lockhart re-introduced the term via scholarship and affirmed it as being synonymous with “indigenous people”. 

Source: Nican Tlaca University of Cemanahuac

The Aztec (Mexica) Empire


The ancient Aztec (Mexica) empire in the center of Mexico City was built using lava rocks. According to Aztec sources, the main temple, Templo Mayor, was built on this spot because an eagle was seen perched on a cactus devouring a snake, in fulfillment of a prophecy. By the early 16th century, the Aztecs had come to rule over up to 500 small states, and some 5 to 6 million people, either by conquest or commerce. Tenochtitlán at its height had more than 140,000 inhabitants, and was the most densely populated city ever to exist in Mesoamerica.  At a time in Europe when street cleaning was almost non-existent and people emptied their overflowing chamber pots into the streets as a matter of course, the Aztecs employed a thousand public service cleaners to sweep and water their streets daily, built public toilets in every neighborhood, and transported human waste in canoes for use as fertilizer. 




The etymology of the name “Mexico” is Nahua. Metztli means moon. Xictli is bellybutton. Co is an suffix that refers to "place". So it means "The bellybutton of the moon”.

Before and right after the people of Mexico founded Tenochtitlán, according to legend, on top of a tiny island where they found an eagle on a cactus eating a snake, all the neighboring tribes called them "those people that come from the bellybutton of the moon". 

Tenochtitlan was at the center of the reflection of the moon on the lake where they found the eagle (had it been full moon).

- David Martinez,

Our Ancestors

7 Caves


Nahuatl legends relate that seven tribes lived in Chicomoztoc, or "the place of the seven caves". Each cave represented a different Nahua group: the Xochimilca, Tlahuica, Acolhua, Tlaxcalteca, Tepaneca, Chalca, and Mexica. Because of their common linguistic origin, those groups are called collectively "Nahuatlaca" (Nahua people). These tribes subsequently left the caves and settled "near" Aztlán.  

Drawing: Chicomoztoc — the place of the seven caves. The mythical origin of the "nahuatlaca" tribes. From the "Historia Tolteca chicimeca". A postcortesian codex from 1550.  

Lake of the Moon


Aztlan is the ancient homeland where the Aztec people began to form as a civilization prior to their migration to the Valley of Mexico. Aztlan is believed to be anywhere from Western Mexico all the way to Utah. However, the exact location and existence of Aztlan remain a mystery. While in Aztlan, the Aztecs were subject to a tyrannical elite called the Azteca Chicomoztoca, according to the Codex Aubin. Guided by their priest, the Aztec fled, and their god Huitzilopochtli forbade them to call themselves Azteca, telling them that they should be known as Mexica. Some say that the southward migration began on May 24, 1064 CE, after the Crab Nebula events from May to July 1054. Each of the seven groups is credited with founding a different major city-state in Central Mexico.The newest translation of the "Anales de Tlatelolco" gives the only date known related to the exit from Aztlan; day-sign "4 Cuauhtli" (Four Eagle) of the year "1 Tecpatl" (Knife) or 1064-1065, and correlated to January 4, 1065. Cristobal del Castillo mentions in his book "Fragmentos de la Obra General Sobre Historia de los Mexicanos", that the lake around the Aztlan island was called Metztliapan or "Lake of the moon." According to Aztec legends, the Mexica tribe emigrated last due to lengthy drought between 1100 and 1300 AD. When they arrived at their new homeland, the present-day Valley of Mexico, all available land had been taken, and they were forced to find refuge on the edge of Lake Texcoco. 

Drawing: The Mexica depart from Aztlán. From the 16th Century Codex Boturini. Created by an unknown Aztec hand in the 16th century. 

Where was Aztlan?


It is not known how far north Aztlan would have been located. It may have been all the way up into Utah, so it is possible that the Aztecs did not originate in Mexico at all, but that their culture was formed in an area that is now the United States, prior to their migration to the Valley of Mexico. Aztlan would have been comprised of the states including California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and Utah. If this were true, descendants of the Aztecs who are in the United States today may assert that they are not undocumented migrants, but descendants of the Aztecs who are merely returning to their home land.

Even if it turns out that Aztlan was not that far north, the Mexican people still may have a valid right to the southwest land. The clauses guaranteeing the land ownership of Mexican and Indigenous people north of the borderline established by the War of the United States against Mexico 1845-48 and under the protection by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo were violated repeatedly! The Mexican people suffered a campaign of terror and death at the guns of white racist vigilantes, lynchings by White mobs, the mass savage killings by the Texas Rangers, and genocide under the Slave Republic of Texas and under United States occupation and military control that turned the northwestern part of Mexico, into the now Southwest of the United States. The Mexican people have been subjected to violence, national oppression, racist segregation, class exploitation, mass deportations, and inequality. 

However, Mexicans are waking up and realizing that the power to control Aztlan or the Southwest once again be in their hands. Many Mexican people believe that we must recognize the US-Mexico border line and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo of 1848, as null and void due to the default on the Treaty. Also, clauses in the treaty state that a free-trade agreement…promises…if Mexico is to allow the U.S. to invest in Mexico…then Mexico should…be allowed to freely export…Mexican labor. This would mean a re-evaluation of the border between the two countries.

We must decolonize our lands and our people. We should be treated as an internal colony within the entrails of the monster. Rejecting assimilation, corrupt political power, social dominant power, capitalism, imperialism, colonialism and white supremacy, and striving for liberation.

Drawing: This unusual 1704 map, drawn by Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri, is the first published representation of the legendary Aztec migration from Aztlan, a mysterious paradise somewhere to the northwest of Mexico, to Chapultepec Hill, currently Mexico City. 

Aztlan by Language Similarities


While the Aztecs of the Sixteenth Century lived in the south central part of the present-day Mexican Republic, a wide scattering of peoples who presently live in the United States could probably be described as "distant cousins" to the Aztecs. If you belong to the Shoshone, Ute, Paiute, or Gabrielino Indians, you may very well share common roots with the famous Aztecs of central Mexico. 

How is it that we can conclude that these relationships exist? Studies in historical linguistics have analyzed the Uto-Aztecan tongues - and the Náhuatl language in particular - have determined that Náhuatl was actually not native to central Mexico. Instead, it was carried south from lands that are believed to have been in the northwestern region of the present-day Mexican Republic and - before that - the United States. Most of us have already heard the story of Aztlán and the Aztec journey from that mythical homeland to central Mexico.Legend states that the Aztec and other Náhuatl-speaking tribal groups originally came to the Valley of Mexico from a region in the northwest, popularly known as Atzlan-Chicomoztoc. The name Aztec, in fact, is said to have been derived from this ancestral homeland, Aztlan (The Place of Herons). According to legend, the land of Aztlan was said to have been a marshy island situated in the middle of a lake. 

For nearly five centuries, popular imagination has speculated about the location of the legendary Aztlan. Some people refer to Aztlan as a concept, not an actual place that ever existed. However, many historians believe that Aztlan did indeed exist. The historian Paul Kirchhoff suggested that Aztlan lay along a tributary of the Lerna River, to the west of the Valley of Mexico. Other experts have suggested the Aztlan might be the island of Janitzio in the center of Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, with its physical correspondence to the description of Aztlan. 

Many anthropologists have speculated that the ancestral home of the Aztecs lay in California, New Mexico or in the Mexican states of Sonora and Sinaloa.The idea that Sinaloa, Sonora, California, and New Mexico might be the site of Aztlan is a very plausible explanation when historical linguistics are considered. "The north-to-south movement of the Aztlan groups is supported by research in historical linguistics," writes the anthropologist, Professor Michael Smith of the University of New York, in The Aztecs, "The Náhuatl language, classified in the Nahuan group of the Uto-Aztecan family of languages, is unrelated to most Mesoamerican native languages." As a matter of fact, "Náhuatl was a relatively recent intrusion" into central Mexico.On the other hand, if one observes the locations of the indigenous people who spoke the Uto-Aztecan languages, all of their lands lay to the northwest of the Valley of Mexico. The northern Uto-Aztecans occupied a large section of the American Southwest. Among them were the Hopi and Zuni Indians of New Mexico and the Gabrielino Indians of the Los Angeles Basin. 

The Central Uto-Aztecans - occupying large parts of Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Sonora in northwestern Mexico - included the Papago, Opata, Yaqui, Mayo, Concho, Huichol and Tepehuán. It is reasonable to assume that where there is a linguistic relationship there is most likely also a genetic relationship. Thus, it is very possible that the legendary Aztlan ­ or another ancestral home of the Aztecs - was located in the Southwestern United States.It is important to note, however, that the Aztlan migrations were not one simple movement of a single group of people. Instead, as Professor Smith has noted, "when all of the native histories are compared, no fewer than seventeen ethnic groups are listed among the original tribes migrating from Aztlan and Chicomoztoc." It is believed that the migrations southward probably took place over several generations. "Led by priests," continues Professor Smith, "the migrants... stopped periodically to build houses and temples, to gather and cultivate food, and to carry out rituals."The migrating groups included many Náhuatl-speaking peoples who became associated with the Aztec Empire: the Acolhua, Tepaneca, Culhua, Xochimilca, Tlahuica, Matlatzinca, and the Tlaxcalans - all of whom settled in the Valley of Mexico or adjacent valleys that are now in the surrounding states of Morelos, Tlaxcala, and Puebla.

- Houston Culture . Com

Aztlan by 150 Leagues from Tenochtitlan


Friar Diego Durán (c. 1537–1588), who chronicled the history of the Aztecs, wrote of Aztec emperor Moctezuma I's attempt to recover the history of the Mexica by congregating warriors and wise men on an expedition to locate Aztlán. According to Durán, the expedition was successful in finding a place that offered characteristics unique to Aztlán. However, his accounts were written shortly after the conquest of Tenochtitlan and before an accurate mapping of the American continent was made; therefore, he was unable to provide a precise location.

There is a lake around Cerro Culiacan, Lake Yuriria, that makes the mountain look very much like an island when photographed from the water. In 1887, Mexican anthropologist Alfredo Chavero claimed that Aztlán was located on the Pacific coast in the state of Nayarit. While this was disputed by contemporary scholars, it achieved some popular acceptance. 

Eduardo Matos Moctezuma presumes Aztlán to be somewhere in the modern-day states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Michoacán.Indeed, scholars are all consistent in naming the measures of "150 leagues" from Tenochtitlan that were documented by the Spanish scribes taking notes from conquered Mexica as the distance to the place of origin, coinciding in all ways at Chicomoztoc, "Cerro del Culiacan", which is indeed a humped mountain when seen from the south face. 

It has also been proposed that the original site of Aztlán was the area around what is now Lake Powell. Part of the migration legend also describes a stay at Culhuacán ("leaning hill" or "curved hill"). Proponents of the Lake Powell theory equate this Culhuacán with the ancient home of the Anasazi at Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park.

 Researchers who believe Aztlán was located in the Lake Powell region also cite the fact that the language spoken by the Aztecs and the Ute people belong to the same Uto-Aztecan linguistic group.

Archaeologist Kelley Hays-Gilpin from Northern Arizona University acknowledges the linguistic connection between Mesoamerican and North American peoples. However, she theorizes that the Aztec's ancestors may have traveled north before returning south. Hayes-Gilpin believes Uto-Aztecan speaking people spread north to an area of the American West that could have included Utah. Out of those cultures, some groups could have migrated south to northern Mexico, and some could have, as she says, moved to the Valley of Mexico where they subjugated tribes in that region.

The Selangor area in Malaysia has many of the features of Navajo mythology in such things as sacred caves, like the Batu Caves, an aboriginal population called the Orang Asli, a sacred lake, called Tasik biru seri kundang, or 'blue lake', of which, the locals claim has a floating, mystical island in the middle of it. Tasik biru seri kundang is south of the Batu Caves as it is in Navajo mythology and Aztec mythology. The Pulque of the Navajo and Mesoamerican aboriginals is similar to the milk offered at the Batu Caves. There is proximal spelling between Malay and Maya. Some of the Thaipusam Kavadi at the Batu Caves bear a striking resemblance to Navajo mythology masks. 

However, the American naturalist, William Temple Hornaday may have inadvertently caused cross-cultural contamination by spreading his racist beliefs and his first hand knowledge of North American aboriginal beliefs and mythologies when he visited the Malay peninsula in 1878. The practices at the Batu Caves may therefore not be original or authentic to the Malaysian population.

- History Writers, Facebook; Wikipedia

Where do we get our historical accounts and knowledge of the "Aztecs"?


It comes from codexes. Shortly after the Conquest, the Spaniards missionaries had the surviving Aztec people write their account of their peoples history and of conquest they lived through. They first wrote in pictures in binded books. Once they learned the alphabet they were able to write in words. 

The Nahuat speaking Aztecs (or Mexicas, as the residence of Mexico-Tenochtitlan called themselves) were taught the alphabet as early as 1528. Then they were able to write their account of the conquest which they were eye witnesses. 

In 1524 when the Franciscans arrived, they learned the Aztecs language and grammar and taught th e Aztecs to read and write it. 

The Codex Floretino by Bernadino Sahagun and his native informants was originally written in the Nahuatl language in the words of the Aztecs in their own words. 

The descriptions taken from an anonymous manuscript of Tlateloco was written as early as 1528 and contains accurate testimonials of the people who personally took part in the defense of the Mexica capital.
Although the missionaries were watchful eyes on what was written, the Aztec people were able to write their testimonies with out censure as they were becoming more independent. By 1550, the Nahuatl alphabet literacy extended beyond the Spanish centers of education and began to take on an independent life of its own in "Indian" towns. The Nahuas became adept not only at telling their own story through Latin script, but at using such stories to protect their privileges and advocate for their interests. 

In summary, the information we have about the Aztecs comes from eye witnesses by the Aztecs themselves about their history, religion, economy, schools, laws, government, military, language and of the conquest and fall of their world. 

- Aztecas Del Norte

Dr. Jack D. Forbes