The social stratification in what comprised the center of Mexico was composed of two great estates, on one side were the nobles (or pipiltin, meaning "the sons", which alludes to their hereditary character) and on the other, the common people (or macehualtin, converted into Spanish as macehuales).
The dominant estate had three fundamental ranks; the highest was that of the king or tlatoani, which means "ruler", usually noble by birth (also if he demonstrated kinship with royalty), member of the reigning lineage, and ruler for life; given that this was precisely the sovereign of a lordship, which were usually divided into political-territorial partialities, so it was not strange that there were several lords with the title of king in the same city, in addition, he had civil, military, religious, judicial and legislative functions, as well as the center of the economic organization.
The second rank was the lord teuctli, a title of variable status granted by the tlatoani. This name was used to refer to officials such as judges, local chiefs (of towns or villages), and the master of a slave. And the third rank in the upper stratum is the noble or pilli, which translates as "son", who had the obligation to render services to their lords and the king. The ascription of the noble estate was determined by inheritance, however, merits or punishments were also considered for ascending or descending in social rank in the upper estate.
On the other hand, the macehuales were governed and the common people had the obligation to pay tributes and personal services organized in capules (units of territory where there was no equality or totalizing conditions). This is the origin of the political-territorial organization. Given its complexity, the idea of a nation of those times is recognized as the ethnic group that does not assume any type of political organization, it is simply expressed with the Nahuatl word "tlaca", translated as people, who were organized in a specific territory (which was called altepetl, "water and hill", meaning town or lordship).
The alliances that linked the lordships were configured from the highest levels of the political structure, where each one was in a struggle against its neighbors to be able to subdue them, impose tribute or, if necessary, free itself from the subjugation of others. Some of the centers were the tlatocáyotl (a group of towns that recognized them as the sole authority), or the tlatoani of the dominant center.
Despite this, cooperation and solidarity among the alliances was essential, even if they were very basic because they were based on the military character so permeated in the area. Such groupings were formed by groups with similar interests, ethnic, linguistic, or military affiliations.
When the alliances materialized, many authors associated it with the fact that there were political tensions between the lordships of the area, causing instability and the need for adjustments. It is within this context that the war between the lordships of Azcapotzalco and Mexico-Tenochtitlan took place.
In the basin of Mexico, located in the Central High Plateau, more specifically in the extensive lake region surrounded by mountains and volcanoes with an ideal climate for human settlement, there was an important urban development where the most important cities were Texcoco, Tlacopan, Azcapotzalco, Culhuacan and, of course, Mexico-Tenochtitlan, named after Tenoch, the last guide on the pilgrimage from Aztlan.
The predominant lordship when the Mexica began to develop their city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan was that of Azcapotzalco, of which they were tributaries for a long time and consequently enemies. When the Mexica arrived in the Basin of Mexico, they found it populated by large and numerous centers that were controlled by the nearby territories, where they found themselves in a relationship of political instability due to the constant competition between groups that sought to expand their dominion.
The break occurred in 1371 when the domain was under a leader like Tezozómoc, the dominion of Azcapotzalco was consolidated in a hegemonic and centralized position, which built solid alliances with other groups of vital importance in the area where they were located. It is important to mention that many of these alliances were consolidated thanks to marriages between members of the ruling lineage with members of other centers. Likewise, it is also worth mentioning that the alliances were imposed by the sons of Tezozómoc, as the rulers of the conquered communities.
At the beginning of the 15th century, the lordship of Azcapotzalco was the most powerful. According to Pedro Carrasco, the lordships that shared power with Azcapotzalco were Coatlinchán and Acolman, they had wars, in which the Mexica were involved as participants of the military forces, becoming akin to it, inserting themselves in relations and problems between the lordships of the area. Therefore, the military sector of these societies was consolidated.
Within the narratives, allusion is made to the fact that Mexico-Tenochtitlan strengthened its relations with Azcapotzalco and the marriage of Huitzilíhuitl with the daughter of Tezozómoc, from which Chimalpopoca was born. Within the consolidation of a dominant group in the Mexica society, the objectives and ambitions began to be delimited, in which Azcapotzalco was found as an obstacle, therefore, this lordship had to be displaced.
Over the years, the Mexica knew how to take advantage of the resentment of other cities and towns towards Azcapotzalco, as well as the internal conflicts that took place in that dominion to rebel against it. Actions of a military nature implied external purposes, but at the same time, they had repercussions within the societies where the wars took place. We can mention the war that gave Mexico-Tenochtitlan its hegemony.
There were moments of friction between the Tepanecas of Azcapotzalco and the Mexica of Tenochtitlan, Fray Diego Durán points out that the various tensions that existed before the conflict were due to the water of Chapultepec. At one point, the Mexica settled in that place and caused "discomfort", since that was where the water was extracted. This is explained by the fact that the third tlatoani, Chimalpopoca, reduced the taxation of products, but above all, he granted the Chapultepec water well to Mexico-Tenochtitlan. This action would imply discontent, given that the control of the waters by this lordship reduced the arrival of this resource to Coyoacán, Tlacopan, and Azcapotzalco.
Likewise, the changes in the successions of tlatoani in both lordships are taken into consideration, where the self-designation of Maxtla as tlatoani of Azcapotzalco and Itzcóatl in México-Tenochtitlan after the death of Chimalpopoca is pointed out. The defeat of Azcapotzalco begins with a new phase for the Mexica society, given that from that moment on, the latter delimit the geopolitics of the Basin of Mexico. The war implied political domination, where one alliance disintegrated, consequently forming another.
At the time when the Mexica were just building their hegemony, the Tepanecas of Azcapotzalco and the Acolhua of Texcoco were the two centers of power that fought for the lake region, trying to establish hegemony in the basin. Based on the above, we can already glimpse the tensions between the local lordships, given that Azcapotzalco tried to dominate the area through tributary extractions and policies of domination, which resulted in violent mobilizations in response.
The military destruction of the Tepanecas of Azcapotzalco in 1428 did not mean their disappearance as an ethnic group. After their fall, other important centers allied to Azcapotzalco, such as Xochimilco, Coyoacán, Mixquic, and Cuitláhuac, were conquered, allowing the Mexica warrior group to appropriate the land, labor, and food. It was pointed out that from this distribution there was also a creation of new "positions" within the dominant group, based on military merits, which allowed them to have privileges in terms of access to the government, to the benefits of tribute, and to participate in programming future wars; phenomena of vital importance for the characters of that dominion. With the victory over the Tepanecas, MexicoTenochtitlan's power was projected outwardly.
Thus, they allied with the lordship of Tlacopan (Tacuba), which dominated the Matlatzinca region towards present-day Toluca, as well as with the lordship of Texcoco, forming the Triple Alliance in 1428. In this way, a great empire was consolidated that would begin to expand into regions far from its origin, such as the Basin of Mexico, administering trade routes throughout Mesoamerica and thus imposing its hegemony.
Mexico-Tenochtitlan, was the most powerful kingdom of the Alliance, being so at the time when Acamapichtli was consecrated king and formed the lordship that was subject to Azcapotzalco. At the time of the constitution of the Triple Alliance, the territory occupied by Mexico-Tenochtitlan included the former region of Colhua domain, given that they had replaced Culhuacan as the main city, being the sovereign the Mexica tlatoani, leaving the lordship of Culhuacan in second place, leaving it subordinate.
The city of the Mexica was then considered as a continuation of Culhuacan, old Toltec heritage, where the Mexica king was named Culhuatecuhtli, lord colhua. As for its political hierarchical structure, it did not always follow a specific order of succession from father to son but also included close relatives of the great king of Tenochtitlan.
For its part, in the lordship of Texcoco, was the title of Chichimecatecuhtli, settled to the east of the Basin in the eighteenth century. This kingdom controlled Acolhuacan, and also included other regions that extended to the border with Tlaxcala, including Tollantzinco, Cuauhchinanco, and Xicotepec. As for the kingdom of Tlacopan, its sovereign bore the title of Tepanecateuctli, Tepaneca lord.
These occupied the western and northern part of the great valley, extending as far as Xilotepec and Toluca. Before the Triple Alliance was formed, the Tepanecas were the most powerful in the valley. Therefore, they received tribute from other towns, having the military power to force them to participate in wars or construction works; even during the flowery wars, it was common to take as prisoners some inhabitants of the subdued towns to sacrifice them in the ceremonies.
In those years, there were great councils that were called under the authority of the king. The most important was in Tenochtitlan, and was called tlacxitlan, which means "at the feet"; only the nobility of each lordship could attend with him. Similarly, the council developed in Texcoco, which was integrated by the kings of subordinate cities, such as those of Acolhuacan, dealt with issues such as crimes committed by the lords, where there was a higher court of appeal for the macehuales.
On the other hand, the council that dealt with the hearing of civil causes, that is, plebeian matters also existed. The crimes that were mostly dealt with in the great councils of the Alliance were theft, slavery, adultery, and alcoholism. There was no way to keep prisoners as punishment, the death penalty was very common, fulfilled more punctually with religious sacrifices, it should be noted that the nobles were also punished, although more subtly than the commoners.
Tlacopan was considered the weakest lordship of the three that made up the alliance since it did not manage to collect what Texcoco or Tenochtitlan did, but only one-fifth of the tributes. Tenochtitlan had military supremacy, which made it the predominant lordship of the alliance with a city that extended over the great lake, building causeways and canals that kept them in constant communication.
The alliance of the three lordships had its limitations since the administration was neither centralized nor uniform in every aspect of its conformation. The council of the sovereigns of the three lordships was the supreme authority, where the functions were divided among the three parts of the alliance. The function of the Mexica king was to excel in the alliance, which was to be the general of the armies allied to it. Moreover, the king of Texcoco, Nezahualcoyotl, described as poet, legislator, and builder performed exactly these functions. The concrete function of the king of Tlacopan is not yet determined.
The expansion of the Triple Alliance occupied an extensive area since on the eve of the Spanish conquest the domains were already established from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, from Querétaro to the valley of Oaxaca; however, it is recognized that some lordships put up great resistance and managed to remain independent, mentioning the cases of Tlaxcala, Michoacán, Huejotzingo (Puebla), Meztitlán (Hidalgo).
Those who submitted without resistance were allowed to keep their rulers and pay a small tribute; likewise, those who fought hand in hand with violence against the Triple Alliance were subdued and forced to take as ruler one alien to their people, as well as to pay large tributes. Each member of the Alliance received tribute from its domain.
Tenochtitlan had vast possessions in Acolhuacan and Tlacopan; Texcoco received tributes from the cities that were under the dominion of Tenochtitlan, and in other occasions, the tributes of the regions were arranged by the calpixques or stewards that were chosen by the same Alliance, who took them to Mexica territory to distribute them in five parts: two for the dominion of Tenochtitlan, two for that of Texcoco and one for that of Tlacopan.
Later wars served as a form of control for peoples who did not accept to be subdued but also to demand tribute from a particular city. The war was called "atl tlachinolli", which meant "blood and fire".
The Triple Alliance culminated at the moment when they already had control of more than 400 peoples bordering the empires, who paid tribute and were under a domain of political subjection, continuous rebellions were visible that opened the way to a destabilization of the Alliance, which was perpetuated until several years later and when all the peoples had courage towards it, such as the well-known Tlaxcaltecs, and the arrival of the conquerors, the history of the Alliance itself, the last (great) Mesoamerican Alliance recognized for its political, military and economic power, cracked.
Miguel León Portilla, "La visión de los vencidos", Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, DGSCA, Coordinación de Publicaciones Digitales, Ciudad Universitaria, México D.F. 04510, 2003.
Historia General de México, a work prepared by the Centro de Estudios Históricos, Version 2000. - Mexico City: El Colegio de México, Centro de Estudios Históricos, 2013.
La Guerra entre Tenochtitlan y Azcapotzalco: construcción y significación de un hecho histórico, thesis presented by Clementina Lisi Battcock, advisor, José Rubén Romero Galván, 2008.