Motecuhzoma I (c. 1397–1468)

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Motecuhzoma I (c. 1397–1468)

Motecuhzoma I (Motecuhzoma Ilhuicamina; b. ca. 1397; d. 1468/69), Aztec emperor from 1440 to 1468. The elder Motecuhzoma ("He Becomes Angry Like a Lord") was the fifth Mexica ruler, or tlatoani, and the first who can be called an emperor: his conquests extended Aztec rule beyond the Valley of Mexico and ensured a luxurious tribute supply. He was the son of Huitzilihuitl, the second tlatoani, and Miahuaxihuitl, a Cuauhnahuac (Cuernavaca) princess; the legend of his birth reflects Huitzilihuitl's temporary control over Cuauhnahuac, later reestablished by Motecuhzoma. Miahuaxochitl's sorcerer father sent scorpions and other vermin to guard her. Huitzilihuitl attached a precious greenstone to an arrow he shot over the wall; when Miahuaxihuitl swallowed the stone Motecuhzoma was conceived. The name Ilhuicamina, "He Shoots Arrows at the Sky," by which he was probably known during his lifetime, may have suggested the tale.

According to native histories, Motecuhzoma sent envoys to the mythical origin-places of the Mexica and their deity Huitzilopochtli. With his half-brother Tlacaelel, he codified Aztec law and instituted the Flowery Wars, periodic skirmishes that provided sacrificial victims. The worst crisis of Motecuhzoma's reign was the famine of 1450–1454, which emptied the imperial granaries and forced people to flee to the humid lowlands; intensification of agriculture helped to prevent further famines.

See alsoAztecs; Flowery Wars.


Burr Cartwright Brundage, A Rain of Darts: The Mexica Aztecs (1972).

Nigel Davies, The Aztecs: A History (1980).

Diego Durán, The Aztecs: The History of the Indies of New Spain, translated by Doris Heyden and Fernando Horcasitas (1964).

Susan D. Gillespie, The Aztec Kings: The Construction of Rulership in Mexica History (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Kaibara, Yukio. Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin. México, D.F.: Ediciones Taller Abierto, 1997.

Read, Kay Almere, and Jason J. González. Mesoamerican Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Tsouras, Peter. Montezuma: Warlord of the Aztecs. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2005.

                              Louise M. Burkhart