ప్రధాన Pueblos within Pueblos: Tlaxilacalli Communities in Acolhuacan, Mexico, ca. 1272-1692

Pueblos within Pueblos: Tlaxilacalli Communities in Acolhuacan, Mexico, ca. 1272-1692

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Pueblos within Pueblos

Pueblos within Pueblos
Tlaxilacalli Communities in Acolhuacan, Mexico,
ca. 1272–1692

B e n j a m i n

D .

J o h n s o n

University Press of Colorado


© 2017 by University Press of Colorado
Published by University Press of Colorado
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Boulder, Colorado 80303
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America

The University Press of Colorado is a proud member of
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The University Press of Colorado is a cooperative publishing enterprise supported, in part, by Adams
State University, Colorado State University, Fort Lewis College, Metropolitan State University of
Denver, Regis University, University of Colorado, University of Northern Colorado, Utah State
University, and Western State Colorado University.
∞ This paper meets the requirements of the ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (Permanence of Paper).
ISBN: 978-1-60732-690-8 (pbk)
ISBN: 978-1-60732-691-5 (ebook)
DOI: https://doi.org/10.5876/9781607326915
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Johnson, Benjamin D., author.
Title: Pueblos within pueblos : tlaxilacalli communities in Acolhuacan, Mexico, ca. 1272–1692 /
Benjamin D. Johnson.
Description: Boulder : University Press of Colorado, [2017] | Includes bibliographical references and
Identifiers: LCCN 2017021813| ISBN 9781607326908 (pbk.) | ISBN 9781607326915 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Communities—Political aspects—Mexico—Texcoco (Region)—History. | Texcoco
(Mexico : Region)—Colonization—History. | Tezcucan Indians—Mexico—Texcoco (Region)—
Politics and government.
Classification: LCC F1219.1.T4 J64 2017 | DDC 972/.53—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017021813
Cover illustration, Core Tlaxilacalli in Tepetlaoztoc, used by permission of British Museum.

To Ana Paula and Joaquim
To my beloved family

Es de su propio Señor
tan rebelado vasallo
que convierte en sus ofensas
las armas de su resguardo.
—sor juana inés de la cruz


A ; Brief Note on Usage
Introduction: History and Tlaxilacalli


Chapter 1: The Rise of Tlaxilacalli, ca. 1272–1454


Chapter 2: Acolhua Imperialisms, ca. 1420 s –1583


Chapter 3: Community and Change in Cuauhtepoztlan
Tlaxilacalli, ca. 1544–1575


Chapter 4: Tlaxilacalli Religions, 1537–1587


Chapter 5: Tlaxilacalli Ascendant, 1562–1613


Chapter 6: Communities Reborn, 1581–1692


Conclusion: Tlaxilacalli and Barrio


List of Acronyms Used Frequently in This Book







There are so many people I wish to thank for their generous help and support: colleagues, friends, and family.
Many sincere thanks to Emilio Kourí, Dain Borges, Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo,
Brodwyn Fischer, Ramón Gutiérrez, and Friedrich Katz at the University of
Chicago, as well as to a wonderful group of colleagues from graduate school: Faisal
Ahmed, Carlos Bravo Regidor, Patrick Iber, José Angel Hernández, Sarah Osten,
Jaime Pensado, Mikael Wolfe, Romina Robles Ruvalcava, Sabine Cadeau, Hank
González, Diana Schwartz, Ananya Chakravarti, Casey Lurtz, Ann Schneider,
Julia Young, Dora Sánchez Hidalgo, José Luis Razo, Stuart Easterling, Emilio de
Antuñano, Jackie Sumner, Aiala Levy, Tessa Murphey, Antonio Sotomayor, Julene
Iriarte, Frutuoso Santana, and Josh Beck. I also deeply thank Frank Safford, Robert
Lerner, and Jock McLane at Northwestern.
In the realms of Nahautl studies and Mexican history, I am truly grateful for
outstanding colleagues such as Caterina Pizzigoni, David Tavárez, Vera Candiani,
Luis Fernando Granados, Javier Eduardo Ramírez López, Kevin Terraciano, John
Sullivan, Fritz Schwaller and the Northeastern Nahautl Studies collective, Joe
Campbell, Frances Karttunen, Louise Burkhart, Jerry Offner and the “Corpus
Xolotl” project, Gordon Whittaker, Julia Madajczak, Alan and Pamela Sandstrom,
Stephanie Wood, Victoriano de la Cruz, Kelly McDonough, Justyna Olko, Sergio
Romero, Barbara Mundy, Mangus Pharao Hansen, Lori Boornazian Diel, Pablo
García Loaeza, Federico Navarrete Linares, Margarita Menegus Bornemann,


A cknowledgments

Katarzyna Mikulska, Amos Megged, Betsey Haude, Mariano Cando Morales,
Roger Magazine, Barbara Williams, Octavio Barajas, Fernando Escalante Gonzalbo,
Elías Rodríguez Vázquez, Pascual Tinoco Quesnel, Susan Kellogg, Ofelia Morales,
Jonathan Amith, and José Omar Tinajero Morales. Sincere thanks to Kirsten Weld
and the Harvard Latin American/Caribbean History Workshop, Margarita Salas
Aranda of the Centro de Estuios Históricos y Sociales de Texcoco, Eduardo Natalino
dos Santos and the CEMA group at the Universidade de São Paulo, Rodrigo Bentes
Monteiro and Marcelo Rocha of the Companhia das Índias at the Universidade
Federal Fluminense, Leandro Karnal and Silvia Lara of UNICAMP, and Sidney
Chalhoub of Harvard. My deepest gratitude goes to the Martínez Pérez family in
Mexico City and to Hemenegilda Andrés and Marcos de la Cruz and their family
in San Agustín Oapan, Guerrero.
I also want to recognize the skilled archivists and caretakers at the Archivo
Municipal of Texcoco, the parish of Santa María Magdalena in Tepetlaoztoc, the
Mueso Emeritorio “Fray Domingo de Betanzos” in Tepetlaoztoc, the church of San
Sebastián Xolalpan in San Juan Teotihuacan, the diocese of Texcoco, the Archivo
General de Notarías del Estado de México in Toluca, the Biblioteca Nacional de
Antropología e Historia in Mexico City, the Biblioteca Nacional de México, the
Archivo General de la Nación in Mexico City, the Fundación ICA in Mexico City,
the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, the Bibliothèque nationale de France
in Paris, the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, the Newberry Library in Chicago, the
Brown Library in Providence, and the Bentley Library in Ann Arbor, as well as
the operators of the Wired Humanities Project at Oregon, the Gran Dicionario
Náhuatl and Tlachia sites at UNAM, the Códices and Códice Chimalpahin sites
at INAH, Cervantes Virtual, and Amoxcalli.
At the University of Massachusetts Boston I have been fortunate to have wonderful colleagues such as Sana Haroon, Conevery Bolton Valencius, Josh Reid, Monica
Pelayo, Heidi Gengenbach, Olivia Weisser, Elizabeth McCahill, David Hunt,
Timothy Hacsi, Roberta Wollons, Jonathan Chu, Maryann Brink, Vin Cannato,
Paul Bookbinder, Julie Winch, Marilyn Morgan, Ruth Miller, Spencer DiScala,
Maria John, Luman Wang, Susan Gauss, Ping-Ann Addo, Jean-Phillipe Belleau,
José Martínez-Reyes, Judith Zeitlin, and Ann Blum. A special note of gratitude
to Maureen Dwyer, Kelly Ahearn, Kim Ho, and Eddie Sze. I sincerely thank my
students for all that I have learned from them.
I also thank UMB’s Project Development grant program and the Dean’s Research
and Travel funds for their generous and ongoing support. Many thanks as well to
Jessica d’Arbonne, Laura Furney, Bill and Kristen N. Keegan, Kelly Lenkevich, Beth
Svinarich, Cheryl Carnahan, Daniel Pratt, Dan Miller, Darrin Pratt, the University
Press of Colorado, and its anonymous readers. All errors remain mine.

A cknowledgments

Finally, I want to express the greatest appreciation and love to my family: to
my parents, Barbara and Rick Johnson; to my sister, Kate Johnson, and to my
mother-in-law, Neusa Fernandes de Rezende. I also sincerely thank my extended
family—the Vincents, the Clines, the Rezendes, and the Vieiras—and friends
close enough to be family: the Koçak Hemmats, the Shafizadeh Santoses, Ivânea
Costa, and the Yuilles.
Ana Paula and Joaquim Rezende Johnson are the two greatest gifts in my life.
Ana Paula is courageous and loving, thoughtful and true, and she shines more beautifully now than when I first met her over a decade ago. Whether in Texcoco or
Cambridge, Salvador or Valladolid, her star guides my way. Joaquim is the best son
a parent could hope for: happy, engaged, sincere, open to the world. Every day he
surprises me with his joy. I count myself blessed to spend my days with them. Ana
Paula, Joaquim: this book is for you. I love you.


Figure 0.1. The Acolhua heartland, overlaid on modern central Mexico. Major
altepetl appear in larger font; smaller Tetzcoco-affiliated tlaxilacalli are marked with
a dot. Map by Bill and Kris Keegan.

A Brief Note on Usage

This book analyzes localities and institutions over many centuries, meaning that
spellings and even pronunciations change. The primary capital of Acolhuacan, for
example, appears in the relevant alphabetic sources spelled at least sixteen different
ways, from the canonical Tetzcoco,1 Tezcoco,2 and Texcoco3 all the way to Tezioco,
Tetzicoco, Catemahco,4 and Tahui.5 There is also a glyphic divergence, although
most symbols include hill and jar components (figure 0.2). Scholarly convention
supports all three traditional spellings,6 and Tetzcoco is used here because of its
predominance in relevant Nahuatl sources. Other names also follow local usage
but are occasionally corrected for clarity, giving Otumba, Tlaxcala, and Huexotla
instead of Otompan, Tlaxcallan, and Huexotlan but also Huitznahuac instead of
Uitznauac. Terms requiring longer discussion, such as Aztec, are addressed in individual footnotes.

1. Most Nahuatl sources, from mundane documents to Chimalpahin, prefer Tetzcoco.
Divergent spellings of this form include Tetzcohco (Lienzo de Tlaxcala, ed. Josefina García Quintana, Carlos Martínez Marín, and Mario de la Torre [Mexico City: Cartón y Papel,
1983]); Tetzcocu (Florentine Codex, book 12, f. 43v, World Digital Library, accessed May
6, 2016, https://www.wdl.org/en/item/10096/); and Tetzcucu (Florentine Codex, book
12, f. 84r).


A B rief N ote on U sage

Figure 0.2. Glyphs for Tetzcoco. Glyphs from these codices: Azcatitlan, Xolotl
(plate 3; Tlachia code: X.030.A.23), Asunción, Xicotepec, Plano Topográfico de
Texcoco. Courtesy, Mme. Claude Stresser-Péan.

2. In his famous “Relación de la ciudad y provincia de Tezcoco,” in Relaciones geográficas
del siglo XVI, vol. 7, ed. René Acuña (Mexico City: UNAM, 1986), Juan Bautista de Pomar
uses Tezcoco. Related forms include Tezcuco (Hernando de Alvarado Tezozomoc, Crónica
mexicana, ed. Gonzalo Díaz Migoyo and Germán Vázquez Chamorro [Madrid: Historia 16,
1997], f. 3r); Tescuco (Alvarado Tezozomoc, Crónica mexicana, f. 52v); Tezcucu (Bernal Díaz
del Castillo, Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España: Manuscrito de Guatemala [Mexico City: UNAM, 2005], chapter 100); and Tescucu (Hernán Cortés, “Cartas de
relación: Segunda relación,” Early Modern Spain Online, accessed February 4, 2014, http://
3. Most Spanish-language sources employ Texcoco. Also Texcuco. Cf. Fernando de Alva
Ixtlilxochitl, Obras históricas, vol. 2, ed. Edmundo O’Gorman (Mexico City: UNAM, 1975),
4. Javier Eduardo Ramírez López, ed., De Catemahco a Tezcoco: origen y desarrollo de una
ciudad indígena (Texcoco, Mexico: Diócesis de Texcoco, 2017), 320.

A B rief N ote on U sage

5. All of these terms appear in Ixtlilxochitl’s discussion of Tetzcoco’s name: Obras, 140.
Another site for Tesuico is Hernán Cortés, “Cartas de relación: Tercera relación,” Early Modern Spain Online, accessed February 4, 2014, http://www.ems.kcl.ac.uk/content/etext/e016
6. Contributors to the recent edited volume by Jongsoo Lee and Galen Brokaw, Texcoco:
Prehispanic and Colonial Perspectives (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2014), used all
three main spellings.


Pueblos within Pueblos

History and Tlaxilacalli

This is the story of how poor, everyday central Mexicans built and rebuilt autonomous communities over the course of four centuries and two empires. It is also the
story of how these self-same commoners constructed the unequal bonds of compulsion and difference that anchored these vigorous and often beloved communities.
It is a story about certain face-to-face human networks, called tlaxilacalli in both
singular and plural,1 and about how such networks molded the shape of both the
Aztec and Spanish rule.2 Despite this influence, however, tlaxilacalli remain ignored,
subordinated as they often were to wider political configurations and most often
appearing unmarked—that is, noted by proper name only—in the sources. With
care, however, the deeper stories of tlaxilacalli can be uncovered. This, in turn, lays
bare a root-level history of autonomy and colonialism in central Mexico, told
through the powerful and transformative tlaxilacalli.
The robustness of tlaxilacalli over the longue durée casts new and surprising light
on the structures of empire in central Mexico, revealing a counterpoint of weakness
and fragmentation in the canonical histories of centralizing power in the region.
Empires depended on the supple, responsive power of tlaxilacalli hierarchies—
institutions they did not administer and only obliquely controlled—to subdue territories, produce surpluses, manage fragile ecosystems, and metabolize change. For
their part, tlaxilacalli continued to act independent of both Aztec and Spanish rule,
forging powerful communal ties that outlasted the empires such ties were created
to serve.3 This bottom-up accretion of power explains the rapid and disarticulated
DOI: 10.5876/9781607326915.c000



I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

growth of Aztec and Spanish imperialism and also the difficulties both powers
had incorporating local tlaxilacalli into wider political constructions. Compared
to other New World powers, the Aztec empire splintered too quickly for a simple
“guns and germs” argument to obtain; the flexible nature of tlaxilacalli arrays is a key
missing element. Indeed, Cortés’s multivalent armies began receiving tlaxilacalli
tribute even before the Aztecs fell.4
But it would be unfair to characterize tlaxilacalli as disloyal. Rather, the Aztec
empire demanded constant local orchestration, and even self-aggrandizing elites
knew it. Tlaxilacalli—too often translated and understood as simply “neighborhoods”—usually submitted to the authority of the sovereign local polity, or altepetl,
which then scaled up to autonomous mega-provinces (huei altepetl) and finally to
the entire empire.5 At each level, submission was traded for autonomy, undercutting any attempt at direct centralizing rule.6 As the primary site where tributaries
joined empires, tlaxilacalli anchored such imperial arrangements. These hierarchical communities, run by commoners administering and even compelling their commoner neighbors, were the very bedrock of empire. When they shifted, the entire
arrangement shook.
Aims of the Book

Pueblos within Pueblos intervenes in three major debates. First, by placing Aztec
and Spanish colonial rule in rare comparative perspective, it unveils an uncanny
symmetry between two Mexican empires frequently taken to be un-analyzably distinct from each other. Both the Aztec Triple Alliance and the viceroyalty of New
Spain flexed their colonial muscles in local administration but proved paralyzingly disjointed at higher levels of imperial government. Pushing beyond standard
approaches to both conquest and continuity, Pueblos within Pueblos shows how
tlaxilacalli acted independent of imperial rule, reinforcing local ties even as they
both bolstered and undermined centralizing alliances. In addition to explaining
the rapid rise and fall of the Aztec empire, this focus also illuminates other episodes,
such as the popular Mexico City uprisings of 1624 and 16927 that provoked broad
and long-lasting changes across New Spain.8 Built flexible from the start, local colonialism began well before Spaniards arrived in Mexico.
Second, the local focus of Pueblos within Pueblos makes tributary commoners
(macehualtin) the protagonists of empire even as it counters recurring scholarly tendencies to homogenize such groups.9 Specialists often invoke the modular nature
of Mesoamerican institutions but have rarely analyzed the constituent polities contributing to such arrays or questioned the implicit framework of such part-whole
arrangements. More than “history from below” for its own sake, this book uncovers

I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

an ignored causal engine in Mexican history. As they made and remade their nested
hierarchies of community and division, local tlaxilacalli built the very backbone of
imperial power.10
Finally, this book brings the unexamined sinews of Aztec and Spanish imperialism to life for the first time by connecting individuals and households to precise patterns of politics and landscape. Building up from the Acolhua codices Vergara and
Asunción (produced ca. 1543–44, the earliest extant land surveys in the Americas),
this project models the exact spatial array of tlaxilacalli forms: every commoner
household, every plot of land, every excluded ethnic group and starving widow.11
This final intervention, an advance in both methodology and conceptualization,
makes pre-Hispanic and colonial Mexican history at once more human and more
precise, more representative and more generalizable.12
Marginal Histories

Tlaxilacalli appear frequently in Aztec and Hispanic documents, but they are
often relegated to the margins of official history. Imperial sources deliberately
subsume autonomous and semiautonomous actions to wider narratives, as in the
case of Tlalcocomoco and Yopico, two tlaxilacalli that settled the area of MexicoTenochtitlan before that altepetl’s official founding in 1325. Despite their influence
on the ground from the beginning, Tlalcocomoco and Yopico appear as afterthoughts in Aztec histories of the period. The well-known Annals of Cuauhtitlan,
for example, notes that Mexica migrants “settled in Tlalcocomoco” forty-five years
before Mexico-Tenochtitlan “began” and that “a few shacks”—that is, established
commoner dwellings—were dotting the landscape before the altepetl’s official
foundation. After this brief mention, however, the relation veers off to discuss rulers, their altepetl, and their wars, as Tlalcocomoco and Yopico fade from view.13
When not overwritten in official histories, tlaxilacalli were exoticized, standing
as foils to centralizing power. This is particularly true in early treatments of Acolhua
political and legal administration. The Codex Xolotl,14 for example, shows the
Tetzcoca ruler Techotlalatzin sitting commandingly on his royal throne, head erect
and weapon in hand, as he welcomes the tearful leaders of four migrant “Tolteca”15
tlaxilacalli to his growing capital. As the leaders bow their heads, Techotlalatzin
emits rulerly speech scrolls, specifying the relationship of the new arrivals to the
two tlaxilacalli already present in the altepetl, the long-standing and prominent
communities of Tlailotlacan and Chimalpan (figure 0.3).16
An exoticizing narrative continues with the later historian Fernando de Alva
Ixtlilxochitl,17 who praises the tolerance the Acolhua ruler Techotlalatzin showed
toward the four newly arrived “Tolteca” tlaxilacalli: “The love that Techotlalatzin


Figure 0.3. New tlaxilacalli. Techotlalatzin welcomes four “Tolteca” tlaxilacalli—
Mexicapan, Colhuacan, Huitznahuac, and Tepanecapan—to the two already extant
in Tetzcoco, Chimalpan and Tlailotlacan. Also, note the tlaxilacalli reshuffling at the
bottom of this figure: the recently arrived Mexicapan and Colhuacan were bundled
with older tlaxilacalli, while Huitznahuac and Tepanecapan disappear from the picture.
Codex Xolotl, plate 5 (Tlachia code: X.050.B/F). Courtesy, Bibliothèque nationale de
France, Paris.

I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

had for the Tolteca nation was such that, not only did he allow them to live and
settle among the Chichimeca [the ethnic majority in what would be come the
Acolhua capital of Tetzcoco]; but he also gave them the power to make public
sacrifices to their idols and dedicate their temples, which was something that his
father Quinatzin had never consented to or allowed.”18 Part of this was likely a
Hispanizing move to distance Acolhua Chichimeca from subsequently discredited
practices. Regardless of the precise allocation of influence, however, the actions
of tlaxilacalli remain striking in their breadth. According to Ixtlilxochitl, the four
“Tolteca” tlaxilacalli did not simply arrive in Tetzcoco as meek, submissive migrants.
Rather, they bore prime responsibility for introducing fresh trade and political networks and new practices and technologies, as well as public human sacrifice, into
the Acolhua realm.19
Tlaxilacalli could also appear as telling but easily ignored details to primary narration. In 1521, for example, as Spanish and Tlaxcalteca armies pushed their way into
the heart of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, a war leader from the Huitznahuac tlaxilacalli in
Tlatelolco forced the Aztec army to keep fighting even when more prominent leaders were ready to surrender. The main priest of Mexico-Tenochtitlan had already
declared his imperial deity’s acquiescence to defeat—“Huitzilopochtli’s command
is that nothing happen”—but this message was rebuked by tlaxilacalli fighters: “In
this way, they ignored him, and war began again. Tohueyo, the Huitznahuac general, faced them (the invaders) and made the war begin again.”20
If Aztec communication specialists21 purposefully marginalized most tlaxilacalli (except their own),22 a majority of Hispanic authors simply confused or
ignored them. Judging by the widespread category errors between tlaxilacalli
and altepetl—both of which were frequently described as “pueblos” in Hispanic
sources—most Spanish administrators seem to have had little interest in the
internal dynamics of central Mexican polities. Other Hispanic appellations—
“neighborhood” (barrio) for tlaxilacalli and “city” (ciudad or villa) for altepetl,
or “subject town” (sujeto) for the former and “head town” (cabecera) for the latter—distinguished between these two institutions but confused and flattened the
dynamic relationship between them.23
This conceptual disconnect, in turn, contributed to the increasing autonomy of
tlaxilacalli during the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During the transformative 1624 uprising in Mexico City, for example, Spanish authorities blamed
“neighborhood Indians” for organizing and executing the attack on the viceroy’s palace without knowing the mechanics of how such a tlaxilacalli-based attack could
have unfolded.24 The same administrative blindness crippled Spanish responses to
the comparable 1692 revolt in Mexico City, also directed against centralizing viceregal power.25



I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

Despite their profound influence over settlement, religion, and warfare—as
well as other key imperial processes discussed later, such as taxation, ecological
management, and landholding—tlaxilacalli have remained at the margins of central Mexican history. Once highlighted, however, they can easily be disentangled
from totalizing narratives and stand on their own. For example, in addition to
its preeminence as a source for Acolhua imperial history, the Codex Xolotl subtly folds into its narration the dynastic histories of two tlaxilacalli of Tetzcoco,
Tlailotlacan and Chimalpan (see figure 0.4 for Tlailotlacan and figure 2.4 in chapter 2 for Chimalpan).26
Tlailotlacan’s dynasty becomes particularly relevant here, for this tlaxilacalli specialized in the information arts, and this Tetzcoca community bore significant (and
perhaps sole) responsibility for the creation of the Codex Xolotl itself.27 Further, just
south in neighboring Chalco, the incisive and prolific curator of central Mexican history Domingo Chimalpahin made a similar case regarding the regional pedigree of his
home tlaxilacalli of Tlailotlacan, a relative and likely forebear of the one in Tetzcoco:
[This history] will never be lost, never forgotten. It will always be guarded; we will
guard it. We, their children, grandchildren, and younger brothers; their great-greatgrandchildren and great-grandchildren; we, their saliva and beards, their eyebrows
and fingernails, their color and blood; we, the children of the Tlailotlaca. We who
live and were born in the first tlaxilacalli, called Tlailotlacan palace (tecpan). It was
precisely there, precisely there where they came to govern: all the beloved elders, the
beloved Chichimeca tlatoque (rulers), the Tlailotlaca tlatoque, the Tlailotlaca lords
(teteuctin). These words are called “what is kept in the Tlailotlacan tecpan.”28

Such insistent tlaxilacalli-centered narrations dominate relevant sources. A
recent study by Camilla Townsend found similar patterning in a broad range of
important early sources, including the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca, the Codex
Aubin, the Annals of Cuauhtitlan, the Annals of Tecamachalco, and the Annals of
Juan Bautista, in addition to a now-lost series of court documents from 1553. After
noting the piecemeal, segmentary quality of all these sources, Townsend argues that
the altepetl, as a contested and changing political project, required the constant
accommodation of competing tlaxilacalli demands, which, in turn, produced the
“disorderly” format of many early Mexican documents.29 This model is useful and
can be easily generalized. More than modular or even cellular, therefore, the relationship between tlaxilacalli and altepetl was chemical—the former acted as atoms
(sometimes freely, more often arrayed in durable mixed forms), while the latter
resembled complex molecules, open to profound change as their internal chemistries shifted. Community was multiple, not unitary, just as regional order emerged
from local struggle and accommodation more than from command.

I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

Figure 0.4. Tlaxilacalli dynasty, Tlailotlacan (Tetzcoco altepetl). Codex Xolotl, plate 5
(Tlachia code: X.050.B). Courtesy, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris.
Tlaxilacalli and Altepetl

Tlaxilacalli predated the Aztec empire and continued well through the Spanish, and
scholars have intuited their importance for centuries. Despite this, they have also
considered these core institutions too “imprecise” or “difficult” for close analysis.30
There have been periodic efforts to schematize tlaxilacalli, but most have viewed
these hierarchies from the imperial center, as nothing more than unitary and modular administrative building blocks. The diversity and agency of these institutions,
together with their face-to-face communitarian orientation, fade when they are
summarily classified as simple pieces of a larger whole: “subunits, “sub-­communities,”
“constituent parts,” “districts,” “barrios.”31 Although there is a certain utility to these
descriptive translations, scholars have repeatedly identified serious issues with this



I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

approach because such explanatory shortcuts—just like the Spanish and Spanishinfluenced sources on which they depend—conflate separate (and sometimes even
mutually exclusive) central Mexican institutions.32
The easy equivalency of tlaxilacalli and neighborhood can prove problematic,
however, particularly regarding the relationship between part and whole. All of
the terms identified above, from “subunit” to “neighborhood,” imply full dependency between dependent tlaxilacalli and all-encompassing altepetl—a perception confirmed in reigning interpretative paradigms that describe political order
as a modular or cellular relationship between these two institutions. Such frameworks imply that one institution cannot exist without the other and, further, that
one institution can explain the other: knowing the altepetl, one knows the tlaxilacalli as well.
Nevertheless, there are significant problems with this assertion. First, generic terminology was not always stable, particularly over the multiple centuries and various empires addressed in this book. For example, after about 1680—that is, toward
the end of this book’s chronology and even beyond—a number of important tlaxilacalli in Tetzcoco began to refer to themselves as “altepetl,” despite the fact that
they met few, if any, of the standard requisites for customary definitions of this
term. Regardless, documents show Nexquipiac calling itself an “altepetl” in 1681,
Tlailotlacan using the term in 1707, and Tepetitlan doing the same in 1759.33
Despite frequent subordination to wider political structures, therefore, tlaxilacalli also asserted their independence with increasing force entering into the mature
Hispanic period—indeed, Bernardo García Martínez estimates that fully twothirds of eighteenth-century central Mexican “pueblos” had only recently separated
themselves from larger political constraints.34 Part of this owes simply to administrative lag on the part of Hispanic officials: García Martínez and Gustavo Martínez
Mendoza note, for example, that Nexquipiac, Tlailotlacan, and Tepetitlan only
appeared as independent pueblos de por sí in Spanish-language documentation from
1743, and then only partially. Even if they didn’t call themselves by this term, preferring perhaps “pueblos” or “altepetl,” tlaxilacalli showed themselves to be more
insistently autonomous than ever.35
Pueblos within Pueblos

Such transitions between tlaxilacalli and altepetl have frustrated scholars for decades,
leading some to regret having used Nahuatl-based analytical categories at all.36 As
mentioned, category trouble has played a major role in dampening close analyses
of tlaxilacalli and other key institutions. While “altepetl” could reference anything
from a subordinate community to an entire nation (“the altepetl called Japan”), the

I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

Figure 0.5.
Huitznahuac soldier.
Codex Mendoza, f. 67r.
Courtesy, Bodelian
Library, Oxford

Figure 0.6. Tlaxilacalli
judges in Moyotlan tlayacatl.
The occasionally mistranslated
Acatlyacapanecatl is third from
the top. Codex Mendoza, f. 68r.
Courtesy, Bodelian Library, Oxford

tlaxilacalli enveloped equally multitudinous worlds.37 Together with its pseudocognate calpolli, the term tlaxilacalli could reference almost any facet of this core
communal institution, including a territorial demarcation, a sacred local landscape,
a band of settlers, an ethnic minority, a labor or tribute unit, a collective land endowment, a local political hierarchy, an army division, an Aztec temple, a Catholic parish,
or even subdivisions of these aforementioned roles and types.38
Seen in a different light, however, the broad semantic field ceded to tlaxilacalli
underscores their profound importance to the social and organizational life of central Mexico. Further and much more pointedly, analytical problems such as category
confusion only present themselves in the abstract. In the definitive scholarly edition
of the Codex Mendoza, for example, the editors unintelligibly translated the imperial warrior class Huitznahuatl, “Huitznahuac resident,” as “Thorn Speech” and
the judge Acatlyacapanecatl, “Acatl Yacapan resident,” as “Lord of the Reed on the
Nose”39 (see figures 0.5 and 0.6). Both of these titles originally referenced attributes
of specific tlaxilacalli, which were then generalized—perhaps similar to the expansion of the term Hollywood in recent times beyond its original Los Angeles–based
referent. Such expansions seem to have been common in local practice: together



I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

with their use of general categories, central Mexicans frequently operated in the
concrete realm of proper names, opting for the vigorous and precise appellations of
specific tlaxilacalli, which then spread across wider conceptual planes.
A tlaxilacalli could bear any grammatically coherent name—many simply
evoked the natural or built environment (Huitznahuac, “Among the Thorns”;
Acatl Yacapan, “Facing the Reeds”; Apipilhuasco, “Near the Water Pipes”)—
but in practice, certain designations were repeated again and again across the
landscape, exclusively referencing tlaxilacalli. Names could often come from
shared historical experience, as in Ixtlilxochitl’s comments regarding the migratory tlaxilacalli of Tlailotlacan that then fragmented and spread across central
Mexico: “[The Acolhua ruler Quinatzin] gave [Tlailotlaque migrants] a place
near Tetzcoco to settle, and the rest he divided between his pueblos (‘altepetl’),
giving each one lands to settle. From here comes the name of the pueblo (‘tlaxilacalli’) and neighborhood of Tetzcoco, calling itself Tlailotlacan after its first settlers. And so it is for the other pueblos (‘tlaxilacalli’) named Tlailotlacan within
the pueblos (‘altepetl’).”40
Though illustrative of the widespread replication of tlaxilacalli across Acolhuacan,
Ixtlilxochitl’s narration also belies some of the patent issues with many sources, especially the conflation of Spanish terms such as “pueblos” (tlaxilacalli) and “pueblos”
(altepetl). Context demands a separation, but on another level Ixtlilxochitl’s analysis
makes sense: both tlaxilacalli and altepetl were definable human communities, and
their relationships were often stable. Only the former, however, infiltrated the latter.
As noted, the imprecision of Spanish terms for tlaxilacalli and other important
institutions has deterred the systematic study of these local communities. As in the
Ixtlilxochitl quote immediately above, context can often lead to a definitive answer,
but the overlap remains considerable (table 0.1). Note, for example, that pueblo can
denote anything between a tlaxilacalli and a huei altepetl.
Despite the multitude of terms listed in table 0.1, the problem of Spanish imprecision can be solved through close attention to proper names. Indeed, the repetition of such names—that is, their projection across various altepetl—anchored
the regional scheme of tlaxilacalli; and each word carried a specific, individual
weight.41 Although certain details varied between one altepetl and another,
patterns did form: names could denote religious devotion (Huitznahuac to
Tezcatlipoca, Chimalpan to Huitzilopochtli),42 economic specialization (administrators and communication specialists in Tlailotlacan,43 merchants in Acxotlan),
or migratory processes (the Mexica in Mexicapan, Zapoteca in Zapotlan).
They could reference founding mythologies, as in the case of the migrations of
Tlacochcalco and others from the seven caves of Chicomoztoc, or specific imperial histories, as in the prestige given to Oztoticpac as the site of the Acolhua ruler

I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

Table 0.1. Spanish cognates of Nahua institutions

Cognate; Molina
Local Institution 1571a Definition

Terms Gleaned from
Other Molina Entries

Terms in Other Relevant

huei altepetl



ciudad, provincia, reino,
nación, pueblo


pueblo, o rey

pueblo, cabecera, villa,
cuidad, común, lo
público o real

ciudad, pueblo, villa,
cabecera, provincia, nación,


parcialidad, sección, barrio

barrio, collación,

pueblo, barrio, villa, paraje,
sujeto, gente, nación,







aldea, o aldeano;
comarca de pueblo

paraje, pago, sujeto, estancia,




casa, familia

Definitions come from both the Nahuatl and Spanish sides of Molina’s Vocabulario.
On the metaphysical meanings of altepemaitl, “hand of the altepetl,” see Jerome A. Offner, “Aztec
Political Numerology and Human Sacrifice: The Ideological Ramifications of the Number Six,” Journal
of Latin American Lore 6, no. 2 (1980): 212. For the semantic inter-penetation of the “hand of the altepetl” between Nahuatl and Hñähñu, see David Charles Wright Carr, “La sociedad prehispánica en las
lenguas náhuatl y otomí,” Acta Universitaria 18 (2008): 17. The Hñähñu term is may’ehnini, “the place
of the hand of the polity.”

Nezahualcoyotl’s outlying palace complex. Table 0.2 provides a brief schematic
of some of these canonical names. It is by no means definitive, only listing tlaxilacalli names that repeated more than three times a basic bibliography of central
Mexican spatial history.
Precisely because of this intense, face-to-face orientation, tlaxilacalli anchored
local identity with an insistence lost to the altepetl. The jaggedly sovereign specificity of each altepetl demanded a unique name, while the intense collective identification of every tlaxilacalli produced shared cultural traits across wider regions.
The Yopico tlaxilacalli, for example, structured collective life around its patron
deity, Xipe Totec (figure 0.7). “Our Lord the Flayed One,” also denominated Yopi,
guided this tlaxilacalli’s mythic exit from Chicomoztoc and, as mentioned above,
Yopico (together with its neighbor Tlalcocomoco, site of Xipe’s main pyramid)
bore responsibility for this numen’s cult in Mexico-Tenochtitlan. Its priests dressed
themselves with his distinctive insignia, wearing the conical Yopi hat, carrying the
Yopi shield, and even using special Yopi tortillas for ritual practice. Finally, because
of the deity’s connection to fire and change, this tlaxilacalli also specialized in the
transformative arts of gold- and silver-smithing. Given these distinctive signs and
practices, it is not surprising that Yopico would also be seen as ethnically distinct


Table 0.2. Common tlaxilacalli names in central Mexico


History, Functions,
Affiliations (partial list)

Altepetl Where Active
(partial list)


Merchants; Quetzalcoatl

Huexotla, MexicoTenochtitlan, Tlatelolco,
Chalco, Coyoacan, Tlaxcala


Migrants from Mixteca; likely Tetzcoco, Tepetlaoztoc,
provided Tetzcoco’s head priest Coatlinchan, Chalco,
(cihuacoatl), Huitzilopochtli
Tlalmanalco, Tlacopan


Mythic origin in
Chicomoztoc; women’s
organizations; Coatlicue

Tetzcoco, Otumba,
Coatlinchan, MexicoTenocthtitlan, Tacubaya


Mythic origin in
Chicomoztoc; Mexica
migrants; also the name of an
important altepetl

Tetzcoco, Tepetlaoztoc,


Mythic origin in
Chicomoztoc; religious
specialists; often associated
with the south; Tezcatlipoca/

Tetzcoco, Tepetlaoztoc,


Mexica migrants;

Tetzcoco, Huexotla,
Coatlinchan, Tizayuca,
Ozumba, Azcapotzalco


Early settlement around
Tetzcoco; site of imperial
palace in Tetzcoco

Tetzcoco, Otumba,


Long-distant traders;

Tlatelolco, Azcapotzalco,
Tepozotlan, Ozumba


continued on next page

I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

Table 0.2.—continued


History, Functions,
Affiliations (partial list)

Altepetl Where Active
(partial list)


Affiliated with Tepaneca
power: Azcapotzcalo, then

Tetzcoco, Coatlinchan,
Tlacopan, Azcapotzalco,


Migrants from mythic Aztlan;
magnet school (calmecac)

Ecatepec, Itztapalapa,
Colhuacan, Chalco, Tacubaya


Mythic origin in
Chicomoztoc; armory

Tlaxcala, Ozumba


Migrants from Mixteca;
administrators and
communication specialists

Tetzcoco, Teotihuacan,
Huexotla, Acolman, Chalco,


Mythic origin in
Chicomoztoc; goldsmiths;
Xipe Totec

Tepetlaoztoc, Azcapotzalco,


Zapoteca; Xipe Totec; also the
name of an altepetl

Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Chalco,


Sources: Schroeder, Chimalpahin and the Kingdoms; Horn, Postconquest Coyoacan; Hicks, “Tetzcoco in the
Early 16th Century”; Mundy, Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan; Codex Xolotl; Mapa de Coatlinchan; Memorial
de los Indios de Tepetlaoztoc; Tlachia website (http://tlachia.iib.unam.mx/); Amoxcalli website (http://
amoxcalli.org.mx/); Tetlacuilolli website (http://www.tetlacuilolli.org.mx); Peñafiel, Nomenclatura
geográfica de México, vol. 2; González y González, Xipe Totec; Codex Mendoza; Códice de los Señores de
San Lorenzo Axotlan.

from other nearby communities—separate, as all tlaxilacalli were, from their neighbors by specific patterns of lived collective experience.44
Agency and Action

From the very start, the productive local ethnicity of many tlaxilacalli posed significant challenges to consolidating imperial rule. During the Aztec period, a



I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

Figure 0.7. Feast of Xipe Totec in Yopico. Florentine Codex, vol. 1, book 2, f. 20.
Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Med. Palat. 218, c. 204v. Courtesy, Ministry for
Heritage and Cultural Activities; further reproduction by any means is forbidden.

significant responsibility of upper administration in Mexico-Tenochtitlan consisted simply of managing inter-communal relationships, in making sure that each
tlaxilacalli—or, as the capital populations grew, at least that each bundle of tlaxilacalli, each tlayacatl—was properly represented in major functions.45 Each tlaxilacalli bundle had its own separate ritual sections in the main ceremonial complex of
Mexico-Tenochtitlan’s Templo Mayor; each bundle sent special judges to the main
councils of law and war; each tlayacatl had its own warrior divisions that were sent

I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

into battle with separate uniforms and insignia; each celebrated its own particular
victories with ritual feasts, where only symbolic remains were sent to the ruling center. Aztec rulers also convened imperial councils of both law and war with named
representatives from various tlaxilacalli: the Codex Mendoza includes one such tribunal from the tlayacatl of Moyotlan, where four tlaxilacalli judges (called alcaldes
in the accompanying Spanish text) resolve disputes (see figure 0.6).46
Every altepetl, therefore, carried within itself seeds of unfamiliarity and difference, in the multitudinous and diverse tlaxilacalli. This difference could be overt, as
during the provocative and exclusionary celebrations staged by the long-distance
merchants based in Pochtlan and various other trade-based tlaxilacalli such as
Atlauhco and Tzonmolco, or covert, as when Nezahualcoyotl holed up in Tetzcoco’s
Poyauhtlan tlaxilacalli as a young fugitive. During the Hispanic period, tlaxilacalli
bundles also anchored oppositional political movements. In early Hispanic Mexico
City, for instance, the tlayacatl of Santa María Cuepopan—center of the altepetl’s
Hñähñu (Otomí) ethnic minority—staged a massive revolt in 1569 to repulse external meddling by the Archbishop Montúfar in local religious affairs. In their unruly
diversity, tlaxilacalli structured both order and division in central Mexico.47
Recent scholarship from across Mesoamerica has worked to come to terms with
the fractious patterning of regional politics for various periods and situations. In
certain key contexts and regions, a strict focus on the actions of the upper elite
has broadened to consider the significant power wielded by commoners, who successfully pressed for important public goods such as monumental building, the
bureaucratization of financial and legal structures, and the promotion of non-elites
within imperial hierarchies.48 Rural commoners also maintained status vis-à-vis
their urban counterparts, accessing the same domestic goods as other tributaries
residing closer to the seats of imperial administration.49
This is not to say that elite politics were inconsequential; far from it. Indeed, the
main contribution of recent theories of collective action lies in the dynamic interactions they posit between relatively stable elite cores and the assertive peripheries
swarming around these centers. Up until now, these peripheries have mostly been
understood in relation to their respective centers, and one of the aims of the present
book is to provide a greater feel for the internal workings of “peripheral” tlaxilacalli,
both independent of a referent altepetl and in relation to it.
For central Mexico, tlaxilacalli are key to understanding both collective action
and imperial politics over centuries. Because of their robust constitutions, their
diversity, and their changeable political rank, tlaxilacalli both anchored and metabolized nearly every imperial project in central Mexico between the thirteenth and
seventeenth centuries, while simultaneously churning commoners through their
own internal hierarchies. One episode from the early evangelization of Mexico is



I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

particularly illustrative of the improvisational power of local tlaxilacalli. The relation comes from fray Diego Durán and is also instructive for its offhanded conflation of tlaxilacalli and neighborhood:
A very honored padre, zealous in the honor of God and doctrine, with whom
I lived and in whose company I served, ordered that a cross be placed in all the
neighborhoods (“tlaxilacalli”) so that people could go there to say doctrine. All of
the neighborhoods placed their crosses except for one, which, as a more devoted
people, wanted to press an advantage. They asked to be given license to build a chapel
(hermita). It was granted and also ordered that the name of the [patron] saint [of the
chapel] be either St. Pablo or St. Agustín. They (the tlaxilacalli spokespeople) said
they would talk it over.
After fifteen days, they came back and said that they didn’t want either St. Pablo or
St. Agustín; and, when asked which saint they wanted, they said St. Lucas. I, noticing
the pleading and insistence with which they made their request, warned that there
might be some evil afoot. I went to the calendar of their [Mesoamerican] idols and
saw which feast and sign was the one where St. Lucas’s day fell. Knowing this, I went
to the leader (mandoncillo) of that neighborhood and asked him what his name
was and he told me Juan. I begged him to tell me the name he had from the old law,
[given according to] the day he was born. He said Calli, which means house, and I
saw clearly and manifestly that they requested St. Lucas’s day because it falls on the
day and sign of the house. Even more, two days before is one of the great solemn
feasts they had. Rebuking his duplicity and bad intentions in this way, I told him that
that superstition was what was moving him and not the mortification of the cross He
(Christ) carried when he lived or the great devotion you have for Him.50

As is often the case with such sources, Durán’s relation obscures key details, but
its procedural description of local agency compels attention. The Dominican friar
describes tlaxilacalli as a key to early evangelization across a wide spatial and political
plane, simultaneously highlighting both rapid compliance and assertive improvisation. Improvisation operated across two levels, both within “St. Lucas” tlaxilacalli and
outward toward the evangelizing friars, with the mandoncillo Juan Calli mediating
each. Although Durán presents this episode as a victory of missionary vigilance, in
another light “St. Lucas” tlaxilacalli achieved its primary goal, that of building a chapel instead of a cross. Although names and feast schedules changed, these seem to
have been secondary concerns to the tlaxilacalli, as evidenced by the two-week delay
in answering the friars’ questions on these topics. Had name or date been a primary
concern, “St. Lucas” would have included them in its initial proposal for the chapel.
Here, then, is something of a model of tlaxilacalli interaction with foreign
powers (and, by definition, every outside power—from dynastic local ruler to

I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

missionary friar—was a foreign power): to begin, tlaxilacalli acted as institutional
givens, preexisting even if they were not planted in a given territory. Second, one
side or the other (usually, but not always, the centralizing foreign power) demanded
action. Tlaxilacalli then coordinated within and among themselves, usually within
a cooperative and autonomous framework. The polities then took action, but
almost always according to tlaxilacalli processes and schedules, producing significant divergences from the initial foreign demand. Both sides would then debate the
meaning and details of the executed action, inventing precedents for future work.
This system could also stretch and fray, particularly during periods of crisis or when
competing foreign powers fought among themselves for tlaxilacalli allegiance.51
Following the shifting interactions between political centers and tlaxilacalli
peripheries, this book offers a new periodization of local politics for the Basin of
Mexico, based in the core northeastern region of Acolhuacan. A disjunctive break
is almost always marked between the Aztec and Spanish periods, for reasons selfevident from an imperial perspective. Local administration, however, retained its
logic even as other institutions hemorrhaged. Across multiple centuries, tlaxilacalli built separate arrangements with centralizing powers, kept archives of these
proceedings, and then took legal or direct action when these arrangements were
infringed—even across the watershed of Spanish and Tlaxcalteca invasion. What
emerges is an entire cycle of localized colonial administration—felt from the multitudinous periphery, not the mediating center. The cycle begins with the implementation of tlaxilacalli regimes around the Mesoamerican year One Flint (1272
ce)52 and continues through the redefinition of these local communities after the
population rebound of the mid-seventeenth century.53
Traditions and Scholars

Pueblos within Pueblos culminates a decade of research into the local articulation
of imperial politics in Acolhuacan, the most eastern of the three realms constituting the Aztec Triple Alliance. Like all parties to this alliance, Acolhuacan predated
the Aztec empire—solidifying through warfare, political marriage, and tlaxilacallibased colonization regimes for over 150 years before adding its stitches in the years
1426–28 to the patchwork quilt of the emerging Aztec empire.54
But even after this imperial pact, Acolhuacan asserted its distinctiveness. Unlike
the upswept topknot of Mexica warriors and rulers, Acolhua soldiers and administrators customarily kept their hair loose—tied at the forehead by a broad white
band (see figure 0.8).55 The Acolhua spoke with a different accent and produced different kinds of documents.56 They passed separate laws and restricted Mexica consumer goods in their markets (ceramics, for example; figure 0.9). As both imperial



I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

Figure 0.8. Acolhua and Mexica men’s
hairstyles. Códice de Xicotepec. Courtesy, Claude

administrators and tlaxilacalli-bound commoners—and, quite often in these
commoner-­on-commoner hierarchies, as both—the Acolhua remained askance
of Mexico-Tenochtitlan.57
Despite this marked distinctiveness, Pueblos within Pueblos asserts broad comparisons for both the Aztec and Spanish empires in central Mexico, comparisons
deriving precisely from the exactitude and rigor of Acolhua information traditions.
Acolhua documents allow for the most complete reckoning of tlaxilacalli and their
imperial, colonizing politics in northern Mesoamerica. Extant sources from other
Mexican regions are almost as good—indeed, much of the advantage of Acolhua
information specialists could simply derive from a greater documentary survival
rate in the eastern backlands—but extant Acolhua documents still set a gold standard in stitching together demographic, political, economic, agricultural, and territorial information.
Even given these substantial strengths, other aspects of the Acolhua documentary
record require further comment. Most pointedly, many of the arguments in this
book (particularly those relating to pre-Hispanic eras) rely on documents created
under Hispanic patronage, protection, or toleration. Although this context produced patent distortions—distortions that compounded as the documented events
passed farther and farther into the distant past—recent scholarship has begun to
create a systematic analytical framework for these early Hispanic sources, making
them much more accessible for sustained historical research. Scholars have shown
certain standardized patterns to Hispanic-era distortions and also illuminated
the wider social, political, and intellectual climate in which such documents were
produced. They have elaborated the conventions of various early Hispanic genres
and cataloged the wider clutches of meaning evoked by once-cryptic symbols and
phrases. Further, they have even been able to show the historical development of
genre and writing conventions, allowing for change over considerable lengths of
time—even allowing for the disruptions of war and colonial rule.58

I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

Figure 0.9. Separate ceramics markets of the Aztec empire. Minc, “Style and Substance,” 363.

Tetzcoca archives burned at least twice during and after the fifteenth-century
war for central Mexico. Even before the fall of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, invading
Tlaxcalteca forces attacked imperial archives at the palace complex in the Tzillan
(or Cillan) tlaxilacalli (sometimes also called Ahuehuetitlan, now known as Los
Melones) of Tetzcoco. Some time later, local nobles struck at their own personal
collections in fear of religious or political persecution. Decades after these purges
the loss still ached, as attested by the early Hispanic historiographer of Tetzcoco
Juan Bautista de Pomar:
They (Tetzcoca) lack the paintings in which they had their histories because when the
Marqués del Valle, don Hernán Cortés, and the other conquistadors first entered it
(Tetzcoco) sixty-four years ago, more or less, they burned them in the royal houses of
Nezahualpilli, in a great building that was the general archive of their papers, where
all the antiquities were painted. Today, his descendants lament this with great feeling
because they were left in darkness, without news or memory of the doings of their
ancestors. And those (documents) that had remained in the hands of some principals—some relating to one thing, others to another—(the principals) burned them



I ntroduction : H istory and T laxilacalli

out of fear of don fray Juan de Zumárraga, the first archbishop of Mexico, in order to
not be accused of idolatry.59

But traditions of Acolhua communication survived, even in the face of such systemic damage. Innumerable sources were surely lost, making recoverable history
a suggestive patchwork quilt more than a lushly illustrated tapestry. Nevertheless,
tlacuiloque and historiographers continued to mobilize canonical sources like the
now-lost “Crónica X”60 and the sources constituting the Codex Xolotl, joining
them to robust traditions of oral memory and performance.61 Pomar makes the
same point, arguing that he had to “work harder to seek out and examine” remaining documentary sources, given the losses to imperial Acolhua archives.62 Indeed,
in this later period Acolhua scholars such as Pomar researched, re-imagined, and
compiled sources that still shed considerable light on pre-Hispanic history. For the
project at hand, the most important such compilations are the Codex Xolotl and
a triplex of Tepetlaoztoc sources—the related codices Vergara and Asunción63 (ca.
1543–44) and the Memorial de los Indios de Tepetlaoztoc (ca. 1554)—produced for
an ongoing case against the early Spanish encomendero Gonzalo de Salazar and his
son, Juan Velázquez de Salazar.64
Scholars as early as Juan Bautista de Pomar in the later sixteenth century have worried about the trustworthiness and validity of extant Tetzcoca sources. Pomar pleads
with readers that “if anything seems missing or coming up short” in his history, they
attribute this fault to his fragmentary documentary base and “not to a lack of diligence.”65 For Pomar and his contemporaries, however, these diligent efforts flowed
through increasingly Hispanic forms and genres, though such forms still depended
on local tlaxilacalli. In 1608, for example, the historian Ixtlilxochitl took great pains
to verify his narrations with the leaders of seven separate tlaxilacalli in the altepetl of
Otumba—Ahuatepec, Tizayuca, Aztaquemeca, Tlamapa, Tepayuca, Axoloayan, and
Quatlacinco—all of whom pronounced his work “good and true.”66 Even for the most
conservative documents, certain European demands and prohibitions occasionally
made their influence felt. The deep stylistic traditionalism of the multivalent Codex
Xolotl compendium, for example, expresses certain tendencies toward consolidation,
as scribes in Tlailotlacan compiled documents from their archives to face the challenges of the early decades of Spanish rule. Many pre-Hispanic aspects of this and
other documents are recoverable, but only in the proper comparative context.67
Much like their Hispanic-era scholarly forbears, modern historians have also
struggled to assess the veracity of available sources.68 However, as mentioned earlier, a
comparative critical methodology is taking shape. For the specific case of Acolhuacan,
scholars such as Patrick Lesbre, Jongsoo Lee, Eduardo de J. Douglas, and Jerome
Offner have worked to peel away the distorting layers of Mexica and European

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influence from Tetzcoca sources, laying bare tentative filaments of early Acolhua historiographical conventions. Others, including Elizabeth Hill Boone, Marc Thouvenot,
Gordon Whittaker, Justyna Olko, and Charles Dibble, have laid bare Aztec glyphic
and discursive conventions. Still others, particularly Barbara Williams and her various
collaborators, have proved the scientific validity of Acolhua information traditions in
such fields as mathematics, land surveying, and agronomy. Finally and perhaps most
foundationally, increasing collaboration with local historians and experts from the
places studied has led to the “ground truthing” of many important documents, placing them at last in their wider spatial context.69
All of these practices—local fieldwork, interdisciplinary collaboration, insistent
archival research, and critical textual analysis of both alphabetic and image-based
communication—undergirds the project at hand. Although sources remain imperfect, they can say much more than they are sometimes given credit for. After the
patterned distortions in these documents are accounted for, after they are placed in
a wider comparative context and anchored to precise physical forms on the landscape, they become invaluable sources for early Acolhua history. Indeed, particularly for the early period, Acolhua sources are often more reliable than Spanish ones:
where the latter speak in vague land measurements such as fanegas (the amount of
land necessary to plant a certain volume of crop, also called a fanega), the former
mark measurements down to the hand span (matl), also noting soil type and quality.
Context is key, however: because of the complex processes of their formation and
use, early Acolhua documents demand vigilant comparison and criticism. They are
peerless, but they are also rarely, if ever, sufficient on their own.
Chapter Outline and Summary

The six chapters in this book trace the history of Acolhua tlaxilacalli over time, beginning with their implantation along the northeastern edge of the Basin of Mexico in
the thirteenth century and continuing forward through their transformation into
bastions of community politics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They
describe the ways a particular pattern of local colonization became a core community institution and how that institution (more successfully than most) responded
to warfare and imperialism. Pueblos within Pueblos shows how local communities
built empires and also how they shattered them.
Chapter 1 shows how tlaxilacalli regimes formed the bedrock of the early Acolhua
empire, describing the functioning of each rung of these colonizing hierarchies in
detail. It sheds new light on the internal workings of these systems, describing the
strong economic and cultural forces, acting across centuries, that pulled agricultural
commoners into such arrangements.



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Chapter 2 sets this analytical framework in motion, describing the fights to establish the Aztec Triple Alliance and characterizing the powerful tlaxilacalli-­based
tension at the heart of this empire: local autonomy versus imperial investment.
This chapter puts both tlaxilacalli and empire to the test and shows the former
stronger than the latter. It briefly recapitulates the foreign (Spanish, Tlaxcalteca,
and allies) invasion of the Aztec empire and the demographic and ecological disjunctures this irruption unleashed, the latter of which jostled the spatial array of
tlaxilacalli across the Acolhua landscape. More than this, however, it highlights a
recurring pattern of central Mexican imperialism, through which Acolhua tlaxilacalli regrouped to support the invading forces of Hernán Cortés and his many
allies, in ways strikingly similar to the rapid additive rise of the Aztec empire a
century before.70
Chapter 3 analyzes one particular tlaxilacalli, Cuauhtepoztlan in the altepetl of
Tepetlaoztoc, from the ground up. Beginning with the commoner household or
calli, it then interrogates the subsequent administrative levels of tepixque (people
minders), topileque (staff holders), and calpixque (tlaxilacalli managers), delving
deep into the politics and functioning of this hierarchical community. Tlaxilacalli
officials administered both ongoing hunger and consistent surplus toward wider
political ends. This chapter also shows the ways in which Cuauhtepoztlan reinforced the affective bonds of community, particularly through spatial and religious practice.
Chapter 4 follows with the spatial and metaphysical redefinition of tlaxilacalli in
the aftermath of foreign invasion. It shows commoners turning to local tlaxilacalli in
times of extreme need and investing them with renewed spiritual and collective power
in early Catholic New Spain. This contrasts with the progressive disinvestment of the
local nobility in these institutions, which, as shown in chapter 5, placed revitalized
tlaxilacalli at the very core of commoner politics by the end of the sixteenth century.
Chapter 6 carries this sea change to its seventeenth-century close, showing how these
once-imperial institutions came to serve as the primary locus of autonomist and even
anti-colonial commoner politics, a politics now so distant from centralizing power
that it became nearly invisible to Spanish administrators. The transformation from
imperial colonization to unequal community was now complete.
To summarize the main claims of this book: tlaxilacalli were commoner-­
administered communities that predated and then co-evolved with the Acolhua
(later, Aztec) empire and structured its articulation and basic functioning. They
were the administrative backbone of both the Aztec and Spanish empires in northern Mesoamerica and often grew into full and functioning existence before their
affiliated altepetl. They resembled other central Mexican polities but expressed
a local Acolhua administrative culture in their exacting patterns of hierarchy. As

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semiautonomous units, they could rearrange according to geopolitical shifts and
even catalyze changes, as during the additive growth of both the Aztec Triple
Alliance and Hispanic New Spain. They were more successful than almost any other
central Mexican institution in metabolizing external disruptions (new gods, new
economies, demographic emergencies), and they fostered a surprising level of local
allegiance despite their structural inequality. Indeed, by the end of the periods covered in this book, they were declaring their local administrative independence from
the once-sovereign altepetl. Administration through community and community
through administration—this was the primal two-step of the long-lived Acolhua
tlaxilacalli, at once colonial and colonialist.

1. Classical Nahuatl does not distinguish between singular and plural for inanimate
nouns like tlaxilacalli. See, for example, Michel Launey, An Introduction to Classical Nahuatl,
ed. and trans. Christopher Mckay (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 21.
2. Scholars have been working for decades on the etymology of “tlaxilacalli,” but no
solution has yet been found. Because of the opacity of this term, some have preferred to
refer to the autonomous local communities of the Aztec empire as “calpolli,” a partial cognate for “tlaxilacalli” with a cleaner Nahuatl derivation. Despite such historiographical and
etymological advantages, this book uses “tlaxilacalli” for two reasons. First, as will be seen
later in these notes, “calpolli” and “tlaxilacalli” did not always mean the same thing despite
significant semantic overlap. In addition, “tlaxilacalli” appears much more frequently in the
relevant sources and has even achieved something approaching parity in scholarly usage. For
example, even though James Lockhart follows scholarly convention of the time and uses
the term calpolli in his monumental The Nahuas after the Conquest: A Social and Cultural
History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1992), he notes that “the word calpolli itself is much less common
than tlaxilacalli” (16). Nevertheless, in very particular situations—most frequently, when
referring to secondary literature that prefers the term calpolli—this book on occasion continues the scholarly practice of conflating tlaxilacalli and calpolli.
3. In addition to tlaxilacalli, other terms also demand definitions at this early juncture:
central Mexico, Aztec, Mexica, Spanish, and Hispanic. Central Mexico is a generic term for
northern Mesoamerica, roughly bounded by Oaxaca, Michoacan, La Gran Chichimeca,
and the Atlantic Ocean. It references neither the imperial capital of Mexico-Tenochtitlan
nor the modern nation-state of Estados Unidos Mexicanos. Aztec is another particular term,
for it only references the centralizing imperial power emanating out of Mexico-Tenochtitlan.
This shopworn but effective term is preferable to other, more fashionable terms like Mexica
or Tenochca precisely because of its artificial, and therefore non-ethnic, connotations: the



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realm of Aztec Acolhuacan makes more analytical sense than Mexica Acolhuacan, of misleading and ambiguous ethnic affiliation. Mexica here refers to the ethnic group emanating
from Mexico-Tenochtitlan. Spanish and Hispanic are two related but distinct terms. The
former suggests a stronger connection to Spain, its people, and its administration than the
latter, which evokes the local, central Mexican transformations.
4. As recent “New Conquest” historiography has vigorously argued, facile generalizations are impossible for the interlacing wars of sixteenth-century Mesoamerica, which were
fought by many sides. Nevertheless, the rapidity of the Aztecs’ two-year fall (1519–21) remains
a significant outlier. For comparison, the neighboring Purépecha state retained administrative independence for seven years after initial invasion (1522–29), followed by decades of
guerrilla warfare. Western Yucatán took a full twenty years for various invading powers to
subdue (1527–47), and the Inkas of Tawantinsuyu required forty years (1532–72). Among
many other works, a brief introduction to the broad “New Conquest” historiography could
begin with Matthew Restall, Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); Susan Schroeder and David Cahill, eds., The Conquest All Over Again:
Nahuas and Zapotecs Thinking, Writing, and Painting Spanish Colonialism (Sussex: Sussex
Academic Press, 2009); along with Restall’s review article, “The New Conquest History”
History Compass 10, no. 2 (February 2012): 151–60.
5. As will be seen in this introduction and throughout the book, tlaxilacalli were quite different from neighborhoods or Spanish barrios. As with the rare equivalence of “altepetl” and
the Spanish “ciudad” in Nahuatl documentation, on exceptional occasions relevant sources do
conflate “tlaxilacalli” and “barrio.” The earliest known example is from 1551, “yn tlacilacal bario
Tlamimilolpa,” in Teresa Rojas Rabiela, Elsa Leticia Rea López, and Constantino Medina
Lima, eds., Vidas y bienes olvidados: Testamentos indígenas novohispanos (Mexico City: CIESAS, 1999), 2:92–93. Despite this single early citation, nearly all other mentions come from
the later seventeenth century or afterward, as in the repeated switching between “we tlaxilacalli residents” (titlaxilacaleque) and “we barrio people” (tibarrio tlaca) in a 1691 document
from Cuauhtepoztlan tlaxilacalli, Tepetlaoztoc. AGN, Tierras, vol. 1610, exp. 3, f. 10r.
As argued later in this book, an entire cycle of tlaxilacalli practice was nearing its end
by the 1660s. Among other things, this occasioned a certain improvisational uptick in political terminology: “altepetl” ~“ciudad,” “tlaxilacalli” ~“barrio,” and the occasional use of
such terms as “huicalli” (sujeto, “subject town”—cf. private collection. A digital copy is held
in the Archivo del Diócesis de Texcoco. It also appears in Benjamin Daniel Johnson, trans.,
Documentos nahuas de Tezcoco [hereafter DNT], vol. 1, ed. Javier Eduardo Ramírez López
[Texcoco, Mexico: Diócesis de Texcoco A.R., 2017], doc. 33) fit into this pattern. At least in
Acolhua sources, these trends never became prominent and indeed are so faint that they only
appear when dealing with a large and diverse documentary base.
6. Cf. Jerome Offner, Law and Politics in Aztec Texcoco (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 284.

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7. For the 1624 uprising, see Gibran I.I. Bautista y Lugo, “Los indios y la rebelión de
1624 en la Ciudad de México,” in Los indios y las ciudades de Nueva España, ed. Felipe Castro Gutiérrez (Mexico City: UNAM, 2013), 197–216; for 1692, see Natalia Silva Prada, La
política de una rebelión: los indígenas frente al tumulto de 1692 en la Ciudad de México (Mexico City: Colegio de México, 2007), especially 602–4, 613. Following common historiographical conventions, both Bautista y Lugo and Silva Prada use the word barrio to describe
tlaxilacalli. The regions of Guerrero and Tlaxcala also burned around the same time as the
1692 Mexico City uprising.
8. One such change was the inability of the ten viceroys who succeeded the Marquis of
Gelves (deposed in 1624) to restore “order” to the regional administration of New Spain.
On the weakness of viceroys in seventeenth-century New Spain, see Jonathan I. Israel, Race,
Class, and Politics in Colonial Mexico, 1610–1670 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975).
Earlier scholarship, including Israel, explained viceregal instability through a wider “Decline
of Spain” thesis, but John Tutino (Making a New World: Founding Capitalism in the Bajío
and Spanish North America [Durham: Duke University Press, 2011]) forcibly decouples
New Spain from economic reversals in Europe.
Another important outcome of the political crisis of 1624 was the inability of central
administration to maintain Mexico City’s systems of water management, leading to the catastrophic and transformative flood of 1629. On this flood and its aftermath, see Vera Candiani,
Dreaming of Dry Land: Environmental Transformation in Colonial Mexico City (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 2014).
9. There were certainly more commoner groups beyond the tlaxilacalli. Afro-Mexicans
and mestizo groups, for example, faced many of the same issues as tlaxilacalli. See, for example, R. Douglas Cope, The Limits of Racial Domination: Plebeian Society in Colonial Mexico
City, 1660–1720 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994). It is also likely that AfroMexicans and mestizo groups participated in indigenous central Mexican society to a greater
extent than usually imagined, as was the case in both Guerrero and Yucatán. See, for example,
Andrew Bryan Fisher, “Worlds in Flux, Identities in Motion: A History of the Tierra Caliente of Guerrero, Mexico, 1521–1821” (PhD dissertation, University of California, San Diego,
2002); Ben Vinson III and Matthew Restall, eds., Black Mexico: Race and Society from Colonial to Modern Times (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2009); Matthew
Restall, The Black Middle: Africans, Mayas, and Spaniards in Colonial Yucatan (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 2009).
10. In recent years, scholars have turned to tlaxilacalli with increased attention, particularly to anchor their documentary analyses. The best of these works deal extensively with
tlaxilacalli and even model their spatial array in wider altepetl. See Rebecca Horn, Postconquest Coyoacan: Nahua-Spanish Relations in Central Mexico, 1519–1650 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997); Barbara E. Mundy, The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life
of Mexico City (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015). Another important collection of



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work makes tlaxilacalli central to the explanatory arguments. See Luis Fernando Granados,
“Calpultin decimonónicos: Aspectos nahuas de la cultura política de la ciudad de México,” in
Actores, espacios y debates en la historia de la esfera pública en la ciudad de México, ed. Cristina Sacristán and Pablo Piccato (Mexico City: Instituto Mora, 2005), 41–66; Ángel Julián
García Zambrano, “Zahuatlan el Viejo y Zahuatlan el nuevo: Trasuntos del poblamiento y la
geografía sagrada del altepetl de Yecapixtla,” in Territorialidad y paisaje en el altepetl del siglo
XVI, ed. Frederico Fernández Christlieb and Ángel Julián García Zambrano (Mexico City:
FCE, 2006), 422–78; Camilla Townsend, “Glimpsing Native American Historiography:
The Cellular Principle in Sixteenth-Century Nahuatl Annals,” Ethnohistory 56, no. 4 (2009):
625–50. Susan Schroeder’s Chimalpahin and the Kingdoms of Chalco (Tucson: University
of Arizona Press, 1991) also bears mention here: although it deals much more extensively
with sub-altepetl “kingdoms” or tlayacatl (an administrative layer one rung up from tlaxilacalli, only found in the largest altepetl), its early attention to causal explanations below the
altepetl level makes it an obligatory reference. Pueblos within Pueblos broadens and deepens
this work, harnessing the detailed specificity of Horn and Mundy to the explanatory power
of Granados, García Zambrano, Townsend, and Schroeder to create a tlaxilacalli-focused
causal engine, firmly anchored to a wide documentary base.
11. Both documents were explicitly produced at the tlaxilacalli level. For specific mention
of tlaxilacalli, see Códice de Santa María Asunción (hereafter Codex Asunción), Biblioteca
Nacional de México, Sala de Libros Raros, Ms. 1497bis, f. 11v. See also Document cadastral
ou Codex Vergara, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Mexicain
(hereafter BnF-MM), 37–39. Both of these documents have been recently published in excellent scholarly editions: Barbara J. Williams and H. R. Harvey, eds., The Códice de Santa María
Asunción: Facsimile and Commentary: Households and Lands in Sixteenth-Century Tepetlaoztoc (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1997); Barbara J. Williams and Frederic Hicks,
eds., El códice Vergara: Edición facsimilar con comentario (Mexico City: UNAM, 2011).
12. Chapter 2 of this book outlines a methodology for connecting specific individuals
to precise landforms. Other important close-in work on Aztec cadastral sources includes
Eike Hinz, Claudine Hartau, and Marie-Louise Heimann-Koenen, eds., Aztekizcher Zensus:
Zuer indianischen Wirtschaft und Gessellschaft im Marquesado um 1540: Aus dem “Libro de
Tributos” (Col. Ant. Ms. 551) im Archivo Histórico, Mexico, 2 vols. (Hanover, Germany: Verlag
für Ethnologie, 1983); Sarah L. Cline, The Book of Tributes: Early Sixteenth-Century Nahuatl
Censuses from Morelos (Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center, 1993); Michael E. Smith,
“Houses and the Settlement Hierarchy in Late Postclassic Morelos,” in Prehispanic Domestic
Units in Western Mesoamerica, ed. Robert S. Stanley and Kenneth G. Hirth (Boca Raton,
FL: CRC Press, 1993), 191–206; Thomas M. Whitmore and Barbara J. Williams, “Famine
Vulnerability in the Contact-Era Basin of Mexico: A Simulation,” Ancient Mesoamerica 9,
no. 1 (1998): 83–98; Mariano Cando Morales, Tepetlaoxtoc: Monografía municipal (Toluca:
Gobierno del Estado de México, 1999).

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Williams and Hicks, in their edition of the Códice Vergara (pp. 68–71), give a reconstruction of the sub-district (altepemaitl) of Calla Tlaxoxiuhco in Chimalpan tlaxilacalli
(Tepetlaoztoc altepetl), but they only site one individual in this array: the noble Pedro Tecihuauh de Castilla.
13. “2 calli ypan inyn xihuitl quimiquanique yn mexitin ynic oncan motlallico tlacocomocco yn tencopa yn colhuaque yquac tlatocati yn tziuhtecatzin colhuacan . . . 8 tochtli ypan
xihuitl ompeuh yn oncan mexico tenochtitlan çan oc quequezquitetl xacalli quichiuhque
yn mexiti ça nonohuian oncatca tolquauhtla yn motlallique.” John Bierhorst, ed. and trans.,
Codex Chimalpopoca: The Text in Nahuatl (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1992), 26, 31.
Here and elsewhere my translations from Nahuatl differ from previous editions. On the
founding influence of the Tlacocomolco and Yopico tlaxilacalli, see Carlos Javier González
González, Xipe Tótec: Guerra y regeneración del maíz en la religión mexica (Mexico City:
FCE, 2011), 96. The author specifically mentions these entities as “calpolli,” the partial cognate for tlaxilacalli mentioned in note 2.
14. Codex Xolotl, BnF-MM, 1–10.
15. The “Tolteca” glyph in the Codex Xolotl designates polities and individuals using
technologies not employed by Chichimeca, such as sedentary agriculture.
16. Codex Xolotl, f. 5. In his dissertation, Marc Thouvenot read these “house” glyphs
as explicitly tlaxilacalli. See “Codex Xolotl: Étude d’une des composantes de son écriture:
les glyphs: Dictionnaire des éléments constitutifs des glyphes” (PhD dissertation, EHESS,
Paris, 1987), 660–70. However, in his newer Tlachia website (tlachia.lib.unam.mx, accessed
November 11, 2016), he reads the glyphs as “calpolli.” See, for example, his notations for
codes X.050.F.08, X.050.F.10, and X.050.F.12.
17. Although earlier scholarly generations frequently criticized the work of Ixtlilxochitl,
more systematic readings of both his errors and contributions have led to a recent re-valorization of his work. See in particular Amber Brian, Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s Native Archive and
the Circulation of Knowledge in Colonial Mexico (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press,
2016); Galen Brokaw and Jongsoo Lee, eds., Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl and His Legacy
(Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2015)—especially the chapters by Gordon Whittaker
(“The Identities of Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl,” 29–76) and Jerome A. Offner (“Ixtlilxochitl’s Ethnographic Encounter: Understanding the Codex Xolotl and Its Depdendent
Alphabetic Texts,” 77–121).
18. “Era tan grande el amor que Techotlalatzin tenía a la nación tulteca, que no tan solamente les consintió vivir, y poblar entre los chichimecas, sino que también les dio facultad
para hacer sacrificios públicos a sus ídolos y dedicar los templos, lo que no había consentido
ni admitido su padre Quinatzin.” Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, Obras históricas, 2 vols., ed.
Alfredo Chavero (Mexico City: Editorial Nacional, 1952) 2:75.
19. Ixtlilxochitl also notes that these new tlaxilacalli introduced the cults of two important Aztec deities into Acolhuacan: Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc.



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20. “Auh y yehuatl yn inauatil y Uitzilopochtli cayatle uetzi . . . Auh y ye yuhqui amo
mouelcaque, ye no yc peuh y yaoyotl. Ça ye nono oc conixtito conpeualtito yaoyotl
Uiznauac tiachcauh Toueyo.” Rafael Tena, ed. and trans., Anales de Tlatelolco (Mexico City:
CONACULTA, 2004), 116.
21. Tlacuiloque were more than simply scribes because they were also experts in verbal and
performance-based communication. See Katarzyna Mikulska, Tejiendo destinos: Un acercamiento al sistema de comunicación gráfica en los códices adivinatorios (Zinacantepec, Mexico:
El Colegio Mexiquense, 2015).
22. For an example of local favoritism among tlaxilacalli tlacuiloque, see 8–9, this volume; .
23. The canonical 1571 bilingual dictionary of fray Alonso de Molina—Vocabulario en lengua castellana y mexicana y mexicana y castellana, ed. Miguel León-Portilla (Mexico City:
Porrúa, 1977)—defines tlaxilacalli as “barrio” and altepetl as “pueblo, o rey.” The Spanish
term barrio is taken as “calpulli. tlaxilacalli” and ciudad as “vei-altepetl.” Molina therefore
accepts the equivalency of tlaxilacalli and neighborhood but struggles to consistently define
altepetl. See table 0.1, this volume; also Lockhart, The Nahuas after the Conquest, 56.
24. “Indios del barrio,” “Carta de la Ciudad de México, en que se hace relación a S.M. del
suceso del tumulto del 15 de enero de 1624,” in Documentos relativos al tumulto de 1624, ed. Mariano Fernández de Echeverría y Veytia (Mexico City: Imprenta de F. Escalante y Cía, 1855), 2:146.
25. See Silva Prada, La política, especially 385–410.
26. In a forthcoming article, Jerome A. Offner describes the negotiation of nobles in Tlailotlacan and Chimalpan as they sought to fulfill both local (tlaxilacalli and tlacamecayotl)
and regional (altepetl) responsibilities. Offner, “Apuntes sobre la plancha X del Códice
Xolotl: cincuenta años más tarde,” trans. Agnieszka Brylak, in Códices del Centro de México:
Análisis comparativos y estudios individuales, vol. 2, ed. Miguel Ángel Ruz Barrio and Juan
José Batalla Rosado (Warsaw: University of Warsaw, in press).
27. The evidence for Tlailotlacan authorship consists of the Xolotl’s repeated interest
in the local history of this tlaxilacalli (particularly dynastic history), combined with Tlailotlacan’s long-standing connection with the information arts and sciences. See Offner,
“Apuntes.” For a critical view on Tlailotlacan’s pre-Aztec history, see Eloise Quiñones Keber,
“The Tlailotlaque in Acolhua Pictorial Histories: Imitators or Inventors?” Journal de la
Société des Américanistes 84, no. 2 (1998): 83–96.
28. “Ayc polihuiz ayc ylcahuiz, mochipa pialoz, ticpiazque yn titepilhuan in titeixhuihuan in
titeyccahuan in tetemintonhuan in tetepiptonhuan in titechichicahuan in titetentzonhuan in
titeyxquamolhuan in titeteyztihuan, in titetlapallohuan in titehezçohuan, in titlayllotlacatepilhuan, in ipan otiyolque otitlacatque in ice tlaxillacalyacatl motenehua Tlayllotlacan Tecpan,
y huel oncan catca y huel oncan omotlahtocatillico yn itzquintin in tlaçohuehuetque in tlaçotlahtoque chichimeca, in tlayllotlacattlahtoque in tlayllotlacateteuhctin, inin mitohua inin
tlahtolli Tlayllotlacan Tecpan pielli.” Domingo Chimalpahin, Las ocho relaciones y el memorial
de Colhuacan ed. and trans. Rafael Tena (Mexico City: CONACULTA, 1998), 2:272.

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29. Townsend, “Glimpsing.”
30. Frederic Hicks, “Labor Squads, Noble Houses, and Other Things Called ‘Barrios’ in
Aztec Mexico,” Nahua Newsletter 49 (2010): 14; Caterina Pizzigoni, The Life Within: Local
Indigenous Society in Mexico’s Toluca Valley, 1650–1800 (Stanford: Stanford University Press,
2012), 9.
31. Although he used both tlaxilacalli and calpolli in his classic Nahuas after the Conquest, James Lockhart also seems to have recognized a conceptual difficulty in defining these
twinned institutions, using a panoply of other names as well, including all of the terms cited
above (cf., The Nahuas, 36, 50, 53, 56, 57, 61, 65, 122, 128, 147, 188, 196, 197, 219, 487, 490,
607, etc.) The Nahuas is much more precise in his treatment of altepetl. It is also careful to
avoid the terms ward, which it uses as a subsection of a tlaxilacalli, and neighborhood, which
(unlike barrio) it uses only in Hispanic contexts.
32. Regarding the troubles of an easy identification between tlaxilacalli/calpolli and
neighborhood or barrio, see Hicks, “Labor Squads,” as well as Luis Reyes García, Eustaquio
Celestino Solís, Armando Valenica Ríos, Constantino Medina Luna, and Gregorio Guerrero Díaz, eds., Documentos nauas de la ciudad de México del siglo XVI (Mexico City: AGN,
1996), 21–67; Eileen M. Mulhare, “Barrio Matters: Toward an Ethnology of Mesoamerican
Customary Social Units” Ethnology 35, no. 2 (Spring 1996): 93–106.
33. “ypan altepetl nexquipayac,” private collection (a digital copy is held in the Archivo
del Diócesis de Texcoco and it also appears in DNT, doc. 33); “ynpani Altepetl Sta Ma tlaylotlaca,” private collection (a digital copy is held in the Archivo del Diócesis de Texcoco and
it also appears in DNT, doc. 34); “Yn Nican ypa Altepetl Santa Ma purificasion tepetitlan,”
private collection (a digital copy is held in the Archivo del Diócesis de Texcoco and it also
appears in DNT, doc. 40).
34. Bernardo García Martínez, “Pueblos de Indios, Pueblos de Castas: New Settlements
and Traditional Corporate Organization in Eighteenth-Century New Spain,” in The Indian
Community of Colonial Mexico: Fifteen Essays on Land Tenure, Corporate Organizations,
Ideology, and Village Politics, ed. Arij Ouweneel and Simon Miller (Amsterdam: CEDLA,
1990), 107.
35. Cf. Bernardo García Martínez and Gustavo Martínez Mendoza, Señoríos, pueblos, y
municipios: Banco preliminar de información, CD-Rom (Mexico City: El Colegio de México,
2012), 1775, 2915, 2658. Despite this base-level independence in civil administration, these three
continued to be ecclesiastically dependent on Atenco, Tetzcoco, and Chiautla, respectively.
36. Hicks, “Labor Squads,” 14.
37. “Yn ipan altepetl ytocayocan xabon.” Domingo Chimalpahin, Annals of His Time: Don
Domingo de San Antón Muñón Chimalpahin Quauhtlehuanitzin, ed. and trans. James Lockhart, Susan Schroeder, and Doris Namala (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 62.
38. There has been extensive debate on the relationship between tlaxilacalli and calpolli,
with much work left to do. See Pedro Carrasco and Johanna Broda, eds., Estratificación social



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en la Mesoamerica prehispánica (Mexico City: INAH, 1976); Frederic Hicks, “Tetzcoco in
the Early 16th Century: The State, the City, and the ‘Calpolli,’ ” American Ethnologist 9, no.
2 (1982): 230–49; Rudolph Van Zantwijk, The Aztec Arrangement: The Social History of PreSpanish Mexico (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985); Pablo Escalante Gonzalbo,
“La polémica sobre la organización de las comunidades de productores,” Nueva Antropología
11, no. 38 (1990): 147–62; Lockhart, The Nahuas after the Conquest; Pedro Carrasco, Estructura politico territorial del imperio tenochca: La triple alianza de Tenochtitlan, Tetzcoco y
Tlacopan (Mexico City: FCE, 1996); Federico Fernández Christleib and Ángel Julián García Zambrano, eds., Territorialidad y paisaje en el altepetl del siglo XVI (Mexico City: FCE,
2006); David M. Carballo, “Advances in the Household Archaeology of Highland Mesoamerica,” Journal of Archaeolical Research 19, no. 2 (2011): 133–89; M. Charlotte Arnauld,
Linda R. Manzanilla, and Michael E. Smith, eds., The Neighborhood as a Social and Spatial
Unit in Mesoamerican Cities (Tucson: Arizona University Press, 2012).
39. For “Thorn Speech” and “Lord of the Reed on the Nose,” see Frances F. Berdan and
Patricia Reiff Anawalt, eds., The Essential Codex Mendoza (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 208n5, 220n17, respectively. In her recent article for Estudios de Cultura
Náhuatl, “Las funciones rituales de los altos personajes mexicas,” 45 (2013): 42–43, Danièle
Dehouve is particularly critical of these misreadings.
40. “Le dió un lugar junto á Texcuco para que lo poblase, y á los demás repartió en
sus pueblos, dando á cada uno tierras donde poblase; y de aquí tomó el nombre el pueblo
y barrio de Texcuco, llamándose Tlailotlacan por sus primeros pobladores, y asimismo
los demás pueblos que hay en los pueblos que se llaman Tlailotlacan.” Ixtlilxochitl, Obras
(1952), 1:124.
41. For an early, if brief, commentary on the similarity of tlaxilacalli names across different
central Mexican altepetl, see Van Zantwijk, Aztec Arrangement, 54. Also, many of the names
mentioned appear as sections of the main Templo Mayor complex in Mexico-Tenochtitlan’s
ceremonial center, further suggesting the distinct connotations of each name in addition
to implying ties with the wider tlaxilacalli. On of these sections, see Florentine Codex, vol.
1, book 2, beginning f. 109v, available through the World Digital Library, accessed May 6,
2016, https://www.wdl.org/en/item/10096/view/1/338/. See also the scholarly edition by
Bernardino de Sahagún, Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain, 2nd
ed., ed. Arthur J.O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble (Salt Lake City: University of Utah
Press, 1981), 2:179–93.
42. When an illustration in plate 10 of the Codex Xolotl (Tlachia code: X.101.L.25) is joined
with later commentary by Ixtlilxochitl (Obras, 178, 218), it becomes a likely conclusion that
Chimalpan also provided the head priest (cihuacoatl) for Tetzcoco. See discussion in chapter 2.
43. The semantic reach of Tlailotlacan is particularly broad. Its evocations of power
and performative authority became so strong that a separate term Tlailotlac (resident of
Tlailotlacan) became a generic term for “judge” or “lawgiver”; so, for instance, the head

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of Huitznahauc tlaxilacalli could be called “Huitznahuactlilotlac” (“Huitznahuac judge”;
lit. “resident of Tlailotlacan who lives in Huitznahauc”). Another telling example is that
of Miguel Pochtecatlailotlac—Tlailotlac of the Pochteca—who was tried by fray Juan de
Zumárraga’s Inquisition in 1539 for allegedly hiding “idols” from the Templo Mayor. See
González Obregón, ed., Procesos de indios idólatras y hechiceros, 115–39.
44. On Yopico, see González y González, Xipe Totec. Regarding the “foreignness” of
tlaxilacalli, see Van Zantwijk, Aztec Arrangement, 16–21. On tlaxilacalli identity in the
Hispanic period, see Horn, Postconquest Coyoacan, 20–23, 239–41, and elsewhere across
this text.
45. On tlayacatl, see Lockhart, The Nahuas after the Conquest, 21–28; Schroeder, Chimalpahin and the Kingdoms, 131–36. Because tlayacatl grew out of tlaxilacalli, they occasionally
also carried forward tlaxilacalli names. Tlailotlacan (Schroeder, Chimalpahin, 131) is one
such example from Aztec-era Chalco.
46.The Mendoza judges can be sited at Moyotlan by their tlaxilacalli affiliation, all of
which fall into that particular tlayacatl: the Mixcoatlailotlac from Mixcoac, the Ezhuahuacatl from Yopico, the Tequixquinahuacatl from Tequixquipan, and the Acatlyacapanecatl
from one of the two subsections of Moyotlan called Acapan. Regarding this final location,
Barbara Mundy’s extensive listing of tlaxilacalli in Mexico-Tenochtitlan only lists names
with Acatl for Moyotlan, both Acatlan. It is likely that Acatl Yacapan was the more complete name for one of these. Cf. Dehouve, “Las funciones rituales”; Mundy, “Place-Names,”
in Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, 128–67.
The various titles of tlaxilacalli warriors and judges repeat across the various historical
and legal books (especially book 8) of the Florentine Codex, as well as in Durán and Tezozomoc. Additional sources include González y González, Xipe Totec, on feasts; Dehouve, “Las
funciones rituales,” for religious representation; and, for the Templo Mayor, Aurélie Couvreur, “La description du Grand Temple de Mexico par Bernardino de Sahagún (Codex de
Florence, annexe du Livre II),” Journal de la Societé des Américanistes 88, no. 88 (2002): 9–46.
47. According to book 9 of the Florentine Codex (pp. 12, 37 in the Dibble and Anderson
edition), tlaxilacalli for long-distance trade included Acxotlan, Ahuachtlan, Atlauhco, Itztolco, Pochtlan, Tepetitlan, and Tzonmolco. See also Lockhart, The Nahuas after the Conquest, 192, for a thoughtful reflection on long-standing tlaxilacalli-based work identity. On
Poyauhtlan and Chimalpan, Ixtlilxochitl, Obras (1952), 187, 209. Chimalpan is well-known,
and the “Plano Topográfico de Texcoco” (Bnf-MM, 107) shows that Poyauhtlan is a tlaxilacalli in Tetzcoco, as opposed to some other geographical or political form. On Cuepopan,
see Mundy, Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, 178–80.
48. Cf. Richard E. Blanton and Lane Fargher, Collective Action in the Formation of PreModern States (New York: Springer, 2008); Lane Fargher, Verenice Heredia Espinosa, and
Richard E. Blanton, “Alternative Pathways to Power in Late Postclassic Highland Mesoamerica,” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 30, no. 3 (2011): 306–26; David M. Carballo,



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Paul Roscoe, and Gary M. Feinman, “Cooperation and Collective Action in the Cultural
Evolution of Complex Societies,” Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 21, no. 1
(2014): 98–133.
49. For a comparison of “rural” and “urban” commoner consumption, see Michael E.
Smith, Aztec City-State Capitals (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2008).
50. “Un Padre muy honrado y celoso de la honra de Dios y de la doctrina con quien yo
vivía y en cuya compañía estaba mandó que en todos los barrios se pusiesen cruces para que
allí saliesen á rezar la doctrina. Todos pusieron cruces execto un barrio que como gente mas
devota se quiso aventajar y pidieron que se les diese licencia para edificar una hermita la
cual les fué concedida y mandado que el nombre del Santo fuese S. Pablo ó S. Agustín ellos
digeron que se hablarían. Después de las quince dias volvieron y dijeron que no querían á
S. Pablo ni á S. Agustín pues preguntados que Santo querían digeron que á S. Lucas. Yo
notando la petición y el ahinco con que la pedían advertí en que podía haber algún mal y fui
al calendario de sus ídolos y miré que fiesta y signo era en el que caya San Lucas y considerado
fuime al maudoncillo de aquel barrio y pregúntele como se llamaba y el respondióme que
Juan. Rogué que me dijese el nombre que tenía de su ley antigua del dia en que había nacido
y díjome que en el signo de cally que quiere decir casa y vi clara y manifiestamente pedir el
dia de S. Lucas por razón de que cae en el dia y signo de la casa y aun por que dos dias antes
es una de las grandes y solenes fiestas que ellos tenían y así reprendiéndole su doblez y mala
intención le dige que aquella supesticion le ha el movido y no la mortificación de la cruz
que trujo mientras vivió ni la mucha devoción que le tienes.” Diego Durán, Historia de las
Indias de Nueva España y islas de la Tierra Firme, ed. Rosa Carnelo and José Rubén Romero
(Mexico City: CONACULTA, 1995), 2:242–43.
51. On all central powers as “foreign” to local communities, see Pedro Pitarch, La cara
oculta del pliegue: Ensayos de antropología indígena (Mexico City: Artes de Mexico, 2013),
52. Evidence for a beginning in exactly 1272 is scarce outside of the Codex Xolotl, making
the precise start date less precise than desirable. Given the lack of other candidates, however,
this text uses the standard 1272 date.
53. Although the transition from Aztec to Spanish rule remains a prime chronological
anchor in central Mexican historiography, a shift from empires to local institutions does
tend to reset basic parameters. See, for instance, Bernardo García Martínez, Los pueblos de
la sierra: El poder y el espacio entre los indios del norte de Puebla hasta 1700 (Mexico City: El
Colegio de México, 1987).
54. In early sources, the first mention of “Acolhuacan” in a collective or geographic sense
comes in plate 2 of the Codex Xolotl (Tlachia code: X.020.C.15), in what later became
known as the altepetl of Coatlincan or even Coatlinchan-Acolhuacan. As Acolhua power
and territory grew, however, this term quickly broadened to its standard meaning, referring
to the entire Acolhua realm.

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55. Acolhua women appear to have used hairstyles similar to their Mexica counterparts.
56. Even the main historiographer of early Tlaxcala, Diego Muñoz Camargo, stated that
the “Tetzcoca language” was more “courtly and polished”: “es tenida la lengua . . . tezcucana
por más cortesana y pulida.” Historia de Tlaxcala, ed. Alfredo Chavero (Mexico City: Secretaría de Fomento, 1892), 25. On Tetzcoca painting schools, see Donald Robertson, Mexican Manuscript Painting of the Early Colonial Period: The Metropolitan Schools (New Haven,
CT: Yale University Press, 1959). In the nineteenth century, Francisco del Paso y Troncoso
also noticed a difference in Nahuatl speech from Tetzcoco: “Los náuas de algunas regiones
aspiran más que los de otras: donde los de Tlaxcala, por ejemplo, emiten la h aspirada, los
de Tetzcoco dejan oir muchas veces el saltillo, y mutua mente se motejan, diciendo éstos de
aquellos que hablan como serranos, y aquellos de los de Tetzcoco que son muy afectados en
su habla. Pondré como ejemplos los pronom bres nehuatl, téhuatl, yéhuatl, yo, tú, él, pronunciados en Tetzcoco mèuatl, tèuatl, yèuatl, con detención entre la pri mera sílaba y la segunda,
como si se tratara de dos mono sílabos.” Descriptión, historia y exposición del códice pictórico
de los antiguos Náuas que se conserva en la Biblioteca de la Cámara de diputados de Paris (Florence, Italy: Salvador Landi, 1899), xxvii.
As part of a wider critique of Alfonso Lacadena’s arguments about Nahuatl writing patterns (cf. “Regional Scribal Traditions: Methodological Implications for the Decipherment
of Nahuatl Writing,” PARI Journal 8, no. 4 [2008]: 1–22); Gordon Whittaker (“The Principles of Nahuatl Writing,” Göttinger Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft 16 [2009]: 47–81) has
challenged Lacadena’s assertion that Acolhua tlacuiloque wrote glyphs differently, presenting cases of “Acolhua”-style writing in other regions. It is possible, therefore, that divergences
presented themselves more in pronunciation and genre than in forms of glyphic writing.
57. One interesting aspect of Acolhua regionalism is an inserted “n” in many mundane
documents: “tlanlli” for “tlalli,” “pinlli” for “pilli,” etc. See, for example, DNT docs. 6, 7, 9,
12, 18, 22, 25, and for “tlaxilacanlli” figure 11. Many of these documents are in BNAH, leg. 30,
exp. 3 and 8. On warrior hair, see El Códice de Xicotepec: Estudio e interpretación, ed. Guy
Stresser-Péan (Puebla, Mexico: Gobierno del estado de Puebla, 1995), 43. (Under Mexica
pressure, some outlying Acolhua altepetl did adopt Mexica hairstyles; ibid., 120. Although
this codex shows Nezahualpilli wearing Mexica-style hair, this is a rarity in Acolhua codices
and could be attributed to Xicotepec’s large distance from the Acolhua capital.) On Acolhua noble fashion, see Justyna Olko, Insignia of Rank in the Nahua World: From the Fifteenth to the Seventeenth Centuries (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2013), 222–42.
For market separation, see Leah D. Minc, “Style and Substance: Evidence for Regionalism
within the Aztec Market System,” Latin American Antiquity 20, no. 2 ( June 2009): 343–74;
and Deborah Nichols, “Merchants and Merchandise: The Archaeology of Aztec Commerce
at Otumba, Mexico,” in Merchants, Markets, and Exchange in the Pre-Columbian World,
ed. Kenneth G. Hirth and Joanne Pillsbury, 49–84 (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks,
2013). The Acolhua tlacuilo tradition is discussed in note 63. In other aspects Tetzcoco did



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synchronize with Mexico-Tenochtitlan. For a Mexica-oriented reading of the Acolhua ruler
Nezahualcoyotl, see Jongsoo Lee, The Allure of Nezahualcoyotl: Pre-Hispanic History, Religion, and Nahua Poetics (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2008).
58. For the project at hand, some of the most important general works of critical methodology include three classics—Robertson, Mexican Manuscript Painting; H. B. Nicholson,
“Pre-Hispanic Central Mexican Historiography,” in Investigaciones contemporáneas sobre historia de México, 38–81 (Mexico City: UNAM, 1971); and Lockhart’s The Nahuas after the
Conquest, particularly the fine-grained work in chapters 8 and 9—together with a number
of more recent works, including Elizabeth Hill Boone, Stories in Red and Black: Pictorial
Histories of the Aztecs and Mixtecs (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000); Townsend,
“Glimpsing”; Eduardo de Jesús Douglas, In the Palace of Nezahualcoyotl: Painting Manuscripts, Writing the Pre-Hispanic Past in Early Colonial Period Tetzcoco, Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010); Pablo Escalante Gonzalbo, Los códices mesoamericanos antes y
después de la conquista española (Mexico City: FCE, 2010); Olko, Insignia of Rank; Brian,
Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s Native Archive; and numerous studies of individual documents, such as
Lori Boornazian Diel, Tira de Tepechpan: Negotiating Place under Aztec and Spanish Rule
(Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008).
In addition, much work (particularly by European scholars) occurs in journals, not
monographs. Three of the most important scholars working in these fora are Juan José
Batalla Rosado, Gordon Whittaker, and Patrick Lesbre. Representative articles include
Batalla Rosado, “Los códices mesoamericanos: problemática actual de su censo,” in Escritura
Indígena en México, ed. Alfonso Lacadena et al. (Madrid, Spain: Cuadernos del Instituto
de México en España, 1995), 85–103; Batalla Rosado, “Las falsificaciones de códices mesoamericanos,” in Actas de Primer Congreso Internacional Escrituras Silenciadas en la época de
Cervantes, ed. Manuel Casado et al. (Alcalá de Hanares, Spain: Universidad de Alcalá de
Henares, 2005), 363–85; Batalla Rosado, “The Scribes Who Painted the Matrícula de Tributos and the Codex Mendoza,” Ancient Mesoamerica 18, no. 1 (2007): 31–51; Whittaker, “The
Study of North Mesoamerican Place-Signs,” Indiana 13 (1993): 9–38; Whittaker, “Principles
of Nahuatl Writing”; Whittaker, “Nahuatl Hieroglyphic Writing and the Beinecke Map,” in
Painting a Map of Sixteenth-Century Mexico City: Land, Writing, and Native Rule, ed. Mary
E. Miller an