The Symbolic-Ritual Status and Role of Tlatoani Motecuzoma [II] in the 52-year Calendar Ritual of 1507 AD (Ome Acatl, 2 Reed)

Carrasco put forward a convincing argument for an explanation of the 52- year calendar ritual as a political ceremony. He points out the prominent role of the tlatoani, Motecuzoma [II], and also the ceremony’s association with the Aztec state and empire (Carrasco 1999: 96-114).

There is no evidence of a participation of the tlatoani in the major ritual event, i.e. the New Fire Ceremony. But the authority and supervision of the tlatoani can be recognised through all aspects of the ceremony. Carrasco call attention to that a quite long time before the ritual proceedings, Motecuzoma [II] decreed that a captive with a symbolic name should be found (Sahagun 1953, VII: 31-32). Motecuzoma [II] had, according to Motolmia (1951: 112-113; 2001: 31), a special connection to the religious structure on the hill, Huixachtitlan, where the New Fire Ceremony was said to be conducted. The Templo Mayor, which was the major religious structure of the tlatoani, is the first building to receive the new fire. The new fire was distributed to the provinces only after the leader of Mexico had given his permission[1] (Carrasco 1987: 139-140; 1989: 48-49). Moreover, the concluding (incorporating) rituals of the 52-year calendar cycle were performed and completed with a sacrifice of war prisoners under the supervision of the tlatoque Motecuzoma [II] and Nezahualpilli Acamapichtli on the day Nahui Acatl (Four Reed) of the year Ome Acatl (2 Reed), 1507 AD (Chimal- pahin 2001a: 235; 2001b: 233).

The Aztecs were economically, politically and militarily predominant within the Triple Alliance under the regent tlatoani Motecuzoma [II]. Motecuzoma Xocoytl (or Xocoyotzin) [II] (1467 AD? - 1520 ad) ruled from 1502 AD until his death in 1520 AD. Through war, conquests, diplomacy and intrigues he consolidated the empire at the expense of the two partners of Tenochtitlan, Tetzcoco and Tlacopan, of the Triple Alliance (Duran 1964: 220-303). This development began before the rule of Motecuzoma [II], so that many of the distinctive political features of the 52-year calendar ritual of 1507 AD were conceivably already there in the previous ceremony of 1454 ad (Ce Tochtli). As previously noted, a calendar reform, whereby the New Fire Ceremony was moved from Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) (1506 ad) to Ome Acatl (2 Reed) (1507 ad) and also imaginably to the veintena Panquetzal- iztli, was most likely sanctioned by the autocratic Motecuzoma [II]. He also probably made a decision to relocate the ceremony to the hill of Huixach- titlan where the new fire could be observed and admired by people outside of Tenochtitlan. This illustrates the political, military but above all the symbolic-ritual religious power of Motecuzoma [II]. Stories can be adapted and reconstructed to serve the politics of the monarch and the state. Richar F. Townsend maintains there are many examples of Aztec ruling lords (tlatoque) whom adapted religion to their own interest through a reorganisation of the religious system (Townsend 1979: 49).

The responsibility and obligations of the tlatoani were extensive. He waged war, administered the state and provided for the well-being of the people. The speech recorded in Vol. VI of The Florentine Codex (Sahagun 1969, VI: 47-55) at the inauguration ceremony of the tlatoani exemplify this official doctrine (Soustelle 1988: 240-241). Religious duties were admonished to Motecuzoma [II] by tlatoani Nezahualpilli of Texcoco when he was inaugurated into power (Duran 1964: 221-222). Susan Gillespie argues for the existence of an Aztec sacred kingship. The tlatoani originated, as a descendent of semi-divine ancestors, from a mythic place. He was a mediator between the people and the deities and a representative of the state deity Huitzilopochtli (Gillespie 1991: 215-226). This status and role is echoed in the important 52-year calendar ritual, which terminated and re-inaugurated the 52-year calendar. It was the responsibility of the religious specialists and the ruler to “attune the human order to the divine order” (Carrasco 1989: 49).

We have seen that when a 52-year calendar cycle is terminated the four Year Bearers of the four cardinal directions have completed their burden (tlamamalli) of time. The four Year Bearers of the 52-year calendar cycle hence carry the burden of time (Sahagun 1953, VII: 21-22; V, 1957: 100; Nicholson 1966). Elzey claims that a ‘burden of time’ motive was associated with Aztec rulership where the regent takes on the burden or responsibility of society and world order (Elzey 1974: 234-235). The Aztec tlatoani Ahuitzotl was admonished by the ruler of Texcoco, when he was installed as regent, that he has been given a bundle with a burden (Duran 1964: 185). The eulogy by Tlacaelel of his dead brother Motecuzoma [I] express that:

He was like one who carries a load on his back for a time. He carried the burden of being lord of Mexico until the end of his days (Duran 1964: 151).

The lord shall take the bundle and the burden of his progenitors (Sahagun 1969, VI: 48-49). The deities asked before the creation of the fifth world “Who will carry the burden? Who will take it upon himself to be the sun, to bring the dawn”” (Sahagun 1953, VII: 4). A load or a burden of a bundle of reeds (xiuhmolpilli) symbolised the end of the passage time (e.g. 52-year calendar). The burden of the sovereign could presumably be symbolically equated to the burden (tlamamalli) of time.

The tlatoani may even have symbolically impersonated, not abstract time but time of the 52-year calendar, by their costumes and attributes of their bodies. The word “xihuitl” can be translated not only as “Year of the 365-day calendar” but also as “turquoise” (Molina [1571] 1977: 160; Karttunen 1992: 324). The tlatoani was the only individual who was allowed to wear a turquoise mantel, xiuhtilmatl, and a nose jewel of turquoise, xihuyacamiuh. The nose of the tlatoani was ritually perforated after his enthronement (Soustelle 151; 156). Sahagun, in his lists of tlatoque in Primeros Memoriales illustrated on fol. 57r col.B-fol. 53v col.B, portrays the costume and attributes of the regents where they are said to wear a turquoise (mosaic) headdress (xihutzon), a turquoise nose-rod (xihuyacamiuh) and a turquoise (blue) cape (xihutilma) (Sahagun 1997: 192-197). Codex Aubin (7or-79r) depicts tlatoque seated in office. Turquoise disks symbolise the duration of their reign (Boone 2000: 228-229) and Codex Saville employs turquoise disks to represent individual years (Boone 2000: 263, note 9).[2]

It is therefore reasonable to assume that Motecuzoma [II] had an essential impact on the 52-year calendar ritual. But Chimalpahin, as noted above, supply intriguing information about the contribution of the tlatoani Nezahualpilli of Texcoco (of the Triple Alliance) in the 52-year calendar ritual. He is here, indirectly, said to participate in the ceremonies by giving twenty victims, the same amount as Motecuzoma [II], to be sacrificed on the day Nahui Acatl (4 Reed) (Chimalpahin 2001a: 235; 2001b: 233). Consequently, Nezahualpilli appears to be equal in importance to Motecuzoma [II]. They are both called teuhctlahtoque (tlatoani lords) and donate the same amount of war captives to the completing human sacrifice ritual of Nahui Acatl (4 Reed). This indicates that Tenochtitlan was not alone in conducting and leading the 52-year calendar ritual in 1507 AD and that the lord of Tetzcoco played an important, but alas to us obscure, religious and ritual-symbolic role.

  • [1] “The people of the provinces had to ask permission from the great chief of Mexico,the “pontiff’ who was, as it were, their “pope”” (Motolinia 1951: 113; 2001: 31).
  • [2] The deity Xiuhtechutli is associated with the sun, turquoise, year and fire. The sunwas considered to be the turquoise lord. The selfsacrifice of the deities created the sun andthe moon. The sun is the turquoise (xiuh) prince, the eagle (Sahagun 1953; VII: 1-2). The sun(Tonatiuh) is called: “quauhtleoanitl, xippilli, teutl”, the soaring eagle or eagle with fieryarrows, the turquoise prince, the god” (Sahagun 1953, VII: 1, note 2).
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