Aztec Triple Alliance

The Aztec Triple Alliance was a banding together of three city-states in the Valley of Mexico against the city-state of Azcapotzalco. The alliance was forged in 1427, during the war which was finally won in 1428. What made this alliance critically significant was that it became the immediate foundation of the Aztec Empire’s establishment and its growth over the next 100 years.

Aztec Triple Alliance History

The Aztec people lived in the city of Tenochtitlan, which paid tribute to the city-state of Azcapotzalo, the dominant political power in Central Mexico. However, in 1426, the King of Azcapotzalo died and in the ensuing feud of succession, the city of Tenochtitlan went to war with Azcapotzalo. In the war, the city-states of Tlacopan and Texcoco sided with Tenochtitlan and together, the three cities defeated Azcapotzalo.


Aztec-Triple Alliance – Under Motecuzoma I, the Empire expanded towards the Gulf of Mexico at one side and towards Oaxaca on the other.

Aztec Triple Alliance – The Tepanec War

When the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan was established in 1325 by the Lake Texcoco, the Tepanecs of Azcopatzalo were becoming a dominant power in the region. In the subsequent years, Tenochtitlan became a tributary of Azcopatzalo and fought many wars for the latter. In 1426, Tenochtitlan sided with one of the two heirs of a just-demised king of Azcopatzalo. However, the heir Tenochtitlan favoured lost and his sibling came to power who wanted to make Tenochtitlan pay for its insolence. The crisis precipitated into a major war between Azcopatzalo and its former tributaries. The Tepanec war was fought between Tenochtitlan, Tlacopan, Texcoco and Huexotzinco all on one side against Azcopatzalo. Azcopatzalo lost in 1428, marking the end of Tepanec power in the region.

Imperial Reforms of the Aztec Triple Alliance

Following the formation of the Triple Alliance, subsequent Kings of Tenochtitlan, now also Emperors of the Aztec Empire, began a series of reforms. Some of them aimed at rewriting the history of Mexica so as to make them more central to the Valley of Mexico. Other reforms helped establish Tenochtitlan’s control over conquered states, consolidate its colonial power, formulate laws and clearly identify distinct social classes. The reforms also gave birth to the curious tradition of the Flower Wars.

Aztec Triple Alliance Early Years of Expansion

The first period of significant expansion of the Aztec Empire took place between 1428 and 1472. During this period, the founder of the Empire and the first Emperor, Itzcoatl, and his immediate successors were able to rapidly subdue other states and tribes in the Valley of Mexico and turn them into the tributes of the Empire. Under Motecuzoma I, the Empire expanded towards the Gulf of Mexico at one side and towards Oaxaca on the other. From 1455 to 1472, the Aztec empire was pitted against the Purepecha Empire in a contest over Toluca Valley. While the Aztecs were able to defend and regain the control of the Valley, they lost a very significant battle to the Purepechas in 1479, which blocked their continued expansion.

Aztec Triple Alliance Later Years of Expansion

The second wave of the expansion of the Aztec Empire ranged from 1486 to the Spanish conquest in 1519. During this reign, the rebels that had previously conquered the provinces were quelled and the Aztec Empire expanded to the Oaxaca Valley and Soconusco Coast. Mexica, the rulers of Tenochtitlan, became the most powerful entity of the Triple Alliance during this period and began to assert it’s authority. Indecisive confrontations with the Purepacha Empire continued which resulted in fortifications on the border that were constructed by both the Aztec and the Purepecha Empires.

Aztec Triple Alliance Central Administration

The administration of the Aztec Empire, following the Triple Alliance, was central in its nature. The central power of the Empire was divided between two persons. One of them had the title of “Huey Tlatoani”, or the Great Speaker. The other was Cihuacoatl. Huey Tlatoani managed the major part of the Empire’s external affairs such as war, tribute, relations with other states. Cihuacoatl was tasked with effectively governing the city of Tenochtitlan, the heart of the Aztec Empire and stewards were appointed in many subordinated states to collect tribute on behalf of Huey Tlatoani.


Aztec Triple Alliance Florentine Codex IX Aztec Warriors – The ideology of the Aztec Empire rested on a militaristic interpretation of the Nahua religion

Aztec Triple Alliance Regional Administration

The regional administration in the provinces under Aztec Empire initially comprised of a directly-appointed steward who was assigned to collect tribute on behalf of the Emperor. Later, a high steward was also added to the system who overlooked lower stewards. During Moctezuma I’s reign, two stewards per province were appointed, one stationed in the province and other based at Tenochtitlan.

Aztec Triple Alliance Ideology and State

The ideology of the Aztec Empire rested on a militaristic interpretation of the Nahua religion. Originally the religion was based on the concept that Five eras of Earth marked Five Suns and that Aztecs lived during the Fifth Sun. Over time, it came to be believed that every morning the Sun rose after the Warrior of the Sun, Huitzilopochtli, waged war against moon and stars. It was decreed that human sacrifice was essential to help the Sun win this battle. Warriors were encouraged through the use of this interpretation. Class segregation was strictly observed and the nobility had special privileges transmitted through lineage.

Aztec Triple Alliance Laws

A detailed set of laws were formulated under Moctezuma I. These laws dealt with the position of different classes, marriage, education, criminalisation of acts such as public drunkenness, murder, theft and punishment for such crimes. Courts were established and local mercantile class meted out the sentences, which could be appealed in appellate courts. Military courts dealt with affairs dealing with military.

Aztec Triple Alliance Defeat by Spanish conquistadors

In 1519, Hernan Cortes led an army of Spaniards to Central Mexico. He first instigated a conflict between the Aztec Empire and the Totonacs. The latter were forced to provide him men to fight against the Aztec Empire. In the next step, he was able to secure the alliance of Tlaxcala despite a battle and then head towards the Basin of Mexico with a substantial army of local inhabitants. When Cortes reached Tenochtitlan, he was welcomed and hosted by Moctezuma II. However, soon Tenochtitlan and the Spanish conquistadors led by Cortes’ army were at war and after a siege of many months, the Spaniards finally invaded Tenochtitlan in 1521.

Aztec Triple Alliance Summary

The Aztec Triple Alliance was forged between the city-states of Tenochtitlan, Tlacopan and Texcoco. The three joined hands to defeat the might of Azcapotzalo in 1428 and founded the Aztec Empire as a result of this alliance. Initially, all three states were peers in the alliance but Tenochtitlan gained an increasingly dominant role in the affairs of the Empire. The Triple Alliance helped the Aztec Empire expand rapidly all over the Valley of Mexico and they subjugated dozens of tributary states. Its fall came about with the Spanish invasion headed by Hermen Cortes in 1521.