This illustration shows Itzcóatl, holding a spear or scepter, standing on a reed mat and next to a basket-work throne. He hides his right hand under his tilma (cloak). Above him is an obsidian serpent.
Itzcóatl (reigned 1427–40), whose name means obsidian serpent, was the fourth king of the Aztecs. He is dressed in the clothes of the highest priests and is credited with destroying the old Nahuatl records, consolidating legal authority in a totalitarian leader, and with establishing the practice of “flowery wars,” which were waged to attain human sacrifices. It is speculated that the institutionalization of the “flowery wars” was the foundation of Aztec expansion.
As Fray Bernardino de Sahagún observed: the Mexicans “are held to be barbarians and of very little worth; in truth, however, in matters of culture and refinement, they are a step ahead of other nations." We explore the history and legacy of the Nahua and Maya civilizations, both of which challenge our preconceptions.