>After the Maya, after the Toltec, came the Aztec. The Aztecs emerged in the Valley of Mexico, or Anahuac as it was called by its peoples, around the 14th century. Aztec legends tell of seven Nahua tribes who pillaged and plundered a divided Mexico after the Mayan civilization had all but faded, dispossessing and enslaving the previous inhabitants. These tribes were known as the Chichimecas by the natives, a word originally meaning barbarians.
The Valley soon became crowded, and the Nahua waged many years of petty tribal warfare against each other. One tribe, called the Acolhuas of Texcoco, eventually emerged above all the rest. The tribe's chieftains ruled over the Valley, building palaces and carefully preserving what remained of the Toltec culture and knowledge. Yet early in the 15th century, the Acolhuas were, in turn, conquered by the Tepanec, a rival Nahua tribe. This reign proved to be so tyrannous, however, that the other tribes were forced to combine their strengths to defeat the Tepanec. The Acolhuas took advantage of the power vacuum thus created, and once more gained power in Anahuac. Yet this victory was short lived.
After having wandered as outcasts and mercenaries through the territories in the southwestern corner of the Valley, the Aztecs, the last of the seven tribes to enter Anahuac, finally found a home on two islands in the middle of Lake Texcoco. There, in 1325, they built the city of Tenochtitlan. They had been guided to this spot by their deity, Huitzilopochtli, who had told them to settle where they should find an eagle standing on a nopal and devouring a serpent.
After the war between the Acolhuas and the Tepanec, the Aztec gained their independence. They then swept in and conquered the other tribes of the Valley, asserting their authority through their considerable military ability and strength. The tribe began to expand its domain in every direction, making sacrificial victims of the peoples they conquered. By the end of the 15th century, the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan had become very rich and had grown to a population of around one hundred thousand.
Written by Misha Cohen.