Tlatoani (Classical Nahuatl: tlahtoāni pronounced [t͡ɬaʔtoˈaːniˀ] (listen), "one who speaks, ruler"; plural tlahtohkeh [t͡ɬaʔˈtoʔkee̥] or tlatoque) is the Classical Nahuatl term for the ruler of an āltepētl, a pre-Hispanic state. It is the noun form of the verb "tlahtoa" meaning "speak, command, rule". As a result, it has been variously translated in English as "king", "ruler", or "speaker" in the political sense. Above a tlahtoani is the Weyi Tlahtoani, sometimes translated as "Great Speaker", though more usually as "Emperor" (the term is often seen as the equivalent to the European "great king").[1] A siwātlahtoāni (Nahuatl pronunciation: [siwaːt͡ɬaʔtoˈaːniˀ] (listen)) is a female ruler, or queen regnant.[2]

Tlahtoāni of the Aztec Empire
Grabado de la Fundación de México.svg
Sacred War emblem
StyleWēyi tlahtoāni
First monarchAcamapichtli
Last monarchCuauhtémoc
Formationc. 1376
AppointerCouncil of Elders

The term kwāwtlahtoāni refers to "vice-leader".[3] The leaders of the Mexica prior to their settlement are sometimes referred to as kwāwtlahtohkeh, as well as colonial rulers who were not descended from the ruling dynasty.

The ruler's lands were called tlahtohkātlālli [t͡ɬaʔtoʔkaːˈt͡ɬaːlːiˀ] (listen), and the ruler's house was called tlahtohkākalli [t͡ɬaʔtoʔkaːˈkalːiˀ] (listen)[4]

The city-states of the Aztec Empire each had their own tlatoani, or leader. He would be the high priest and military leader for his city-state and would be considered its commander-in-chief. The tlatoani was the ultimate owner of all land in his city-state and received tribute, oversaw markets and temples, led the military, and resolved judicial disputes.[5] He would often be a descendant of the royal family, but in some cases, he would be elected.[6] Since the Tlatoani was allowed to have several wives, his legacy would be easily maintained. After being established as the tlatoani, he would be the tlatoani of his region for life. The tlatoani was chosen by a council of elders, nobles, and priests, which would select from a pool of four candidates.

Commanding hierarchyEdit

Tlatoani Nezahualpiltzintli; the king of Texcoco.

The siwākōātl was the second in command after the tlatoani, was a member of the nobility, served as the supreme judge for the court system, appointed all lower court judges, and handled the financial affairs of the altepetl.[5]

Tlatoani during times of warEdit

During times of war, the tlatoani would be in charge of creating battle plans, and making strategies for his army. He would draft these plans after receiving information from various scouts, messengers, and spies who were sent out to an enemy āltepētl (city-state). Detailed information was presented to him from those reports to be able to construct a layout of the enemy. This was essential because this ensured the safety and success of each battle.

These layouts would be heavily detailed from city structures to surrounding area. The Tlatoani would be the most informed about any conflict and would be the primary decision maker during war. In modern terms, in the US, the Tlatoani would be the commander-in-chief, which is the president of the United States. The commander-in-chief is responsible for the armed forces or a military branch by exercising commands that must be followed.[7]

He would also be in charge of gaining support from allied rulers by sending gifts and emissaries from his city-state. During warfare the tlatoani would be informed immediately of deaths and captures of his warriors. He would also be in charge of informing his citizens about fallen or captive warriors, and would present gifts to the successful ones.

Tlatoque of TenochtitlanEdit

Weyi Tlahtoani Moctezuma II, the sixth Emperor of the Aztec Triple Alliance

There were eleven tlatoque of Tenochtitlan. Beginning with Itzcoatl, the tlahtoani of Tenochtitlan was also the hueyi tlahtoani of the Aztec Empire.

  1. Acamapichtli: 1376–1395
  2. Huitzilihuitl: 1395–1417
  3. Chimalpopoca: 1417–1427
  4. Itzcoatl: 1427–1440
  5. Moctezuma I: 1440–1469
  6. Axayacatl: 1469–1481
  7. Tizoc: 1481–1486
  8. Ahuitzotl: 1486–1502
  9. Moctezuma II: 1502–1520
  10. Cuitláhuac: 1520
  11. Cuauhtémoc: 1520–1521

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Lockhart (2001, p.238); Schroeder (2007, p.3). See also the entry for "TLAHTOANI" Archived 2007-06-14 at the Wayback Machine, in Wimmer (2006)
  2. ^ Schroeder (2007, pp.3–4). See also the entry for "CIHUATLAHTOANI" Archived 2007-06-08 at the Wayback Machine in Wimmer (2006).
  3. ^ Schroeder (1991, p. 188).
  4. ^ Nahuatl dictionary (1997). Wired humanities project. Retrieved January 1, 2012, from link
  5. ^ a b "Aztec Political Structure". Tarlton Law Library. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  6. ^ "pre-Columbian civilizations". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2016-11-22. Retrieved 2017-05-22.
  7. ^ "Aztec and Maya Law". Tarlton Law Library. Retrieved 11 March 2020.


Further readingEdit

  • Carrasco, David. Daily Life of The Aztecs: People of the Sun and Earth. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1998.
  • Sahagun, Bernardino de. Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain. Translated and edited by Arthur J. O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble. 13 vols. Santa Fe: School of American Research, and University of Utah, 1950-1982.
  • Somervill, Barbara A. Great Empires of the Past: Empire of the Aztecs. New York: Chelsa House, 2010.