Timeline for Mesoamerica

This Timeline was initially based on Davis (1973, p. xv-xvii). As Davis says “The difficulties encountered in arriving at an exact Timeline are considerable. Most of the later dates are reasonably certain, but some of the earliest ones are much less sure, and what seems the most probable figures has been given” (p. xv).

Click on the diagram below to see an enlarged version of this Timeline of Mesoamerica.

Mesoamerican Chronology

Mesoamerican Timeline


The great centres of Teotihuacán and Cholula collapsed due to depleted resources, protracted conflicts, and internal disputes (Pohl, 1991). Small city states competed over the Valley of Mexico – called Anahuac, “the lands of water”, in pre-Hispanic times (Anonimo Mexicano) – and Puebla. Monte Albán – the Zapotec capital – dominated the valley of Oaxaca and the Mixteca.


Cholula resurfaced as a small yet powerful centre in Puebla (Pohl, 1991). Monte Albán collapses.


Mixcoatl (“Cloud Serpent”) founded the first Toltec city, Culhuacan (Pohl, 1991).

950-1000: ‘The War of Heaven’

Most classic sites of the Monte Albán era were abandoned, as small new Mixtec centres such as Tilantongo and Jaltepec emerged (Pohl, 1991). The petty Mixtec states feuded with one another. Zapotec city-states – like Mitla and Yagal – also emerged in the Valley of Oaxaca.


Sometime during this period the Tepanec migrate from the north and settle at Atzcapotzalco and other towns on the western shore of the lagoon.


Mixcoatl’s son Quetzalcoatl (“Plumed Serpent”) founded Tollan (‘Place of Rushes’; now called Tollan) (Davis, 1973; Pohl, 1991). It was this city which became the capital of the emerging Toltec empire.


A rival, Tezcatlipoca, forced Quetzalcoatl out of Tollan, and although legend has it that the latter sailed east across the Atlantic, it is more likely that he invaded Yucatan as the Toltec invader of that time was also called “Plumed Serpent” (Kukulcan in Mayan) (Pohl, 1991; DBR).


8-Deer seizes the throne of Tilantongo after the old lord dies without an heir (Pohl, 1991). Jaltepec realigns itself with a Zapotec competitor to eliminate Tilantongo from the Mixtec alliance structure.


Approximate date the Mexica left Aztlan, their traditional homeland, traveled through Chichimec territory to Chicomoztoc (‘Seven Caves’; the nomad mustering location), and Cuhuacan (‘Curved Mountain’) (Davis, 1973). Chicomoztoc and Cuhuacan are legendary places and the second should not to be confused with the Cuhuacan in the Valley of Mexico.


Having settled in Coatepec (‘Hill of the Serpent’) near Tollan, the Mexica celebrate the first New Fire of their journey (Davis, 1973)


Following internal dissention and pressure from migrating Chichimec, the Toltec fled their capital Tollan (Davis, 1973; the date is disputed and could be 1156; Pohl, 1991, says 1178). The last Toltec ruler hanged himself at Chapultepec, a future resting place of the wandering Mexica. The new waves of Chichimec under their warlord Xólotl (‘Monster’) took over the Valley. Tenyuca became the capital of a Toltec-Chichimec empire formed from Toltec remnants and Xólotl’s people (Davis, 1973).

In 1168 the Mexica left Coatepec after an abortive rising of against their priest rulers (Davis, 1973). They briefly visited the desolate Tollan, and moved on to Xaltocan in the Valley of Mexico, and Tenyuca (‘The place where the walls are made’) to the west of Lake Texcoco. At that time Xaltocan was the capital of an empire stretching out to the north-east. Several times during this journey the Mexica encountered Huaxtecs, who at that time probably extended further west than their later home on the Gulf of Mexico, including, presumably at a place called Cuextecatl-Ichocayan (‘the place where the Huaxtec wept’).

Toltec lords established other distant capitals at Coixtlahuaca in Oaxaca.

1168 – 1260

The Acolhua entered the Valley of Mexico between A.D. 1168 and 1260, coming from Michoacan under the leadership of their chief Huetzin (Acolhua). They founded Acolhua as their capital, established a large domain under the protection of the Toltec-Chichimec of Tenyuca.


Peak of Toltec-Chichimec empire based at Tenyuca (Davis, 1973) although they were around later, for example, ruling Texcoco until 1337 (Chichimec).


The Mexica celebrate the second New Fire of their journey in Apaxco (Davis, 1973).


After a war between a Culhua-Toltec alliance and the Toltec-Chichimec some Toltec-Chichimec moved out of the valley and eventually settled Texcala (1328), Huexatzinco, Totomihuacan and Cuauhtichan (Anonimo Mexicano; Chichimec; Note: Anonimo Mexicano says the Toltec-Chichimec were evicted, but Chichimec says they defeated the Culhua-Toltec).


The Mexica celebrate third New Fire of their journey in Tecpayocan (Davis, 1973).


Mixtec Tilantongo and the Zapotec capital Zaachila form a long-term alliance through Teozacoalco (Pohl, 1991).


The Mexica settle at Chapultepec (‘Hill of the Locust’), a hill that still dominates the Valley of Mexico (Davis, 1973). Chapultepec was a former Toltec stronghold although few Toltec remained when the Mexica arrived.


Due to the machinations of Copil, allegedly of a splinter group of Mexica who had left the main tribe earlier in the migration, a group of neighbouring peoples expelled the Mexica from Chapultepec (Davis, 1973). Copil was killed in the battle. Although driven out of Chapultepec, the Mexica managed to subsequently returned. Still pressed by their neighbours the Mexica chose a single ruler, Huitzilihuitl (‘Humming Bird Feather’) to command their defence.


The Mexica celebrated forth New Fire of their journey in Chapultepec (Davis, 1973).

Human Sacrifice

A coalition led by the Tepanecs, including Culhuacan, Azcapotzalco, Xochimilco, Coyoacan, and Xaltocan expelled the Mexica from Chapultepec for a second and final time (Davis, 1973; Pohl, 1991, gives the date 1300). The battle was fierce but the Mexica were driven into the lagoon were a massacre ensued. Huitzilihuitl, his daughter, and other Mexica captives were sacrificed in Culhuacan. Some survivors sought safety in neighbouring cities, however the main body of Mexica made their way to Culhuacan and threw themselves upon the mercy of the lords of that place. In a calculated move the Culhua instruct the Mexica to settle in Tizaapan, a volcanic wasteland 9 km to the west. Surprisingly the Mexica thrived in the new locale.

Over time the new comers mixed with the locals and became known as the Culhua Mexica (Davis, 1973). The Mexica supported Culhua in their wars, and in fact they rescued the Culhua in a campaign against Xochimilco. The impoverished Mexica had to use improvised weapons (shield of reeds and lances of staves). The combined Culhua and Mexica force advanced partly along the lake shore and partly by canoe. The Xochimilco were routed. Instructed by their masters to take no prisoners and to maim any they captured instead, the Mexica collected a multitude of ears which they presented to the Culhua.


Tepanecs and Acolhua expel Toltec-Chichmec from Texcoco (Chichimec).


Either because they started to put on airs and the Culhua took fright at the military prowess of their vassals, or because the Mexica tricked one of the Culhua leaders, Achitometl, took his daughter supposedly as their sovereign and as the wife of their god, but instead killed and flayed her, the people of Culhuacan attacked the Mexica (Davis, 1973; Pohl, 1991, gives the date 1325, presumably because 1325 is the traditional foundation date of Tenochtitlan – see below). Skilled use of javelins drove off the Culhua and this respite allowed the Mexica to retreat into the lagoon.


Founding Tecnochtitlan, Codex Mendoza

Founding Tecnochtitlan
Codex Mendoza

The Mexica found Tenochtitlan on an island in the lagoon (Davis, 1973). Davis believes that the foundation date of 2- House does not correspond to the traditional foundation date of 1325 as this is based on the official Mexica year-count; he believes it would instead be based on the Culhua-Texcocan count which gives a date 20 years later.

The Mexica found themselves in a borderline territory between the Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco to the west, the Acolhua of Coatlichan to the east, and the land of Culhuacan to the south, but initially did not submit to any of these.


The Mexica celebrated the fifth New Fire of their journey in Tenochtitlan (Davis, 1973). The relatively short separation between the forth and fifth New Fires – 32 years not the normal 52 – can be explained by the the Mexica’s abandonment of the Culhua-Texcocan year-count and adoption of one of their own. .


Cholula was replaced by Huexotzingo as the central power in Puebla (Pohl, 1991). Huexotzingo attacked Texcala. Coixtlahuaca became an important trade centre between Puebla and Oaxaca.


Disagreements over land distribution led some Mexica to found Tlatelolco on a nearby island (Davis, 1973). Although close associates the two cities would evolve in different directions; Tenochtitlan took the lead in war and Tlatelolco was paramount in commerce.


Accession of Tezozómoc of Azcapotzalco (Davis, 1973).


Accession of Acamapichtli (‘Handful of Reeds’) of Tenochititlan and Cuacuapitzahuac (‘Pointed Horn’) of Tlateloloco (Davis, 1973). Acamapichtli was the son of a Mexica nobleman and a Culhua princess, but also had ties to the Acolhua of Coatlichan, in fact he was living in Coatlichan when summoned to rule Tenochititlan. Cuacuapitzahuac was the son of Tezozómoc, the great Tepanec monarch, and this arrangement effectively meant Tlateloloco became a tributary of Tezozómoc, as did Tenochititlan.

Warriors, Codex Duran
Warriors, Codex Duran


The Tepanec-Mexica commenced hostilities against Chalco – leader of the Chalco-Amercameca confederation – to the south-east of the lagoon in 1375 (Davis, 1973). For 10 years the Tepanece bore the brunt of this war alone.

Acamapichtli also fought other wars as a Tepanec tributary, sometimes alone and sometimes under Tepanec command (Davis, 1973). The Mexica conquered settlements in the Xochimilco region to the south-east of Tenochititlan, sent an expedition against Cuauhnahuac (modern Cuernavaca) far to the south, operated in the Valley of Toluca to the north-west, and took Cuitláhuac and Mizquic. The people of Xochimilco were ethnically similar to the Mexica.


The Tepanec-Mexica defeated Culhuacan (Pohl, 1991).


After 10 years the Tepanec war on Chalco had heated up considerably and the Mexica began to take a larger role in affairs until finally the Mexica bore the brunt of the conflict (Davis, 1973).


Death of Acamapichtli of Tenochititlan, accession of Huitzilihuitl (‘Humming Bird Feather’) (Davis, 1973).


With only the Xaltocan and Texcocans remaining to rival the Tepanec in the Valley of Mexico, Tezozmoc elected to attack Xaltocan (Davis, 1973). This people controlled a large area to the north and north-east of the city itself. The war was short and the Xaltocan ruler was escaped north, whilst others fled to Texcala (Metztitlan in particular as this also had Otomi connections). Although a largely Tepanec campaign, the Mexica did gain some lands near Xaltocan. Although the ruler of Texcoco mobilised his army to take part in the assault, he later took pity on the refugess and gave them lands.

At an uncertain date around this time Huitzilihuitl campaigned in the Cuauhnahuac (modern Cuernavaca) region to the south in the Morelos Valley, launching a war that lasted 40 years. The enemy in this case were a Nahuatl speaking Chichimec people called the Tlahuica (Tlahuica Peoples of Morelos). Their other major city was Huaxtepec (modern Oaxtepec).


A Mexica expedition, led by the Tlatelolocans, attacked Cuauhtinchan to the south-east near Cholula (Davis, 1973; Davis points out that other authorities argue this campaign took place in 1430, however, Davis claims the date of 10-Rabbit more obviously fits 1398).


About this date Texcoco, an old Toltec settlement, replaced Coatlichan and Huexotla as the principle city of the Acolhua (Davis, 1973).


Mexica celebrated the New Fire ceremony in Tenochtitlan (Davis, 1973).


Mexica inflicted a major setback on the Chalco (Davis, 1973).


Death of Cuacuapitzahuac of Tlatelolco, succession of Tlacateotl (Davis, 1973).


Accession of Ixtlilxchitl of Texcoco (Davis, 1973).

Ixtlilxóchitl assumed full leadership of the Acolhua (although Tezozómoc was pay-master or relative of the rulers of several Acolhua cities) and asserted his right to be called ‘Lord of the Chichimecs’ (like Quinatziin, the first lord of Texcoco), in other words, Emperor (Davis, 1973). Ixtlilxóchitl also rejected his Tempanec wife – Tezozómoc’s daughter – and married the sister of Chimalpopoca instead. Both actions that annoyed Tezozmoc who started sending demands of tribute to Texcoco; for some years Ixtlilxóchitl paid the tribute.


Mexica take Chalco and the chief ruler is forced to flee (Davis, 1973). Startled by the Mexica success a combination of neighbours, including the Tapenecs of Azcapotzalco, forced the Mexica to withdraw.


Ixtlilxóchitl refused to pay more tribute to Tezozómoc, declared himself ‘Universal Ruler’ and rallied the forces of the few loyal Acolhua cities (Davis, 1973). Tezozómoc responds by raising his own armies.


Tezozómoc led a massive army including contingents of Mexica and other subjects into Texcoco (Davis, 1973). After initial success the Tempanic alliance was repulsed. Ixtlilxóchitl then led his Texcocans north-eastwards and capture Otumba, which had recently declared for Tezozómoc. He then moved north-westwards and fought a big battle near Tollan, before wheeling southwards and after some more successful engagements arrived at Azcapotzalco, the Tepanec capital, and besieged it for several months. Unsuccessful in the siege, Ixtlilxóchitl then continued on to Xilotepec, wheeled back south, sacked Cuauhtitlan, fought another battle at Tepotzotlan, and headed north where he defeated the Tepanec army yet again at Tecpatepec.

Death of Huitzilihuitl of Tenochtitlan, accession of Chimalpopoca (‘Smoking Shield’) (Davis, 1973).


As a preliminary to attacking Ixtlilxóchitl again Tezozómoc weaned Chalco and Otumba from their Texcocan alliance (Davis, 1973). Early in 1418 Tezozómoc launched a feint against the north of Texcoco whilst the main thrust was to the south toward Huexotla. The attack may have been repulsed but none-the-less Ixtlilxóchitl was forced to flee shortly afterwards. His erstwhile allies, Chalco and Otumba, then hunted him down and killed him. Nezahualcóyotl, Ixtlilxóchitl’s son then only 9 years old, fled to Texcala. Tezozómoc took much of the spoils of this victory for himself (including Coatlichan), but gave the city of Texcoco itself to Tenochtitlan and Huexotla to Tlatelolco.

Note, this period saw the curious situation where the Tepanec favoured Chalco (and received their aid), whilst the Mexica – Tepanec tributaries – waged war on Chalco (Davis, 1973).


Tezozómoc permited Nezahualcóyotl of Texcoco to live in Tenochtitlan. Subsequently Nezahualcóyotl was involved in a campaign in Zacatlan (Davis, 1973).


Tezozómoc permited Nezahualcóyotl to return to Texcoco, although not as ruler (Davis, 1973).


Nezahualcoyotl, Codex Ixtlilxochitl

Codex Ixtlilxochitl

Death of Tezozómoc of Azcapotzalco (Davis, 1973). When he died Tezozómoc’s domains included most of the Valley of Mexico and considerable territory in the Valley of Toluca to the northwest, in the Valley of Morelos to the south, and to the north-east. Tezozómoc had chosen his son Tayauh as heir, but another son, Maxtla, seized it instead and killed his brother, Chimalpopoca of Tenochtitlan and Tlacateotl of Tlatelolco. He also drove Nezahualcóyotl of Texcoco back into exile in Texcala and Huexotzingo.

Itzcatl (‘Obsidian Serpent’) acceded as ruler of Tenochtitlan and subsequently rejected subservient position to the Tepanec (Davis, 1973).


The Tepanec responded to Itzcóatl stance by blockading the causeways into Tenochtitlan (Davis, 1973). Both sides geared up for war.


Huexotzingo and Texcalan forces aid Nezahualcóyotl in returning to Texcoco (Davis, 1973; Pohl, 1991). Maxtla is so alarmed he abandons the blockade of Tenochtitlan to Azcapotzalco. Nezahualcóyotl and his allies cross the lagoon by canoe and, finding the entire city surrounded by earth works, landed to the north of Azcapotzalco. As Nezahualcóyotl attacked the north, the main Mexica forces attacked the eastern defences, and a smaller force took Tlacopan (now Tacuba) to the south.. The allies drove the Tepanec from the outer defences then settled in for a siege. Nezahualcóyotl and the Huexotzingans took the western watch whilst Mexica forces sealed the other three sides. After 114 days, many sorties by the defenders, and considerable losses on both sides the city was starving and dejected. When a Tepanec relief force approached from the north-west the defenders launched a sortie to meet them, but the army collapsed when the Tepanec general, also called Maxtla, was killed. Maxtla the Tyrant was captured and sacrificed. Following the victory, Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan formed the Aztec Triple Alliance and their respective rulers adopted the titles ‘Ruler of the Culhua’, ‘Ruler of the Acolhua’, and ‘Ruler of the Tepanecs’.

Subsequently the Aztecs took several Tepanec centres (Davis, 1973). The first to fall was Coyoacan. The battle was an even fight until the Aztecs turned the tide by a surprise flank attack. Xochimilco was next. Despite having a rich territory and a large army the Xochimilcan adopted a defensive strategy and barricaded themselves into the city. Once these were stormed they promptly surrendered. In this case the Aztec troops were not permitted to pillage or even enter the city. It was at this time that the causeway from Coyoacan to Tenochtitlan was started – built by Xochimilcan labour. Cuitláhuac, in the midst of the lagoon, was the next target (shortly before 1440). In this case, the location of the city required the Aztec army to travel by canoe.


Reconquest of Texcoco by Nezahualcóyotl (Davis, 1973).


Death of Itzcóatl, accession of Moctezuma I (Davis, 1973; Pohl, 1991).


Renewed hostilities against Chalco (Davis, 1973; Pohl, 1991, says 1444-50).


The great famine (Davis, 1973).


Celebration of the New Fire ceremony at Tenochtitlan (Davis, 1973).


Moctezuma I invades the Huaxteca (Pohl, 1991)


Coixtlahuaca campaign (Davis, 1973).


Cotaxtla campaign (Davis, 1973).


Final defeat of Chalco (Davis, 1973).


Death of Moctezuma I, accession of Axayácatl (Davis, 1973).


Death of Nezhualcóyotl, accession of Nezahualpilli in Texcoco (Davis, 1973).


Defeat of Tlatelolco (Davis, 1973).

Death of Moquihuix (Davis, 1973).


Toluca campaign (Davis, 1973).


Taraxcan campaign (Davis, 1973).


Death of Axayácatl, accession of Tízoc (Davis, 1973).


Death of Tízoc, accession of Ahuítzotl (Davis, 1973).

Ahuítzotl’s Matlazinca campaign (Davis, 1973).


Marching Army
Florentine Codex

Huaxtec war, taking of Xiuhcoac (Davis, 1973).


Campaign in the region of Oaxaca (Davis, 1973).


Subjection of the coats of Guerrero from Acapulco to Zacatula (Davis, 1973).


Further campaigns in Oaxaca (Davis, 1973).


Conquest of the Isthmus region of Tehuantepec (Davis, 1973).


Soconusco campaign (Davis, 1973).


The flooding of Tenochtitlan (Davis, 1973).


Death of Ahuítzotl, accessio of Moctezuma II (Davis, 1973).


Taking of Achiotla (Davis, 1973).


Outbreak of war against Texcala (Davis, 1973).

Quetzaltepec and Tototepec campaign (Davis, 1973).


Capture of Yanhuitlan and Zozollan (Davis, 1973).


New Fire ceremony in Tenochtitlan (Davis, 1973).


Aztec campaigns against Huexotzingo (Davis, 1973).


Taking of Tlaxiaco (Davis, 1973).

Spanish occupy Cuba (Davis, 1973).


Death of Nezahualpilli of Texcoco, succesion of Cacama (Davis, 1973).

Renewed war against Texcala. Huexotzingans take refuge in Tenochtitlan (Davis, 1973).


Harnandez de Cordoba leads expedition to the coast of Mexico (Davis, 1973).


Aztec occupation of Huexotzingo ended. Huexotzingo again becomes ally of Texcala (Davis, 1973).

Juan de Grijalva leads expedition to Mexico (Davis, 1973).


Hernán Cortés embarks for Mexico (10 Feb) (Davis, 1973).

Cortés enters Tenochtitlan (8 Nov) (Davis, 1973).


Death of Moctezuma II (27 Jun), succeeded first by Cuitláhuac, then, after a short reign, by Cuauhtemoc (Davis, 1973).

La Noche Triste, Cortés abandons Tenochtitlan (30 Jun) (Davis, 1973).


Final siege of and fall of Tenochtitlan (28 Apr – 13 Aug) (Davis, 1973). Capture of Cuauhtemoc.


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