Nezahualcoyotl as depicted in the Codex Ixtlilxochitl (fol. 106r), painted roughly a century after his death.

Nezahualcoyotl (Classical Nahuatl: Nezahualcoyōtl, pronounced [nesawaɬˈkojoːtɬ], meaning "Coyote in fast" or "Coyote who Fasts")[1] (April 28, 1402 – June 4, 1472) was a philosopher, warrior, architect, poet and ruler (tlatoani) of the city-state of Texcoco in pre-Columbian Mexico. Unlike other high-profile Mexican figures from the century preceding the Spanish Conquest, Nezahualcoyotl was not an Aztec; his people were the Acolhua, another Nahuan people settled in the eastern part of the Valley of Mexico, settling on the eastern side of Lake Texcoco.

He is best remembered for his poetry, but according to accounts by his descendants and biographers, Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxochitl and Juan Bautista de Pomar, he had an experience of an "Unknown, Unknowable Lord of Everywhere" to whom he built an entirely empty temple in which no blood sacrifices of any kind were allowed — not even those of animals. However, he allowed human sacrifices to continue in his other temples.


Early life

Acolmiztli Nezahualcoyotl was the son of Ixtlilxochitl I and Matlalcihuatzin,[2] the daughter of Huitzilihuitl. Though born heir to a throne, his youth was not marked by princely luxury. His father had set Texcoco against the powerful city of Azcapotzalco, ruled by the Tepanec. In 1418, when the young prince was fifteen, the Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco, led by Tezozomoc, conquered Texcoco and Nezahualcoyotl had to flee into exile in Huexotzinco, returning to stay in Tenochtitlan in 1422. After Tezozomoc's son Maxtla became ruler of Azcapotzalco, Nezahualcoyotl returned to Texcoco, but had to go into exile a second time when he learned that Maxtla plotted against his life.

The reconquest of Texcoco

Meanwhile the tenochca Tlatoani Itzcoatl requested help from the Huexotzincans against the Tepanecs, Nezahualcoyotl visioned the opportunity to join a single military force in order to fight the mighty kingdom of Atzcapotzalco. After being offered support from insurgents inside Acolhuacan and rebel Tepanecs from Coyohuacan, Nezahualcoyotl joined the war. He called for a coalition composed by most of the most important pre-Hispanic cities of the time: Tenochtitlan, Tlacopan, Tlatelolco, Huexotzingo, Tlaxcala and Chalco. Once declared a shared war and a single effort, the coalition army of more than 100,000 men under the command of Nezahualcoyotl and other important tlatoanis headed towards Azcapotzalco from the city of Calpulalpan. A military offensive that in 1428 would reconquer Acolhuacan, capital city of the kingdom of Texcoco.

The campaign was divided into three parts. One army attacked Acolman to the north and the second Coatlinchan to the south. A contingent led by Nezahualcoyotl himself was intended to attack Acolhuacan, just after providing support upon request by any of the first two armies. The coalition conquered Acolman and Otumba, sacking them only due to the sudden Tepanec siege of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco. In a tactical move, the split armies united again and then divided into two. One of them, under Nezahualcoyotl again, headed towards Texcoco laying siege over Acolhuacan on its way, while the other attacked and destroyed Azcapotzalco. At the time the armies met again, Nezahualcoyotl reclaimed Texcoco and decided to conquer Acolhuacan, enteering from the North while the Tenochca and Tlacopan allies coming from Azcapotzalco attacked from the south. The two armies simultaneously attacked the north and south of Acolhuacan until they gained dominance of the city's main square. After their victory, the coalition began a series of attacks to isolated Tepanec posts throughout the territory of Texcoco. The defeat of the Tepanecs, and the cease of existence of the kingdom of Azcapotzalco gave rise to the Aztec Triple Alliance between Texcoco, Tenochtitlan and Tlacopan. Nezahualcoyotl, the wisest ruler that had ever ruled over Anahuac Valley -as he was known at that time- was finally crowned Tlatoani of Texcoco in 1431.


Monument to Nezahualcoyotl in the city of the same name

Revered as a sage and poet-king, Nezahualcoyotl drew a group of followers called the tlamatini, generally translated as "wise men". These men were philosophers, artists, musicians and sculptors who pursued their art in the court of Texcoco.

Nezahualcoyotl is credited with cultivating what came to be known as Texcoco's Golden Age, which brought the rule of law, scholarship and artistry to the city and set high standards that influenced other cultures. Nezahualcoyotl designed a code of law based on the division of power, which created the councils of finance, war, justice and culture (the last actually called the council of music). Under his rule Texcoco flourished as the intellectual centre of the Triple Alliance and it possessed an extensive library that, tragically, did not survive the Spanish conquest. He also established an academy of music and welcomed worthy entrants from all regions of Mesoamerica.

Texcoco became known as "the Athens of the Western World" -- to quote the historian Lorenzo Boturini Bernaducci. Indeed, the remains of hilltop gardens, sculptures and a massive aqueduct system show the impressive engineering skills and aesthetic appreciation of his reign.

Many believe, however, that of all the creative intellects nurtured by this Texcocan "Athens," by far the greatest belonged to the king himself. He is considered one of the great designers and architects of the pre-Hispanic era. He is said to have personally designed the "albarrada de Nezahualcoyotl" ("dike of Nezahualcoyotl") to separate the fresh and brackish waters of Lake Texcoco, a system that was still in use over a century after his death.


The date of Nezahualcoyotl's death is recorded as being June 4, 1472, survived by many concubines and an estimated 110 children. He was succeeded by his son Nezahualpilli as tlatoani of Texcoco. His great-grandson Juan Bautista de Pomar is credited with the compilations of a collection of Nahuatl poems. Romances de los señores de la Nueva España, and with a chronicle of the history of the Aztecs. A species of the Xiphophorus freshwater fish is named after Nezahualcoyotl.


Nezahualcoyotl has been remembered as a poet. This is because a number of poems in the Classical Nahuatl language written in the 16th and 17th centuries have been ascribed to him. In fact this attribution is somewhat doubtful since Nezahualcoyotl died almost 50 years before the conquest and the poems were written down another fifty years after that. One of the writers who put Aztec Poems in writing, Juan Bautista de Pomar was a grandson of Nezahualcoyotl, and he may have attributed the poems to his grandfather.

Poems attributed to Nezahualcoyotl's include:

  • In chololiztli (The Flight)
  • Ma zan moquetzacan (Stand Up!)
  • Nitlacoya (I Am Sad)
  • Xopan cuicatl (Song of Springtime)
  • Ye nonocuiltonohua (I Am Wealthy)
  • Zan yehuan (He Alone)
  • Xon Ahuiyacan (Be Joyful)

One of his poems appears in tiny print on the face of the 100 peso note.

Amo el canto del zenzontle
Pájaro de cuatrocientas voces,
Amo el color del jade
Y el enervante perfume de las flores,
Pero más amo a mi hermano, el hombre.
I love the song of the mockingbird,
Bird of four hundred voices,
I love the color of the jadestone
And the intoxicating scent of flowers,
But more than all I love my brother, man.


  1. ^ The name is often spelled with a tz or accented as in Spanish: Nezahualcóyotl or Netzahualcóyotl), Layman's pronunciation of the name Nezahualcoyotl: nets-a-wall-COY-oatl.
  2. ^ Martínez, José (1972). Nezahualcoyotl, Vida y Obra. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica. p. 11. ISBN 968-16-0509-8. 


External links

Preceded by
Ixtlilxochitl I
Tlatoani of Texcoco
Succeeded by

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