Nezahualcoyotl: Biography & Poems

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson goes over the life of Nezahualcoyotl. You'll learn about his youth, education, as well as his connection to Mexica culture. You'll also read a couple of poems he composed.


Teotihuacan. Tenochtitlan. Montezuma. All are some really awesome names that revolve around Mexican history. You can add another cool name to that list: Nezahualcoyotl. Nezahualcoyotl is a city in Mexico. But it's also the name of a man who was a philosopher king. His name roughly translates to as 'fasting coyote'. Let's learn more about him in this lesson.


Nezahualcoyotl was born in 1402 in Texcoco (Craggy Mountain). His full birth name was Nezahualcoyotl Acolmiztli, which means Fasted Coyote, Arm of a Lion. He was born to Huehue Ixtlilxochitl. When Nezahualcoyotl was just 15, his dad was assassinated by the Tepaneca, a people ruled by Tezozomoc. Nezahualcoyotl watched his father get slaughtered by hiding amidst the branches of a tree. Tezozomoc, who knew Nezahualcoyotl was the legitimate heir to Texcoco, tried to capture Nezahualcoyotl.

Nezahualcoyotl escaped to Tlaxcala for a couple of years. After that, his Mexica aunts managed to get him to Tenochtitlan, where he lived as Mexica. This was very important because he arrived around the time the Mexica youth would attend school, the calmecac, starting at age 15. Here they would be educated to become Aztec warriors or priests. This means Nezahualcoyotl learned a lot about the Mexica educational system, culture, and politics during his stay in Tenochtitlan. Here, Nezahualcoyotl would spend 10 years of his life.

Around the late 1420s, Tezozomoc died, and a succession crisis ensued, where one son (Maxtla) killed the rightful heir, another son (Tayatzin). This led the Mexica kings to go to war against Maxtla as they had sided with Tayatzin. It is believed by some that Nezahualcoyotl helped the Mexica defeat the Tepaneca by persuading his family from Huexotzinco and Tlaxcala to fight alongside the Mexica. Some historians also claim Nezahualcoyotl led troops into battle as well. But neither claim has much historical merit or basis in fact.


What is better known is that during this Tepanec-Mexica war, the rulers of his hometown, Texcoco, wanted to kill him and actually allied with Maxtla. Those rulers were Tozquentzin, a half-sister, and Yancuiltzin and Tochpilli, half-brothers.

After the war ended, Nezahualcoyotl was crowned as ruler of Texcoco, but the nobles therein refused to recognize him as the legitimate ruler, so Nezahualcoyotl had to remain in Tenochtitlan. The Mexica finally helped him gain control of Texcoco in the early 1430s. But it was by then, due to frequent wars, a nearly destroyed place. He had the city rebuilt and stabilized thanks to Mexica government officials, priests, soldiers, and artisans among others. As a result of this, his loyalty, and his education, Texcoco was modeled in many ways on Tenochtitlan and Mexica traditions.

Nezahualcoyotl would go on to conduct numerous military expeditions alongside Mexica kings, like Montezuma, in order to conquer major cities like Teotihuacan. As a result, the Mexica kings loved Nezahualcoyotl. In the end, he was a warrior king, and much of his political and military success was owed to the Mexica kings.

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