Book Review: Tlacaelel Remembered: Mastermind of the Aztec Empire


by Susan Schroeder

Norman University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. Pp. xvi, 218. Illus., maps, stemma, notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 0806154349

An Aztec Machiavelli

In what is a genuinely ground-breaking effort, Prof. Schroeder (Tulane) has produced the first biography of a critically important figure in Mesoamerican history, Tlacaelel (fl. c. 1400- c. 1490). Previously thought by some historians to be more myth than real, Schroeder makes an excellent case that not only was Tlacaelel a very real person, but that he played an important role in the rise of the Aztec Empire.

Schroeder draws upon several histories written in the aftermath of the Spanish conquest by clergymen and the offspring of Aztec nobility who had married into the Spanish aristocracy, among them several of Tlacaelel’s own descendants, and also makes use of archaeology, genealogy, Aztec codices, official documents, and other sources, to argue that Tlacaelel was “a politician on par with Machiavelli.” Although perhaps Cardinal Richelieu would be a better analogy, after discussing Tlacaelel’s early life and experiences, Schroeder certainly makes an excellent case that while serving as chief minister to his brother Moteuczoma I (r., 1440-1469) and three later emperors through his death around 1490, the man played an important role in the development of Aztec hegemony in central Mexico.

Shcroeder includes a great deal of detail on Aztec politics, diplomacy, military campaigns, and religion. She several times makes useful comparisons with similar events in other histories, notably Roman, comparing, for example, the destruction of a city to the Roman razing of Carthage .

A volume in the Oklahoma series “The Civilization of the American Indian”, Tlacaelel Remembered is an interesting, learned, and complex work, this is primarily useful for the serious scholar of Mesoamerican or comparative history.

Note: Tlacaelel Remembered is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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