General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Nov 2017/5 Eagle
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Stone figure of Aztec goddess and prime minister Cihuacoatl

Yes Prime Minister!

Cihuacóatl (‘Woman Serpent’), named after a goddess, was the rough equivalent of our Prime Minister. He - yes, it was a he - looked after the day-to-day affairs of the Aztec Empire. (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

The fine sandals of Moctezuma I, Codex Tovar pl. XII
The fine sandals of Moctezuma I, Codex Tovar pl. XII (Click on image to enlarge)

He handled official finances, organised military campaigns and appointed commanders, determined rewards for warriors, and served as supreme judge. When the tlatoani (Great Speaker, ie the Emperor) left Tenochtitlan on military campaigns, the cihuacóatl moved into the palace and acted as ruler in his absence.

Traditional sandal (‘huarache’) making is still a thriving craft in Mexico
Traditional sandal (‘huarache’) making is still a thriving craft in Mexico (Click on image to enlarge)

The goddess Cihuacóatl that inspired this position was associated with the Earth, agricultural fields and crops, and childbirth, when women were likened to warriors. So the link of the cihuacóatl with the goddess lies in his religious duties to priestly agricultural matters of the female wet season.

Itzcóatl, 4th ruler of the Aztec empire, Tovar Manuscript, pl. VIII
Itzcóatl, 4th ruler of the Aztec empire, Tovar Manuscript, pl. VIII (Click on image to enlarge)

Certain privileges accompanied the cihuacóatl office: he received a considerable amount of the tribute from conquered cities, he played an important role, together with a high council of nobles, in choosing the next ruler of Tenochtitlan, and... he was the only person who didn’t need to take off his shoes in the presence of the tlatoani!

By the way, taking away a noble’s right to wear shoes (usually cactli or sandals) at all was one of the punishments given to an official who had committed a crime.

The position of cihuacóatl was created by Itzcóatl, the 4th tlatoani of the Aztecs, to help him in the affairs of the ruler. The first and by far and away the most famous - some might say infamous - cihuacóatl was Tlacaelel, one of the most brilliant and shrewd politicians in the history of the Aztecs. He died in 1487, having lived 89 years and been cihuacóatl for 60 years, serving under 5 great rulers.

Info from Handbook to Life in the Aztec World by Manuel Aguilar-Moreno, 2006.

Picture sources:-

Photo of stone figure in the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City, by Ana Laura Landa/Mexicolore

Images of Itzcóatl and Moctezuma I’s sandals scanned from our copy of the Tovar Manuscript, ADEVA facsimile edition, Graz, Austria, 1972

Photos of sandal making today by Sean Sprague/Mexicolore

Learn a little more about Cihuacóatl

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