January 14, 2006  Marc Zender, "Tisosikatzin: The Names of an Aztec Emperor, and the Nature of Aztec Writing"

On January 14, 2006, Dr. Marc Zender detailed the life, exploits and attributed names of Aztec Emperor Tizoc.   Tizoc, the allegedly cowardly seventh Aztec Emperor, was the son of the fifth Emperor, Motecuhzoma I. He ruled from 1481 until 1486, following his brother, Axayacatl, and succeeded by his younger brother, Ahuitzotl, who was the most renowned of the three, adding significantly to the territory held by the Aztecs.  Tizoc began his career with a reportedly disastrous preaccession raid on the town of Metztitlan, which is nestled in a deep valley. Unable to surround the town, Tizoc lost 300 Aztec warriors in the battle, but returned to Tenochtitlan with 40 captives to be sacrificed.

             According to several Codices, Tizoc began work on the great Temple of Huitzilopochtli, now the Templo Mayor, in Tenochtitlan in 1483. The temple was dedicated in 1487, during the reign of his brother Ahuizotl. He is known primarily for the Stone of Tizoc, which celebrates the accomplishments of his brief reign. The  large, wheel-like stone depicts Tizoc, clad in a hummingbird war headdress, and his warriors taking captives from neighboring towns. Twelve town names associated with these captives have been identified on the stone, including Xochimilco, Chalco, and Tlateloco. Most scholars believed it was implausible that Tizoc achieved twelve conquests during his brief reign.  Dr. Zender noted that the Stone depicts captures of warriors from 12 towns, not necessarily 12 individual conquests.  In addition to a few minor attempts to enlarge territory, Tizoc had to subdue several rebellious former Aztec allies, such as Matatlan.  When Dr. Zender considered that Tizoc would have taken captives from all of these towns, and any of their allies who fought with them, he found that he could easily have taken captives from the twelve towns listed on the stone.

 Dr. Zender then addressed the question of the correct pronunciation of the name of the seventh emperor. Tizoc has often been called Bloody Leg because the symbol of a leg, apparently covered with droplets of blood, is often associated with his picture in Aztec Codices. In studies of Aztec name glyphs, Dr. Zender and Dr. Alfonso Lacadena have found that many of the names of the Aztec emperors are always drawn in the same manner, whereas other names, like that of Tizoc, show surprising variations in their appearance. In addition to the leg with droplets, the name of Tizoc is also shown as a thorn piercing a stone, a thorn piercing sand, salt or chalk, a jewel, and a leg with a jewel hanging below. Dr. Zender has utilized the research he and Dr. Lacadena have been pursuing on the syllabic and logographic elements of Aztec writing to arrive at a new pronunciation of the name of Tizoc, using the principles of phonetic substitution and complements. Since the name has several pictorial variations, one can compare them for syllabic substitutions or parallels.  The symbol of a stone, as used in some versions of his name, would be pronounced te, and pierce would be pronounced so, resulting in teso.  Chalk is depicted by dotting similar to that seen on the supposed bloody leg of Tizoc, and is pronounce tis; when pierced, it becomes tis-so.  Foot in Aztec is pronounced xo, thus the bloody leg, really a chalky leg, becomes tisoxo. When the jewel is depended below the foot, the sounds implied are tisoxocoska.  Aztec is not a syllabic written language, so these phonetic signs are most likely indicators of pronunciation. Dr. Zender has used these varying phonetic indicators as clues to the correct pronunciation. He then combined this analysis with a comparison of the different spellings of the name found in the codices, and concluded that the spelling which best approximates the Aztec pronunciation of the name of the seventh emperor is Tisosikatzin, a king who apparently deserves a little more respect than he has heretofore received!

Dr. Zender received his Ph.D. in Archaeology from the University of Calgary in 2004, and is currently a Lecturer in Anthropology and a Research Associate at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology of Harvard University.  Dr. Zender has led talks and workshops at the University Museum's Maya Weekend, at Wayeb, and at the Maya Meetings of the University of Texas. He has taught courses on Maya and Aztec writing at Calgary and Harvard, has published numerous scholarly works on Maya writing in journals, and has edited several volumes of Pre-Columbian research.

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