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Map of the Valley of Mexico at the time of the Spanish Conquest showing the location of lake Xaltocan.

Xaltocan was a pre-Columbian city-state and island in the Valley of Mexico, located in the center of Lake Xaltocan, part of an interconnected shallow lake system which included Lake Texcoco, this place is inside the San Miguel Jaltocan, in Nextlapan. The site was originally settled by the Otomi people, but following a war in the late fourteenth century where the Otomi were defeated by an alliance of Tepanecs and Mexica the Otomi were driven off the island and relocated to Otumba, Metztitlan and Tlaxcala. The island of Xaltocan was then resettled by Nahuatl speakers.[1][2] The name can mean either of two things in the Nahuatl language: either 'sandy ground of spiders' or 'where sand sowing'.[3]


Xaltocan is known to have been inhabited in the Postclassic period. Ceramics and other archaeological remains dating to this period have been recovered in excavations at the site.[4] It is thought to have been a local center of power capable of exacting tribute from other city-states in the area.

The founding of Xaltocan is described in the mytho-historical documents, the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca and Anales de Cuauhtitlan. According to the Anales the Xaltocameca (people of Xaltocan) were among the Chichimec tribes that left the mythical place of origin, Aztlán, under a leader named Quauhtliztac ("White Eagle"). The Historia also identifies the Xaltocameca as belong to the Otomi ethnic group.[5] In this document, written by Ixtlilxochitl, the first leader of the Xaltocameca is named as Iztacquauhtli, which also means "White Eagle" in Nahuatl.

In the 13th century Xaltocan were involved in a prolonged war with the Nahua city-state of Cuauhtitlan. Xaltocan was initially the strongest but around 1395 the ruler of Cuauhtitlan, Xaltemoctzin, allied himself with Tezozomoc of Azcapotzalco and his subjects the Mexica of Tenochtitlan and finally managed to conquer Xaltocan. The Otomi inhabitants fled north to the Otomian city-state of Metztitlan and to Tlaxcala, while others were allowed to resettle on the lands of Texcoco in the place that was henceforth called Otumba - "Place of the Otomies".

During the next 100 years the site was resettled by Nahua peoples. After the Aztec Triple Alliance defeated the Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco, Xaltocan became an Aztec subject city and paid tribute to Tenochtitlan, mainly in the form of woven blankets.

In 1521 during the Spanish conquest of Mexico the army of Hernán Cortés razed Xaltocan and burned it to the ground.[6]:326


  1. ^ Davies, 1980 p. 233-34
  2. ^ Morehart 2012
  3. ^ "Archive copy of Tlaxcala - Xaltocan". Archived from the original on March 6, 2012. Retrieved 28 April 2007. 
  4. ^ Brumfiel, E (2005)
  5. ^ Davies, 1980 p. 91-93
  6. ^ Diaz, B., 1963, The Conquest of New Spain, London: Penguin Books, ISBN 0140441239


  • Brumfiel, E.M. & M.G. Hodge, 1996, Interaction in the basin of Mexico: The case of Postclassic Xaltocan- Arqueología mesoamericana: homenaje a William T. Sanders
  • Brumfiel, Elizabeth M., Ed. 2005, "Production and Power at Postclassic Xaltocan" Arqueología de México, No. 6, published by University of Pittsburgh Latin American Archaeology Publications and Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (México, D.F.)389 pp. ISBN 1-877812-81-1.
  • Brumfiel, Elizabeth M., 1996, "The Quality of Tribute Cloth: The Place of Evidence in Archaeological Argument" in American Antiquity, Vol. 61
  • Davies, Nigel, 1980, The Toltec Heritage - from the fall of Tula to the rise of Tenochtitlan, University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Hodge, Mary G., and Hector Neff 2005 Xaltocan in the Economy of the Basin of Mexico: A View from Ceramic Tradewares. In Production and Power at Postclassic Xaltocan. Elizabeth M. Brumfiel, ed. Pp. 319–348. Mexico City : Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.
  • Morehart, C. T. (2012), What If the Aztec Empire Never Existed? The Prerequisites of Empire and the Politics of Plausible Alternative Histories. American Anthropologist, 114: 267–281.
  • Morehart, Christopher T. and Dan T.A. Eisenberg 2010 Prosperity, Power, and Change: Modeling Maize at Postclassic Xaltocan, Mexico. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 29(1):94–112.
  • Romero Navarrete Omar 2007 La gloria de Xaltocan: los guerreros del sol. Mexico, D.F. : Talleres de Luis Gonzalez Obregon