The name Atonaltzin is instantly recognizable in the Mixtec region, lending itself to numerous local brands from swimming pools to local transport business. Few realize that the original occupant of the name was one of the great Mixtec Kings, proud enough to defy the great Mexican Lord Moctezuma Ilhuicamina and strong enough to defeat him and his allies in one of the most notable Mixtec battles.


Born in 1414, Atonaltzin reigned over the territory of Coixtlahuaca for 28 years (1435-1462), a time in which he governed an ever expanding dominion whose flourishing central market was one of the biggest in Mesoamerica.


The pivotal part in his reign arrived in 1458 when a caravan of 1601 merchants from méxico were attacked on their way back from the market. Specualation still abounds that the order for the ambush was given by Atonaltzin, who had already heard reports that Moctezuma wanted to seize Coixtlahuaca and its great trading centre.


Although most of the merchants, and their accompanying families, were murdered in the assault, a few survivors escaped to bring word to Moctezuma who responded by sending his ambassadors to Altonaltzin with demands for an explanation or the threat of war.


The Mixtec King coolly sent the ambassador away with a pile of riches telling him, according to Father Gay in his history of the Mixtec


"Takes this to your king and tell him that by this he will know how highly my subjects hold me in esteem and the lengths they will go to defend me. I accept the war you propose and we’ll see after that if I will pay tribute to the Mexicans or if they will pay tribute to me." 2


Moctezuma was caught between admiration and apprehension, telling his ally, Nezahualcoyotl, ruler of Texcoco


"These arrogant words demonstrate a valiant heart; without doubt a great show of force will be necessary to subjugate him." 3


And so it proved. Although Moctezuma organized a grand three power alliance with Texcoco and Tlacopanto march on mixtec lands, Atonaltzins troops had been warned by their king in advance that losing meant certain slavery. The great battle between the two sides took place in 1455, with the Mixtecs attacking with such desperate ferocity that the triple alliance troops had to give way, leaving the battlefield littered with corpses.


However, Moctezuma, smarting from the defeat, spent the next six years making new alliances, forging new armaments and adding to his number of troops until he could count on an army of 200 000 men. Atonaltzin prepared as best he could for the forthcoming invasion, allying himself in 1547 with the Tlaxcaltecas and Huejotzincas, both old enemies of the Mexicans.


In 1461, the final battle between Moctezuma and Atonaltizin took place in the Mixtec. This time the Mexicans and their allies made no mistake, defeating the mixtecs and taking control of Coixtlahuaca and it’s great market.


Atonaltzin's fall from grace was completed when the other disappointed Mixtec caciques sacrificed him after his defeat, leaving his wife, a woman of "incomparable beauty and nobility"4 to be snatched up by Moctezuma and placed in a sumptuous palace in an attempt to woo her. As a fitting tribute to her late husband, she apparently resisted Moctezuma's advances, remaining faithful to him until her death.



John Holman


1 "San Juan Bautista Coixtlahuac", Enciclopedia de los Municipios de México, 2005,, (9 March 2009).

2 Jose Antonio Gay, Historia de Oaxaca. Facsimiliar reproduction from the Constitutional Government of the State of Oaxaca, Mexico, 1978.

3 Gay, Historia de Oaxaca

4 Balduino Flores y Flores "El Legendario Rey Atonaltzin", in La Tierra Del Sol y de La Lluvia, ed. Reina Ortiz Escamilla and Ignacio Ortiz Castro (Oaxaca, Mexico:Universidad Tecnologica de la Mixteca, 2002), 103.