The Ascent of the nomadic Aztecs to power in the Valley of Mexico left them with a need to establish not only noble ancestry but also the acceptance of destiny. Other tribes were hardly impressed with the claims of these miserable wanderers to be the chosen rulers of the valley and its peoples. After all, less than 200 years before the conquistadors marched in with stamping horses and roaring canons, the dusty, snake-eating Aztecs were living in earthen dens on an unpromising island in Lake Tetzcoco. Among the many Indian groups that contended for domination of the area in the 13th century, the Aztecs stood out only for their talent for mayhem and slaughter, and for this they were often hired as mercenaries.
Desperate for legitimacy, the Aztecs set about with single-minded motivation to establish it. Perhaps their most dramatic act was to import an abundant breeder with a good heritage. They brought in a Colhuacan prince who claimed descent from the noble Toltecs and arranged for him to marry no fewer than 20 Aztec women, who presumably would then bear him numerous blue-blooded children. Aristocracy was on command and it worked. Itzcoatl, one of the sons of the prince, led his men into a major battle and brought home much plunder and many captives. Itzcoatl was not content with creating a new national aspect, so he set out to obliterate the old. He destroyed tribal records that might have cast doubt on nobility of the Aztecs' past and the brilliance of their future. A new, glorious, and thoroughly slanted history emerged.
Itzcoatl and his successor, the first Motecuhzoma, enlisted allies and expanded violently and dramatically all over the valley. The resulting tribute, wrung from conquered peoples, formed the basis for the unspeakably rich city of Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs could not erase the truth of their pathetic beginnings. The subject peoples must have realized that their own purchase of the Aztecs' martial skills had given the ambitious mercenaries the ability to slowly move upward.