Early life and background
Axayacatl was a son of the princess Atotoztli II and her cousin, prince Tezozomoc. He was a grandson of the Emperors Moctezuma I and Itzcoatl. He was a descendant of the king Cuauhtototzin.
He was a successor of Moctezuma and his brothers were Emperors Tizoc and Ahuitzotl and his sister was the Queen Chalchiuhnenetzin. He was an uncle of the Emperor Cuauhtémoc and father of Emperors Moctezuma II and Cuitláhuac.
Rise to power
During his youth, his military prowess gained him the favor influential figures such as Nezahualcoyotl and Tlacaelel I, and thus, upon the death of Moctezuma I in 1469, he was chosen to ascend to the throne, much to the displeasure of his two older brothers, Tizoc and Ahuitzotl.
It is also important that the Great Sun Stone, also known as the Aztec Calendar, was carved under his leadership. In the year 1475 there was a major earthquake that destroyed many homes in Tenochtitlán.
Military actions and death
Using as a pretext the insulting behavior of a few Tlatelolcan citizens, Axayacatl invaded his neighbor, killed its ruler, Moquihuix, and replaced him with a military governor. The Tlatelolcans lost any voice they had in forming Aztec policy.
Axayacatl largely dedicated his twelve-year reign to consolidating his militaristic repute: he led successful campaigns against the neighboring altepetl of Tlatelolco in 1473 and the Matlatzinca of the Toluca Valley in 1474, but was finally defeated by the Tarascans of Michoacán in 1476. Despite some subsequent minor triumphs, Axayacatl's defeat at the hands of the Tarascans irreversibly marred his image, as it constituted the only major defeat suffered by the Aztecs up to that moment. In spite of his young age, he fell gravely ill in 1480, passing away a mere year later, in 1481, whereupon he was succeeded by his brother Tizoc.
Axayacatl the poet
Axayacatl wrote two poems. The first, Ycuic Axayayatzin (English: "Song of Axayacatl") is a defense against his brothers and critics; the second, Huehue cuicatl (English: "Song of the Ancients") is a lament written after his defeat in Michoacan.