The date is noted on Tikal's now famous Stela 31, which yielded early clues to Fire Is Born's importance when David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin deciphered it in 2000. The second passage on the stela records what happened after the city fell: Tikal's king, Great Jaguar Paw, died that very day, probably at the hands of the vanquishers.
Fire Is Born appears to have dropped whatever pretense he had assumed as a goodwill ambassador. His forces destroyed most of Tikal's existing monuments—stelae put in place by 14 earlier rulers of Tikal. A new era had begun, and later monuments celebrated the victors. Stela 31, erected long after the conquest, describes Fire Is Born as Ochkin Kaloomte, or Lord of the West, probably referring to his origins in Teotihuacan. Some Maya experts have also suggested another meaning: that Fire Is Born represented a faction that had fled to the west—to Teotihuacan—after a coup d'état by Great Jaguar Paw's father years earlier and had now returned to power.
It apparently took Fire Is Born some time to pacify Tikal and its environs. But a year after his arrival, Tikal's monuments record that he presided over the ascension of a new, foreign king. Inscriptions identify him as the son of Spear-thrower Owl, Fire Is Born's patron in Teotihuacan. According to Stela 31, the new king was less than 20 years old, so Fire Is Born probably became Tikal's regent. He was certainly the city's de facto overlord.
In the years that followed the conquest, Tikal itself went on the offensive, expanding its reach across the Maya region. Fire Is Born appears to have masterminded the campaign, or at least inspired it. References to him have been identified in cities as distant as Palenque, more than 150 miles (240 kilometers) to the northwest. But the most poignant testimony to his empire-building comes from Uaxactún, just 12 miles (19 kilometers) from Tikal. There a mural shows a Maya nobleman giving homage to a warrior in Teotihuacan regalia—perhaps one of Fire Is Born's troops. A stela depicting a similar warrior guards a tomb where archaeologists found the remains of two women, one pregnant, a child, and an infant. Freidel and others have concluded that these were the remains of Uaxactún's royal family, slain by Tikal's forces. The king, presumably, was taken to Tikal and sacrificed there.
Decades after the arrival of Fire Is Born and long after he must have died, the aggressive rulers of Tikal continued to invoke Fire Is Born and his patron state, Teotihuacan. In 426, Tikal took over Copán, 170 miles (274 kilometers) to the south in present-day Honduras, and crowned its own king, Kinich Yax Kuk Mo, who became the founder of a new dynasty. A posthumous portrait shows him wearing a costume typical of central Mexico—a reference to Teotihuacan—and like Fire Is Born, he bore the title Lord of the West.
Some Mayanists believe that Tikal was acting as a vassal state for Teotihuacan, expanding its dominion throughout the Maya lowlands, with Fire Is Born acting as a kind of military governor. Others see him less as a conqueror and more as a catalyst who spurred Tikal to expand its own power and influence.
His fate is a mystery. There is no known record of his death, and no evidence that he ever ruled a Maya kingdom. But his prestige lived on. The Waka stela recording his arrival there wasn't erected until a generation later, indicating that even a long-ago visit from the great Fire Is Born was a matter of civic pride.