The Mexica or Aztecs


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The formation and society of the Aztec to the eve of the Spanish Conquest

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  • All states are predatory, but some are more predator then others. Along with the Mongols under Genghis Kahn, and the Axis powers in World War II, The Aztecs or Mexica probably hold the record.
  • The Mexica or Aztecs

    1. 1. The Mexica or Aztec: A Predatory State Social, Political, and Economic Organization
    2. 2. Who Were the Aztec? <ul><li>We know they came from somewhere up north—how far north is anyone’s guess </li></ul><ul><li>Mythically, they came from “Aztlan, the Land of the Herons,” of which “Aztec” is a derivation </li></ul><ul><li>They were mercenaries of the Toltec centered in Tula, although even that is bound up in myth </li></ul><ul><li>When Tula fell, the Aztec migrated to an area of five lakes dominated by Lake Texcoco </li></ul><ul><li>An area dominated by “Epigonal Toltecs” </li></ul>
    3. 3. Epigonal Toltecs <ul><li>The first were the Otomi-speaking Tepanecs, who founded the city of Atzcapotzalco on the western shores of Lake Texcoco </li></ul><ul><li>The second was Xaltocan, an Otomi-speaking state on the north shore of Lake Texcoco </li></ul><ul><li>The third was the Acolhua who dominated the eastern shore of Lake Texcoco, organized also by Chichimeca </li></ul><ul><li>The fourth was Colhuac án on the southwest part of the Valley of Mexico, at the cusp between Lakes Texcoco and Xochimilco. </li></ul><ul><li>The fifth was a small state Xicco. </li></ul>
    4. 4. Aztec Nomenclature <ul><li>Initially, they did not settle at the site of Tenochtitlan </li></ul><ul><li>Their names changed from “Chichimec from Aztlan” a contemptuous term that meant “Barbarian” </li></ul><ul><li>To “Tenochca” after a patriarch by that name, who also gave the name to Tenochtitl á n </li></ul><ul><li>To “Mexica,” which they adopted after attaching themselves to the Colhua of Colhuacan as mercenaries, calling themselves “Colhua Mexica” </li></ul>
    5. 5. Formation of the Aztec <ul><li>Initially, they did not settle at the site of Tenochtitl án </li></ul><ul><li>After numerous wanderings they settled at a swampy site mythically where an eagle was perched on a nopal cactus devouring a snake </li></ul><ul><li>First, they served as mercenaries of Atzcapotzalco </li></ul><ul><li>They then switched sides, allied themselves with the Acolhua of Texcoco, overthrew Atzapotzalco, and eventually formed a triple alliance between themselves, the Acolhua, and a liberated part of Atzapotzalco called Tlacopan </li></ul><ul><li>Third, they established hegemony in 1500, 21 years before the actual conquest. </li></ul>
    6. 6. Formation and Society <ul><li>Bilateral descent does allow for flexibility. </li></ul><ul><li>To enjoy a rapid rise from a muddy village settled in 1345 or so to an empire less than 200 years later, you have to be flexible. </li></ul><ul><li>1427 saw the formation of the Triple Alliance </li></ul><ul><li>So to envision an “Aztec society,” the question arises just which society are we talking about </li></ul><ul><li>Berdan describes society at it was on the eve of the Conquest </li></ul><ul><li>But were they patrilineal groups in the past? We don’t know; records were often destroyed by the victors </li></ul>
    7. 7. What Were the Calpulli? <ul><li>What is known for sure: </li></ul><ul><li>There were 20 “Big Houses” by that name </li></ul><ul><li>They were landholding groups </li></ul><ul><li>They were organized territorially </li></ul><ul><li>They had their own councils </li></ul><ul><li>They had their own temples </li></ul><ul><li>They comprised the macehual, or commoner, generally peasants </li></ul><ul><li>The debate: kin groups or peasant class? </li></ul>
    8. 8. Calpulli as Kin Groups <ul><li>Kin groups or clans </li></ul><ul><li>Reasoning: the Aztecs themselves were tribal groups at most 300 years before </li></ul><ul><li>What kind? Evidence is lacking? </li></ul><ul><li>Indication of a patrilineal bias among nobility: preference for “junior lines” in allocating economic assets and political favors. </li></ul>
    9. 9. Calpulli as Social and Economic Classes <ul><li>Developed into administrative subclasses </li></ul><ul><li>Could have been units organizing not only peasants but also craftspersons and traders </li></ul><ul><li>Example: in Texcoco under Hungry Coyote (Nezahualcoyotl), calpulli were organized featherworkers and goldworkers </li></ul><ul><li>Pochteca (luxury good traders) may also have formed a calpulli; we do know they were hereditary </li></ul>
    10. 10. Calpulli as Both Kin and Class <ul><li>Conical clans in which privileges are based on order of birth </li></ul><ul><li>Kept wealth and privileges in the family, but some members were more equal than others </li></ul><ul><li>Kin trace their ancestry to a founder, real or fictive </li></ul><ul><li>But through such justification as precedence of birth, the lineal descendants (junior lines) get preferential treatment </li></ul><ul><li>This suggests that unilineal descent might have been dominant at one time </li></ul>
    11. 11. Calpulli and Ethnicity <ul><li>As conquests proceeded, Tenochtitlan became more ethnically diverse. </li></ul><ul><li>Thus calpulli included not only kin but also “allies” from the conquered provinces </li></ul><ul><li>Flexibility of kin thus allowed fictive (fictional) ties as well </li></ul><ul><li>Thus, the European Catholic tradition of compradrazgo fit in very well with indigenous society. </li></ul><ul><li>Thus their flexibility is not at issue; only their “pristine” characteristics. </li></ul>
    12. 12. Calpulli and Land Tenure <ul><li>Land was held in common in the calpulli </li></ul><ul><li>System was based on usufruct </li></ul><ul><li>Peasants “owned” their plot so long as they used it and paid their taxes </li></ul><ul><li>Land reverted back to the commons if the peasant stopped using the land or pay the taxes </li></ul><ul><li>Land could be rented, but not bought or sold </li></ul>
    13. 13. Aztec: Kin Reckoning <ul><li>Reckoned kinship bilaterally; traced relations through paternal and maternal side. </li></ul><ul><li>Kinship terms bilateral: e.g. tlatli is an uncle, whether father’s or mother’s brother </li></ul><ul><li>Possibly reflected the extreme instability one expects from a state in rapid formation </li></ul><ul><li>And one in which there are shifting alliances </li></ul>
    14. 14. Marriage among the Aztec <ul><li>Marriage was endogamous by class: pipiltin to other pipiltin, macehuallin to other macehuallin </li></ul><ul><li>There was no other rule of exogamy outside the immediate family </li></ul><ul><li>This meant that marriage could involve one’s cousin; cross-cousin marriage was not unknown </li></ul><ul><li>Polygyny was common among nobility and tied in with social class; wives were put to work. </li></ul>
    15. 15. Marriage Alliances and Power <ul><li>Nobility: Marriage had a political function: female from Texcoco married a male from the subordinate Teotihuacan to maintain a tie </li></ul><ul><li>The son of the Teotihuacan ruler would then be subordinate to Texcoco because of the “gift” of a wife. </li></ul><ul><li>Marriage was to man’s mother’s brother’s daughter—his matrilateral cross-cousin. </li></ul><ul><li>Failure to repay in Maussian terms means the Teotihuacan nobility would be “beggar” to Texcoco nobility. </li></ul><ul><li>This would persist for generations. </li></ul>
    16. 16. Aztec Markets: Common Goods <ul><li>There were two kinds of markets </li></ul><ul><li>One dealt in ordinary goods </li></ul><ul><li>Markets usually met every five days </li></ul><ul><li>Trading outside the market was illegal and one could be imprisoned or the goods confiscated </li></ul><ul><li>Reason: market transactions were subject to taxati </li></ul>
    17. 17. Aztec Markets: Luxury Products <ul><li>Texcoco had been a market town long before the Aztecs assumed power </li></ul><ul><li>Markets were a daily affair in Texcoco; major markets comprising up to 50,000 buyers and sellers met every fifth day—they were the center of luxury products </li></ul><ul><li>A hereditary class of merchants called Pochteca were probably active long before the Aztecs </li></ul><ul><li>They occupied a precarious position </li></ul><ul><li>On the one hand, they were vital as sources of military intelligence to the rulers and were protected </li></ul><ul><li>On the other hand, their economic power were a threat to the rulers; toward the end, they hid their wealth. </li></ul>
    18. 18. Sociopolitical Organization of the Aztecs <ul><li>Society: A Twofold Division </li></ul><ul><li>Pilli: The nobles </li></ul><ul><li>Macehual: The peasants </li></ul><ul><li>However, the peasants themselves were stratified </li></ul><ul><li>Macehuales who excelled in battle could themselves become noble </li></ul><ul><li>This requires some background in the principles of political anthropology </li></ul>
    19. 19. Social Class: Overview <ul><li>General types (Fried) </li></ul><ul><li>Egalitarian societies: </li></ul><ul><li>Social systems with as many valued positions as person capable of filling them </li></ul><ul><li>Exceptions: age, gender, special characteristics </li></ul><ul><li>Ranked societies </li></ul><ul><li>Social systems with fewer valued status positions than those capable of filling them </li></ul><ul><li>Stratified societies </li></ul><ul><li>Minority control of strategic resources </li></ul>
    20. 20. Stratified Societies <ul><li>Access to strategic resources is unequal </li></ul><ul><li>Examples </li></ul><ul><li>Water in irrigation societies </li></ul><ul><li>Land in patrimonial (feudal) societies </li></ul><ul><li>Claims to capital assets (stocks, bonds) in capitalist society </li></ul><ul><li>Capital: goods/services used for production </li></ul><ul><li>Money, stocks, bonds are also capital </li></ul>
    21. 21. Emergence of Stratification <ul><li>Manipulative Individuals/ Families </li></ul><ul><li>Form alliances (chimpanzee-like) </li></ul><ul><li>Play one faction against another </li></ul><ul><li>Form dynasties (bonobo-like) </li></ul><ul><li>Control over Life-Sustaining Resources </li></ul><ul><li>Water systems in semi-arid regions </li></ul><ul><li>Agricultural lands </li></ul><ul><li>Mechanisms of Taxation </li></ul><ul><li>Labor </li></ul><ul><li>Tribute </li></ul>
    22. 22. Political Organization: Basic Principles <ul><li>Power vs Authority </li></ul><ul><li>Power: compliance by coercion or force </li></ul><ul><li>Authority: compliance by persuasion </li></ul><ul><li>Legitimacy: Beliefs rationalizing rule </li></ul><ul><li>Examples: Divine Right, Peoples Consent </li></ul><ul><li>Sanctions : reinforcements of behavior </li></ul><ul><li>Positive: rewards, recognition </li></ul><ul><li>Negative: punishment </li></ul>
    23. 23. Power versus Authority <ul><li>Extreme examples </li></ul><ul><li>Power: concentration camps: Auschwitz (above); Guantanamo (below) </li></ul><ul><li>Authority: !Kung, Inuit, Yanomamo </li></ul><ul><li>Neither is absolute </li></ul><ul><li>Dictatorships need to persuade: Nuremberg rallies, Mayday parades </li></ul><ul><li>Power is evenly distributed in nonstate cultures </li></ul>
    24. 24. Legitimacy as Justification for Political Order <ul><li>Justification necessary even in authoritarian states </li></ul><ul><li>Monarchies: the divine right to rule </li></ul><ul><li>Soviet Union: Socialist transition to communist economy </li></ul><ul><li>Nazi Germany: Racial purification; delivery of full-employment (Nuremberg rallies, above) </li></ul><ul><li>Democratic forms: consent by the governed (below, State of the Union) </li></ul>
    25. 25. One Myth Behind Mexica Power <ul><li>War Against the Tepenacs of Atzcapotalzo </li></ul><ul><li>Nobles voted for war; commoners voted for peace </li></ul><ul><li>The declaration of the nobles (Wolf, p. 137) </li></ul><ul><li>Commoners’ reply on agreement if the war were successful (Wolf, p. 137) </li></ul><ul><li>Most likely, a mythical exchange, but this served as one part of legitimation </li></ul>
    26. 26. Sociopolitical Organizations: General Typology <ul><li>Bands: Small, informal groups </li></ul><ul><li>Tribes: Segmentary groups integrated by some unifying factor </li></ul><ul><li>Chiefdoms: Group organized under a chief in a ranked society </li></ul><ul><li>State: Centralized political system with monopoly over legitimized force and its use. </li></ul>
    27. 27. States: Force as Prime Mover <ul><li>Defining Characteristics </li></ul><ul><li>A centralized political system </li></ul><ul><li>With power to coerce </li></ul><ul><li>The operating factor: </li></ul><ul><li>Monopoly over the use of </li></ul><ul><li>Legitimate physical force </li></ul><ul><li>Supports the apparatus of the state </li></ul><ul><li>Bureaucracy --Army and police </li></ul><ul><li>Law and legal codes </li></ul>
    28. 28. States: Derivative Features <ul><li>Administrative structure </li></ul><ul><li>Public services --Tax collection </li></ul><ul><li>Resource allocation --Foreign affairs </li></ul><ul><li>Delegation of force </li></ul><ul><li>Police, all levels --Armed force </li></ul><ul><li>Law </li></ul><ul><li>Civil (dispute resolution) </li></ul><ul><li>Regulatory (trade, economy) </li></ul><ul><li>Criminal (crime and punishment) </li></ul>
    29. 29. Law: Cross-Cultural Comparison <ul><li>Codified law: Formally defines wrong and specifies remedies </li></ul><ul><li>Customary law: Informal sanctions or dispute resolution </li></ul><ul><li>Restitution or Restorative law: emphasizes dispute resolution, damage restitution </li></ul><ul><li>Retributive law: emphasizes punishment for crimes committed </li></ul>
    30. 30. Case Studies: Restitution <ul><li>Nuer: Leopard-skin chief </li></ul><ul><li>Function: mediate disputes; leopard wrap identifies role </li></ul><ul><li>Cannot force or enforce an agreement </li></ul><ul><li>Authority is spiritual </li></ul><ul><li>Zapotec in Talea, Mexico </li></ul><ul><li>Function: hear cases and negotiate </li></ul><ul><li>Recommend settlement </li></ul><ul><li>Enforce agreement by community </li></ul>
    31. 31. Case Studies: Retribution <ul><li>Criminal Law </li></ul><ul><li>Murder, Robbery, Others </li></ul><ul><li>Civil Law </li></ul><ul><li>Consumer Law and Small Courts </li></ul><ul><li>Final Say: Judge or Arbitrator </li></ul><ul><li>Limitation: Sheer Numbers of Cases </li></ul>
    32. 32. A Trisection of Society <ul><li>Relations of Production form the basis of sociopolitical systems. </li></ul><ul><li>Political superstructure: government, military, the law </li></ul><ul><li>Ideology: religion, myths, even psychology </li></ul><ul><li>When the base shifts, the rest of society changes </li></ul>
    33. 33. Basic Political Structure of the Mexica <ul><li>The nobility expanded its privileges as the empire developed </li></ul><ul><li>Privileges: Right to wear insignia, special clothing </li></ul><ul><li>Marital privileges: polygyny and the political and economic power it implied. </li></ul><ul><li>Had their own special courts </li></ul><ul><li>Sent children to calmecatl, or schools of religious and ceremonial training, prerequisite for entry into the bureaucracy </li></ul><ul><li>Commoners were tillers of the soil </li></ul><ul><li>Slaves, who had their own privileges </li></ul>
    34. 34. Aztec Society: A Study of Mobility <ul><li>Remember that the Mexica were still in a state of expansion when the Spaniards came </li></ul><ul><li>Unfinished business: The Tlaxcalans, the Tarascans, the unconquered lands of southern Mexico </li></ul><ul><li>Internally, they were a mobile society </li></ul><ul><li>Rulers created a “nobility of service” as well as a nobility of lineage </li></ul>
    35. 35. Nobility of Service <ul><li>Distinguished themselves in war or by trade </li></ul><ul><li>Term: “Knights” or “Sons of the Eagle” </li></ul><ul><li>Also divided the commoners from those relative few </li></ul><ul><li>A source of tension with the nobility of lineage over bureaucratic positions </li></ul><ul><li>An aristocratic reaction curtailed their privileges </li></ul><ul><li>Stratification became more established on the eve of the Conquest </li></ul>
    36. 36. Religious Ideology <ul><li>Huitzilopochtli (Hummingbird of the Left): the principal god </li></ul><ul><li>Presided over a world that ended in cataclysm </li></ul><ul><li>The last world ended in hurricanes, preceded by rain, sky falling on earth, and fire; the present one will end in earthquakes </li></ul><ul><li>To forestall the inevitable end would entail the blood sacrifice of humans </li></ul>
    37. 37. Gods from the Predecessors <ul><li>Quetzalcoatl: The plumed serpent god who was banished to the east. </li></ul><ul><li>Tezcatlipoca, (smoking mirror), who displaced Quetzalcoatl, who demanded blood sacrificed in his own right, and often identified with Huitzilopochtli </li></ul><ul><li>Tlaloc, the rain god, He Who Makes the Plants Spring Up. </li></ul><ul><li>Xipe Totec, the Flayed One, whose skin symbolized the old vegetation with the promise of renewal </li></ul><ul><li>The pantheon became standardized after the first conquest over the Tepanec </li></ul><ul><li>Even so, one god might be merged with another, as Huitzilopochtli with Tezcatlipoca </li></ul>
    38. 38. Self-Concept of the Mexica <ul><li>At the edge of cataclysm </li></ul><ul><li>Individuals were expected to combine bravery with moderation </li></ul><ul><li>The ideal Mexica did not drink to excess, spoke softly, was sexually continent. </li></ul>
    39. 39. The Eve of the Conquest: Cracks in the Mexica State <ul><li>The Mexica exploited the provinces mercilessly for tribute and sometimes sacrificial victims </li></ul><ul><li>Except for these, the provinces were left on their own; their own customs, languages, and religions were left alone. </li></ul><ul><li>This, coupled with the still-independent states, may have been their downfall. </li></ul><ul><li>The domination was never absolute, and the Mexica armies had their limitations </li></ul><ul><li>The Spaniards were able to exploit these weaknesses, despite initial failures. </li></ul>
    40. 40. Comparison with the Maya <ul><li>The Maya were competitive city states </li></ul><ul><li>Even after the collapse, they were relatively independent </li></ul><ul><li>The conquest of the Aztec was largely a one-time event in the Valley of Mexico </li></ul><ul><li>In contrast, the Spaniards would have to conquer one Mayan state over a long period of attrition </li></ul><ul><li>Even after 1692, there were constant uprisings throughout Mexico and Guatemala well into the 19 th century. </li></ul>