The destruction of the big urban centers by less civilized tribes
didn’t lead to the total disappearance of the cultures but,
as in the case of the roman conquest of Greece, to a cultural integration
of the newcomers. Many secondary centers survived to the destruction
and the « Barbarian » groups ended in mixing with the
local people and creating new cultural forms that lasted until the
Spanish Conquest. This new period, called Post classic, is characterized,
among other things, by many oral evidences brought to us by the
Spaniards and also by the production of a number of written documents,
called Codex, with a lot of historic information.
CODEX : They are hand-made manuscripts, often made from
agave fibers or animal skins. The long bands were folded like an
accordion; they were exclusively made by the « tlacuilo »,
a scribe-painter who told the stories with a lot of care and many
details, mixing abstract symbols and naturalist images. They represented
a lot of human and animal heads and sometimes divinities. Most of
the codex had been burned by the Spanish during the sixteenth century.
The Spanish tried to convert the Mayas and Aztecs to Christianity.
The spared Codex allowed the reconstitution of important information.
They are the only documents left from a system of writing-reading
specific to the Meso-American cultures.
by their chief Mixcoatl, the Chichimecs came to the Highlands. This
Náhuatl groups occupied the Tula
Valley and intermixed with the local Otomis. Quetzalcóatl,
whose real name was Topiltzin ce-acatl, is the founder of Tula,
the Capital of the Toltecs. This city, still badly explored, slightly
overlooked the valley. In the center, the administrative and religious
settled in a big place surrounded by buildings.
One of these buildings, the pyramid dedicated to the God Quetzalcóatl
- Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, was surmounted with a temple whose roof
was held by enormous caryatid statues representing Toltec warriors.
Later, a vast hypostyle room (55m by 15m or 180 by 49 feet) was
added at the foot of this pyramid. Other elements typical from this
period have been discovered in Tula,
like the sculptures, known under the name of Chac Mool, representing
a personage lying on its back, its upper back raised, its knees
bent and holding a tray over the stomach where to place offerings.
the special chapter about Tula
little bit of history
According to some historical books, some people
pretend that the king Quetzalcóatl disappeared in 999 and
other kings, whose names are unknown, would have succeeded him until
Huemac, who would have lived until the mid twelfth century. And
Tula would have fallen during his
However, the historians differentiate two phases in the decline
of Tula. The first one would have
taken place at the end of Quetzalcóatl’s reign, after
being expelled by the priests of Tezcatlipoca. The survivors would
have left strong influences in Yucatán
and Guatemala; the second phase would have taken place at the end
of Huémac’s reign, after being attacked by another
Náhuatl group that settled in Tula,
the Nonohualcas- Chichimecs. The survivors fled south and intermixed
with the ones who fled one century earlier with Quetzalcóatl.
The influence of the Toltecs in Yucatán
is obvious since 1000AD. The Itzas
(maybe the name given to the Toltecs by the Mayas) settled under
the command of Kukulcán, in Chichén
Itzá where they built a city that would be a reproduction
of Tula. These foreigners built other
cities like Mayapàn or
settled in old Maya cities, like did the Xiu dynasty in Uxmal. In
order to reinforce their power, they formed the League of Mayapán
which lasted about two centuries. Chichén
ltzá was however the most prosperous city in the area.
The pyramid known under the name of “el Castillo” offers,
with a stair on each side, a very different form compared to the
Maya pyramids. The temple of the warriors, with its snake raised
shaped front columns and the hypostyle rooms surrounding the base
of the temple is built in a Toltec style as well as the ball court
with a ring (tlaxtli). The column, introduced in the architecture
of Yucatán, has
been adopted by the Mayas.
The Chac Mool has been reproduced many times on the site. For dynasty
reasons, the league of Mayapán was destroyed in 1440 by the
Xius and their allied and the big cities were abandoned. The Itzas
found refuge in Tayasal, in the Petén of Guatemala, where
they resisted the Spanish troops until 1697; The Xius built their
modest houses in Mani and the Cocoms of Mayapán
took place in Tibolon. Only the sites of the Caribbean Coast, occupied
by businessmen, survived until the Spanish Conquest.
Mexican influence of Teotihuacán
could be noticed on the Highlands of Guatemala, in Kaminaljuyu,
where other Náhuatl groups came, maybe from Tula, since the
tenth century. They formed small warrior kingdoms like the kingdom
of Quichés whose Capital was Utatlan, or the kingdom of Cakchiquels
in Iximché and the kingdom of Tzutuhils. These kingdoms were
always fighting and were quickly dominated by the Spaniards. The
Quichés left us one of the most important books of this time
about the Mayas : The Popol Vuh « the book of advice ».
The famous “fathered snake”, sorcerer, Toltec-Chichimec
king, messiah, enemy of human sacrifices, has later become a God.
It reigned over Tula during the tenth century. His neighbor and
enemy, the king Tezcatlipoca, from divine origin himself, evicted
him from the throne and kingdom. Before disappearing towards East,
Quetzalcóatl promised his followers that he would return
with the wind of West, when « the era of years will be in
my favor ».
This era or cycle of the old calendar means fifty-two years. When
Cortés, as a Caucasian, appeared at the beginning of an Aztec
cycle, Moctezuma had no doubt : This guy was a reincarnation of
The ball game
The ball game, called « Pok-ta-pok » by the Toltec-Mayas,
is closely related to the rite with a cosmic dimension. It is a
game involving 2 teams of seven. The players had to send a hard
rubber ball from one camp to the other one keeping it from touching
the ground. They were not allowed to use hands and they had to propel
the ball with hips or forearms; they could also score when hitting
the ball into narrow mounted rings. The hardness and weight of the
ball made it difficult to pass the ball through the ring. More than
a sport, it was a cosmic fight. From one camp to another one, the
ball may have symbolized the movement of sun and stars. They thought
that the Gods picked the winners of the game like they picked the
winners of the wars. The losers were sacrificed, following the mythical
origins of the Maya civilization and the resurrection of Maize God.
special chapter about Chichén
Itzá and Mayapán
the decline of Monte
Albán, the relations with the outside seemed to be re-established.
Foreign products went again around the valley. Around 1,000 AD,
the influence of the Mixtec neighbors started to be noticed and
grew with the time. This influence modified none of the customs
of the Zapotec people but had a big impact on the customs of the
aristocracy. The architecture kept the Zapotec features from the
previous eras; only the adornment improved as it can be seen in
the palaces of Mitlá,
its walls covered with geometric stonework mosaics.
However, this Mixtec influence ended up in merging in the Zapotec
substrate and the Mixtec language disappeared from the Central valleys.
The renown Mixtec art came from the objects discovered in the Tomb
7 of Monte Albán
and in Zaachila. Coming from South America, the goldsmith’s
trade experienced a wonderful renewal : most of the golden objects
sent to Europe by the Conquistadors came from there. Cortés
was the one who stopped the evolution of this civilization in 1520.
special chapter about Mitlá
Coming from the mythical Aztlan, the Aztecs traveled
during two centuries before settling in the valley of Mexico
where, according to the prophecies, an eagle devouring a snake on
a cactus would have indicated the place of their city, called Tenochtitlán,
and founded in 1325. Vassals of the Kings of Azcapotzalco, the sons
of Huitzilopochtli, the God of war, conquered their independence
under Itzcoatl’s reign and consolidated their colonialist
expansion under Moctezuma. At the same time, the emperors embellished
their city with sumptuous temples and palaces. The conquests reached
the coasts of the Gulf and Pacific until Guatemala. The prosperity
and splendor of the city generated the admiration of the Spanish,
who took possession of it on August, 13th, 1521. During his expedition
in Honduras, Cortés
had Cuauhtemoc killed. He was the last Aztec emperor.
Log on to the site www.mexica.net
to find more information on the different peoples of Mexico as well
as a dictionary and lessons of Náhuatl.
In spite of the massive destructions perpetrated by the Spanish,
there are enough pieces of sculpture to demonstrate the mastery
of the Aztec artisans.
The Sun Stone called the AZTEC CALENDAR is one example.
It was discovered late eighteenth century while
building the cathedral
of Mexico City. It was on the double pyramid of Tenochtitlán
, which is dedicated not only to Tlacoc and Huitzilopotchli, gods
of rain and war, but also gods of new Man and flower war. This circular
carved stone is 3 feet thick, 12 feet in diameter and weights 25
tons. The stone is covered with hieroglyphs summarizing the collection
of the cosmological and chronological conceptions of the previous
Mexicans. The Aztecs revived the art of stone masks, often with
hard stones inset like in the Classic age of Teotihuacán.
This stone is actually on display at the National
Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
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