May 5, 2003
2. The Toltec intrusion to Chichen Itza is both a complex and a simple matter. To begin, the Maya
chronology suggests that by 900 AD, or possibly earlier, Toltecs and other outsiders were present in the Yucatan
area. After the collapse of Teotihuacan’s political dominance, a number of regional states developed who’s
capitals were usually fortified cities. The Elites secured strategically beneficial areas, and from there they began
to expand their control. The regional state of Puuc, in the Yucatan, appears to fall into this category. These
regional states quickly became what are classified as “predatory conquest states”, and a transition in culture and
society began to take place.
Chichen Itza is located in the northern central area of the Yucatan. From archeological data and architecture, it
appears that it was linked to cities in the Puuc region, both culturally and politically. The first interesting
suggestion of what may have happened between Chichen Itza and the Toltec appears in the architecture.
Excavations at Chichen Itza have shown that Puuc style architecture at Chichen Itza was overlaid and replaced by
Toltec architecture. This makes the suggestion of Toltec conquest, and this leads to another suggestion. It is a
commonly held belief among researchers that during this time of “predatory conquest states”, Toltec mercenaries
were brought in to aid the Elites in their quest for power and control, and like in many other cases through out
history, the mercenaries eventually seize the power and control for themselves. Regardless of how and why they
came into the area, by 950 AD, the Toltec were in full control of the area.
The exact reasons for the Toltec being in the area, and what their goals were, are not clearly known. This is
largely due to the actions of the fourth Aztec emperor known as Itzcoatl. During his reign, he ordered the burning
of most of the ancient history books and records, and because of this the history of the Toltecs is not real clear.
Recently however, researchers have been able to piece together some of the major features, which makes some
strong suggestions of the history, and this combined with archaeological data gives a fairly clear indication of the
history. Basically, researchers have been able to use a written account by a Texcocan. After the Spanish
conquest, this Texcocan wrote an account of the origins and history of Texcoco entitled “Historia Tolteca-
Chichimeca”. Also, a record entitled “Anales de Cuauhtitlan” by an unknown author provides a generalized
history of the city-state in the Valley of Mexico. Researchers have been able to use the information in these two
texts to make a comparative analysis with archeological data, and create an outline of Toltec history.
For two centuries the Toltecs ruled Chichen Itza, and during this time the Maya way of life was greatly changed.
The Toltecs integrated new religious cults and beliefs into the Chichen Itza way of life, and deities such as
Quetzalcoatl-Kukulcan, the feather serpent god, became commonplace. This fact is evident as the new
architecture that is built after the Toltec occupation is adorned with the Toltec god. The militaristic attitudes of
the Toltecs are also greatly represented in the sculpture that appears on the architecture at the time. Proving
that the Toltec intrusion completely changed the Maya way of life.
Monte Alban is located in the Central high ground area of the Valley of Mexico. It is estimated that anywhere
from 25,000 to 40,000 people lived in this very large city. Located around Monte Alban are terraces that radiate
out from the center. Located on these terraces are clusters of apartments and living quarters. The terraces also
served as fortifications, which blocked access to the main center. A distinct feature that punctuates this idea is
the existence of a wall, which cuts across the terraces and blocks what would have been the easiest route to the
main center. Gully’s also ran through the terraces and at certain points, areas were enlarged to create cisterns,
which trapped and held water.
The time in history is 300 AD. A time when Teotihuacan is becoming a controlling force. In the Valley of Mexico,
9 main regional centers emerge, and as these cities grew in size, the Elites sought more power and prestige.
Rivalries developed, and war broke out between the centers. It was at this time that the Valley began to branch
out, and it is thought that the purpose was to gain and maintain control of potential avenues of attack from areas
outside the Valley such as Teotihuacan.
Monte Alban had become well established, and well fortified by the time Teotihuacan eventually made contact.
Further, Monte Alban had successfully expanded and taken control of outlying routes into the city, making it very
difficult for anyone to invade. It appears that Teotihuacan does not try to test the Monte Alban fortifications, but
instead establishes diplomatic relations.
Monte Alban begins to operate as a City-State, while most of the other centers in the Valley disappear. Some
centers like S. Jose Mogote stay around in a limited capacity, which is believed to be for ease of controlling
resources in that area. Eventually Monte Alban expands outside the Valley and at this point becomes a Regional
Monte Alban prospers until the collapse of Teotihuacan. At this point Monte Alban declines greatly, and the
population disperses out into the outlying areas of the city.
The architecture of Monte Alban was very formal and public. In fact, public buildings occupied approximately 21
million cubic feet. The city is arranged running north to south, with two large platforms at either end of the great
plaza. On these platforms is found an intricate arrangement of pyramid-temples, palaces, patios, as well as
tombs. The east side of the plaza is lined with six residential buildings and a ball court. In the center of the plaza
are three buildings placed closely together. In front of the south platform is a round structure believed to have
been an observatory, which stands alone in its placement. On the west side of the plaza are three structures that
balance out the city layout.
The architectural style found at Monte Alban appears to be regional. It is characterized by a technique called a
doble escapulario, or double recess. This particular feature is found on 90% of the structures. It appears that
the buildings were covered in plaster, and it is hypothesized that it may even have been brightly and intricately
painted and detailed with sculptured stucco. Another feature of Monte Alban is the fact that 170 formal tombs
have been found in the city, all of which have a similar characteristic form. The tombs have been found
underneath the courtyard floors, some underneath the great plaza, and mostly under the patio floors of the
apartment houses located along the slope of the ridge. An interesting point is that the facades of the tombs
resemble that of temples.
It is obvious that Monte Alban was an important public and ceremonial city. The architecture indicates that the
social and religious beliefs were the driving force of the people. The rich religious history of the city is indicated
by the fact that each temple is built on top of a previous temple, and everywhere is the image of gods. It is also
apparent from the tombs, that a form of ancestor worship was also very active in Monte Alban, with some
ancestors apparently becoming semi-deified themselves. You add this to the fact that the apartments appear to
house people based on lineages, and what emerges is a city built by the people for the people. Monte Alban was
a pure urban center that existed in the early development of highland civilization. The greatness of this
accomplishment influenced the idea of state and urban structures for future generations.
The rise of Xochicalco, Cacaxtla, Cholula, and Tula seem partly to be due to the collapse of Teotihuacan. To
determine if this is true, and to what degree, one must first look at Teotihuacan and determine the relationship it
had with these cities.
The importance of Teotihuacan as a regional superpower has never been disputed, however the nature of this
power is still the topic of scholarly discussions. Around 150 BC, two main centers controlled the Basin area of
central Mexico. Teotihuacan and Cuicuilco were growing and expanding their influence, monumental architecture
was appearing, and competition was growing between these two centers. These two cities were the main market
and religious centers for the Basin. About this time however, a volcanic eruption took place that destroyed the
city of Cuicuilco, thus eliminating Teotihuacan’s only real competition. At this point, Teotihuacan became more
then just a market and religious center, now it has become a political center.
One of the theories for the collapse of Teotihuacan has to do with this religious aspect of the city. In this theory,
Teotihuacan was a center for religion throughout the area, and through moral standards, they were able to
exercise influence and control. Under this theory, the main reason for the collapse was due to the people’s
growing lack of religious enthusiasm previously seen in the area. As this enthusiasm lessened, so did the
influence and control, and this caused a great internal weakening in the social structure. It is believed that this
weakness would have made the city vulnerable to outside forces.
The social structure of Teotihuacan is also the basis for one of the theories for collapse. A secularized form of
divine kingship ruled Teotihuacan, and a considerable military force supported this.
At the top of the social ladder was a class of nobles who were arranged into kinship groups. These nobles acted
as administrators, and controlled every aspect of the society. It appears that the kinship groups were organized
by occupational specialties also, and this would have allowed the control of the necessary resources. With
control of resources comes power and control of the people, but when the resources run out, so does the control.
Recent research has looked at the possibility of Teotihuacan’s resources running dry. Mainly, soil quality has
been the main issue. The slash and burn techniques used in the area of Teotihuacan, require land to lay fallow
for a certain period of time before it can be replanted. The growth in population at Teotihuacan is believed to
have created a situation, were the farmers were utilizing every inch of land available. In order to provide the
crops necessary to support this large population, farmers would not have been able to leave any land fallow for
any amount of time. The study showed that soil quality diminished greatly after each crop, and that after only a
few years, the soil would no longer be usable as farmland. The crop yield would have diminished each year to
the point that there was not enough food to feed the population. Teotihuacan relied heavily on its agriculture,
and very little animal protein was available. This lack of food is believed to be the reason for the collapse.
This idea is somewhat supported by the fact that Teotihuacan first showed signs of having problems, when it
began to withdraw from outlying areas.
By 550 AD, Teotihuacan had lost much of its influence in the outer reaches of Mesoamerica.
As Teotihuacan withdrew from the outlying areas, the outlying cities would have been released from the
oppressive pressures, and these cities would have had a renewed life.
Another common theory had to do with there being an alliance of three of these outlying cities. Tula, Xochicalco,
and Cholula are thought to have combined forces, and successfully blocked Teotihuacan’s access to resources.
Recent archeological data however, indicates that Tula was not established until around 800 AD. Like wise, the
city of Xochicalco did not become an urban center until 650 AD, making it very unlikely that they had anything to
do with the collapse at Teotihuacan.
It does not appear that a clear-cut reason for the collapse at Teotihuacan is evident, but several facts are
As Teotihuacan began having problems within the city, they pulled out of the outlying areas, thus ending the
oppression of the cities in these areas.
Second, evidence clearly exists that indicates Teotihuacan was systematically looted and destroyed in the end.
Not only that, but due to the fact that sacred and valuable items were dug up from hiding places, and hidden
tombs broken into, the indications are that people from within the city are the ones responsible. Almost overnight
it appears that a deliberate attempt was made to obliterate all evidence of the elite’s rule. Murals and sculptures
were desecrated and pottery was broken. Evidence of dismembered bodies have been found underneath
burned out structures, and this points to a very violent and angry end to Teotihuacan.
Once again, we have lots of evidence of the collapse, but very little evidence as to why it happened. One last
theory worth mentioning attempts to tie these loose ends together.
Researcher Joyce Marcus has formulated a theory about Teotihuacan. In her theory she suggests that
developing cities follow a 200-300 year cycle. First the city is centralized, and then it builds up and expands its
boundaries. Next, the outlying colonies begin to grow, and power struggles begin to take place within the main
city. Eventually, this internal conflict drives the collapse of the city itself.
This last theory seems to tie the Teotihuacan collapse together into a nice package, but if it were true, then that
would mean that the outlying areas could have been responsible for the collapse by way of internal rivalries. To
get an idea if this is feasible, we can look at some of these main cities after Teotihuacan’s collapse.
Xochicalco was a substantially populated area during the rein of Teotihuacan, but during this time it did not have
an urban center or public architecture. After the collapse however, a fortress city was erected on top of the hills.
Terrace systems were also created for residential construction, and a pyramid was built on the top. The pyramid
was dedicated to the Plumed Serpent, and this area had very limited access. A large palace was also
constructed during this time, which housed the governing elites. Public buildings were erected, as well as roads
that connected the outlying countryside with the city and public areas. The entire city was also surrounded by a
defensive wall and moat. A study of the archeological data indicates that the population may have had its
original roots from the Gulf Coast Maya.
Cacaxtla is another fortified city that was established after the collapse of Teotihuacan. This city was established
by a group of people called the Olmeca-Xicalanca. The Olmeca-Xicalanca used Cacaxtla as a capital for their
regional kingdom. These people are believed to have come from the Gulf Coast area, and upon seeing the
problems at Teotihuacan, established control of a strategically favorable location. These same people also
moved in and took control of the city of Cholula.
Cacaxtla as mentioned before was a fortified city. It was built on hilltops, and terraced. The hilltop supported ten
large platforms, which accommodated palace and temple structures as well as warehouse facilities. The entire
city was surrounded by a dry moat that measures 80 feet wide by 30 feet deep.
In conclusion, it appears that it probably was not just one factor that led to the collapse of Teotihuacan, but a
mosaic of elements working together. In some cases one thing leads to another. Lack of food causes starvation,
and with decreased nutrition comes more disease, and higher death rates. Cities as a rule are death traps, and
rely on immigration of people from outside to maintain the population growth. With poor food supplies and
rampant disease, people are not likely to move into town, and the population quickly declines. As the city lost
control of outlying areas, opportunists begin to move in to reap the benefits of your misfortune, and now you
have enemies at your doorstep.
You also have cities in these outlying areas that have been oppressed for years, which now have become free.
Once again creating a situation where you have enemies at your doorstep. All of these factors together could
easily explain how a huge super power could completely be destroyed almost overnight.
One other issue that should be addressed has to do with the benefits that are achieved by the outlying cities, as
a result of the collapse of Teotihuacan.
When Teotihuacan collapsed, it is logical to assume that a good deal of its population filtered back out into the
countryside. Some may have returned to their original origins, others may have simply migrated to a place with
available resources. Either way, these people would have taken with them the technology, beliefs, and
knowledge of Teotihuacan. So even though the empire has collapsed, the influence remains, and this is evident
in the architecture and art found in the outlying cities that began to proper after the collapse.
Who are the Aztecs? First of all, the term Aztec refers not to one group of people, but to all of the people living in
the Basin of Mexico in 1519, the time of the Spanish conquest. At that time the Basin was occupied by many
groups of people, all of which considered themselves to be separate from the other groups. Each group lived in
their own area of the Basin, with a capital city in the center of their communities. The Aztec empire is actually a
political system created through an alliance between three of the main groups in the Basin. The groups are the
Mexica, the Acolhua, and the Tlacopan.
The geography of the Basin area is an important feature in the Aztec civilization. During the time of the Aztec,
the Basin was basically a chain of shallow lakes. The Aztecs recognized basically three lakes, Chalco, Texcoco,
and Xaltocan. Water covers approximately 15% of the Basin area, and because of this it affects the climate, the
types of agriculture, and the basic social structure of the people who live there.
There are no records that detail the population of the Basin during this time, but rough estimates have been
made by researchers that put the population in the Basin somewhere around 1 to 2.5 million people. This is an
incredibly large number of people for an area approximately 3,024 square miles in size. The size of the
population alone alludes to certain problems that the Aztecs had to deal with, mainly maintaining an adequate
Because of this, the entire area of the Basin was subject to intense agricultural use. Slash and burn techniques
were utilized along mountain slopes, dry areas were irrigated with canals, and the lake itself was utilized by the
use of Chinampas, or floating gardens. The Chinampas were especially efficient, and productive for growing
crops. From historic records, it appears that families, who worked several chinampas at the same time,
maintained the chinampas. A variety of crops were grown, and varieties were rotated to coincide with the
seasons. The chinampas not only yielded a vast quantity of crops, but they also created a natural habitat for
waterfowl and aquatic life. Both of which were utilized to supplement the diet of the people. An important point
that needs to be made at this time has to do with the relationship of the chinampas and the cities. According to
documents, the cities had a small amount of chinampas, and other agricultural areas connected to them,
however these were not sufficient to feed their populations. This indicates that the farmers in the outlying areas
were vitally important to the survival of the cities.
Another very important geographical feature of the Basin is that a variety of ecological zones exist. Because of
this, not only are the agricultural techniques different in these areas, but also so are the crops raised. With a
great diversity of resources coming in from different areas of the Basin, an elaborate system of markets and
redistribution had to be created and administered.
Communities opened markets on specific days. Usually having one every five days, or else four times per
month. In some of the larger cities it appears that markets were open daily. These markets were not only for
crops however; it was a place for all craftsmen to trade their wares. The markets would often feature not only
local items, but items imported from other areas as well. This well organized market system was supported and
enforced by the State. Business transactions outside the market were prohibited, and special officials were in
place to insure quality control as well as order in the market. Judges were also on hand to decide any disputes
that may arise during business.
The Aztecs really did not have money as we know it, and most of the business dealings were based on a barter
relationship. Some use of money is implied in reference to cloaks, cacao beans, and gold dust, but for the most
part all business was through barter.
Another means of redistribution set up by the State, has to do with tribute. A tribute schedule was set up by the
State based on kinship, and social and political affiliations. Tribute was delegated as to amounts, and type of
item to be paid. All forms of marketable items were assessed as tribute. Crops, craft items, as well as labor were
considered items available for payment. According to historical documents, the amount of tribute demanded from
the commoners could be quite substantial, and overwhelming at times.
As previously mentioned, a large number of people lived in the outlying areas around the cities, and these
people were mainly the farmers and others who made use of the resources found in those areas. Still, the cities
did house the elites and a fairly good-sized population of people within its interior. The cities were made up of
ceremonial areas as well as places designated for the market. These areas were created by a series of adjacent
plazas surrounded by the major temples, administration buildings, palaces and other monumental structures.
The city was laid out according to the four directions, as well as astronomical signs and geographic features, and
this was then combined with an Aztec system of measurement that gave specific intervals for structures. The
residential structures were characterized as one-story residences surrounded by a wall that designated their
area. The buildings were occupied by several generations and related families with approximately ten to thirty
people of varying ages in residence.
Canals and waterways were the main system of transportation for the Aztecs. Major canals ran through the
cities, with smaller connecting canals feeding into it. Canoes were the main mode of transportation for people
The social organization of the Aztec is based on the calpulli, which is basically a clan type lineage system.
Actually calpulli is defined as a patrilineal clan, and the word translates as “big house”.
The calpulli system is the basis for land ownership among the Aztecs, and actually the land belongs to the calpulli.
The land ownership was laid out on maps showing the boundaries of the different calpulli land holdings. Another
map showed the quality of the land, with specific references to quality of soil, rocky, swamping, lakefront etc., and
a third map showed the distribution of land between the calpulli. Each calpulli has a representative called a
calpul, and the calpul meet with each other to make sure that each calpulli is receiving their fair share, and that
land distribution is equal. The calpul also take into consideration the elderly, infirm, and others that are unable to
work, so that everyone is taken care of.
Taxes were levied against the capulli, payable in labor or goods. The taxes are used to maintain the roads and
services, and to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves. Also, each calpulli is responsible for
building a stone schoolhouse in their area, and the young men of the capulli are sent to the school to learn how
to be good Aztecs.
Elites and common men alike were sent to the school. At the school the young men learned agricultural
techniques, script writing, and military strategy. The students drilled together as a unit, and this created a form of
a militia that could be called upon if the need arose.
Religion was also taught in the schools. Each capulli had a patron deity, one that had a special significance for
that particular capulli. Also, past ancestors who were of great importance were often deified by the capulli.
Another interesting aspect of the capulli is that the members do not have to be blood related. Capulli can adopt
people into their capulli, and from that moment on they are part of the clan in every aspect.
The Aztecs social structure is divided into classes. At the top of the class structure are the aristocrats. This
class is made up of upper and lower nobility, and these people act as the administrators, judges for disputes, and
kept records of tribute, etc.
Beneath the aristocrats is the common class, which are the calpulli. The hierarchy of the common class is based
on factors such as state jobs, master craftsmen, etc.
Next beneath the common class are the serfs. Serfs are people who have lost their land rights for one reason or
another. They are usually attached to a piece of land, and when the land is distributed the serf is distributed with
the land. In essence, it is possible to obtain land with a ready-made work force on it.
At the bottom of the class structure is the slave class. Slaves are either captives or criminals. They are used for
slave labor, and also for the occasional necessary sacrifices.
The only exception to the social structure rule is in the form of the “Grey knight”. This is a lordship that is
awarded to a person in recognition for something, or some accomplishment such as valor in war. With this award
comes all the status reserved for an aristocrat. It is awarded to the individual only, and upon his death the
individual’s family goes back to their original status.
The Aztecs did not have a standing army; instead the army is raised for each campaign. There does exist warrior
societies among the Aztecs however, and they are called “Serpent”, “Jaguar”, or “Eagle” knights. During times of
conflict these warrior societies serve as the special operations units. Also, during times of war the Aztec have
been known to use mercenaries on occasions. The Aztecs considered them to be barbarians however, and they
were kept separate from the regular army.
The political structure of the Aztecs was basically a city-state. Fifty city-states existed in the basin by 1519, and
each was ruled by a king. As king, the individual enjoyed all the privileges that come with being the king. One
important problem with being king is that it is not permitted to marry beneath your status. Because of this, many
times women married across city-state boundaries. This in essence creates the possibility of alliances and
treaties among marriage lines. As far as political structures go, by the time the Aztecs had taken control of the
Basin area, many great civilizations had come and gone from Mesoamerica. The people had knowledge and
experience of these past political systems, and it appears that the Aztecs borrowed some concepts from these
earlier civilizations, and developed some new ideas of their own. One of the main Characteristics of the Aztec
empire and its political structure is that it takes into consideration the diversity of the different groups within its
area of control. As the empire of the Aztecs was expanded, this political system served them well. The concept
of kinship, social status, and political/religious principles allowed the Aztecs to govern across great distances.
Basically the Aztecs would establish their political structure in place. Then they would establish fortified outposts
at strategically beneficial locations, control routes of travel, and arrange for collection of tribute. Other then that,
the conquered individuals were allowed to exist as they always had. Some scholars believe that the Aztecs
simply governed by intimidation. Once they conquered a city, they put people in place, or else the conquered
ruler could cooperate, but either way the people were intimidated into going along with the Aztec rule. The main
purpose for this conquering and expansion appears to be for tribute.
Another aspect of Aztec life had to do with a criminal justice system. Previously it was mentioned that judges
were in place at the markets in order to maintain order and settle disputes. Actually, the Aztecs had a two-tiered
judicial structure. Judgeships were appointed based on an individual’s status and personal accomplishments,
and men were chosen from both aristocratic lines as well as common lines. Lesser magistrates were available to
the common people for the settling of disputes, and handling of lesser crimes. Above them was a higher court,
which heard more complex cases. In the eyes of the Aztec court everyone appears to be equal. Aristocrats and
commoners alike were tried before the courts, and nobody was above the law.
Even the religious leaders of the community were active in the judicial process, many times serving as judges
themselves. In reference to Aztec religious beliefs, the Aztecs had an interesting belief that the world was on a
path of destruction, and that one day it would be destroyed by great earthquakes.
It is said that the planet has been destroyed four times in the past. Currently we are living during the “fifth” sun,
and it is only a matter of time before this world is destroyed. The Aztecs do not know when the world will end, but
they do believe it will take place at the end of the fifty-two-year cycle.
Another belief of the Aztecs was that the earth existed on the back of a crocodile, and he is swimming in a
celestial pool. They also believed the Basin lakes were connected with the celestial sea. The Aztecs had
different gods who were believed to control the weather, and along with these gods were lesser gods who worked
The representation of the gods is very evident in the artwork of the Aztecs. The gods are usually expressed as
having a human form, but when the god is in his purist form, it is often portrayed as an animal. The gods are
always invisible, but through dreams and visions you can have contact with them. Religion was a major part of
the Aztec daily life. Everyone was expected to share in the responsibility of praying, worshiping, and paying their
share of the tribute, all for the good of the community.
Another major part of Aztec life has to do with the military aspect. As stated previously, the Aztecs did not appear
to have had a standing army, however since all of the men had received military training, in essence the entire
male population was a standing army. The religious beliefs of the Aztecs were a driving force in their everyday
life, and making sacrifices and paying tribute was a big part of it. It is believed that this was the main reason why
the Aztecs were constantly going to war. To meet the demands of their religion, they had to go out and conquer
other people in order to obtain slaves for sacrifices and tribute enough to appease the gods. Also, a person’s
social rank could be influenced by military accomplishments during a war, so waging a campaign was an avenue
for climbing the social ladder.
The Aztec way of life was both simple and complex. Religion controlled the daily life of the people, and it also
drove the need for conquest. The social structure was divided into classes, but the common people were a vital
part that makes the whole system work. This system works mainly because of the lineage system that is built into
the religious beliefs. The religious and political system is intertwined with the lineages, and this is what makes it