John Pohl, THE CODICES John Pohl's


The Chichimecs

The name “Aztec” is not really indigenous, although it does have a cultural basis. It was first proposed by a European, the explorer-naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, and later popularized by William H. Prescott in his remarkable 1843 publication, “The History of the Conquest of Mexico.” Aztec is actually an eponym derived from Aztlán, meaning “Place of the White Heron“, a legendary homeland of seven desert tribes, called Chichimecs, who miraculously emerged from caves located at the heart of a sacred mountain far to the north of the Valley of México. They enjoyed a peaceful existence of hunting and fishing until they were divinely inspired to fulfill a destiny of conquest by their patron gods Mixcoatl and Huitzilopochtli.

Image - The Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca The Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca portrays Chicomoztoc, or the Seven Caves of Aztlán from which the first Chichimec tribes emerged before invading the Basin of México to become the Aztecs. Note the different varities of nopal, organ-pipe and barrel cacti showing that Chicomoztoc was equated with the remote northern deserts. Click on Image for more detail.
Image - Codex Boturini Codex Boturini. The Chichimecs journeyed until one day they witnessed a tree being ripped asunder by a bolt of lightning. The seventh and last tribe, more properly called the Méxica, took the event as a sign that they were to divide and follow their own destiny. Their god Huitzilopochtli is shown counseling them. The Méxica continued to wander for many more years, sometimes hunting and sometimes settling down to farm, but never remaining in any one place for very long. After the collapse of Tula, the capital of a Toltec state that dominated Central México from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries, they decided to move south to Lake Texcoco. Click on Image for more detail.
Image - Codex Mendoza Codex Mendoza. Impoverished and without allies, the Méxica were soon subjected to attacks by local Toltec warlords who forced them to retreat to an island off Lake Texcoco’s western shore where they witnessed a miraculous vision of prophecy; an eagle standing on a cactus growing from solid rock. It was the sign for Tenochtitlán, their final destination. The official date of the city’s founding was A.D. 1335. Click on Image for more detail.
Image - Lake Texcoco Lake Texcoco, A.D. 1335. Click on Image for more detail.

Finding they had little to offer other than their reputation as fearsome warriors, the Méxica had no other choice than to hire themselves out as mercenaries to rival Toltec factions. Eventually they were able to affect the balance of power in the region to such a degree that they were granted royal marriages. The Méxica, now the most powerful of the seven original Aztec tribes, incorporated their former rivals and together they conquered an empire. Eventually, they gave their name to the nation of México, while their city of Tenochtitlán became what we know today as México City. Historians still apply the term Aztec to the archaeological culture that dominated the Basin of México, but recognize that the people themselves were ethnically highly diversified.

The Toltecs

Image - Temple B at Tula Temple B at Tula. At the end of Mesoamerica’s Classic period, large urban states like Teotihuacán were largely abandoned. In their wake rose a commercially-oriented, secondary nobility who settled into smaller city states. The inhabitants of the Basin of México subsequently came to be known as “Toltecs” after Tula-Tollan, a religious and commercial center located 30 miles north of Lake Texcoco. According to the legends told by Aztec poets in later times, Tollan was founded by Quetzalcoatl (Lord Plumed Serpent) after the death of his father Mixcoatl (Lord Cloud Serpent) at Culhuacán. It was said that in Tula no one hungered, for corn grew as big as grinding stones. Through his popularity, Quetzalcoatl taught his people to make the finest jewels, featherwork, and pottery. Cotton was grown, pre-dyed in any color desired, and so the Toltecs enriched themselves through trade in luxury wealth. Click on Image for more detail.
Image of Huitzilopochtli, Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl and Mixcoatl Quetzalcoatl’s followers were said to shun human sacrifice; offerings of snakes, birds and butterflies were substituted instead. For this Quetzalcoatl was mocked and ridiculed by an opposing faction of priests, including the Méxica war god Huitzilopochtli. Led by the evil Tezcatlipoca, they incited Quetzalcoatl to commit sins of drunkeness, vanity, and incest. Shaming himself before his people, Quetzalcoatl left the city and spent the remainder of his life penitent, wandering from kingdom to kingdom, until he re-established his devotees at Cholula. His days then came to an end on the Atlantic Gulf coast where he either died or sailed over the ocean’s horizon on a raft of serpents. Such legends were recounted in multiple, sometimes conflicting, variations but were always filled with enough detail to suggest that they could be based on historical events. This was the way that religion bound together both the human and divine inhabitants of a place. Their spiritual connection to gods, heroes, and ancestors is comparable to the claims of nationality and language that contemporary societies use to define a state. Although legends are difficult to prove, archaeologists have documented the fact that with Tula’s ultimate abandonment by the 13th century, populations began to move south to resettle into independent city states surrounding Lake Texcoco. Click on Image for more detail.

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