The Teotihuacan Trinity: The Sociopolitical Structure of an Ancient Mesoamerican City

The Teotihuacan Trinity: The Sociopolitical Structure of an Ancient Mesoamerican City

The Teotihuacan Trinity: The Sociopolitical Structure of an Ancient Mesoamerican City

The Teotihuacan Trinity: The Sociopolitical Structure of an Ancient Mesoamerican City

Synopsis

Northeast of modern-day Mexico City stand the remnants of one of the world's largest preindustrial cities, Teotihuacan. Monumental in scale, Teotihuacan is organized along a three-mile-long thoroughfare, the Avenue of the Dead, that leads up to the massive Pyramid of the Moon. Lining the avenue are numerous plazas and temples, which indicate that the city once housed a large population that engaged in complex rituals and ceremonies. Although scholars have studied Teotihuacan for over a century, the precise nature of its religious and political life has remained unclear, in part because no one has yet deciphered the glyphs that may explain much about the city's organization and belief systems. In this groundbreaking book, Annabeth Headrick analyzes Teotihuacan's art and architecture, in the light of archaeological data and Mesoamerican ethnography, to propose a new model for the city's social and political organization. Challenging the view that Teotihuacan was a peaceful city in which disparate groups united in an ideology of solidarity, Headrick instead identifies three social groups that competed for political power--rulers, kin-based groups led by influential lineage heads, and military orders that each had their own animal insignia. Her findings provide the most complete evidence to date that Teotihuacan had powerful rulers who allied with the military to maintain their authority in the face of challenges by the lineage heads. Headrick's analysis also underscores the importance of warfare in Teotihuacan society and clarifies significant aspects of its ritual life, including shamanism and an annual tree-raising ceremony that commemorated the Mesoamerican creation story.

Excerpt

On my first visit to Teotihuacan I was wholly unimpressed. Though this thought now causes me much chagrin, at the time I had been seduced by the florid art and tree-sheltered architecture of the Maya. in fact, my initial view of the city was through the small window of a camper on a pickup truck while making my way home from excavations in Belize. Through this small win- dow, the incredible size of Teotihuacan's pyra- mids initially elicited some degree of awe, but as I walked the main avenue, the city struck me as charmless and brash. the architecture's repeti- tive nature and oppressive scale seemed to have none of the finesse of Maya cities. the traces of painting on the surfaces of the walls certainly intrigued me, but the comparative absence of sculpture disturbed my then Maya-centric mind. Teotihuacan appeared to me like a large hulking gorilla devoid of any grace.

My rehabilitation began during another field season in the Maya area. Dolf Widmer engaged me in a series of conversations that summer and pressed me to define the topic of my disserta- tion. At the time the Terminal Classic city of Chichen Itza was the leading candidate, but then Dolf threw down a gauntlet I could not ignore. He questioned how I could work on the Termi- nal Classic when I had no deep understanding of Classic period Teotihuacan, the city whose collapse had so radically transformed the Meso- America that followed. Gradually, I became per- suaded, and I set my sights on Teotihuacan. Thus, ironically, I began working on one of the largest preindustrial cities in the world not for a love of the city itself, but as an exercise to better com- prehend a radically smaller and decidedly more short-lived city to the south.

The transformation in my attitude towards Teotihuacan could not be more complete, for . . .

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