The Art and Architecture of Ancient America: The Mexican, Maya, and Andean Peoples

By George Kubler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
THE VALLEY OF MEXICO AFTER A.D. 1000

THE TOLTEC REVOLUTION

TEOTIHUACáN exemplified the priestly government of early village groups, but Tula is the type-site for the warrior aristocracies of Middle America after about A.D. 1000. As the capital of the Toltec ('builder') dynasty, Tula flourished from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries,1 ruled by fighters rather than priests, who restricted political control to as few families as possible. Religion centred upon human sacrifice, in an aggressive, expansionist relationship to neighbouring tribes. Toltec skills included an early Middle American use of metallurgy, probably relayed via Central America from the central Andean coast.

Tula is about 40 miles north-west of both Mexico City and Teotihuacán, upon a natural frontier separating the rich Valley of Mexico from the desert plains of the north. The stratigraphy of the site confirms its chronological position of c. A.D. 1300, after Teotihuacán and before the Chichimec invasions.2 The ceramic remains are of types (Coyotlatelco and Mazapan) found also at Teotihuacán, but intrusive upon the burned and deserted remnants of the Classic centre. At Tula, finally, the burned and deserted city of the Toltecs was reoccupied by later inhabitants of Chichimec (barbarian) origin, whose presence is attested by ceramics of Tenayuca type (p. 49) in the fourteenth century.

The sources of Toltec civilization are still obscure. The exploitative character of the small, nomadic warrior aristocracy probably took shape during the eighth and ninth centuries, after the collapse of the theocracies owing to some combination of climatic, institutional, and demographic disorders. The fullest record of the early history of such a warrior group is found in the Mixtec genealogical manuscripts of southern Mexico, which give a dynastic history beginning in the eighth or ninth centuries A.D. These manuscripts, compiled after about 1300, record early customs among the Mixtec tribes (Plates 52, 53, A and B, 54, A and B, and 55, A and B), customs strikingly like those recorded in Toltec sculpture. Either Toltec historiography derives from Mixtec antecedents, or the Mixtec chroniclers modelled their histories upon Toltec sources. The former is more likely, because the traces of Mixtec expansion throughout Middle America are on the whole earlier than the Toltec horizon, and they are reinforced by the Mixtecs' own pictorial chronicles.

The architectural forms of Toltec civilizations come from other sources. The pyramidal platforms, the composition of large open spaces as ritual centres, and the colossal statues have precedents in the style of Teotihuacán. A direct Maya influence upon the art of Tula owing to Toltec domination in Yucatán after A.D. 1,000 should not be overlooked. The case of Xochicalco affords precedent for art of Mayan derivation in central

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