The Toltec culture is an archaeological Mesoamerican culture that dominated a state centered in Tula, Hidalgo in the early post-classic period of Mesoamerican chronology (ca CE).
The later Aztec culture saw the Toltecs as their intellectual and cultural predecessors and described Toltec culture emanating from Tollan (Nahuatl for Tula) as the epitome of civilization, indeed in the Nahuatl language the word "Toltec" came to take on the meaning "artisan". The Aztec oral and pictographic tradition also described the history of the Toltec empire giving lists of rulers and their exploits.
Aztec view. Columns in the form of Toltec warriors in Tula. The word "Toltecatl" (Toltec) was originally used by the Nahua in contrast to the word "chichimeca" which describe their own prehistory as a nomadic hunter-gatherer people which later adopted the more "civilized," urban lifestyle described with the term Toltecayotl "Toltecness". Etymologically Toltecatl is derived from the Nahuatl language placename "Tollan" "place of reeds", which to the Aztecs signified "metropolis".
Toltecs as myth In recent decades the historicist position has fallen out of favor for a more critical and interpretive approach to the historicity of the Aztec mythical accounts based on the original approach of Brinton. Stucco relief at Tula, Hidalgo depicting Coyotes, Jaguars and Eagles feasting on human hearts. Depiction of an anthropomorphic bird-snake deity, probably Quetzalcoatl at the Temple of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli at Tula, Hidalgo
This approach applies a different understanding of the word Toltec to the interpretation of the Aztec sources, interpreting it as largely a mythical and philosophical construct by either the Aztecs or Mesoamericans generally that served to symbolize the might and sophistication of several different civilizations during the Mesoamerican Postclassic period.