Presentation on theme: "The Mexica or Aztec: A Predatory State"— Presentation transcript:
1 The Mexica or Aztec: A Predatory State Social, Political, and Economic OrganizationAll states are predatory, but some are more predator then others. Along with the Mongols under Genghis Kahn, and the Axis powers in World War II, The Aztecs or Mexica probably hold the record.
2 Who Were the Aztec?We know they came from somewhere up north—how far north is anyone’s guessMythically, they came from “Aztlan, the Land of the Herons,” of which “Aztec” is a derivationThey were mercenaries of the Toltec centered in Tula, although even that is bound up in mythWhen Tula fell, the Aztec migrated to an area of five lakes dominated by Lake TexcocoAn area dominated by “Epigonal Toltecs”No one really knows where the Aztecs came from. Historical linguistic data and legend alike suggest they came from the north—but how far north or where is anyone’s guess. Mythically, they came from a place called “Aztlan,” or “Place of the Herons,” the name “Aztec” is derived from this place name. More likely, they lived in Tula for a while, acting as mercenaries for the Toltecs. With the fall of Tula, they migrated to Lake Texcoco, a lake near Mexico City which has since dried up. The area was dominated by what Wolf calls “Epigonal Toltecs.”
3 Epigonal ToltecsThe first were the Otomi-speaking Tepanecs, who founded the city of Atzcapotzalco on the western shores of Lake TexcocoThe second was Xaltocan, an Otomi-speaking state on the north shore of Lake TexcocoThe third was the Acolhua who dominated the eastern shore of Lake Texcoco, organized also by ChichimecaThe fourth was Colhuacán on the southwest part of the Valley of Mexico, at the cusp between Lakes Texcoco and Xochimilco.The fifth was a small state Xicco.
4 Aztec NomenclatureInitially, they did not settle at the site of TenochtitlanTheir names changed from “Chichimec from Aztlan” a contemptuous term that meant “Barbarian”To “Tenochca” after a patriarch by that name, who also gave the name to TenochtitlánTo “Mexica,” which they adopted after attaching themselves to the Colhua of Colhuacan as mercenaries, calling themselves “Colhua Mexica”
5 Formation of the AztecInitially, they did not settle at the site of TenochtitlánAfter numerous wanderings they settled at a swampy site mythically where an eagle was perched on a nopal cactus devouring a snakeFirst, they served as mercenaries of AtzcapotzalcoThey then switched sides, allied themselves with the Acolhua of Texcoco, overthrew Atzapotzalco, and eventually formed a triple alliance between themselves, the Acolhua, and a liberated part of Atzapotzalco called TlacopanThird, they established hegemony in 1500, 21 years before the actual conquest.Although Tenochtitlan, at the site of today’s Mexico City, would become the capital of the Mexica (Aztec) empire.
6 Formation and Society Bilateral descent does allow for flexibility. To enjoy a rapid rise from a muddy village settled in 1345 or so to an empire less than 200 years later, you have to be flexible.1427 saw the formation of the Triple AllianceSo to envision an “Aztec society,” the question arises just which society are we talking aboutBerdan describes society at it was on the eve of the ConquestBut were they patrilineal groups in the past? We don’t know; records were often destroyed by the victors
7 What Were the Calpulli? What is known for sure: There were 20 “Big Houses” by that nameThey were landholding groupsThey were organized territoriallyThey had their own councilsThey had their own templesThey comprised the macehual, or commoner, generally peasantsThe debate: kin groups or peasant class?
8 Calpulli as Kin Groups Kin groups or clans Reasoning: the Aztecs themselves were tribal groups at most 300 years beforeWhat kind? Evidence is lacking?Indication of a patrilineal bias among nobility: preference for “junior lines” in allocating economic assets and political favors.
9 Calpulli as Social and Economic Classes Developed into administrative subclassesCould have been units organizing not only peasants but also craftspersons and tradersExample: in Texcoco under Hungry Coyote (Nezahualcoyotl), calpulli were organized featherworkers and goldworkersPochteca (luxury good traders) may also have formed a calpulli; we do know they were hereditary
10 Calpulli as Both Kin and Class Conical clans in which privileges are based on order of birthKept wealth and privileges in the family, but some members were more equal than othersKin trace their ancestry to a founder, real or fictiveBut through such justification as precedence of birth, the lineal descendants (junior lines) get preferential treatmentThis suggests that unilineal descent might have been dominant at one time
11 Calpulli and Ethnicity As conquests proceeded, Tenochtitlan became more ethnically diverse.Thus calpulli included not only kin but also “allies” from the conquered provincesFlexibility of kin thus allowed fictive (fictional) ties as wellThus, the European Catholic tradition of compradrazgo fit in very well with indigenous society.Thus their flexibility is not at issue; only their “pristine” characteristics.
12 Calpulli and Land Tenure Land was held in common in the calpulliSystem was based on usufructPeasants “owned” their plot so long as they used it and paid their taxesLand reverted back to the commons if the peasant stopped using the land or pay the taxesLand could be rented, but not bought or sold
13 Aztec: Kin ReckoningReckoned kinship bilaterally; traced relations through paternal and maternal side.Kinship terms bilateral: e.g. tlatli is an uncle, whether father’s or mother’s brotherPossibly reflected the extreme instability one expects from a state in rapid formationAnd one in which there are shifting alliances
14 Marriage among the Aztec Marriage was endogamous by class: pipiltin to other pipiltin, macehuallin to other macehuallinThere was no other rule of exogamy outside the immediate familyThis meant that marriage could involve one’s cousin; cross-cousin marriage was not unknownPolygyny was common among nobility and tied in with social class; wives were put to work.
15 Marriage Alliances and Power Nobility: Marriage had a political function: female from Texcoco married a male from the subordinate Teotihuacan to maintain a tieThe son of the Teotihuacan ruler would then be subordinate to Texcoco because of the “gift” of a wife.Marriage was to man’s mother’s brother’s daughter—his matrilateral cross-cousin.Failure to repay in Maussian terms means the Teotihuacan nobility would be “beggar” to Texcoco nobility.This would persist for generations.
16 Aztec Markets: Common Goods There were two kinds of marketsOne dealt in ordinary goodsMarkets usually met every five daysTrading outside the market was illegal and one could be imprisoned or the goods confiscatedReason: market transactions were subject to taxati
17 Aztec Markets: Luxury Products Texcoco had been a market town long before the Aztecs assumed powerMarkets were a daily affair in Texcoco; major markets comprising up to 50,000 buyers and sellers met every fifth day—they were the center of luxury productsA hereditary class of merchants called Pochteca were probably active long before the AztecsThey occupied a precarious positionOn the one hand, they were vital as sources of military intelligence to the rulers and were protectedOn the other hand, their economic power were a threat to the rulers; toward the end, they hid their wealth.
18 Sociopolitical Organization of the Aztecs Society: A Twofold DivisionPilli: The noblesMacehual: The peasantsHowever, the peasants themselves were stratifiedMacehuales who excelled in battle could themselves become nobleThis requires some background in the principles of political anthropology
19 Social Class: Overview General types (Fried)Egalitarian societies:Social systems with as many valued positions as person capable of filling themExceptions: age, gender, special characteristicsRanked societiesSocial systems with fewer valued status positions than those capable of filling themStratified societiesMinority control of strategic resources
20 Stratified Societies Access to strategic resources is unequal Examples Water in irrigation societiesLand in patrimonial (feudal) societiesClaims to capital assets (stocks, bonds) in capitalist societyCapital: goods/services used for productionMoney, stocks, bonds are also capital
21 Emergence of Stratification Manipulative Individuals/ FamiliesForm alliances (chimpanzee-like)Play one faction against anotherForm dynasties (bonobo-like)Control over Life-Sustaining ResourcesWater systems in semi-arid regionsAgricultural landsMechanisms of TaxationLaborTribute
22 Political Organization: Basic Principles Power vs AuthorityPower: compliance by coercion or forceAuthority: compliance by persuasionLegitimacy: Beliefs rationalizing ruleExamples: Divine Right, Peoples ConsentSanctions: reinforcements of behaviorPositive: rewards, recognitionNegative: punishment
23 Power versus Authority Extreme examplesPower: concentration camps: Auschwitz (above); Guantanamo (below)Authority: !Kung, Inuit, YanomamoNeither is absoluteDictatorships need to persuade: Nuremberg rallies, Mayday paradesPower is evenly distributed in nonstate cultures
24 Legitimacy as Justification for Political Order Justification necessary even in authoritarian statesMonarchies: the divine right to ruleSoviet Union: Socialist transition to communist economyNazi Germany: Racial purification; delivery of full-employment (Nuremberg rallies, above)Democratic forms: consent by the governed (below, State of the Union)
25 One Myth Behind Mexica Power War Against the Tepenacs of AtzcapotalzoNobles voted for war; commoners voted for peaceThe declaration of the nobles (Wolf, p. 137)Commoners’ reply on agreement if the war were successful (Wolf, p. 137)Most likely, a mythical exchange, but this served as one part of legitimation
26 Sociopolitical Organizations: General Typology Bands: Small, informal groupsTribes: Segmentary groups integrated by some unifying factorChiefdoms: Group organized under a chief in a ranked societyState: Centralized political system with monopoly over legitimized force and its use.
27 States: Force as Prime Mover Defining CharacteristicsA centralized political systemWith power to coerceThe operating factor:Monopoly over the use ofLegitimate physical forceSupports the apparatus of the stateBureaucracy --Army and policeLaw and legal codes
28 States: Derivative Features Administrative structurePublic services --Tax collectionResource allocation --Foreign affairsDelegation of forcePolice, all levels --Armed forceLawCivil (dispute resolution)Regulatory (trade, economy)Criminal (crime and punishment)
29 Law: Cross-Cultural Comparison Codified law: Formally defines wrong and specifies remediesCustomary law: Informal sanctions or dispute resolutionRestitution or Restorative law: emphasizes dispute resolution, damage restitutionRetributive law: emphasizes punishment for crimes committed
30 Case Studies: Restitution Nuer: Leopard-skin chiefFunction: mediate disputes; leopard wrap identifies roleCannot force or enforce an agreementAuthority is spiritualZapotec in Talea, MexicoFunction: hear cases and negotiateRecommend settlementEnforce agreement by community
31 Case Studies: Retribution Criminal LawMurder, Robbery, OthersCivil LawConsumer Law and Small CourtsFinal Say: Judge or ArbitratorLimitation: Sheer Numbers of Cases
32 A Trisection of Society Relations of Production form the basis of sociopolitical systems.Political superstructure: government, military, the lawIdeology: religion, myths, even psychologyWhen the base shifts, the rest of society changes
33 Basic Political Structure of the Mexica The nobility expanded its privileges as the empire developedPrivileges: Right to wear insignia, special clothingMarital privileges: polygyny and the political and economic power it implied.Had their own special courtsSent children to calmecatl, or schools of religious and ceremonial training, prerequisite for entry into the bureaucracyCommoners were tillers of the soilSlaves, who had their own privileges
34 Aztec Society: A Study of Mobility Remember that the Mexica were still in a state of expansion when the Spaniards cameUnfinished business: The Tlaxcalans, the Tarascans, the unconquered lands of southern MexicoInternally, they were a mobile societyRulers created a “nobility of service” as well as a nobility of lineage
35 Nobility of Service Distinguished themselves in war or by trade Term: “Knights” or “Sons of the Eagle”Also divided the commoners from those relative fewA source of tension with the nobility of lineage over bureaucratic positionsAn aristocratic reaction curtailed their privilegesStratification became more established on the eve of the Conquest
36 Religious IdeologyHuitzilopochtli (Hummingbird of the Left): the principal godPresided over a world that ended in cataclysmThe last world ended in hurricanes, preceded by rain, sky falling on earth, and fire; the present one will end in earthquakesTo forestall the inevitable end would entail the blood sacrifice of humans
37 Gods from the Predecessors Quetzalcoatl: The plumed serpent god who was banished to the east.Tezcatlipoca, (smoking mirror), who displaced Quetzalcoatl, who demanded blood sacrificed in his own right, and often identified with HuitzilopochtliTlaloc, the rain god, He Who Makes the Plants Spring Up.Xipe Totec, the Flayed One, whose skin symbolized the old vegetation with the promise of renewalThe pantheon became standardized after the first conquest over the TepanecEven so, one god might be merged with another, as Huitzilopochtli with Tezcatlipoca
38 Self-Concept of the Mexica At the edge of cataclysmIndividuals were expected to combine bravery with moderationThe ideal Mexica did not drink to excess, spoke softly, was sexually continent.
39 The Eve of the Conquest: Cracks in the Mexica State The Mexica exploited the provinces mercilessly for tribute and sometimes sacrificial victimsExcept for these, the provinces were left on their own; their own customs, languages, and religions were left alone.This, coupled with the still-independent states, may have been their downfall.The domination was never absolute, and the Mexica armies had their limitationsThe Spaniards were able to exploit these weaknesses, despite initial failures.
40 Comparison with the Maya The Maya were competitive city statesEven after the collapse, they were relatively independentThe conquest of the Aztec was largely a one-time event in the Valley of MexicoIn contrast, the Spaniards would have to conquer one Mayan state over a long period of attritionEven after 1692, there were constant uprisings throughout Mexico and Guatemala well into the 19th century.