Who were the Toltecs?
Toltec Sphere of Influence
Fall of Tula and the Toltecs
Tolteca-Chichimeca & Nonoalca
l Populated by two groups
l probably original Nahuatl-speakers who founded
l reported to have come from north
l leader was Mixcoatl ("Cloud Serpent" = Milky Way)
l reported to have settled at a place in the Valley of Mexico
l son and heir was Tolpitzin, later identified with
l described as having fair skin and black beard
l Ce Acatl Tolpitzin, born at TepoztlÝn, Morelos in AD 935
l searched for and buried deceased father's remains
l moved Toltec capital to Tula in AD 968
l Referred to as highly civilized leaders, priests,
merchants, and craftsmen (bearers of the Mesoamerican
l Davies sees them as coming possibly from Gulf Coast
region of Veracruz and Tabasco, or they may have come
l Diehl believes they probably included upper and middle
classes from Teotihuacan, Monte Alban, Xochicalco, El
Tajin, and other centers who were forced to search out
new lives when home communities declined
l suggests migration played a major role in formation of
l Sahagun's* informants told him Toltecs had ears of corn that could
hardly be carried in one's arms, cotton in all different colors (from
bright red to green, blue, and violet)
l maize was the basic food source
l supplemented with beans, chili peppers, amaranth, squashes, and
l medicinal plants and drugs also grown
l farming in milpas and household gardens
l earth worked with stone or wooden hoes
l planting with wooden digging sticks
l polycropping common (beans and squash with maize)
l Irrigation was essential
l Tlaloc was probably a critical deity
l hillside terraces built to trap water and silt for agriculture
l intensification technique which was probably a response to
*Sahagun was a Spanish missionary, born in Sahagun, Leon, late in the 15th century;
died in Mexico, 23 October, 1590.
Hunting and gathering
l Wild seeds included mesquite and
l fruits included cherry-like capulin,
persimmon, and prickly pear
l turkeys and small dogs were only meat-
producing domestic animals
l bees were probably raised for honey
l wild animals included deer, jackrabbit,
l "Toltec" came to mean master craftsman or artisan
l Sahagun's informants described "scribes, lapidarians,
carpenters, stone cutters, masons, feather workers, feather
gluers, potters, spinners, and weavers"
l feather work is reported to have been exceptionally good
l used on shields
l worked turquoise, gold, copper, tin, mica, and lead, together with
green stones, amber, rock crystal (quartz), amethyst, pearls, and
l tecali, often confused with onyx, used for beads, ornaments,
bowls, jars, and other luxury products
l bowls made by polishing and coring
l controlled Pachuca obsidian mines
l prized above all other obsidian by Mesoamericans
l used-up cores found all over city, not just in workshop zone
l suggests cores were produced for trade
l Diehl suggests 2000 craftsmen
Brazier with skulls
Duck effigy bowl
Papagayo polychrome bowl
Artifacts: Stone Carvings
Altar support from the Rear view of the
Temple of Quetzalcoatl altar support
l Diehl believes there was a Toltec "pochteca" (specialized
l trade wares included Central American polychromes, Plumbate,
Central Veracruz wares, and Huastec pottery from north Gulf
l conspicuously absent was Fine Orange from southern Veracruz,
Tabasco, and Campeche
l cacao and quetzal feathers may have come from Guatemala
l northern steppe zones provided turquoise, serpentine, quartz,
rock crystal, mica, amethyst, and cinnabar
l also peyote and hallucinogenic mushrooms
l Pacific coast shells indicate commercial ties with Michoacan,
Nayarit, and Colima
l metal ornaments, especially copper, may also have come from
l Tezcaltlipoca - the night and the darkness
l Tláloc god of the rain and the vegetation
l Centéotl god of the corn
l ltzpapáloti or butterfly of obsidian
l Tonatiuh or solar god.
Tlaloc god of rain
Politics - "The Toltec State"
l Precise definitions of borders impossible
l included much of central Mexico and adjacent areas to the north
l Hidalgo, Basin of Mexico, Valley of Toluca, parts of Baja and
l most of northern boundary coincided with limits of effective
l Motivation for empire building was "free" wealth in the
form of tribute
l Matricula de Tributos, an Aztec document, gives us an
idea of the types of tribute received
l Emphasis on three types of goods
l maize, beans, chilis, amaranth, chian, and animals
l goods of cotton and maguey fiber, cotton goods probably reserved for
l exotic luxury goods
l feathers, animal skins, minearal, semi-precious stones, and other items
such as lumber, pottery, lime, bark paper, honey, and wild animals
Important rulers mentioned in
drama of Toltec history
l Tolpitzin Quetzalcoatl
l enthroned as priest and king of Tollan, said to have led his people away from
human sacrifice, also had problems: incest with sister when drunk, fled Tula in
shame after run-in with Tezcatlipoca, also struggled with Ihuimecatl and Toltecatl
l Tezcatlipoca ("Smoking Mirror")
l sacrificer, lord of sorcerers, reported as charming and enchanting people
l culture hero reported to have arrived in Maya area ca. AD 986-987
l reported as Mexican conqueror who arrived with companions to subjugate the
l "Kukulcan" is a translation of "Feathered Serpent" into Yucatec Maya
l said to have ruled Chichen Itza until his death
l last king of Tula, forced to flee as a result of growing factionalism and
l some identify Huemac as Tezcatlipoca, said to have fled around AD 1063 due to
droughts, conflicts, and fighting between the Tolteca-Chichimeca and Nonoalca
result in destruction of Tula ca. 1150
l settled in Chapultepec, on western banks of Lake Texcoco dated to 1156 or
1168 and eventually killed himself
l Multi-ethnic group that introduced changes in public and religious
architecture and new styles of stone carving and ceramics.
l Tula buliders did not call themselves Toltecs, but the Aztec used the
word to refer to a skilled craftsperson or artisan.
l mixture of Nahuatl, Otomi, Nonoalca, Chichimec peoples.
l Carnegie Museum of Washington who had been working at Chichen
Itza began excavations at Tula, Hidalgo., also University of Missouri
worked with Mesoamerican groups to conduct work after 1966.
l Chronology in the area based largely on ceramics.
l Prior to 400 A.D. Tula region was integrated with Teotihuacan, but most
people in the area were farmers and also some Hilltop sites such as
l By around 700 A.D. areas such as Tula Chico which is situated north of
the Tula area with civic-ceremonial architecture laid out in a n-s axis.
l Several areas occupied for different reasons and at different times in
l Tula Chica, Cerro Mogone, Tula Grande, Tula de Allende, Canal
Locality, El Corral, Cerro El Cielito, Cerro La Malinche.
Acosta, primary excavato
at Tula, stands next to
l A.D. 900-1200
l Development of city north of Teotihuacan.
l Located on the Tula river and near the Lerma
rivers for easy communication with others.
l This new capital was closer to the northern limits
l Toltec history embellished by Aztecs, Spaniards
and others after their collapse in 1200 A.D.
l north of Valley of Mexico in southern part of state of Hidalgo
l rivers flow northeast to Rio Moctezuma, then down Sierra Madre
Oriental into Rio Panuco and Gulf of Mexico
l Dry, desertified area
l hardy scrup and cactus thickets, mesquite, prickly pear, and yucca
l soils are rich, alluvial ones but irrigation necessary for agriculture
l high mountains to the east hold clouds away from area and rainy
season precipitation is insufficient for rainfall agriculture
l Tula area has slightly more rain, irrigation water, and arable land
than rest of region
l mild, with annual temperatures ranging from 16-19C (60-66F)
l monthly temperatures average from 11C (52F) in December to
38C (100F) in May with frosts frequent in winter
l Just south of Tula Chico, was occupied during the prime phase of Tula 950-
l 13 km in area, with a population of 30-60,000 residents.
l craftspeople, trades people, religious leaders, but not farmers.
l workshops included manos and metates makers.
l City laid out on n-s axis.
l center with double plaza complex, two pyramids, council halls, and a colonnaded
l two ballcourts, much of this built on large single platform 10-15 meters in height.
l Building C was the most impressive but was destroyed.
l Building B is the Temple to Quetzalcoatl.
l stone sculpture is largely made of columns, pillars, relief panels, and atlantids
which are figures of men used to support roofs or altars.
l a new feature known as a serpent wall which does not surround the temple but is
free standing along the north.
l also depictions of Patolli playing which is a game of chance played by many
mesoamerican groups and is similar to modern Parchessi.
l chacmool figures as well.
1. North Ball Court
3. Palace of Quetzalcoatl
4. Palace of the Columns
6. Temple of
7. Mound C
9. South Ball Court
Ballcourt 1 Ballcourt 2
Stone (found in the
center of the ballcourt)
possibly connected with
the scoring or ritual
of the game
Palace of the Columns
Temple of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli
(Temple of the Morning Star)
Atlantean warrior columns on the
summit of Pyramid B, Tula Grande.
All are made of basalt and are over
fifteen feet tall.
Pyramid B: Temple of Quetzalcoatl
Recreation of what the temple would
have looked like in the past.
Detail of the Coatepantli, which
depicts a band of serpents
devouring a skeletal form
On the inner side of this is a well preserved frieze depicting
a rather grisly scene of a long line of snakes swallowing
skeletal people, who are thought to be warriors.
Palace of Quetzalcoatl
Toltec Sphere of Influence
l Sphere vs. Empire
l Not really a major empire like Teotihuacan or some other sites.
l It never had a well-defined boundary and nothing to indicate
l Must have been an important influence on their wealth,
organization and management.
l Toltec artifacts have a wide but uneven distribution.
l much art has militaristic displays, but no coercion or conquest
has been discovered archaeologically.
l Artifacts found at sites such as Casas Grandes to the north, sites
to the west, and Veracruz.
l Received items such as gold from the south.
Fall of Tula and the Toltecs
l Sahagun's version:
l Epic conflict between Tezcatlipoca and
l latter represented by priest or ruler Ce Acatl
l may have shared sovereignty with Huemac
l Tezcalipoca is said to have created so much
misfortune that the Toltecs perished or fled
l Quetzalcoatl fled to Gulf Coast
l Huemac fled to Chapultepec
Fall of Tula and the Toltecs
l Davies scenario
l northern frontier shifted southward through time, opening Tula to
attack ca. 1120
l caused some Toltecs to migrate into lands claimed by Cholula
l immigrants from northern frontier turned on their hosts and
assisted Cholula with help agains Toltec invaders
l group of northerners, led by Mixcoatl, settled in Basin of Mexico
after helping Cholulans
l Mixcoatl's sone Ce Acatl Topiltzin gained control of Tula in AD
l conflicts arose with Tula-born faction led by Huemac
l increased pressures from Huastecs and Chichimecs led to
stress and downfall of both men
Problems were both Internal and
l agriculture was especially sensitive to drought
l problem became critical with population growth
l Tula may have become overpopulated by 1100
l climate change and decrease in precipitation may have caused
many years of famine
l historical accounts contain many references to food problems
l often coupled with stories of conflicts and battles over land,
famine may have coincided with period of greatest influx of
l Social integration
l problems of multi-ethnicity
l continual flow of migrants into the city caused strains
l migrants may have been toughened and warlike
l Evidence for fire and destruction found in
l Not clear that all of it took place at once
l Canal Locality houses appear to have
been abandoned by 1100 on the basis of
l Urban peripheries appear to have been
abandoned before central core
l Slowly, a few city states rose up to dominate their
neighbors, but no real successor to the Toltec power
emerged during this period.
l The Kings of Culhuacan, as described in their "Annales de
Culhuacan" had some limited power, claiming descent from
the legendary Toltecs.
l But every other dynasty (Quiche, Itza, Mixtec, Chichimec)
did the same.
l Claiming to be a descendent of the Toltec Kings was
routine; even if many of the earliest rulers after the fall of
Tula were in all likelihood truly related to the nobles of the
Mixcoatl/Topiltzin/Huemac era, most of the succeeding
generations of petty rulers were not.
l History, however, is written by the victors, and the victors in
the incessant warfare of the post-Toltec era were eager to
associate themselves with the once glorious Toltecs.