The Myths of Mexico and Peru/Chapter I
CHAPTER I: THE CIVILISATION
The Civilisations of the New World
THERE is now no question as to the indigenous origin of the civilisations of Mexico, Central America, and Peru. Upon few subjects, however, has so much mistaken erudition been lavished. The beginnings of the races who inhabited these regions, and the cultures which they severally created, have been referred to nearly every civilised or semi-civilised nation of antiquity, and wild if fascinating theories have been advanced with the intention of showing that civilisation was initiated upon American soil by Asiatic or European influence. These speculations were for the most part put forward by persons who possessed but a merely general acquaintance with the circumstances of American aboriginal civilisation, and who were struck by the superficial resemblances which undoubtedly exist between American and Asiatic peoples, customs, and art-forms, but which cease to be apparent to the Americanist, who perceives in them only such likenesses as inevitably occur in the work of men situated in similar environments and surrounded by similar social and religious conditions.
The Maya of Yucatan may be regarded as the most highly civilised of the peoples who occupied the American continent before the advent of Europeans, and it is usually their culture which we are asked to believe had its seat of origin in Asia. It is unnecessary to refute this theory in detail, as that has already been ably accomplished. But it may be remarked that the surest proof of the purely native origin of American civilisation is to be found in the unique nature of American art, the undoubted result of countless centuries of isolation. American language, arithmetic, and methods of time-reckoning, too, bear no resemblance to other systems, European or Asiatic, and we may be certain that had a civilising race entered America from Asia it would have left its indelible impress upon things so intensely associated with the life of a people as well as upon the art and architecture of the country, for they are as much the product of culture as is the ability to raise temples.
Evidence of Animal and Plant Life
It is impossible in this connection to ignore the evidence in favour of native advancement which can be adduced from the artificial production of food in America. Nearly all the domesticated animals and cultivated food-plants found on the continent at the period of the discovery were totally different from those known to the Old World. Maize, cocoa, tobacco, and the potato, with a host of useful plants, were new to the European conquerors, and the absence of such familiar animals as the horse, cow, and sheep, besides a score of lesser animals, is eloquent proof of the prolonged isolation which the American continent underwent subsequent to its original settlement by man.
Origin of American Man
An Asiatic origin is, of course, admitted for the aborigines of America, but it undoubtedly stretched back into that dim Tertiary Era when man was little more than beast, and language as yet was not, or at the best was only half formed. Later immigrants there certainly were, but these probably arrived by way of Behring Strait, and not by the land-bridge connecting Asia and America by which the first-comers found entrance. At a later geological period the general level of the North American continent was higher than at present, and a broad isthmus connected it with Asia. During this prolonged elevation vast littoral plains, now submerged, extended continuously from the American to the Asiatic shore, affording an easy route of migration to a type of man from whom both the Mongolian branches may have sprung. But this type, little removed from the animal as it undoubtedly was, carried with it none of the refinements of art or civilisation; and if any resemblances occur between the art-forms or polity of its equal descendants in Asia and America, they are due to the influence of a remote common ancestry, and not to any later influx of Asiatic civilisation to American shores.
Traditions of Intercourse with Asia
The few traditions of Asiatic intercourse with America are, alas! easily dissipated. It is a dismal business to be compelled to refute the dreams of others. How much more fascinating would American history have been had Asia sowed the seeds of her own peculiar civilisation in the western continent, which would then have become a newer and further East, a more glowing and golden Orient! But America possesses a fascination almost as intense when there falls to be considered the marvel of the evolution of her wondrous civilisations—the flowers of progress of a new, of an isolated world.
The idea that the "Fu-Sang" of the Chinese annals alluded to America was rendered illusory by Klaproth, who showed its identity with a Japanese island. It is not impossible that Chinese and Japanese vessels may have drifted on to the American coasts, but that they sailed thither of set purpose is highly improbable. Gomara, the Mexican historian, states that those who served with Coronado's expedition in 1542 saw off the Pacific coast certain ships having their prows decorated with gold and silver, and laden with merchandise, and these they supposed to be of Cathay or China, "because they intimated by signs that they had been thirty days on their voyage." Like most of these interesting stories, however, the tale has no foundation in fact, as the incident cannot be discovered in the original account of the expedition, published in 1838 in the travel-collection of Ternaux-Compans.
Legends of European Intercourse
We shall find the traditions, one might almost call them legends, of early European intercourse with America little more satisfactory than those which recount its ancient connection with Asia. We may dismiss the sagas of the discovery of America by the Norsemen, which are by no means mere tradition, and pass on to those in which the basis of fact is weaker and the legendary interest more strong. We are told that when the Norsemen drove forth those Irish monks who had settled in Iceland, the fugitives voyaged to "Great Ireland," by which many antiquarians of the older school imagine the author of the myth to have meant America. The Irish Book of Lismore recounts the voyage of St. Brandan, Abbot of Cluainfert, in Ireland, to an island in the ocean which Providence had intended as the abode of saints. It gives a glowing account of his seven years' cruise in western waters, and tells of numerous discoveries, among them a hill of fire and an endless island, which he quitted after an unavailing journey of forty days, loading his ships with its fruits, and returning home. Many Norse legends exist regarding this "Greater Ireland," or "Huitramanna Land" (White Man's Land), among them one concerning a Norseman who was cast away on its shores, and who found there a race of white men who went to worship their gods bearing banners, and "shouting with a loud voice." There is, of course, the bare possibility that the roving Norsemen may have on occasions drifted or have been cast away as far south as Mexico, and such an occurrence becomes the more easy of belief when we remember that they certainly reached the shores of North America.
The Legend of Madoc
A much more interesting because more probable story is that which tells of the discovery of distant lands across the western ocean by Madoc, a princeling of North Wales, in the year 1170. It is recorded in Hakluyt's English Voyages and Powel's History of Wales. Madoc, the son of Owen Gwyneth, disgusted by the strife of his brothers for the principality of their dead father, resolved to quit such an uncongenial atmosphere, and, fitting out ships with men and munition, sought adventure by sea, sailing west, and leaving the coast of Ireland so far north that he came to a land unknown, where he saw many strange things. "This land," says Hakluyt, "must needs be some part of that country of which the Spaniards affirme themselves to be the first finders since Hanno's time," and through this allusion we are enabled to see how these legends relating to mythical lands came to be associated with the American continent. Concerning the land discovered by Madoc many tales were current in Wales in mediæval times. Madoc on his return declared that it was pleasant and fruitful, but uninhabited. He succeeded in persuading a large number of people to accompany him to this delectable region, and, as he never returned, Hakluyt concludes that the descendants of the folk he took with him composed the greater part of the population of the America of the seventeenth century, a conclusion in which he has been supported by more than one modern antiquarian. Indeed, the wildest fancies have been based upon this legend, and stories of Welsh-speaking Indians who were able to converse with Cymric immigrants to the American colonics have been received with complacency by the older school of American historians as the strongest confirmation of the saga. It is notable, however, that Henry VII of England, the son of a Welshman, may have been influenced in his patronage of the early American explorers by this legend of Madoc, as it is known that he employed one Guttyn Owen, a Welsh historiographer, to draw up his paternal pedigree, and that this same Guttyn included the story in his works. Such legends as those relating to Atlantis and Antilia scarcely fall within the scope of American myth, as they undoubtedly relate to early communication with the Canaries and Azores.
American Myths of the Discovery
But what were the speculations of the Red Men on the other side of the Atlantic? Were there no rumours there, no legends of an Eastern world? Immediately prior to the discovery there was in America a widely disseminated belief that at a relatively remote period strangers from the east had visited American soil, eventually returning to their own abodes in the Land of Sunrise. Such, for example, was the Mexican legend of Quetzalcoatl, to which we shall revert later in its more essentially mythical connection. He landed with several companions at Vera Cruz, and speedily brought to bear the power of a civilising agency upon native opinion. In the ancient Mexican pinturas, or paintings, he is represented as being habited in a long black gown, fringed with white crosses. After sojourning with the Mexicans for a number of years, during which time he initiated them into the arts of life and civilisation, he departed from their land on a magic raft, promising, however, to return. His second advent was anxiously looked for, and when Cortes and his companions arrived at Vera Cruz, the identical spot at which Quetzalcoatl was supposed to have set out on his homeward journey, the Mexicans fully believed him to be the returned hero. Of course Montezuma, their monarch, was not altogether taken by surprise at the coming of the white man, as he had been informed of the arrival of mysterious strangers in Yucatan and elsewhere in Central America; but in the eyes of the commonalty the Spanish leader was a "hero-god" indeed. In this interesting figure several of the monkish chroniclers of New Spain saw the Apostle St. Thomas, who had journeyed to the American continent to effect its conversion to Christianity.
A Peruvian Prophecy
The Mexicans were by no means singular in their presentiments. When Hernando de Soto, on landing in Peru, first met the Inca Huascar, the latter related an ancient prophecy which his father, Huaina Ccapac, had repeated on his death-bed, that in the reign of the thirteenth Inca white men of surpassing strength and valour would come from their father the Sun, and subject the Peruvians to their rule. "I command you," said the dying king, "to yield them homage and obedience, for they will be of a nature superior to ours."
But the most interesting of American legends connected with the discovery is that in which the prophecy of the Maya priest Chilan Balam is described. Father Lizana, a venerable Spanish author, records the prophecy, which he states was very well known throughout Yucatan, as does Villagutierre, who quotes it.
The Prophecy of Chilan Balam
Part of this strange prophecy runs as follows: "At the end of the thirteenth age, when Itza is at the height of its power, as also the city called Tancah, the signal of God will appear on the heights, and the Cross with which the world was enlightened will be manifested. There will be variance of men's will in future times, when this signal shall be brought. . . Receive your barbarous bearded guests from the east, who bring the signal of God, who comes to us in mercy and pity. The time of our life is coming. . ."
It would seem from the perusal of this prophecy that a genuine substratum of native tradition has been overlaid and coloured by the influence of the early Spanish missionaries. The terms of the announcement are much too exact, and the language employed is obviously Scriptural. But the native books of Chilan Balam, whence the prophecy is taken, are much less explicit, and the genuineness of their character is evinced by the idiomatic use of the Maya tongue, which, in the form they present it in, could have been written by none save those who had habitually employed it from infancy. As regards the prophetic nature of these deliverances it is known that the Chilan, or priest, was wont to utter publicly at the end of certain prolonged periods a prophecy forecasting the character of the similar period to come, and there is reason to believe that some distant rumours of the coming of the white man had reached the ears of several of the seers.
These vague intimations that the seas separated them from a great continent where dwelt beings like themselves seem to have been common to white and red men alike. And who shall say by what strange magic of telepathy they were inspired in the minds of the daring explorers and the ascetic priests who gave expression to them in act and utterance? The discovery of America was much more than a mere scientific process, and romance rather than the cold speculations of mediæval geography urged men to tempt the dim seas of the West in quest of golden islands seen in dreams.
The Type of Mexican Civilisation
The first civilised American people with whom the discoverers came into contact were those of the Nahua or ancient Mexican race. We use the term "civilised" advisedly, for although several authorities of standing have refused to regard the Mexicans as a people who had achieved such a state of culture as would entitle them to be classed among civilised communities, there is no doubt that they had advanced nearly as far as it was possible for them to proceed when their environment and the nature of the circumstances which handicapped them are taken into consideration. In architecture they had evolved a type of building, solid yet wonderfully graceful, which, if not so massive as the Egyptian and Assyrian, was yet more highly decorative. Their artistic outlook as expressed in their painting and pottery was more versatile and less conventional than that of the ancient people of the Orient, their social system was of a more advanced type, and a less rigorous attitude was evinced by the ruling caste toward the subject classes. Yet, on the other hand, the picture is darkened by the terrible if picturesque rites which attended their religious ceremonies, and the dread shadow of human sacrifice which eternally overhung their teeming populations. Nevertheless, the standard of morality was high, justice was even-handed, the forms of government were comparatively mild, and but for the fanaticism which demanded such troops of victims, we might justly compare the civilisation of ancient Mexico with that of the peoples of old China or India, if the literary activity of the Oriental states be discounted.
The Mexican Race
The race which was responsible for this varied and highly coloured civilisation was that known as the Nahua (Those who live by Rule), a title adopted by them to distinguish them from those tribes who still roamed in an unsettled condition over the contiguous plains of New Mexico and the more northerly tracts. This term was employed by them to designate the race as a whole, but it was composed of many diverse elements, the characteristics of which were rendered still more various by the adoption into one or other of the tribes which composed it of surrounding aboriginal peoples. Much controversy has raged round the question regarding the original home of the Nahua, but their migration legends consistently point to a northern origin; and when the close affinity between the art-forms and mythology of the present-day natives of British Columbia and those of the Nahua comes to be considered along with the very persistent legends of a prolonged pilgrimage from the North, where they dwelt in a place "by the water," the conclusion that the Nahua emanated from the region indicated is well-nigh irresistible.
In Nahua tradition the name of the locality whence the race commenced its wanderings is called Aztlan (The Place of Reeds), but this place-name is of little or no value as a guide to any given region, though probably every spot betwixt Behring Strait and Mexico has been identified with it by zealous antiquarians. Other names discovered in the migration legends are Tlapallan (The Country of Bright Colours) and Chicomoztoc (The Seven Caves), and these may perhaps be identified with New Mexico or Arizona.
Legends of Mexican Migration
All early writers on the history of Mexico agree that the Toltecs were the first of the several swarms of Nahua who streamed upon the Mexican plateau in ever-widening waves. Concerning the reality of this people so little is known that many authorities of standing have regarded them as wholly mythical, while others profess to see in them a veritable race, the founders of Mexican civilisation. The author has already elaborated his theory of this difficult question elsewhere, but will briefly refer to it when he comes to deal with the subject of the Toltec civilisation and the legends concerning it. For the present we must regard the Toltecs merely as a race alluded to in a migration myth as the first Nahua immigrants to the region of Mexico. Ixtlilxochitl, a native chronicler who flourished shortly after the Spanish conquest of Mexico, gives two separate accounts of the early Toltec migrations, the first of which goes back to the period of their arrival in the fabled land of Tlapallan, alluded to above. In this account Tlapallan is described as a region near the sea, which the Toltecs reached by voyaging southward, skirting the coasts of California.
This account must be received with the greatest caution. But we know that the natives of British Columbia have been expert in the use of the canoe from an early period, and that the Mexican god Quetzalcoatl, who is probably originally derived from a common source with their deity Yetl, is represented as being skilled in the management of the craft. It is, therefore, not outside the bounds of possibility that the early swarms of Nahua immigrants made their way to Mexico by sea, but it is much more probable that their migrations took place by land, following the level country at the base of the Rocky Mountains.
The Toltec Upheaval
Like nearly all legendary immigrants, the Toltecs did not set out to colonise distant countries from any impulse of their own, but were the victims of internecine dissension in the homeland, and were expelled from the community to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Thus thrust forth, they set their faces southward, and reached Tlapallan in the year 1 Tecpatl (A.D. 387). Passing the country of Xalisco, they effected a landing at Huatulco, and journeyed down the coast until they reached Tochtepec, whence they pushed inland to Tollantzinco. To enable them to make this journey they required no less than 104 years. Ixtlilxochitl furnishes another account of the Toltec migration in his Relaciones, a work dealing with the early history of the Mexican races. In this he recounts how the chiefs of Tlapallan, who had revolted against the royal power, were banished from that region in A.D. 439. Lingering near their ancient territory for the space of eight years, they then journeyed to Tlapallantzinco, where they halted for three years before setting out on a prolonged pilgrimage, which occupied the tribe for over a century, and in the course of which it halted at no less than thirteen different resting-places, six of which can be traced to stations on the Pacific coast, and the remainder to localities in the north of Mexico.
Artificial Nature of the Migration Myths
It is plain from internal evidence that these two legends of the Toltec migrations present an artificial aspect. But if we cannot credit them in detail, that is not to say that they do not describe in part an actual pilgrimage. They are specimens of numerous migration myths which are related concerning the various branches of the Mexican races. Few features of interest are presented in them, and they are chiefly remarkable for wearisome repetition and divergence in essential details.
Myths of the Toltecs
But we enter a much more fascinating domain when we come to peruse the myths regarding the Toltec kingdom and civilisation, for, before entering upon the origin or veritable history of the Toltec race, it will be better to consider the native legends concerning them. These exhibit an almost Oriental exuberance of imagination and colouring, and forcibly remind the reader of the gorgeous architectural and scenic descriptions in the Arabian Nights. The principal sources of these legends are the histories of Zumarraga and Ixtlilxochitl. The latter is by no means a satisfactory authority, but he has succeeded in investing the traditions of his native land with no inconsiderable degree of charm. The Toltecs, he says, founded the magnificent city of Tollan in the year 566 of the Incarnation. This city, the site of which is now occupied by the modern town of Tula, was situated north-west of the mountains which bound the Mexican valley. Thither were the Toltecs guided by the powerful necromancer Huematzin (Great Hand), and under his direction they decided to build a city upon the site of what had been their place of bivouac. For six years they toiled at the building of Tollan, and magnificent edifices, palaces, and temples arose, the whole forming a capital of a splendour unparalleled in the New World. The valley wherein it stood was known as the "Place of Fruits," in allusion to its great fertility. The surrounding rivers teemed with fish, and the hills which encircled this delectable site sheltered large herds of game. But as yet the Toltecs were without a ruler, and in the seventh year of their occupation of the city the assembled chieftains took counsel together, and resolved to surrender their power into the hands of a monarch whom the people might elect. The choice fell upon Chalchiuh Tlatonac (Shining Precious Stone), who reigned for fifty-two years.
Legends of Toltec Artistry
Happily settled in their new country, and ruled over by a king whom they could regard with reverence, the Toltecs made rapid progress in the various arts, and their city began to be celebrated far and wide for the excellence of its craftsmen and the beauty of its architecture and pottery. The name of "Toltec," in fact, came to be regarded by the surrounding peoples as synonymous with "artist," and as a kind of hall-mark which guaranteed the superiority of any article of Toltec workmanship. Everything in and about the city was eloquent of the taste and artistry of its founders. The very walls were encrusted with rare stones, and their masonry was so beautifully chiselled and laid as to resemble the choicest mosaic. One of the edifices of which the inhabitants of Tollan were most justly proud was the temple wherein their high-priest officiated. This building was a very gem of architectural art and mural decoration. It contained four apartments. The walls of the first were inlaid with gold, the second with precious stones of every description, the third with beautiful sea-shells of all conceivable hues and of the most brilliant and tender shades encrusted in bricks of silver, which sparkled in the sun in such a manner as to dazzle the eyes of beholders. The fourth apartment was formed of a brilliant red stone, ornamented with shells.
The House of Feathers
Still more fantastic and weirdly beautiful was another edifice, "The House of Feathers." This also possessed four apartments, one decorated with feathers of a brilliant yellow, another with the radiant and sparkling hues of the Blue Bird. These were woven into a kind of tapestry, and placed against the walls in graceful hangings and festoons. An apartment described as of entrancing beauty was that in which the decorative scheme consisted of plumage of the purest and most dazzling white. The remaining chamber was hung with feathers of a brilliant red, plucked from the most beautiful birds.
Huemac the Wicked
A succession of more or less able kings succeeded the founder of the Toltec monarchy, until in A.D. 994 Huemac II ascended the throne of Tollan. He ruled first with wisdom, and paid great attention to the duties of the state and religion. But later he fell from the high place he had made for himself in the regard of the people by his faithless deception of them and his intemperate and licentious habits. The provinces rose in revolt, and many signs and gloomy omens foretold the downfall of the city. Toveyo, a cunning sorcerer, collected a great concourse of people near Tollan, and by dint of beating upon a magic drum until the darkest hours of the night, forced them to dance to its sound until, exhausted by their efforts, they fell headlong over a dizzy precipice into a deep ravine, where they were turned into stone. Toveyo also maliciously destroyed a stone bridge, so that thousands of people fell into the river beneath and were drowned. The neighbouring volcanoes burst into eruption, presenting a frightful aspect, and grisly apparitions could be seen among the flames threatening the city with terrible gestures of menace.
Toveyo and the Magic Drum
The Plagues of the Toltecs
In the next winter such a severe frost visited the land that all crops and plants were killed. A summer of torrid heat followed, so intense in its suffocating fierceness that the streams were dried up and the very rocks were melted. Then heavy rain-storms descended, which flooded the streets and ways, and terrible tempests swept through the land. Vast numbers of loathsome toads invaded the valley, consuming the refuse left by the destructive frost and heat, and entering the very houses of the people. In the following year a terrible drought caused the death of thousands from starvation, and the ensuing winter was again a marvel of severity. Locusts descended in cloud-like swarms, and hail- and thunder-storms completed the wreck. During these visitations nine-tenths of the people perished, and all artistic endeavour ceased because of the awful struggle for food.
With the cessation of these inflictions the wicked Huemac resolved upon a more upright course of life, and became most assiduous for the welfare and proper government of his people. But he had announced that Acxitl, his illegitimate son, should succeed him, and had further resolved to abdicate at once in favour of this youth. With the Toltecs, as with most primitive peoples, the early kings were regarded as divine, and the attempt to place on the throne one who was not of the royal blood was looked upon as a serious offence against the gods. A revolt ensued, but its two principal leaders were bought over by promises of preferment. Acxitl ascended the throne, and for a time ruled wisely. But he soon, like his father, gave way to a life of dissipation, and succeeded in setting a bad example to the members of his court and to the priesthood, the vicious spirit communicating itself to all classes of his subjects and permeating every rank of society. The iniquities of the people of the capital and the enormities practised by the royal favourites caused such scandal in the outlying provinces that at length they broke into open revolt, and Huehuetzin, chief of an eastern viceroyalty, joined to himself two other malcontent lords and marched upon the city of Tollan at the head of a strong force. Acxitl could not muster an army sufficiently powerful to repel the rebels, and was forced to resort to the expedient of buying them off with rich presents, thus patching up a truce. But the fate of Tollan was in the balance. Hordes of rude Chichimec savages, profiting by the civil broils in the Toltec state, invaded the lake region of Anahuac, or Mexico, and settled upon its fruitful soil. The end was in sight!
A Terrible Visitation
The wrath of the gods increased instead of diminishing, and in order to appease them a great convention of the wise men of the realm met at Teotihuacan, the sacred city of the Toltecs. But during their deliberations a giant of immense proportions rushed into their midst, and, seizing upon them by scores with his bony hands, hurled them to the ground, dashing their brains out. In this manner he slew great numbers, and when the panic-stricken folk imagined themselves delivered from him he returned in a different guise and slew many more. Again the grisly monster appeared, this time taking the form of a beautiful child. The people, fascinated by its loveliness, ran to observe it more closely, only to discover that its head was a mass of corruption, the stench from which was so fatal that many were killed outright. The fiend who had thus plagued the Toltecs at length deigned to inform them that the gods would listen no longer to their prayers, but had fully resolved to destroy them root and branch, and he further counselled them to seek safety in flight.
Fall of the Toltec State
By this time the principal families of Tollan had deserted the country, taking refuge in neighbouring states. Once more Huehuetzin menaced Tollan, and by dint of almost superhuman efforts old King Huemac, who had left his retirement, raised a force sufficient to face the enemy. Acxitl's mother enlisted the services of the women of the city, and formed them into a regiment of Amazons. At the head of all was Acxitl, who divided his forces, despatching one portion to the front under his commander-in-chief, and forming the other into a reserve under his own leadership. During three years the king defended Tollan against the combined forces of the rebels and the semi-savage Chichimecs. At length the Toltecs, almost decimated, fled after a final desperate battle into the marshes of Lake Tezcuco and the fastnesses of the mountains. Their other cities were given over to destruction, and the Toltec empire was at an end.
The Chichimec Exodus
Meanwhile the rude Chichimecs of the north, who had for many years carried on a constant warfare with the Toltecs, were surprised that their enemies sought their borders no more, a practice which they had engaged in principally for the purpose of obtaining captives for sacrifice. In order to discover the reason for this suspicious quiet they sent out spies into Toltec territory, who returned with the amazing news that the Toltec domain for a distance of six hundred miles from the Chichimec frontier was a desert, the towns ruined and empty and their inhabitants scattered. Xolotl, the Chichimec king, summoned his chieftains to his capital, and, acquainting them with what the spies had said, proposed an expedition for the purpose of annexing the abandoned land. No less than 3,202,000 people composed this migration, and only 1,600,000 remained in the Chichimec territory.
The Chichimecs occupied most of the ruined cities, many of which they rebuilt. Those Toltecs who remained became peaceful subjects, and through their knowledge of commerce and handicrafts amassed considerable wealth. A tribute was, however, demanded from them, which was peremptorily refused by Nauhyotl, the Toltec ruler of Colhuacan; but he was defeated and slain, and the Chichimec rule was at last supreme.
The Disappearance of the Toltecs
The transmitters of this legendary account give it as their belief, which is shared by some authorities of standing, that the Toltecs, fleeing from the civil broils of their city and the inroads of the Chichimecs, passed into Central America, where they became the founders of the civilisation of that country, and the architects of the many wonderful cities the ruins of which now litter its plains and are encountered in its forests. But it is time that we examined the claims put forward on behalf of Toltec civilisation and culture by the aid of more scientific methods.
Did the Toltecs Exist?
Some authorities have questioned the existence of the Toltecs, and have professed to see in them a race which had merely a mythical significance. They base this theory upon the circumstance that the duration of the reigns of the several Toltec monarchs is very frequently stated to have lasted for exactly fifty-two years, the duration of the great Mexican cycle of years which had been adopted so that the ritual calendar might coincide with the solar year. The circumstance is certainly suspicious, as is the fact that many of the names of the Toltec monarchs are also those of the principal Nahua deities, and this renders the whole dynastic list of very doubtful value. Dr. Brinton recognised in the Toltecs those children of the sun who, like their brethren in Peruvian mythology, were sent from heaven to civilise the human race, and his theory is by no means weakened by the circumstance that Quetzalcoatl, a deity of solar significance, is alluded to in Nahua myth as King of the Toltecs. Recent considerations and discoveries, however, have virtually forced students of the subject to admit the existence of the Toltecs as a race. The author has dealt with the question at some length elsewhere, and is not of those who are free to admit the definite existence of the Toltecs from a historical point of view. The late Mr. Payne of Oxford, an authority entitled to every respect, gave it as his opinion that "the accounts of Toltec history current at the conquest contain a nucleus of substantial truth," and he writes convincingly: "To doubt that there once existed in Tollan an advancement superior to that which prevailed among the Nahuatlaca generally at the conquest, and that its people spread their advancement throughout Anahuac, and into the districts eastward and southward, would be to reject a belief universally entertained, and confirmed rather than shaken by the efforts made in later times to construct for the Pueblo something in the nature of a history."
A Persistent Tradition
The theory of the present author concerning Toltec historical existence is rather more non-committal. He admits that a most persistent body of tradition as to their existence gained general credence among the Nahua, and that the date (1055) of their alleged dispersal admits of the approximate exactness and probability of this body of tradition at the time of the conquest. He also admits that the site of Tollan contains ruins which are undoubtedly of a date earlier than that of the architecture of the Nahua as known at the conquest, and that numerous evidences of an older civilisation exist. He also believes that the early Nahua having within their racial recollection existed as savages, the time which elapsed between their barbarian condition and the more advanced state which they achieved was too brief to admit of evolution from savagery to culture. Hence they must have adopted an older civilisation, especially as through the veneer of civilisation possessed by them they exhibited every sign of gross barbarism.
A Nameless People
If this be true it would go to show that a people of comparatively high culture existed at a not very remote period on the Mexican tableland. But what their name was or their racial affinity the writer does not profess to know. Many modern American scholars of note have conferred upon them the name of "Toltecs," and speak freely of the "Toltec period" and of "Toltec art." It may appear pedantic to refuse to recognise that the cultured people who dwelt in Mexico in pre-Nahua times were "the Toltecs." But in the face of the absence of genuine and authoritative native written records dealing with the question, the author finds himself compelled to remain unconvinced as to the exact designation of the mysterious older race which preceded the Nahua. There are not wanting authorities who appear to regard the pictorial chronicles of the Nahua as quite as worthy of credence as written records, but it must be clear that tradition or even history set down in pictorial form can never possess that degree of definiteness contained in a written account.
As has been stated above, the Toltecs of tradition were chiefly remarkable for their intense love of art and their productions in its various branches. Ixtlilxochitl says that they worked in gold, silver, copper, tin, and lead, and as masons employed flint, porphyry, basalt, and obsidian. In the manufacture of jewellery and objets d'art they excelled, and the pottery of Cholula, of which specimens are frequently recovered, was of a high standard.
Other Aboriginal Peoples
Mexico contained other aboriginal races besides the Toltecs. Of these many and diverse peoples the most remarkable were the Otomi, who still occupy Guanajuato and Queretaro, and who, before the coming of the Nahua, probably spread over the entire valley of Mexico. In the south we find the Huasteca, a people speaking the same language as the Maya of Central America, and on the Mexican Gulf the Totonacs and Chontals. On the Pacific side of the country the Mixteca and Zapoteca were responsible for a flourishing civilisation which exhibited many original characteristics, and which in some decree was a link between the cultures of Mexico and Central America. Traces of a still older population than any of these are still to be found in the more remote parts of Mexico, and the Mixe, Zaque, Kuicatec, and Popolcan are probably the remnants of prehistoric races of vast antiquity.
It is probable that a race known as "the Cliff-dwellers," occupying the plateau country of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, and even extending in its ramifications to Mexico itself, was related ethnologically to the Nahua. The present-day Pueblo Indians dwelling to the north of Mexico most probably possess a leaven of Nahua blood. Ere the tribes who communicated this leaven to the whole had intermingled with others of various origin, it would appear that they occupied with others those tracts of country now inhabited by the Pueblo Indians, and in the natural recesses and shallow caverns found in the faces of the cliffs erected dwellings and fortifications, displaying an architectural ability of no mean order. These communities extended as far south as the Gila river, the most southern affluent of the Colorado, and the remains they have left there appear to be of a later date architecturally than those situated farther north. These were found in ruins by the first Spanish explorers, and it is thought that their builders were eventually driven back to rejoin their kindred in the north. Farther to the south in the canons of the Piedras Verdes river in Chihuahua, Mexico, are cliff-dwellings corresponding in many respects with those of the Pueblo region, and Dr. Hrdlicka has examined others so far south as the State of Jalisco, in Central Mexico. These may be the ruins of dwellings erected either by the early Nahua or by some of the peoples relatively aboriginal to them, and may display the architectural features general among the Nahua prior to their adoption of other alien forms. Or else they may be the remains of dwellings similar to those of the Tarahumare, a still existing tribe of Mexico, who, according to Lumholtz, inhabit similar structures at the present day. It is clear from the architectural development of the cliff-dwellers that their civilisation developed generally from south to north, that this race was cognate to the early Nahua, and that it later withdrew to the north, or became fused with the general body of the Nahua peoples. It must not be understood, however, that the race arrived in the Mexican plateau before the Nahua, and the ruins of Jalisco and other mid-Mexican districts may merely be the remains of comparatively modern cliff-dwellings, an adaptation by mid-Mexican communities of the "Cliff-dweller" architecture, or a local development of it owing to the exigencies of early life in the district.
The Nahua Race
The Nahua peoples included all those tribes speaking the Nahuatlatolli (Nahua tongue), and occupied a sphere extending from the southern borders of New Mexico to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec on the south, or very much within the limits of the modern Republic of Mexico. But this people must not be regarded as one race of homogeneous origin. A very brief account of their racial affinities must be sufficient here. The Chichimecs were probably related to the Otomi, whom we have alluded to as among the first-comers to the Mexican valley. They were traditionally supposed to have entered it at a period subsequent to the Toltec occupation. Their chief towns were Tezcuco and Tenayucan, but they later allied themselves with the Nahua in a great confederacy, and adopted the Nahua language. There are circumstances which justify the assumption that on their entrance to the Mexican valley they consisted of a number of tribes loosely united, presenting in their general organisation a close resemblance to some of the composite tribes of modern American Indians.
Next to them in point of order of tribal arrival were the Aculhuaque, or Acolhuans. The name means "tall" or "strong" men, literally "People of the Broad Shoulder," or "Pushers," who made a way for themselves. Gomara states in his Conquista de Mexico that they arrived in the valley from Acolhuacan about A.D. 780, and founded the towns of Tollan, Colhuacan, and Mexico itself. The Acolhuans were pure Nahua, and may well have been the much-disputed Toltecs, for the Nahua people always insisted on the fact that the Toltecs were of the same stock as themselves, and spoke an older and purer form of the Nahua tongue. From the Acolhuans sprang the Tlascalans, the inveterate enemies of the Aztecs, who so heartily assisted Cortés in his invasion of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, or Mexico.
The Tecpanecs were a confederacy of purely Nahua tribes dwelling in towns situated upon the Lake of Tezcuco, the principal of which were Tlacopan and Azcapozalco. The name Tecpanec signifies that each settlement possessed its own chief's house, or tecpan.
The Altar of Skulls
See page 31. In the National Museum, Mexico
Photo C. B. Waite, Mexico.
This tribe were almost certainly later Nahua immigrants who arrived in Mexico after the Acolhuans, and were great rivals to the Chichimec branch of the race.
The Aztecâ, or Aztecs, were a nomad tribe of doubtful origin, but probably of Nahua blood. Wandering over the Mexican plateau for generations, they at length settled in the marshlands near the Lake of Tezcuco, hard by Tlacopan. The name Aztecâ means "Crane People," and was bestowed upon the tribe by the Tecpanecs, probably because of the fact that, like cranes, they dwelt in a marshy neighbourhood. They founded the town of Tenochtitlan, or Mexico, and for a while paid tribute to the Tecpanecs. But later they became the most powerful allies of that people, whom they finally surpassed entirely in power and splendour.
The Aztec Character
The features of the Aztecs as represented in the various Mexican paintings are typically Indian, and argue a northern origin. The race was, and is, of average height, and the skin is of a dark brown hue. The Mexican is grave, taciturn, and melancholic, with a deeply rooted love of the mysterious, slow to anger, yet almost inhuman in the violence of his passions when aroused. He is usually gifted with a logical mind, quickness of apprehension, and an ability to regard the subtle side of things with great nicety. Patient and imitative, the ancient Mexican excelled in those arts which demanded such qualities in their execution. He had a real affection for the beautiful in nature and a passion for flowers, but the Aztec music lacked gaiety, and the national amusements were too often of a gloomy and ferocious character. The women are more vivacious than the men, but were in the days before the conquest very subservient to the wills of their husbands. We have already very briefly outlined the trend of Nahua civilisation, but it will be advisable to examine it a little more closely, for if the myths of this people are to be understood some knowledge of its life and general culture is essential.
Legends of the Foundation of Mexico
At the period of the conquest of Mexico by Cortés the city presented an imposing appearance. Led to its neighbourhood by Huitzilopochtli, a traditional chief, afterwards deified as the god of war, there are several legends which account for the choice of its site by the Mexicans. The most popular of these relates how the nomadic Nahua beheld perched upon a cactus plant an eagle of great size and majesty, grasping in its talons a huge serpent, and spreading its wings to catch the rays of the rising sun. The soothsayers or medicine-men of the tribe, reading a good omen in the spectacle, advised the leaders of the people to settle on the spot, and, hearkening to the voice of what they considered divine authority, they proceeded to drive piles into the marshy ground, and thus laid the foundation of the great city of Mexico.
An elaboration of this legend tells how the Aztecs had about the year 1325 sought refuge upon the western shore of the Lake of Tezcuco, in an island among the marshes on which they found a stone on which forty years before one of their priests had sacrificed a prince of the name of Copal, whom they had made prisoner. A nopal plant had sprung from an earth-filled crevice in this rude altar, and upon this the royal eagle alluded to in the former account had alighted, grasping the serpent in his talons. Beholding in this a good omen, and urged by a supernatural impulse which he could not explain, a priest of high rank dived into a pool close at hand, where he found himself face to face with Tlaloc, the god of waters. After an interview with the deity the priest obtained permission from him to found a city on the site, from the humble beginnings of which arose the metropolis of Mexico-Tenochtitlan.
Mexico at the Conquest
At the period of the conquest the city of Mexico had a circumference of no less than twelve miles, or nearly that of modern Berlin without its suburbs. It contained 60,000 houses, and its inhabitants were computed to number 300,000. Many other towns, most of them nearly half as large, were grouped on the islands or on the margin of Lake Tezcuco, so that the population of what might almost be called "Greater Mexico" must have amounted to several millions. The city was intersected by four great roadways or avenues built at right angles to one another, and laid four-square with the cardinal points. Situated as it was in the midst of a lake, it was traversed by numerous canals, which were used as thoroughfares for traffic. The four principal ways described above were extended across the lake as dykes or viaducts until they met its shores. The dwellings of the poorer classes were chiefly composed of adobes, but those of the nobility were built of a red porous stone quarried close by. They were usually of one story only, but occupied a goodly piece of ground and had flat roofs, many of which were covered with flowers. In general they were coated with a hard, white cement, which gave them an added resemblance to the Oriental type of building.
Towering high among these, and a little apart from the vast squares and market-places, were the teocallis, or temples. These were in reality not temples or covered-in buildings, but "high places," great pyramids of stone, built platform on platform, around which a staircase led to the summit, on which was usually erected a small shrine containing the tutelar deity to whom the teocalli had been raised. The great temple of Huitzilopochtli, the war-god, built by King Ahuizotl, was, besides being typical of all, by far the greatest of these votive piles. The enclosing walls of the building were 4800 feet in circumference, and strikingly decorated by carvings representing festoons of intertwined reptiles, from which circumstance they were called coetpantli (walls of serpents). A kind of gate-house on each side gave access to the enclosure. The teocalli, or great temple, inside the court was in the shape of a parallelogram, measuring 375 feet by 300 feet, and was built in six platforms, growing smaller in area as they descended. The mass of this structure was composed of a mixture of rubble, clay, and earth, covered with carefully worked stone slabs, cemented together with infinite care, and coated with a hard gypsum. A flight of 340 steps circled round the terraces and led to the upper platform, on which were raised two three-storied towers 56 feet in height, in which stood the great statues of the tutelar deities and the jasper stones of sacrifice. These sanctuaries, say the old Conquistadores who entered them, had the appearance and odour of shambles, and human blood was bespattered everywhere. In this weird chapel of horrors burned a fire, the extinction of which it was supposed would have brought about the end of the Nahua power. It was tended with a care as scrupulous as that with which the Roman Vestals guarded their sacred flame. No less than 600 of these sacred braziers were kept alight in the city of Mexico alone.
A Pyramid of Skulls
The principal fane of Huitzilopochtli was surrounded by upwards of forty inferior teocallis and shrines. In the Tzompantli (Pyramid of Skulls) were collected the grisly relics of the countless victims to the implacable war-god of the Aztecs, and in this horrid structure the Spanish conquerors counted no less than 136,000 human skulls. In the court or teopan which surrounded the temple were the dwellings of thousands of priests, whose duties included the scrupulous care of the temple precincts, and whose labours were minutely apportioned.
Nahua Architecture and Ruins
As we shall see later, Mexico is by no means so rich in architectural antiquities as Guatemala or Yucatan, the reason being that the growth of tropical forests has to a great extent protected ancient stone edifices in the latter countries from destruction. The ruins discovered in the northern regions of the republic are of a ruder type than those which approach more nearly to the sphere of Maya influence, as, for example, those of Mitla, built by the Zapotecs, which exhibit such unmistakable signs of Maya influence that we prefer to describe them when dealing with the antiquities of that people.
In the mountains of Chihuahua, one of the most northerly provinces, is a celebrated group called the Casas Grandes (Large Houses), the walls of which are still about 30 feet in height. These approximate in general appearance to the buildings of more modern tribes in New Mexico and Arizona, and may be referred to such peoples rather than to the Nahua. At Quemada, in Zacatecas, massive ruins of Cyclopean appearance have been discovered. These consist of extensive terraces and broad stone causeways, teocallis which have weathered many centuries, and gigantic pillars, 18 feet in height and 17 feet in circumference. Walls 12 feet in thickness rise above the heaps of rubbish which litter the ground. These remains exhibit little connection with Nahua architecture to the north or south of them. They are more massive than either, and must have been constructed by some race which had made considerable strides in the art of building.
In the district of the Totonacs, to the north of Vera Cruz, we find many architectural remains of a highly interesting character. Here the teocalli or pyramidal type of building is occasionally crowned by a covered-in temple with the massive roof characteristic of Maya architecture. The most striking examples found in this region are the remains of Teotihuacan and Xochicalco. The former was the religious Mecca of the Nahua races, and in its proximity are still to be seen the teocallis of the sun and moon, surrounded by extensive burying-grounds where the devout of Anahuac were laid in the sure hope that if interred they would find entrance into the paradise of the sun. The teocalli of the moon has a base covering 426 feet and a height of 137 feet. That of the sun is of greater dimensions, with a base of 735 feet and a height of 203 feet. These
Pyramid of the Moon, San Juan Teotihuacan
Photo C. B. Waite, Mexico
Pyramid of the Sun, San Juan Teotihuacan
Photo C. B. Waite, Mexico
pyramids were divided into four stories, three of which remain. On the summit of that of the sun stood a temple containing a great image of that luminary carved from a rough block of stone. In the breast was inlaid a star of the purest gold, seized afterwards as loot by the insatiable followers of Cortés. From the teocalli of the moon a path runs to where a little rivulet flanks the "Citadel." This path is known as "The Path of the Dead," from the circumstance that it is surrounded by some nine square miles of tombs and tumuli, and, indeed, forms a road through the great cemetery. The Citadel, thinks Charnay, was a vast tennis or tlachtli court, where thousands flocked to gaze at the national sport of the Nahua with a zest equal to that of the modern devotees of football. Teotihuacan was a flourishing centre contemporary with Tollan. It was destroyed, but was rebuilt by the Chichimec king Xolotl, and preserved thenceforth its traditional sway as the focus of the Nahua national religion. Charnay identifies the architectural types discovered there with those of Tollan. The result of his labours in the vicinity included the unearthing of richly decorated pottery, vases, masks, and terra-cotta figures. He also excavated several large houses or palaces, some with chambers more than 730 feet in circumference, with walls over 7½ feet thick, into which were built rings and slabs to support torches and candles. The floors were tessellated in various rich designs, "like an Aubusson carpet." Charnay concluded that the monuments of Teotihuacan were partly standing at the time of the conquest.
The Hill of Flowers
Near Tezcuco is Xochicalco (The Hill of Flowers), a teocalli the sculpture of which is both beautiful and luxuriant in design. The porphyry quarries from which the great blocks, 12 feet in length, were cut lie many miles away. As late as 1755 the structure towered to a height of five stories, but the vandal has done his work only too well, and a few fragmentary carvings of exquisite design are all that to-day remain of one of Mexico's most magnificent pyramids.
We have already indicated that on the site of the "Toltec" city of Tollan ruins have been discovered which prove that it was the centre of a civilisation of a type distinctly advanced. Charnay unearthed there gigantic fragments of caryatides, each some 7 feet high. He also found columns of two pieces, which were fitted together by means of mortise and tenon, bas-reliefs of archaic figures of undoubted Nahua type, and many fragments of great antiquity. On the hill of Palpan, above Tollan, he found the ground-plans of several houses with numerous apartments, frescoed, columned, and having benches and cisterns recalling the impluvium of a Roman villa. Water-pipes were also actually unearthed, and a wealth of pottery, many pieces of which were like old Japanese china. The ground-plan or foundations of the houses unearthed at Palpan showed that they had been designed by practical architects, and had not been built in any merely haphazard fashion. The cement which covered the walls and floors was of excellent quality, and recalled that discovered in ancient Italian excavations. The roofs had been of wood, supported by pillars.
The Aztecs, and indeed the entire Nahua race, employed a system of writing of the type scientifically
Ruins of the Pyramid of Xochicalco
Photo C. B. Waite, Mexico.
described as "pictographic," in which events, persons, and ideas were recorded by means of drawings and coloured sketches. These were executed on paper made from the agave plant, or were painted on the skins of animals. By these means not only history and the principles of the Nahua mythology were communicated from generation to generation, but the transactions of daily life, the accountings of merchants, and the purchase and ownership of land were placed on record. That a phonetic system was rapidly being approached is manifest from the method by which the Nahua scribes depicted the names of individuals or cities. These were represented by means of several objects, the names of which resembled that of the person for which they stood. The name of King Ixcoatl, for example, is represented by the drawing of a serpent (coatl) pierced by flint knives (iztli), and that of Motequauhzoma (Montezuma) by a mouse-trap (montli), an eagle (quauhtli), a lancet (zo), and a hand (maitl). The phonetic values employed by the scribes varied exceedingly, so that at times an entire syllable would be expressed by the painting of an object the name of which commenced with it. At other times only a letter would be represented by the same drawing. But the general intention of the scribes was undoubtedly more ideographic than phonetic; that is, they desired to convey their thoughts more by sketch than by sound.
Interpretation of the Hieroglyphs
These pinturas, as the Spanish conquerors designated them, offer no very great difficulty in their elucidation to modern experts, at least so far as the general trend of their contents is concerned. In this they are unlike the manuscripts of the Maya of Central America with which we shall make acquaintance further on. Their interpretation was largely traditional, and was learned by rote, being passed on by one generation of amamatini (readers) to another, and was by no means capable of elucidation by all and sundry.
The pinturas or native manuscripts which remain to us are but few in number. Priestly fanaticism, which ordained their wholesale destruction, and the still more potent passage of time have so reduced them that each separate example is known to bibliophiles and Americanists the world over. In such as still exist we can observe great fullness of detail, representing for the most part festivals, sacrifices, tributes, and natural phenomena, such as eclipses and floods, and the death and accession of monarchs. These events, and the supernatural beings who were supposed to control them, were depicted in brilliant colours, executed by means of a brush of feathers.
The Interpretative Codices
Luckily for future students of Mexican history, the blind zeal which destroyed the majority of the Mexican manuscripts was frustrated by the enlightenment of certain European scholars, who regarded the wholesale destruction of the native records as little short of a calamity, and who took steps to seek out the few remaining native artists, from whom they procured copies of the more important paintings, the details of which were, of course, quite familiar to them. To those were added interpretations taken down from the lips of the native scribes themselves, so that no doubt might remain regarding the contents of the manuscripts. These are known as the "Interpretative Codices," and are of considerable assistance to the student of Mexican history and customs. Three only are in existence. The Oxford Codex, treasured in the Bodleian Library, is of a historical nature, and contains a full list of the lesser cities which were subservient to Mexico in its palmy days. The Paris or Tellerio-Remensis Codex, so called from having once been the property of Le Tellier, Archbishop of Rheims, embodies many facts concerning the early settlement of the various Nahua city-states. The Vatican MSS. deal chiefly with mythology and the intricacies of the Mexican calendar system. Such Mexican paintings as were unassisted by an interpretation are naturally of less value to present-day students of the lore of the Nahua. They are principally concerned with calendric matter, ritualistic data, and astrological computations or horoscopes.
The Mexican "Book of the Dead"
Perhaps the most remarkable and interesting manuscript in the Vatican collection is one the last pages of which represent the journey of the soul after death through the gloomy dangers of the Other-world. This has been called the Mexican "Book of the Dead." The corpse is depicted dressed for burial, the soul escaping from its earthly tenement by way of the mouth. The spirit is ushered into the presence of Tezcatlipoca, the Jupiter of the Aztec pantheon, by an attendant dressed in an ocelot skin, and stands naked with a wooden yoke round the neck before the deity, to receive sentence. The dead person is given over to the tests which precede entrance to the abode of the dead, the realm of Mictlan, and so that he may not have to meet the perils of the journey in a defenceless condition a sheaf of javelins is bestowed upon him. He first passes between two lofty peaks, which may fall and crush him if he cannot skilfully escape them. A terrible serpent then intercepts his path, and, if he succeeds in defeating this monster, the fierce alligator Xochitonal awaits him. Eight deserts and a corresponding number of mountains have then to be negotiated by the hapless spirit, and a whirlwind sharp as a sword, which cuts even through solid rocks, must be withstood. Accompanied by the shade of his favourite dog, the harassed ghost at length encounters the fierce Izpuzteque, a demon with the backward-bent legs of a cock, the evil Nextepehua, the fiend who scatters clouds of ashes, and many another grisly foe, until at last he wins to the gates of the Lord of Hell, before whom he does reverence, after which he is free to greet his friends who have gone before.
As has been said, the calendar system was the source of all Mexican science, and regulated the recurrence of all religious rites and festivals. In fact, the entire mechanism of Nahua life was resident in its provisions. The type of time-division and computation exemplified in the Nahua calendar was also found among the Maya peoples of Yucatan and Guatemala and the Zapotec people of the boundary between the Nahua and Maya races. By which of these races it was first employed is unknown. But the Zapotec calendar exhibits signs or both Nahua and Maya influence, and from this it has been inferred that the calendar systems of these races have been evolved from it. It might with equal probability be argued that both Nahua and Maya art were offshoots of Zapotec art, because the characteristics of both are discovered in it, whereas the circumstance merely illustrates the very natural acceptance by a border people, who settled down to civilisation at a
The Calendar System
The Spirit of the dead Aztec is attacked by an Evil Spirit
who scatters Clouds of Ashes
The Mexican Year
The Mexican year was a cycle of 365 days, without any intercalary addition or other correction. In course of time it almost lost its seasonal significance because of the omission of the extra hours included in the solar year, and furthermore many of its festivals and occasions were altered by high-priests and rulers to suit their convenience. The Mexican nexiuhilpilitztli (binding of years) contained fifty-two years, and ran in two separate cycles—one of fifty-two years of 365 days each, and another of seventy-three groups of 260 days each. The first was of course the solar year, and embraced eighteen periods of twenty days each, called "months" by the old Spanish chroniclers, with five nemontemi (unlucky days) over and above. These days were not intercalated, but were included in the year, and merely overflowed the division of the year into periods of twenty days. The cycle of seventy-three groups of 260 days, subdivided into groups of thirteen days, was called the "birth-cycle."
People in a barbarous condition almost invariably reckon time by the period between the waxing and waning of the moon as distinct from the entire passage of a lunar revolution, and this period of twenty days will be found to be the basis in the time-reckoning of the Mexicans, who designated it cempohualli. Each day included in it was denoted by a sign, as "house," "snake," "wind," and so forth. Each cempohualli was subdivided into four periods of five days each, sometimes alluded to as "weeks" by the early Spanish writers, and these were known by the sign of their middle or third day. These day-names ran on without reference to the length of the year. The year itself was designated by the name of the middle day of the week in which it began. Out of twenty day-names in the Mexican "month" it was inevitable that the four calli (house), tochtli (rabbit), acatl (reed), and tecpatl (flint) should always recur in sequence because of the incidence of these days in the Mexican solar year. Four years made up a year of the sun. During the nemontemi (unlucky days) no work was done, as they were regarded as ominous and unwholesome.
We have seen that the civil year permitted the day-names to run on continuously from one year to another. The ecclesiastical authorities, however, had a reckoning of their own, and made the year begin always on the first day of their calendar, no matter what sign denominated that day in the civil system.
Groups of Years
As has been indicated, the years were formed into groups. Thirteen years constituted a xiumalpilli (bundle), and four of these a nexiuhilpilitztli (complete binding of the years). Each year had thus a double aspect, first as an individual period of time, and secondly as a portion of the "year of the sun," and these were so numbered and named that each year in the series of fifty-two possessed a different description.
The Demon Izpuzteque
Photo Mansell & Co.
The Dread of the Last Day
With the conclusion of each period of fifty-two years a terrible dread came upon the Mexicans that the world would come to an end. A stated period of time had expired, a period which was regarded as fixed by divine command, and it had been ordained that on the completion of one of those series of fifty-two years earthly time would cease and the universe be demolished. For some time before the ceremony of toxilmolpilia (the binding up of the years) the Mexicans abandoned themselves to the utmost prostration, and the wicked went about in terrible fear. As the first day of the fifty-third year dawned the people narrowly observed the Pleiades, for if they passed the zenith time would proceed and the world would be respited. The gods were placated or refreshed by the slaughter of the human victim, on whose still living breast a fire of wood was kindled by friction, the heart and body being consumed by the flames so lighted. As the planets of hope crossed the zenith loud acclamations resounded from the people, and the domestic hearths, which had been left cold and dead, were rekindled from the sacred fire which had consumed the sacrifice. Mankind was safe for another period.
The birth-cycle, as we have said, consisted of 260 days. It had originally been a lunar cycle of thirteen days, and once bore the names of thirteen moons. It formed part of the civil calendar, with which, however, it had nothing in common, as it was used for ecclesiastical purposes only. The lunar names were abandoned later, and the numbers one to thirteen adopted in their places.
Language of the Nahua
The Nahua language represented a very low state of culture. Speech is the general measure of the standard of thought of a people, and if we judged the civilisation of the Nahua by theirs, we should be justified in concluding that they had not yet emerged from barbarism. But we must recollect that the Nahua of the conquest period had speedily adopted the older civilisation which they had found awaiting them on their entrance to Mexico, and had retained their own primitive tongue. The older and more cultured people who had preceded them probably spoke a more polished dialect of the same language, but its influence had evidently but little effect upon the rude Chichimecs and Aztecs. The Mexican tongue, like most American languages, belongs to the "incorporative" type, the genius of which is to unite all the related words in a sentence into one conglomerate term or word, merging the separate words of which it is composed one into another by altering their forms, and so welding them together as to express the whole in one word. It will be at once apparent that such a system was clumsy in the extreme, and led to the creation of words and names of the most barbarous appearance and sound. In a narrative of the Spanish discovery written by Chimalpahin, the native chronicler of Chalco, born in 1579, we have, for example, such a passage as the following: Oc chiucnauhxihuitl inik onen quilantimanca Espana camo niman ic yuh ca omacoc ihuelitiliztli ink niman ye chiuhcnauhxiuhtica, in oncan ohualla. This passage is chosen quite at random, and is an average specimen of literary Mexican of the sixteenth century. Its purport is, freely translated: "For nine years he [Columbus] remained in vain in Spain. Yea, for nine years there he waited for influence." The clumsy and cumbrous nature of the language could scarcely be better illustrated than by pointing out that chiucnauhxihuitl signifies "nine years"; quilantimanca. "he below remained"; and omacoc ihuelitiliztli, "he has got his powerfulness." It must be recollected that this specimen of Mexican was composed by a person who had had the benefit of a Spanish education, and is cast in literary form. What the spoken Mexican of preconquest times was like can be contemplated with misgiving in the grammars of the old Spanish missionaries, whose greatest glory is that they mastered such a language in the interests of their faith.
The science of the Aztecs was, perhaps, one of the most picturesque sides of their civilisation. As with all peoples in a semi-barbarous state, it consisted chiefly in astrology and divination. Of the former the wonderful calendar system was the basis, and by its aid the priests, or those of them who were set apart for the study of the heavenly bodies, pretended to be able to tell the future of new-born infants and the progress of the dead in the other world. This they accomplished by weighing the influence of the planets and other luminaries one against another, and extracting the net result. Their art of divination consisted in drawing omens from the song and flight of birds, the appearance of grains of seed, feathers, and the entrails of animals, by which means they confidently predicted both public and private events.
The limits of the Aztec Empire may be defined, if its tributary states are included, as extending over the territory comprised in the modern states of Mexico, Southern Vera Cruz, and Guerrero. Among the civilised peoples of this extensive tract the prevailing form of government was an absolute monarchy, although several of the smaller communities were republics. The law of succession, as with the Celts of Scotland, prescribed that the eldest surviving brother of the deceased monarch should be elected to his throne, and, failing him, the eldest nephew. But incompetent persons were almost invariably ignored by the elective body, although the choice was limited to one family. The ruler was generally selected both because of his military prowess and his ecclesiastical and political knowledge. Indeed, a Mexican monarch was nearly always a man of the highest culture and artistic refinement, and the ill-fated Montezuma was an example of the true type of Nahua sovereign. The council of the monarch was composed of the electors and other personages of importance in the realm. It undertook the government of the provinces, the financial affairs of the country, and other matters of national import. The nobility held all the highest military, judicial, and ecclesiastical offices. To each city and province judges were delegated who exercised criminal and civil jurisdiction, and whose opinion superseded even that of the Crown itself. Petty cases were settled by lesser officials, and a still inferior grade of officers acted as a species of police in the supervision of families.
The domestic life of the Nahua was a peculiar admixture of simplicity and display. The mass of the people led a life of strenuous labour in the fields, and in the cities they wrought hard at many trades, among which may be specified building, metal-working, making
The Aztec Calendar Stone
See page 38
Photo C. B. Waite, Mexico
robes and other articles of bright featherwork and quilted suits of armour, jewellery, and small wares. Vendors of flowers, fruit, fish, and vegetables swarmed in the markets. The use of tobacco was general among the men of all classes. At banquets the women attended, although they were seated at separate tables. The entertainments of the upper class were marked by much magnificence, and the variety of dishes was considerable, including venison, turkey, many smaller birds, fish, a profusion of vegetables, and pastry, accompanied by sauces of delicate flavour. These were served in dishes of gold and silver. Pulque, a fermented drink brewed from the agave, was the universal beverage. Cannibalism was indulged in usually on ceremonial occasions, and was surrounded by such refinements of the table as served only to render it the more repulsive in the eyes of Europeans. It has been stated that this revolting practice was engaged in owing solely to the tenets of the Nahua religion, which enjoined the slaughter of slaves or captives in the name of a deity, and their consumption with the idea that the consumers attained unity with that deity in the flesh. But there is good reason to suspect that the Nahua, deprived of the flesh of the larger domestic animals, practised deliberate cannibalism. It would appear that the older race which preceded them in the country were innocent of these horrible repasts.
A Mysterious Toltec Book
A piece of Nahua literature, the disappearance of which is surrounded by circumstances of the deepest mystery, is the Teo-Amoxtli (Divine Book), which is alleged by certain chroniclers to have been the work of the ancient Toltecs. Ixtlilxochitl, a native Mexican author, states that it was written by a Tezcucan wise man, one Huematzin, about the end of the seventh century, and that it described the pilgrimage of the Nahua from Asia, their laws, manners, and customs, and their religious tenets, science, and arts. In 1838 the Baron de Waldeck stated in his Voyage Pittoresque that he had it in his possession, and the Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg identified it with the Maya Dresden Codex and other native manuscripts. Bustamante also states that the amamatini (chroniclers) of Tezcuco had a copy in their possession at the time of the taking of their city. But these appear to be mere surmises, and if the Teo-Amoxtli ever existed, which on the whole is not unlikely, it has probably never been seen by a European.
A Native Historian
One of the most interesting of the Mexican historians is Don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, a half-breed of royal Tezcucan descent. He was responsible for two notable works, entitled Historia Chichimeca (The History of the Chichimecs) and the Relaciones, a compilation of historical and semi-historical incidents. He was cursed, or blessed, however, by a strong leaning toward the marvellous, and has coloured his narratives so highly that he would have us regard the Toltec or ancient Nahua civilisations as by far the most splendid and magnificent that ever existed. His descriptions of Tezcuco, if picturesque in the extreme, are manifestly the outpourings of a romantic and idealistic mind, which in its patriotic enthusiasm desired to vindicate the country of his birth from the stigma of savagery and to prove its equality with the great nations of antiquity. For this we have not the heart to quarrel with him. But we must be on our guard against accepting any of his statements unless we find strong corroboration of it in the pages of a more trustworthy and less biased author.
The geography of Mexico is by no means as familiar to Europeans as is that of the various countries of our own continent, and it is extremely easy for the reader who is unacquainted with Mexico and the puzzling orthography of its place-names to flounder among them, and during the perusal of such a volume as this to find himself in a hopeless maze of surmise as to the exact locality of the more famous centres of Mexican history. A few moments' study of this paragraph will enlighten him in this respect, and will save him much confusion further on. He will see from the map (p. 330) that the city of Mexico, or Tenochtitlan, its native name, was situated upon an island in the Lake of Tezcuco. This lake has now partially dried up, and the modern city of Mexico is situated at a considerable distance from it. Tezcuco, the city second in importance, lies to the north-east of the lake, and is somewhat more isolated, the other pueblos (towns) clustering round the southern or western shores. To the north of Tezcuco is Teotihuacan, the sacred city of the gods. To the south-east of Mexico is Tlaxcallan, or Tlascala, the city which assisted Cortés against the Mexicans, and the inhabitants of which were the deadliest foes of the central Nahua power. To the north lie the sacred city of Cholula and Tula, or Tollan.
Distribution of the Nahua Tribes
Having become acquainted with the relative position of the Nahua cities, we may now consult for a moment the map which exhibits the geographical distribution of the various Nahua tribes, and which is self-explanatory (p. 331).
A brief historical sketch or epitome of what is known of Nahua history as apart from mere tradition will further assist the reader in the comprehension of Mexican mythology. From the period of the settlement of the Nahua on an agricultural basis a system of feudal government had evolved, and at various epochs in the history of the country certain cities or groups of cities held a paramount sway. Subsequent to the "Toltec" period, which we have already described and discussed, we find the Acolhuans In supreme power, and ruling from their cities of Tollantzinco and Cholula a considerable tract of country. Later Cholula maintained an alliance with Tlascala and Huexotzinco.
The maxim "Other climes, other manners" Is nowhere better exemplified than by the curious annual strife betwixt the warriors of Mexico and Tlascala. Once a year they met on a prearranged battle-ground and engaged in combat, not with the intention of killing one another, but with the object of taking prisoners for sacrifice on the altars of their respective war-gods. The warrior seized his opponent and attempted to bear him off, the various groups pulling and tugging desperately at each other in the endeavour to seize the limbs of the unfortunate who had been first struck down, with the object of dragging him into durance or effecting his rescue. Once secured, the Tlascaltec warrior was brought to Mexico in a cage, and first placed upon a stone slab, to which one of his feet was secured by a chain or
A Prisoner fighting for his Life
He was painted white and tufts of cotton-wool were put on his head
The Tlascaltecs, having finally secured their position by a defeat of the Tecpanecs of Huexotzinco about A.D. 1384, sank into comparative obscurity save for their annual bout with the Mexicans.
The Lake Cities
The communities grouped round the various lakes in the valley of Mexico now command our attention. More than two score of these thriving communities flourished at the time of the conquest of Mexico, the most notable being those which occupied the borders of the Lake of Tezcuco. These cities grouped themselves round two nuclei, Azcapozalco and Tezcuco, between whom a fierce rivalry sprang up, which finally ended in the entire discomfiture or Azcapozalco. From this event the real history of Mexico may be said to commence. Those cities which had allied themselves to Tezcuco finally overran the entire territory of Mexico from the Mexican Gulf to the Pacific.
If, as some authorities declare, Tezcuco was originally Otomi in affinity, it was in later years the most typically Nahuan of all the lacustrine powers. But several other communities, the power of which was very nearly as great as that of Tezcuco, had assisted that city to supremacy. Among these was Xaltocan, a city-state of unquestionable Otomi origin, situated at the northern extremity of the lake. As we have seen from the statements of Ixtlilxochitl, a Tezcucan writer, his native city was in the forefront of Nahua civilisation at the time of the coming of the Spaniards, and if it was practically subservient to Mexico (Tenochtitlan) at that period it was by no means its inferior in the arts.
The Tecpanecs, who dwelt in Tlacopan, Coyohuacan, and Huitzilopocho, were also typical Nahua. The name, as we have already explained, indicates that each settlement possessed its own tecpan (chief's house), and has no racial significance. Their state was probably founded about the twelfth century, although a chronology of no less than fifteen hundred years was claimed for it. This people composed a sort of buffer-state betwixt the Otomi on the north and other Nahua on the south.
The menace of these northern Otomi had become acute when the Tecpanecs received reinforcements in the shape of the Aztecâ, or Aztecs, a people of Nahua blood, who came, according to their own accounts, from Aztlan (Crane Land). The name Azteca signifies "Crane People," and this has led to the assumption that they came from Chihuahua, where cranes abound. Doubts have been cast upon the Nahua origin of the Azteca. But these are by no means well founded, as the names of the early Aztec chieftains and kings are unquestionably Nahuan. This people on their arrival in Mexico were in a very inferior state of culture, and were probably little better than savages. We have already outlined some of the legends concerning the coming of the Aztecs to the land of Anahuac, or the valley of Mexico, but their true origin is uncertain, and it is likely that they wandered down from the north as other Nahua immigrants did before them, and as the Apache Indians still do to this day. By their own showing they had sojourned at several points en route, and were reduced to slavery by the chiefs of Colhuacan. They proved so truculent in their bondage, however, that they were released, and journeyed to Chapoultepec, which they quitted because of their dissensions with the Xaltocanecs. On their arrival in the district inhabited by the Tecpanecs a tribute was levied upon them, but nevertheless they flourished so exceedingly that the swamp villages which the Tecpanecs had permitted them to raise on the borders of the lake soon grew into thriving communities, and chiefs were provided for them from among the nobility of the Tecpanecs.
The Aztecs as Allies
By the aid of the Aztecs the Tecpanecs greatly extended their territorial possessions. City after city was added to their empire, and the allies finally invaded the Otomi country, which they speedily subdued. Those cities which had been founded by the Acolhuans on the fringes of Tezcuco also allied themselves with the Tecpanecs with the intention of freeing themselves from the yoke of the Chichimecs, whose hand was heavy upon them. The Chichimecs or Tezcucans made a stern resistance, and for a time the sovereignty of the Tecpanecs hung in the balance. But eventually they conquered, and Tezcuco was overthrown and given as a spoil to the Aztecs.
Up to this time the Aztecs had paid a tribute to Azcapozalco, but now, strengthened by the successes of the late conflict, they withheld it, and requested permission to build an aqueduct from the shore for the purpose of carrying a supply of water into their city. This was refused by the Tecpanecs, and a policy of isolation was brought to bear upon Mexico, an embargo being placed upon its goods and intercourse with its people being forbidden. War followed, in which the Tecpanecs were defeated with great slaughter. After this event, which may be placed about the year 1428, the Aztecs gained ground rapidly, and their march to the supremacy of the entire Mexican valley was almost undisputed. Allying themselves with Tezcuco and Tlacopan, the Mexicans overran many states far beyond the confines of the valley, and by the time of Montezuma I had extended their boundaries almost to the limits of the present republic. The Mexican merchant followed in the footsteps of the Mexican warrior, and the commercial expansion of the Aztecs rivalled their military fame. Clever traders, they were merciless in their exactions of tribute from the states they conquered, manufacturing the raw material paid to them by the subject cities into goods which they afterwards sold again to the tribes under their sway. Mexico became the chief market of the empire, as well as its political nucleus. Such was the condition of affairs when the Spaniards arrived in Anahuac. Their coming has been deplored by certain historians as hastening the destruction of a Western Eden. But bad as was their rule, it was probably mild when compared with the cruel and insatiable sway of the Aztecs over their unhappy dependents.
The Spaniards found a tyrannical despotism in the conquered provinces, and a faith the accessories of which were so fiendish that it cast a gloom over the entire national life. These they replaced by a milder vassalage and the earnest ministrations of a more enlightened priesthood.
Combat between Mexican and Bilimec
From the Aubin-Goupil MS.
- By Payne in The New World called America, London, 1892-99.
- Garcilasso el Inca de la Vega, Hist, des Incas, lib. ix. cap. 15.
- See Payne, History of the New World called America, vol. ii. pp. 373 et seq.
- See Spence, Civilisation of Ancient Mexico, chap. ii.
- See Civilisation of Ancient Mexico, chap. ii.
- Payne,Hist. New World, vol. ii, p. 430.
- Unknown Mexico vol. i., 1902; also see Bulletin 30, Bureau of American Ethnology, p. 309.