The Toltec culture (/ˈtɒltɛk/) was a pre-Columbian Mesoamerican culture that ruled a state centered in Tula, Hidalgo, Mexico during the Epiclassic and the early Post-Classic period of Mesoamerican chronology, reaching prominence from 950 to 1150 CE. [ˈtoːlːãːn̥] (Nahuatl for Tula) as the epitome of civilization; in the Nahuatl language the word Tōltēkatl [toːɬˈteːkat͡ɬ] (singular) or Tōltēkah [toːɬˈteːkaḁ] (plural) came to take on the meaning "artisan". The Aztec oral and pictographic tradition also described the history of a Toltec Empire, giving lists of rulers and their exploits.The later Aztec culture saw the Toltecs as their intellectual and cultural predecessors and described Toltec culture emanating from Tōllān
Modern scholars debate whether the Aztec narratives of Toltec history should be given credence as descriptions of actual historical events. While all scholars acknowledge that there is a large mythological part of the narrative, some maintain that by using a critical comparative method some level of historicity can be salvaged from the sources. Others maintain that continued analysis of the narratives as sources of actual history is futile and hinders access to actual knowledge of the culture of Tula de Allende.
Other controversies relating to the Toltecs include the question of how best to understand the reasons behind the perceived similarities in architecture and iconography between the archaeological site of Tula and the Maya site of Chichén Itzá. Researchers are yet to reach a consensus in regards to the degree or direction of influence between these two sites.
While the exact origins of the culture are unclear, it likely developed out of a mixture of the Nonoalca people from the southern Gulf Coast and a group of sedentary Chichimeca from northern Mesoamerica; the former of these likely composed the majority of the new culture and were influenced by the Mayan culture centered in Teotihuacan.During Teotihuacan's apogee in the Early Classic period, these people were tightly integrated into the political and economic systems of the state and formed multiple large settlements in the Tula region, most notably Villagran and Chingu.
Beginning around 650 CE, the majority of these settlements were abandoned as a result of Teotihuacan's decline, and the Coyotlatelco rose as the dominant culture in the region. It is with the Coyotlatelco that Tula, as it relates to the Toltec, was founded along with a number of hilltop communities.Tula Chico, as the settlement is referred to during this phase, grew into a small regional state out of the consolidation of the surrounding Coyotlatelco sites. The settlement was roughly three to six square kilometers in size with a grided urban plan and a relatively large population. The complexity of the main plaza was especially distinct from other Coyotlatelco sites in the area with multiple ball courts and pyramids. The Toltec culture as it is understood during its peak can be tied directly to Tula Chico; after the site was burned and abandoned at the end of the Epiclassic period, Tula Grande was soon constructed bearing strong similarities 1.5 kilometers to the south. It is during the Early Postclassic period that Tula Grande and its associated Toltec culture would become the dominant force in the broader region.
Some archaeologists, such as Richard Diehl, argue for the existence of a Toltec archaeological horizon characterized by certain stylistic traits associated with Tula, Hidalgo and extending to other cultures and polities in Mesoamerica. Traits associated with this horizon are include the Mixtec-Puebla styleof iconography, Tohil plumbate ceramic ware, and Silho or X-Fine Orange Ware ceramics. The presence of stylistic traits associated with Tula in Chichén Itzá is also taken as evidence for a Toltec horizon. Especially the nature of interaction between Tula and Chichén Itzá has been controversial with scholars arguing for either military conquest of Chichén Itzá by Toltecs, Chichén Itzá establishing Tula as a colony or only loose connections between the two. The existence of any meaning of the Mixteca-Puebla art style has also been questioned.
A contrary viewpoint is argued in a 2003 study by Michael E. Smith and Lisa Montiel who compare the archaeological record related to Tula Hidalgo to those of the polities centered in Teotihuacan and Tenochtitlan. They conclude that relative to the influence exerted in Mesoamerica by Teotihuacan and Tenochtitlan, Tula's influence on other cultures was negligible and was probably not deserving of being defined as an empire, but more of a kingdom. While Tula does have the urban complexity expected of an imperial capital, its influence and dominance was not very far reaching.Evidence for Tula's participation in extensive trade networks has been uncovered; for example, the remains of a large obsidian workshop.
At its height, Tula Grande had an estimated population of as many as 60,000 and covered 16 square kilometers of hills, plains, valleys, and marsh.Some of the most prominent examples of the Toltec material culture at the site include pyramids, ball-courts, and the Atalantean warrior sculptures on top of Pyramid B. Various civic buildings surrounding a central plaza are especially distinctive, as excavations show the use of columns inside these buildings and in surrounding colonnades. One of these buildings, known as Building 3, is argued to have been a symbolically powerful building for the Toltec due to its reference in architecture to the historic and mythic homes of the people's ancestors. The physical layout of the broader plaza also partakes in referencing a shared past; its sunken colonnaded hall units are incredibly similar to those at cities of Tula's ancestral peoples. Importantly, these halls are known to have served as places to engage with both regional and long-distance trade networks and were possibly also used for diplomatic relations, suggesting that Tula Grande used these structures for a similar end. To that point, imported goods at Tula Grande shows that the Toltecs indeed interacted commercially with sites throughout Mesoamerica; shared ceramic and ritual figurine styles between Tula and regions such as Socunusco supplement this idea. Additionally, surveys of Tula Grande have suggested the existence of an "extensive and highly specialized workshop-based obsidian industry," at the site that could have been one of the sources of the city's economic and political power, taking on Teotihuacan's previous role as the region's distributor. A survey done by Healan et al. recovered roughly 16,000 pieces of obsidian from the site's urban zone and over 25,000 from its surrounding residential areas. Tula's involvement in obsidian trade is also evidence for the city's interaction with another powerful city in the region, Chichén Itzá, as the vast majority of obsidian at both sites comes from the same two geological sources.
One of the earliest historical mentions of Toltecs was by the Dominican friar Diego Durán, who was best known for being one of the first westerners to study the history of Mesoamerica. Durán's work remains relevant to Mesoamerican societies, and based on his findings Durán claims that the Toltecs were disciples of the "High Priest Topiltzin."Topiltzin and his disciples were said to have preached and performed miracles. "Astonished, the people called these men Toltecs," which Duran says, "means Masters, or Men Wise in Some Craft." Duran speculated that this Topilzin may have been the Thomas the Apostle sent to preach the Christian Gospel among the "Indians", although he provides nothing more than circumstantial evidence of any contact between the hemispheres.
The later debate about the nature of the Toltec culture goes back to the late 19th century. Mesoamericanist scholars such as Mariano Veytia, Manuel Orozco y Berra, Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, and Francisco Clavigero all read the Aztec chronicles and believed them to be realistic historic descriptions of a pan-Mesoamerican empire based at Tula, Hidalgo.This historicist view was first challenged by Daniel Garrison Brinton who argued that the "Toltecs" as described in the Aztec sources were merely one of several Nahuatl-speaking city-states in the Postclassic period, and not a particularly influential one at that. He attributed the Aztec view of the Toltecs to the "tendency of the human mind to glorify the good old days" and the confounding of the place of Tollan with the myth of the struggle between Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca. Désiré Charnay, the first archaeologist to work at Tula, Hidalgo, defended the historicist views based on his impression of the Toltec capital, and was the first to note similarities in architectural styles between Tula and Chichén Itza. This led him to posit the theory that Chichén Itzá had been violently taken over by a Toltec military force under the leadership of Kukulcan. Following Charnay the term Toltec has since been associated with the influx of certain Central Mexican cultural traits into the Maya sphere of dominance that took place in the late Classic and early Postclassic periods; the Postclassic Mayan civilizations of Chichén Itzá, Mayapán and the Guatemalan highlands have been referred to as "Toltecized" or "Mexicanized" Mayas.
The historicist school of thought persisted well in to the 20th century, represented in the works of scholars such as David Carrasco, Miguel León-Portilla, Nigel Davies and H. B. Nicholson, which all held the Toltecs to have been an actual ethnic group. This school of thought connected the "Toltecs" to the archaeological site of Tula, which was taken to be the Tollan of Aztec myth. [ citation needed ]This tradition assumes that much of central Mexico was dominated by a Toltec Empire between the 10th and 12th century AD. The Aztecs referred to several Mexican city states as Tollan, "Place of Reeds", such as "Tollan Cholollan". Archaeologist Laurette Séjourné, followed by the historian Enrique Florescano, have argued that the "original" Tollan was probably Teotihuacán. Florescano adds that the Mayan sources refer to Chichén Itzá when talking about the mythical place Zuyua (Tollan).
Many historicists such as H. B. Nicholson (2001 (1957)) and Nigel Davies (1977) were fully aware that the Aztec chronicles were a mixture of mythical and historical accounts; this led them to try to separate the two by applying a comparative approach to the varying Aztec narratives. For example, they seek to discern between the deity Quetzalcoatl and a Toltec ruler often referred to as Topiltzin Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl.
In recent decades the historicist position has fallen out of favor for a more critical and interpretive approach to the historicity of the Aztec mythical accounts based on the original approach of Brinton. This approach applies a different understanding of the word Toltec to the interpretation of the Aztec sources, interpreting it as largely a mythical and philosophical construct by either the Aztecs or Mesoamericans generally that served to symbolize the might and sophistication of several civilizations during the Mesoamerican Postclassic period. The Nahuatl word for 'Toltec', for example, can mean 'master artisan' as well as 'inhabitant of Tula, Hidalgo', and the word Tollan (known as Tula in modern times) can refer specifically to Tula, Hidalgo, or more generally to all great cities through meaning 'place of the reeds'.
Much of the questioning of these Aztec narratives is due to the lack of archaeological evidence to support them. Aztec accounts tell that the Toltec discovered medicine, designed the calendar system, created the Nahuatl language. More broadly, the Aztec traced most of their own societal achievements to the Toltec and their city Tollan, which was idolized as the epitome of state civilization with an enormous influence in the surrounding region. However, Tula—the site attributed with this Tollan—lacks much of the splendor that the Aztecs describe. For example, Tula was mainly built out of the relatively soft and unimpressive adobe brick, and while Tula certainly was a major regional city in its time, it was minuscule both in population and in influence in comparison to both its predecessor, Teotihuacan, and its Aztec descendant, Tenochtitlan.Additional material remains at Tula, such as the destruction of Toltec buildings and monumental art coinciding with the arrival of Aztec ceramics, suggest that the Aztecs' reverence of the Toltec might have been mostly propagandistic, intentionally overexaggerating the previous culture to use it as a steppingstone for their own.
Scholars such as Michel Graulich (2002) and Susan D. Gillespie (1989) maintained that the difficulties in salvaging historic data from the Aztec accounts of Toltec history are too great to overcome. For example, there are two supposed Toltec rulers identified with Quetzalcoatl: the first ruler and founder of the Toltec dynasty and the last ruler, who saw the end of the Toltec glory and was forced into humiliation and exile. The first is described as a valiant triumphant warrior, but the last as a feeble and self-doubting old man. [ citation needed ] in which events repeated themselves at the end and beginning of cycles or eras was being inscribed into the historical record by the Aztecs, making it futile to attempt to distinguish between a historical Topiltzin Ce Acatl and a Quetzalcoatl deity. Graulich argued that the Toltec era is best considered the fourth of the five Aztec mythical "Suns" or ages, the one immediately preceding the fifth Sun of the Aztec people, presided over by Quetzalcoatl. This caused Graulich to consider that the only possibly historical data in the Aztec chronicles are the names of some rulers and possibly some of the conquests ascribed to them.This caused Graulich and Gillespie to suggest that the general Aztec cyclical view of time,
Furthermore, among the Nahuan peoples the word Tolteca was synonymous with artist, artisan or wise man, and Toltecayotl,literally 'Toltecness', meant art, culture, civilization, and urbanism and was seen as the opposite of Chichimecayotl ('Chichimecness'), which symbolized the savage, nomadic state of peoples who had not yet become urbanized. This interpretation argues that any large urban center in Mesoamerica could be referred to as Tollan and its inhabitants as Toltecs – and that it was a common practice among ruling lineages in Postclassic Mesoamerica to strengthen claims to power by asserting Toltec ancestry. Mesoamerican migration accounts often state that Tollan was ruled by Quetzalcoatl (or Kukulkan in Yucatec and Q'uq'umatz in K'iche'), a godlike mythical figure who was later sent into exile from Tollan and went on to found a new city elsewhere in Mesoamerica. According to Patricia Anawalt, a professor of anthropology at UCLA, assertions of Toltec ancestry and claims that their elite ruling dynasties were founded by Quetzalcoatl have been made by such diverse civilizations as the Aztec, the K'iche' and the Itza' Mayas.
While the skeptical school of thought does not deny that cultural traits of a seemingly central Mexican origin have diffused into a larger area of Mesoamerica, it tends to ascribe this to the dominance of Teotihuacán in the Classic period and the general diffusion of cultural traits within the region. Recent scholarship, then, does not see Tula, Hidalgo as the capital of the Toltecs of the Aztec accounts. Rather, it takes Toltec to mean simply an inhabitant of Tula during its apogee. Separating the term Toltec from those of the Aztec accounts, it attempts to find archaeological clues to the ethnicity, history and social organization of the inhabitants of Tula.
A chacmool is a form of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican sculpture depicting a reclining figure with its head facing 90 degrees from the front, supporting itself on its elbows and supporting a bowl or a disk upon its stomach. These figures possibly symbolised slain warriors carrying offerings to the gods; the bowl upon the chest was used to hold sacrificial offerings, including pulque, tamales, tortillas, tobacco, turkeys, feathers and incense. In an Aztec example, the receptacle is a cuauhxicalli. Chacmools were often associated with sacrificial stones or thrones.
The Mesoamerican ballgame was a sport with ritual associations played since at least 1650 BC by the pre-Columbian people of Ancient Mesoamerica. The sport had different versions in different places during the millennia, and a newer, more modern version of the game, ulama, is still played by the indigenous populations in some places.
The Nahua people, also academically referred to as Pipil, are an indigenous Mesoamerican peoples inhabiting the western and central areas of present-day El Salvador, which they refer to as Kuskatan, later translated to Cuzcatlan by the Spanish and their Mexican allies. Although very few speakers are now left, they speak the Nawat language. It belongs to the Nahuatl dialect group, which stretches from Durango in Mexico to El Salvador, and historically as far as the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica. According to Spanish chronicler Gonzalo Francisco de Oviedo, the Nahuas migrated from Mexico, along with the neighboring Nicoya people, to their present locations beginning around the 8th century A.D., after the Chichimeca-Toltec civil war. As they settled in the area, they founded the city-state of Kuskatan, which was already home to various groups including the Lenca, Poqomam, and Xinca. The Nahuas are closely related to the neighboring Nicarao people from Nicaragua, who branched off around 700-800 CE when they continued migrating south. They also spoke a version of Nawat, which would become the lingua franca in Central America during the Spanish colonial era. A hybrid form of Nawat-Spanish was spoken by many Nicaraguans up until the 19th century when it became extinct there, but is still around in parts of El Salvador, although still critically endangered.
Tollan, Tolan, or Tolán is a name used for the capital cities of two empires of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica; first for Teotihuacan, and later for the Toltec capital, Tula, both in Mexico. The name has also been applied to the Postclassic Mexican settlement Cholula.
Mesoamerican chronology divides the history of prehispanic Mesoamerica into several periods: the Paleo-Indian ; the Archaic, the Preclassic or Formative (2500 BCE – 250 CE), the Classic (250–900 CE), and the Postclassic (900–1521 CE); as well as the post European contact Colonial Period (1521–1821), and Postcolonial, or the period after independence from Spain (1821–present).
Laurette Séjourné was a Mexican archeologist and ethnologist best known for her study of the civilizations of Teotihuacan and the Aztecs and her theories concerning the Mesoamerican culture hero, Quetzalcoatl.
A tzompantli or skull rack is a type of wooden rack or palisade documented in several Mesoamerican civilizations, which was used for the public display of human skulls, typically those of war captives or other sacrificial victims. It is a scaffold-like construction of poles on which heads and skulls were placed after holes had been made in them. Many have been documented throughout Mesoamerica, and range from the Epiclassic through early Post-Classic. In 2017 archeologists announced the discovery of the Hueyi Tzompantli, with more than 650 skulls, in the archeological zone of the Templo Mayor in Mexico City.
Mesoamerican pyramids form a prominent part of ancient Mesoamerican architecture. Although similar in some ways to Egyptian pyramids, these New World structures have flat tops and stairs ascending their faces. The largest pyramid in the world by volume is the Great Pyramid of Cholula, in the east-central Mexican state of Puebla. The builders of certain classic Mesoamerican pyramids have decorated them copiously with stories about the Hero Twins, the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl, Mesoamerican creation myths, ritualistic sacrifice, etc. written in the form of hieroglyphs on the rises of the steps of the pyramids, on the walls, and on the sculptures contained within.
Toltecayotl is a Nahuatl word derived from "tōltēcātl" which as used by the Nahuas to refer to the members of the Toltec civilization that preceded them in the basin of Mexico, as well as a generalized meaning of "artisan".
Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in southern North America and most of Central America. It extends from approximately central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica. Within this region pre-Columbian societies flourished for more than 3,000 years before the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Mesoamerica was the site of two of the most profound historical transformations in world history: primary urban generation, and the formation of New World cultures out of the long encounters among indigenous, European, African and Asian cultures.
Mesoamerican architecture is the set of architectural traditions produced by pre-Columbian cultures and civilizations of Mesoamerica, traditions which are best known in the form of public, ceremonial and urban monumental buildings and structures. The distinctive features of Mesoamerican architecture encompass a number of different regional and historical styles, which however are significantly interrelated. These styles developed throughout the different phases of Mesoamerican history as a result of the intensive cultural exchange between the different cultures of the Mesoamerican culture area through thousands of years. Mesoamerican architecture is mostly noted for its pyramids, which are the largest such structures outside of Ancient Egypt.
The Feathered Serpent was a prominent supernatural entity or deity, found in many Mesoamerican religions. It is still called Quetzalcoatl among the Aztecs, Kukulkan among the Yucatec Maya, and Q'uq'umatz and Tohil among the K'iche' Maya.
Quetzalcoatl is a deity in Aztec culture and literature whose name comes from the Nahuatl language and means "Precious serpent" or "Quetzal-feathered Serpent". In the 17th century, Ixtlilxóchitl, a descendant of Aztec royalty and historian of the Nahua people, wrote, "Quetzalcoatl, in its literal sense, means 'serpent of precious feathers', but in the allegorical sense, 'wisest of men'."
Chichen Itza and Tula have numerous architectural similarities in a number of their constructions. This Toltec-Maya connection is widely considered powerful, unprecedented, and unique in Mesoamerica. Unlike most Maya sites, some of Chichen Itza's buildings have the traits of the Toltecs, a historically powerful indigenous group from modern-day Mexico. The explanation of these similarities is a point of controversy among the scholars of the Toltec and Maya fields. Certain historical records caused many early scholars of the region to assume that a Toltec invasion from Tula, Hidalgo, usually placed in the ninth or tenth centuries, was responsible for a new wave of Mexican-style Maya buildings after the rest of the buildings in Chichen Itza were built. Other historical accounts imply a migration from Tula to Chichen Itza. An account of the Tula records a ruler of the Toltecs travelling east, which, paired with another account of Chichen that records a ruler from the west coming and teaching the Maya of that city many things, supported a direct influence of the Toltecs on the Maya around 900–1000 A.D. However, recent radiocarbon dating suggests that Chichen Itza's ‘mexicanized’ and pure Maya constructions were built at the same time, and that both were built previous to any recorded Toltec invasion, and previous to the banishing of the semi-historical ruler. The precise connection between these two nations is unknown, and fiercely contested among scholars of Toltecs and Maya, but it is not disputed that no other counterparts to these two cities are found in the 800 mile distance between them. Established contradicting theories and a lack of information cause the precise relationship between Chichen Itza and Tula, Hidalgo to be fervently contested.
Jorge R. Acosta was a Mexican archaeologist who worked on numerous major archaeological sites in Mesoamerica, including Chichen Itza, Teotihuacán, Oaxaca, Palenque, Monte Albán and Tula. His excavations at Tula were the first to prove that the ruins there were that of the legendary city of Tollan, the capital of the Toltec state. He also greatly influenced the practice of cultural conservation in Mexico.
Huapalcalco is a pre-Columbian Mesoamerican archeological site located some 5 kilometers north of Tulancingo in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico.
The Atlantean figures are four anthropomorphic statues belonging to the Toltec culture in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. These figures are "massive statues of Toltec warriors". They take their post-Columbian name from the European tradition of similar Atlas or Atalante figures in classical architecture.
Tula is a Mesoamerican archeological site, which was an important regional center which reached its height as the capital of the Toltec Empire between the fall of Teotihuacan and the rise of Tenochtitlan. It has not been well studied in comparison to these other two sites, and disputes remain as to its political system, area of influence and its relations with contemporary Mesoamerican cities, especially with Chichen Itza. The site is located in the city of Tula de Allende in the Tula Valley, in what is now the southwest of the Mexican state of Hidalgo, northwest of Mexico City. The archeological site consists of a museum, remains of an earlier settlement called Tula Chico as well as the main ceremonial site called Tula Grande. The main attraction is the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl, which is topped by four 4-metre-high (13 ft) basalt columns carved in the shape of Toltec warriors. Tula fell around 1150, but it had significant influence in the following Aztec Empire, with its history written about heavily in myth. The feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl is linked to this city, whose worship was widespread from central Mexico to Central America at the time the Spanish arrived.
The Mezquital Valley is a series of small valleys and flat areas located in Central Mexico, about 60 kilometres (37 mi) north of Mexico City, located in the western part of the state of Hidalgo. It is part of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, with altitudes between 1,700 metres (5,600 ft) and 2,100 metres (6,900 ft) above sea level. It is one of Mexico's main semi-arid/area regions, whose native vegetation is dominated by cactus species, mesquite trees, and maguey with pine and oak trees in the highest elevations. It is considered to be part of the northern extension of Mesoamerica, with one major archeological site, Tula, which was the main city of the Toltecs, an important influence for the later Aztecs. However, from the Aztec period to the 20th century, it was sparsely populated and very poor, with one main indigenous ethnicity, the Otomis. In the 20th century, irrigation works were created to take advantage of the water in the Tula River, along with wastewater drained from the Valley of Mexico for agriculture. Today the valley produces various grains and produce, including one-quarter of all green chili peppers grown in Mexico.
The Toltec Empire, Toltec Kingdom or Altepetl Tollan was a political entity in modern Mexico. It existed through the classic and post-classic periods of Mesoamerican chronology, but gained most of its power in the post-classic. During this time its sphere of influence reached as far away as the Yucatan Peninsula.