Toltec Civilization Essay Research Paper Toltec Civilization

Toltec Civilization Essay, Research Paper

Toltec Civilization

The Priest stood atop the temple of the Sun, looking down on his people gathered

for this event. With one swift movement, he raised the sacrificial obsidian dagger and

plunged it into the young man’s chest, tearing out his heart. He then placed the heart on

the waiting chac-mool, smiled, and anounced the beginning of celebration.

The Toltecs were one of the first “Nahuatl” speaking cultures to colonize central

Mexico. It is unclear whether they came from the North or the South, but, popular theory

is that they came from the North (Southern America). The tribe first settled a small

distance west of what is now Mexico City. There, they built the largest city ever in

Mexico, even dwarfing today’s Mexico City (von Hagen, Sun, pp. 20, 29)! The Toltecs

ruled over this town from 200 B.C to 900 A.D (Sabloff, p. 112). Then, something forced

them to leave; climate change, foreigners, a war, nobody knows.

The Toltecs then migrated about 50 miles North. There, they settled and began to

build the town called Tula (Gruzinski, p. 14). They resided there until 1100 A.D (Sabloff,

p. 112). In around 987 A.D or so, the Toltec priest- king Quezalcoatl (who was actually a

god. There are also records of a man named Topiltzin who apparently followed the same

course as Quetzalcoatl. It was unclear who was who, or if they were the same person.)

was forced to flee with a few of his followers (Gruzinski, p. 14). He fled to the Yucatan

peninsula, where the Mayas resided. He then proceeded to build a gigantic city called

Chichen Itza (von Hagen, Maya, p 39).

Here, we switch to Mayan history, which discusses the leadership of a man called

Kukulcan, which means “feathered-serpent,” or Quetzalcoatl (von Hagen, Sun, p. 332).

He ruled over this culture for some time, then he decided to leave. Again, there is no

evidence saying why he left. On the year 1-Reed( a Toltec measure of time), he set sail

West in the Atlantic ocean, with the prophesy that he would return on the recurrence of

that date (von Hagen, Sun, p. 28).

Meanwhile, back in Tula, things were disintegrating in the Toltec culture. Their

society was becoming progressively warlike, as was evidenced in their art. They began

corrupting political power and becoming greedy for money. They raped the villagers with

taxes using the gods as their athority (Townsend, p. 49-50). This brought about a civil

war which thouroughly destroyed the Toltecs (Gruzinski, p.15).

Yes, the Toltec people definitely practiced human sacrifice. Immediately, one

thinks what the Spaniards thought when they observed the Aztecs performing the same

ritual 600 years later: “Savages!”

In this paper, I will try to convince you why you should not consider the Toltecs

savages, but consider them the epitome of civilization. If I am to prove this to you, we

must have an understanding of what the word “civilization” means.

There are two traits that I think are needed for a functional society. These two

traits are planning, and the group over the one. I will explain each of these in turn, but

first, I will talk about one other idea. This idea is not a trait of civilized cultures, but is

more of a method to check the effectiveness of the culture’s practices. Does the civilized

people’s ways work for other groups of people?

If a culture is civilized, it would follow that another group of people, following

that culture’s ways, would become civilized themselves. I think this is an ingenious

method to check the workability of the civilization. If the civilized people’s ways would

not work for someone else, it would be hard to call them civilized.

The Toltecs provide a rare opportunity to witness this in action. They touched

almost every Mexican civilization that came after them. Later in this paper, I will show

you two of them: the Maya and the Aztecs.

A byproduct of a civilization is technology. The main purpose of bringing forth a

civilization is to make life better. What technology does is make life easier. A good

example of this is the wheel.

The wheel is considered the most important invention in history. The reason it was

invented, it seems, was to make the movement of large, heavier objects easier. It,

therefore, makes life easier. Technological advancements of this kind do not occur

naturally without the help of civilized minds.

One trait, almost exclusively exhibited by civilized societies, is the idea that the

group is more important than the one. If one picks almost any civilization that ever arose

on the planet, one will see this trait. The only place that I have seen where this is not true

is in early European monarchies.

A couple of Europe’s monarchies were all right; the king or queen genuinely cared

about the people. But, in most that I have learned about, the monarchs cared only for

themselves, and gaining power. One must look at the carnage they have waged upon

every other civilization on Earth, especially in the Americas. Putting the group before the

one is obviously a needed characteristic for any civilization to survive.

As I will show you, not only did the Toltecs excell in technology and emphasize

the group, but they also taught two other tribes how to become civilized.


In Aztec, “Toltec” means “builder” (Tomkins, p. 20). This was no coincidence.

When the Aztecs rewrote history, they attributed to the Toltecs the invention of painting,

literature, sculpture, astronomy, and architecture (Gruzinski, p. 14). In Aztec culture, a

master craftsman of any type was called Toltec, which was the highest form of compliment

(von Hagen, Sun, p. 29).

What stands out most in Toltec technology has to be its architecture. Their first

major city was Teotihuacan, located a couple of miles east of what is now Mexico City.

Teotihuacan was by far the greatest city in all Mexico, as it is still the largest. It

was built around 200 B.C. and occupied by Toltecs for about 1100 years until 900 A.D.,

when they were forced out by unknown forces (Sabloff, p. 112).

The first feature the visitor to Teotihuacan notices is the Sun Temple, the largest

pyramid in Mexico, even rivaling Egyptian pyramids. This poses an interesting question:

are they related? The pyramid is 216 ft. high and covers about 10 acres. It was built using

a stepped-wall architecture, which is what all subsequent pyramids were based on (von

Hagen, Sun, p. 31).

An interesting discovery about this pyramid is that it appears to have been built in

stages. A series of 6 smaller pyramids have been found underneath the outer shell

(Tompkins, p. 334).

The pyramid was probably used for ceremonial purposes, as is evidenced by the

haunting figure of chac-mool. The chac-mool is a statue reclining in a semi-situp position.

The head, which is held upward, faces away from its stomach, where it holds a dish. On

this dish were placed freshly torn human hearts (Sabloff, p. 112).

The temple shows an overall sense of planning. Could such a masterpiece been

erected by even an army of primitive people? Only large scale planning could have

acomplished this, which can be seen in Teotihuacan’s three other large structures: the

Moon temple, the temple of Quetzalcoatl, and the priest-king’s palace (von Hagen, Aztec,

p. 39).

Planning on a much grander scale can easily be seen if looking at the city as a

whole. First, apparently every square foot of the city was paved. Instead of reinventing

concrete for the Romans, though, the Toltecs used small stones and a type of mortar. No

small task (Tompkins, p. 189).

Through the center of the city there is a completely straight road running the

length of the city North and South. At the North end is the Moon Temple, and at the

other end is the palace and temple of Quetzalcoatl. In the center, facing west, is the Sun

Temple. They are all evenly spaced (von Hagen, Aztec, p. 39).

Even the houses of the common people show a sense of purpose. They are evenly

laid out in subdivisions coming off the main road. Each house itself was functionally laid

out with different rooms set up for different things (Tompkins, p. 189).

The most mysterious thing about the city was its destruction. The whole city was

buried under dirt, even the monolithic Sun temple! After digging up some buildings, a

digger named Leopoldo Batres noticed that they appeared to have been burned. this

burning would support the idea that some foreign tribe forced them out.

But Bateres noticed one other small detail that says something different. The

burial of some of the smaller buildings was done in a peculiar fasion: the interiors were

filled with neatly piled stones fit together with cement. This raises yet another interesting

question: did the Toltecs destroy their own city? If this is true, it would just be more

evidence of their civilized nature, as no uncivilized group of people could have planned or

accomplished this feat (Tompkins, p. 189).


Other evidence of technological prowess comes in the form of small discoveries,

one of which was used in farming.

Teotihuacan posed a problem for farming, as the whole city was paved. Its

location also posed a problem: it was built next to no source of water. It had to

constantly import water from the nearby lake Texcoco. The Toltecs solved this problem

in a unique way: They brought the crops to the water.

The Toltecs were masters of art and weaving, so they used this skill to help them

in their agricultural problem. They wove large baskets(15 ft. in diameter) and filled them

with peat moss. They would then plant their crops in these and float them in bodies of

water. This ingenious method could only have been thought up through the cooperation

of many minds (Burland, p. 40).

One strange twist of this Toltec genius is one that should have stunted their own

growth: they did not use wheels. There is almost unanumous agreement that this was

perhaps the most important invention in the history of mankind. Archeologists have found

wheels in only one small place in Toltec culture: toys. They apparently never used wheels

in any type of labor or hauling. It is almost as if the idea had never occured to them (von

Hagen, Sun, p. 113).

There may be a logical and simple answer to this mystery. Before the arrival of the

Spaniards, there were no horses in the Americas. The Toltecs no pack animals. If they

had carriages with wheels made to pull heavy weight, who would pull them? The logical

answer to this one would be people, or more specifically, slaves.

This lack of wheels(if we attribute this to lack of pack animals) would seem to say

that either the Toltecs did not think of using their slaves to pull the burden, or , they had

no slaves. If I had a slave, the first thing I would make them do is carry my things, and I

sould think that the Toltecs were as smart as I am. So that leaves one option: the Toltecs

did not have slaves.

(the rest of this is my own opinion)

Why did the Toltecs not keep slaves? They were certainly capable of gaining

them. There is evidence that in their wars, they did take prisoners; but, these prisoners

were used almost exclusively for sacrifice. I think that this shows a certain respect for

human life, definitely a civilized trait.

Toltec Life

Human life was highly respected in Toltec culture. One might think the opposite

because, as stated earlier, the Toltecs practiced human sacrifice. This may sound like they

have no feelings for life, but consider this.

The reason Toltecs (as well as any culture) make any kind of offering to the gods

is to have them look favorably upon their people. The ultimate gift for anyone would be

one’s own life. If you offer a human life to a god, you are giving what means most to

you. Human life meant a lot to thge Toltecs, which is why they offered it to the gods.

Since the greatest gift you can give is life, I will talk about birth. When a mother

gives birth, it is almost a festive occasion. Immediately after birth, an attending midwife

congradulates the mother for having fought a good battle and for having “captured” a

baby. She then speaks to the child as she would an honored, weary traveler, and asks it to

rest among its parents (Townsend, p. 156).

When the indian was born, he/she became part of a group of families who owned a

piece of land. When it was time for marriage, the man would be given his own piece of

land to live off. He built his house on the land and was expected to farm it. If, for any

reason, the man did not work the land, it would be taken back by the clan (von Hagen,

Sun, p. 36).

The feminist ideal seemed to be going strong at this time, as is shown by failed

marriages. Divorces were not unheard of in Toltec culture. If the man was not doing his

job or supporting his family, the woman could have a divorce arranged and be remarried

to a more ablebodied man. Of course, if the woman was unable to produce children, the

man could also arrange a divorce (von Hagen, World, p. 35).

An interesting contrast between Toltecs and another “civilized” culture, early

Europeans, has to do with individual status in the society. In Europe, the people were

divided by classes. They could not change what class the were born into, but were stuck

for life. In the Toltec way of life, the people were divided by rank. An Indian, when born,

was considered an Indian, nothing else. This was independant of what rank the parents

held. Indians were put into political positions becauseof their merit, not their status (von

Hagen, Sun, p. 36).

This shows a fundamental viewpoint in Toltec culture. the tribe as a whole was

more important than any one man. This concept went even as deep as their education.

From birth, an Indian was taught to work and to become a benificial member of society

(Townsend, p. 156).

These are the traits of a highly civilized society. Only a society which has the

“Group over One” mindset can grow to the advanced stage of cultural development that

the Toltecs achieved.

Maya and Aztec

The Toltecs had an effect on all Mexican civilizations. In this section, I will

describe the effects the Toltecs had on two major Mexican tribes: the Maya and the

Aztecs. I will begin with the Maya.

The Maya were a peaceful culture living in some small towns south of the

Yucatan. At this time they had not developed a system of writing, so archeologists had to

infer greatly from their art (von Hagen, Sun, p. 120).

Around 900 A.D., the Mayan peoples began the “Great Descent,” in which they

moved away from the cities and into the Yucatan. During this time, the Mayan culture

sunk to an all time low (von Hagen, Sun, p. 120). Soon after the Great Descent, a man

and his followers arived in the Yucatan. This man taught the Maya his knowledge and

rebuilt the abandoned Maya city Chichen Itza. This began the Mayan Renaissance. They

developed their own writing system and their own style of archetecture (von Hagen, Sun,

p. 332).

In time, the man who came from the west built the Maya capitol, Mayapan. The

Maya adopted this man as their king and savior, calling him Kukulcan, which, in Maya,

means “feathered serpent” (von Hagen, Sun, p. 332).

Many similarities between the Mayan city Chichen Itza and the Toltec’s Tula give

more evidence for this story. Before I show you these similarities, though, I will give a

short description of each city.

After leaving Teotihuacan, the Toltecs moved north about 50 miles. There, they

built the city of Tula. Tula seems to have been built because of the need of a city, as there

seems to have been much less planning involved than at Teotihuacan. There is none of the

elegant symmetry like that shown at Teotihuacan. The houses were laid out in a very

hapazard manner; room layout was not planned at all. The only planning that seems to

have taken place was in the temples, palace and ball courts (Sabloff, pp. 192-193).

After it was built, Tula, or the legendary Tollan, as the Aztecs called it, embodied

all that was great in Teotihuacan, and more. No one showed the grandeour better than the

Spanish monk Bernardo de Sahagun when he described Tula as having “rich palaces of

green jade and white and red shell, where the ears of corn and pumpkins reached the size

of a man, where cotton grew in the plant in all colours and the air was filled with rare birds

of precious feather…” (von Hagen, Sun, p. 30). Truly, this was a fantastic place.

Almost the same thing could be said about Chichen Itza. Chichen Itza was a

moderately sized city, but was the center of Mayan culture at the time of its height.

The major building in Chichen Itza is the temple of Kukulkan. From this structure,

al things radiate. From the front runs a large ceremonial walkway, which leads to a large

well, called a cenote. Into this was thrown gems and jewels and other precious items.

Sacrificial victims were also thrown in (von Hagen, Sun, p. 168).

To the right of the temple is a large court in which they played the great ball game,

Pok-a-tok. The game was not unlike basketball, in that the players had to get a rubber ball

into a hoop, even though that hoop was 30 ft high and vertical. The players could only

use their elbws or hips. This was a big event, rivaling a sacrifice, and the spectators bet

heavily (von Hagen, Sun, 162).

To the left lay the temple of the Warriors, which contained the local market. To

the rear lay the remains of the old city (von Hagen, Sun, p. 168).

The similarities are hard to miss when seeing the two of them. The easiest example

to see are the temples. Both the temple of Kukulkan and the temple of Tula are built in

the form of the truncated pyramid. A truncated pyramid has four sides with each side

looking like a large staircase. Each Temple has a stairway on each of the four sides and an

enclosed structure at the top (von Hagen, Sun, p. 195).

The temple of the Warriors was built in the same fasion, but had two similar

features found nowhere outside of Toltec influence. On the outskirts of both temples,

there are hundreds of evenly spaced pillars used to hold up wooden roof beams. Only the

temple of the Warriors and the temple of Tula had those. The other characteristically

Toltec feature on both temples are the chac-mools. Both chac-mools are almost exactly

the same except for different facial features (von Hagen, Sun, p. 195).

Another feature similar about the two citiex is their art. In Tula, many motifs have

been found depicting marching jaguars and eagles. That very same thing has been found

in Chichen Itza (von Hagen, Sun, p. 196).

Perhaps the most important piece of information has to do with Quetzalcoatl.

Earlier, I said that he traveled to Yucatan. This is not exactly true. This has been infered

by some ironic historical events. First, around 987 A.D, Quetzalcoatl was said to have left

Tula. At almost the same time in Mayan history, the man named Kukulkan arived in the

Yucatan. The Mayas loved him so much that they made him their king. Kukulkan then

proceeded to teach them his culture. While he was doing this, the Mayas went through

their won renaissance and their culture was restarted. No doubt Kukulkan had something

to do with this (von Hagen, Sun, p. 332).

Let us try a simple thought experiment. The Mayas are considered by

archeologists to have been civilized. I do not have the time, nor the space to prove this,

so we will take it as a fact. The Mayas became civilized after Kukulkan taught them his

ways. It would follow that Kukulkan, himself, was civilized. Therefore, since he was

originally Toltec, this would make the Toltecs, themselves, civilized.

The Aztecs were by far the most popular civilization ever to arise in Mexico.

Most of the accounts of the Toltecs came frome them. They held the Toltecs in the

highest respect, even basing their own culture on them.

When the Aztecs moved in around lake Texcoco, they found the ruins of

Teotihuacan and other small cities. They were in awe of the technological level of the

builders and gave them the name “Toltec,” which means “builder” or “artist” (Tompkins,

p. 20). They then burned all the historical records and wrote their own, putting the

Toltecs in the paramount position. They believed they were the descendants of the Toltecs

(von Hagen, Aztec, p. 39).

Looking at the architecture, art, customs, and religion of the Aztecs, one finds

almost perfect simularity. The Aztecs took almost every thing from the Toltecs. They

built the same style temples, had the same gods, used the same artistic style, and

performed the same human sacrifice rituals. One even finds the familiar chac-mool atop

many of the temples.

The Toltec culture was so great that, not only did it travel throughout Mexico, but

also traveled beyond the grave.


Not only did the Toltecs emphasize the group and excell in technology, but they

also taught two tribes to become civilized. Emphasizing the group is a key factor in

civilized cultures. If everyone in a group works for themselves, they are limiting their own

advancement. But, if they all work for the group, the group will prosper and grow.

Technology is a necessary byproduct of civilization. When people come up with

ideas that will benifit the group, the ideas usually take the form of inventions. When

people work in groups, the individual ideas of the people travel through the generations.

These two actions, when done together, result in usable technology that benifits all.

The Toltec ideals for society worked for both the Maya and the Aztecs. These

cultures grew to be the two most well known civilizations in Mexico. This says a lot for

the Toltecs. It says that the Toltecs were the fathers of civilization.

When Cortez landed in the midst of the Aztecs, what he was witnessing was the

enduring Toltec culture. He then saw a human sacrifice and decided the fate of these

barbaric people. A civilized culture is one that does not destroy every other culture

because of different beliefs. One must wonder, which is more civilized: human sacrifice

or genocide.

One small tidbit about dates. When Quetzalcoatl sailed off to the west, he left the

Mayas with a prophesy. “On the recurrence of this date, 1-Reed, I will return to Mexico.”

I was wondering if Quetzalcoatl ever did return and did some research on the subject.

Looking at the dates, I made a startling discovery. The year 1-Reed falls on the year

1512, the year Cortez landed in Mexico. This was a haunting revelation, and can be

interpreted in many ways. One can say that it was coincidence, but I don’t choose to think

so. I think Quetzalcoatl knew what he was saying, but encrypted the message. I think he

knew what was going to happen. . .


History of the World. Bureau Development, Inc., 1992.

Burland, C. A. The Gods of Mexico. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1967: 32, 34, 40.

Gruzinski, Serge. The Aztecs- Rise and Fall of an Empire. New York: Harry N. Abrams

Inc., 1992: 14, 15.

Sabloff, Jeremy A. The Cities of Ancient Mexico. New York, New York: Thames and

Hudson Inc., 1989: 108, 112, 192, 193.

Tompkins, Peter. Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids. New York: Harper & Row, Inc.,

1976: 20, 189, 334.

Townsend, Richard F. The Aztecs. New York: Thames & Hudson Inc., 1992: 46, 49,

50, 156.

von Hagen, Victor Wolfgang. The Ancient Sun Kingdoms of the Americas. Great

Britain: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 1962: 14, 20, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 36, 85, 113,

120, 131, 154, 155, 162, 168, 170, 193, 195, 196, 332.

_______________________. The Aztec: Man and Tribe. New York: Signet, 1958: 39.

_______________________. Maya: Land of the Turkey and the Deer. Cleveland, Ohio:

World Publishing Co., 1960: 39.

_______________________.. World of the Maya. New York: Signet Classics, 1960:


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