Toltec Civilization Essay, Research Paper
Toltec CivilizationThe Priest stood atop the temple of the Sun, looking down on his people gatheredfor this event. With one swift movement, he raised the sacrificial obsidian dagger andplunged it into the young man’s chest, tearing out his heart. He then placed the heart onthe waiting chac-mool, smiled, and anounced the beginning of celebration. The Toltecs were one of the first “Nahuatl” speaking cultures to colonize centralMexico. It is unclear whether they came from the North or the South, but, popular theoryis that they came from the North (Southern America). The tribe first settled a smalldistance west of what is now Mexico City. There, they built the largest city ever inMexico, even dwarfing today’s Mexico City (von Hagen, Sun, pp. 20, 29)! The Toltecsruled over this town from 200 B.C to 900 A.D (Sabloff, p. 112). Then, something forcedthem to leave; climate change, foreigners, a war, nobody knows. The Toltecs then migrated about 50 miles North. There, they settled and began tobuild 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 agod. There are also records of a man named Topiltzin who apparently followed the samecourse 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 Yucatanpeninsula, where the Mayas resided. He then proceeded to build a gigantic city calledChichen Itza (von Hagen, Maya, p 39). Here, we switch to Mayan history, which discusses the leadership of a man calledKukulcan, 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 noevidence saying why he left. On the year 1-Reed( a Toltec measure of time), he set sailWest in the Atlantic ocean, with the prophesy that he would return on the recurrence ofthat date (von Hagen, Sun, p. 28). Meanwhile, back in Tula, things were disintegrating in the Toltec culture. Theirsociety was becoming progressively warlike, as was evidenced in their art. They begancorrupting political power and becoming greedy for money. They raped the villagers withtaxes using the gods as their athority (Townsend, p. 49-50). This brought about a civilwar which thouroughly destroyed the Toltecs (Gruzinski, p.15). Yes, the Toltec people definitely practiced human sacrifice. Immediately, onethinks what the Spaniards thought when they observed the Aztecs performing the sameritual 600 years later: “Savages!”In this paper, I will try to convince you why you should not consider the Toltecssavages, but consider them the epitome of civilization. If I am to prove this to you, wemust have an understanding of what the word “civilization” means. There are two traits that I think are needed for a functional society. These twotraits are planning, and the group over the one. I will explain each of these in turn, butfirst, I will talk about one other idea. This idea is not a trait of civilized cultures, but ismore of a method to check the effectiveness of the culture’s practices. Does the civilizedpeople’s ways work for other groups of people?If a culture is civilized, it would follow that another group of people, followingthat culture’s ways, would become civilized themselves. I think this is an ingeniousmethod to check the workability of the civilization. If the civilized people’s ways wouldnot work for someone else, it would be hard to call them civilized. The Toltecs provide a rare opportunity to witness this in action. They touchedalmost every Mexican civilization that came after them. Later in this paper, I will showyou two of them: the Maya and the Aztecs. A byproduct of a civilization is technology. The main purpose of bringing forth acivilization is to make life better. What technology does is make life easier. A goodexample of this is the wheel. The wheel is considered the most important invention in history. The reason it wasinvented, it seems, was to make the movement of large, heavier objects easier. It,therefore, makes life easier. Technological advancements of this kind do not occurnaturally without the help of civilized minds. One trait, almost exclusively exhibited by civilized societies, is the idea that thegroup is more important than the one. If one picks almost any civilization that ever aroseon the planet, one will see this trait. The only place that I have seen where this is not trueis in early European monarchies. A couple of Europe’s monarchies were all right; the king or queen genuinely caredabout the people. But, in most that I have learned about, the monarchs cared only forthemselves, and gaining power. One must look at the carnage they have waged uponevery other civilization on Earth, especially in the Americas. Putting the group before theone is obviously a needed characteristic for any civilization to survive. As I will show you, not only did the Toltecs excell in technology and emphasizethe group, but they also taught two other tribes how to become civilized. TechnologyIn 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, amaster 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 firstmajor 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. Itwas 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 largestpyramid 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 usinga stepped-wall architecture, which is what all subsequent pyramids were based on (vonHagen, Sun, p. 31). An interesting discovery about this pyramid is that it appears to have been built instages. 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 thehaunting 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. Onthis dish were placed freshly torn human hearts (Sabloff, p. 112). The temple shows an overall sense of planning. Could such a masterpiece beenerected by even an army of primitive people? Only large scale planning could haveacomplished this, which can be seen in Teotihuacan’s three other large structures: theMoon 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 awhole. First, apparently every square foot of the city was paved. Instead of reinventingconcrete for the Romans, though, the Toltecs used small stones and a type of mortar. Nosmall task (Tompkins, p. 189). Through the center of the city there is a completely straight road running thelength of the city North and South. At the North end is the Moon Temple, and at theother end is the palace and temple of Quetzalcoatl. In the center, facing west, is the SunTemple. They are all evenly spaced (von Hagen, Aztec, p. 39). Even the houses of the common people show a sense of purpose. They are evenlylaid out in subdivisions coming off the main road. Each house itself was functionally laidout with different rooms set up for different things (Tompkins, p. 189). The most mysterious thing about the city was its destruction. The whole city wasburied under dirt, even the monolithic Sun temple! After digging up some buildings, adigger named Leopoldo Batres noticed that they appeared to have been burned. thisburning would support the idea that some foreign tribe forced them out. But Bateres noticed one other small detail that says something different. Theburial of some of the smaller buildings was done in a peculiar fasion: the interiors werefilled with neatly piled stones fit together with cement. This raises yet another interestingquestion: did the Toltecs destroy their own city? If this is true, it would just be moreevidence of their civilized nature, as no uncivilized group of people could have planned oraccomplished 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. Itslocation also posed a problem: it was built next to no source of water. It had toconstantly import water from the nearby lake Texcoco. The Toltecs solved this problemin 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 themin their agricultural problem. They wove large baskets(15 ft. in diameter) and filled themwith peat moss. They would then plant their crops in these and float them in bodies ofwater. This ingenious method could only have been thought up through the cooperationof many minds (Burland, p. 40). One strange twist of this Toltec genius is one that should have stunted their owngrowth: they did not use wheels. There is almost unanumous agreement that this wasperhaps the most important invention in the history of mankind. Archeologists have foundwheels in only one small place in Toltec culture: toys. They apparently never used wheelsin any type of labor or hauling. It is almost as if the idea had never occured to them (vonHagen, Sun, p. 113). There may be a logical and simple answer to this mystery. Before the arrival of theSpaniards, there were no horses in the Americas. The Toltecs no pack animals. If theyhad carriages with wheels made to pull heavy weight, who would pull them? The logicalanswer 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 saythat either the Toltecs did not think of using their slaves to pull the burden, or , they hadno slaves. If I had a slave, the first thing I would make them do is carry my things, and Isould think that the Toltecs were as smart as I am. So that leaves one option: the Toltecsdid not have slaves. (the rest of this is my own opinion)Why did the Toltecs not keep slaves? They were certainly capable of gainingthem. There is evidence that in their wars, they did take prisoners; but, these prisonerswere used almost exclusively for sacrifice. I think that this shows a certain respect forhuman life, definitely a civilized trait. Toltec LifeHuman life was highly respected in Toltec culture. One might think the oppositebecause, as stated earlier, the Toltecs practiced human sacrifice. This may sound like theyhave 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 beone’s own life. If you offer a human life to a god, you are giving what means most toyou. 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 mothergives birth, it is almost a festive occasion. Immediately after birth, an attending midwifecongradulates the mother for having fought a good battle and for having “captured” ababy. She then speaks to the child as she would an honored, weary traveler, and asks it torest among its parents (Townsend, p. 156). When the indian was born, he/she became part of a group of families who owned apiece of land. When it was time for marriage, the man would be given his own piece ofland to live off. He built his house on the land and was expected to farm it. If, for anyreason, 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 failedmarriages. Divorces were not unheard of in Toltec culture. If the man was not doing hisjob or supporting his family, the woman could have a divorce arranged and be remarriedto a more ablebodied man. Of course, if the woman was unable to produce children, theman could also arrange a divorce (von Hagen, World, p. 35). An interesting contrast between Toltecs and another “civilized” culture, earlyEuropeans, has to do with individual status in the society. In Europe, the people weredivided by classes. They could not change what class the were born into, but were stuckfor 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 parentsheld. Indians were put into political positions becauseof their merit, not their status (vonHagen, Sun, p. 36). This shows a fundamental viewpoint in Toltec culture. the tribe as a whole wasmore 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 thatthe Toltecs achieved. Maya and AztecThe Toltecs had an effect on all Mexican civilizations. In this section, I willdescribe the effects the Toltecs had on two major Mexican tribes: the Maya and theAztecs. I will begin with the Maya. The Maya were a peaceful culture living in some small towns south of theYucatan. At this time they had not developed a system of writing, so archeologists had toinfer greatly from their art (von Hagen, Sun, p. 120). Around 900 A.D., the Mayan peoples began the “Great Descent,” in which theymoved away from the cities and into the Yucatan. During this time, the Mayan culturesunk to an all time low (von Hagen, Sun, p. 120). Soon after the Great Descent, a manand his followers arived in the Yucatan. This man taught the Maya his knowledge andrebuilt the abandoned Maya city Chichen Itza. This began the Mayan Renaissance. Theydeveloped 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. TheMaya 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 givemore evidence for this story. Before I show you these similarities, though, I will give ashort description of each city. After leaving Teotihuacan, the Toltecs moved north about 50 miles. There, theybuilt the city of Tula. Tula seems to have been built because of the need of a city, as thereseems to have been much less planning involved than at Teotihuacan. There is none of theelegant symmetry like that shown at Teotihuacan. The houses were laid out in a veryhapazard manner; room layout was not planned at all. The only planning that seems tohave 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, embodiedall that was great in Teotihuacan, and more. No one showed the grandeour better than theSpanish monk Bernardo de Sahagun when he described Tula as having “rich palaces ofgreen jade and white and red shell, where the ears of corn and pumpkins reached the sizeof a man, where cotton grew in the plant in all colours and the air was filled with rare birdsof 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 amoderately 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 largewell, 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 ballinto a hoop, even though that hoop was 30 ft high and vertical. The players could onlyuse their elbws or hips. This was a big event, rivaling a sacrifice, and the spectators betheavily (von Hagen, Sun, 162). To the left lay the temple of the Warriors, which contained the local market. Tothe 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 exampleto see are the temples. Both the temple of Kukulkan and the temple of Tula are built inthe form of the truncated pyramid. A truncated pyramid has four sides with each sidelooking like a large staircase. Each Temple has a stairway on each of the four sides and anenclosed structure at the top (von Hagen, Sun, p. 195). The temple of the Warriors was built in the same fasion, but had two similarfeatures 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 thetemple of the Warriors and the temple of Tula had those. The other characteristicallyToltec feature on both temples are the chac-mools. Both chac-mools are almost exactlythe 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 havebeen found depicting marching jaguars and eagles. That very same thing has been foundin 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 inferedby some ironic historical events. First, around 987 A.D, Quetzalcoatl was said to have leftTula. At almost the same time in Mayan history, the man named Kukulkan arived in theYucatan. The Mayas loved him so much that they made him their king. Kukulkan thenproceeded to teach them his culture. While he was doing this, the Mayas went throughtheir won renaissance and their culture was restarted. No doubt Kukulkan had somethingto do with this (von Hagen, Sun, p. 332). Let us try a simple thought experiment. The Mayas are considered byarcheologists 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 hisways. It would follow that Kukulkan, himself, was civilized. Therefore, since he wasoriginally 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 thehighest respect, even basing their own culture on them. When the Aztecs moved in around lake Texcoco, they found the ruins ofTeotihuacan and other small cities. They were in awe of the technological level of thebuilders 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 theToltecs 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 findsalmost perfect simularity. The Aztecs took almost every thing from the Toltecs. Theybuilt the same style temples, had the same gods, used the same artistic style, andperformed the same human sacrifice rituals. One even finds the familiar chac-mool atopmany of the temples. The Toltec culture was so great that, not only did it travel throughout Mexico, butalso traveled beyond the grave.ConclusionNot only did the Toltecs emphasize the group and excell in technology, but theyalso taught two tribes to become civilized. Emphasizing the group is a key factor incivilized cultures. If everyone in a group works for themselves, they are limiting their ownadvancement. 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 withideas that will benifit the group, the ideas usually take the form of inventions. Whenpeople 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. Thesecultures grew to be the two most well known civilizations in Mexico. This says a lot forthe 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 theenduring Toltec culture. He then saw a human sacrifice and decided the fate of thesebarbaric people. A civilized culture is one that does not destroy every other culturebecause of different beliefs. One must wonder, which is more civilized: human sacrificeor genocide.One small tidbit about dates. When Quetzalcoatl sailed off to the west, he left theMayas 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 year1512, the year Cortez landed in Mexico. This was a haunting revelation, and can beinterpreted in many ways. One can say that it was coincidence, but I don’t choose to thinkso. I think Quetzalcoatl knew what he was saying, but encrypted the message. I think heknew what was going to happen. . .BIBLIOGRAPHYHistory 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. AbramsInc., 1992: 14, 15. Sabloff, Jeremy A. The Cities of Ancient Mexico. New York, New York: Thames andHudson 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. GreatBritain: 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, 1960:34,35.