The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Native Races [of the Pacific states], Volume 2, Civilized Nations

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Title: The Native Races [of the Pacific states], Volume 2, Civilized Nations

Author: Hubert Howe Bancroft

Release date: May 25, 2013 [eBook #42808]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Melissa McDaniel and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at


Transcriber's Note:

Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation in the original document have been preserved.

Italics in the footnote citations were inconsistently applied by the typesetter.

The following changes were made or suggested:

On page 43, a word is possibly missing in the phrase "we will pass over third force, 'la race';"

On the fold-out chart between pages 509 and 510, Clavigero, Month 10 may be "Xocohuetzl".

In footnote 95, the citation for Herrera is missing a book name.

In footnote 638, a reference to Leon y Gama, Dos Piedras, is incomplete.








Entered according to Act of Congress in the Year 1882, by
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

All Rights Reserved.




Definition of the Terms—The Universal Soul of Progress—Man the Instrument and not the Element of Progress—Origin of Progressional Phenomena—The Agency of Evil—Is Civilization Conducive to Happiness?—Objective and Subjective Humanity—Conditions Essential to Progress—Continental Configurations—Food and Climate—Wealth and Leisure—Association—War, Slavery, Religion, and Government—The Development of Progressional Law1


The American Civilization of the Sixteenth Century—Its Disappearance—The Past, a New Element—Dividing line between Savage and Civilized Tribes—Bounds of American Civilization—Physical Features of the Country—Maya and Nahua Branches of Aboriginal Culture—The Nahua Civilization—The Aztecs its Representatives—Limits of the Aztec Empire—Ancient History of Anáhuac in Outline—The Toltec Era—The Chichimec Era—The Aztec Era—Extent of the Aztec Language—Civilized Peoples outside of Anáhuac—Central American Nations—The Maya Culture—The Primitive Maya Empire—Nahua Influence in the South—Yucatan and the Mayas—The Nations of Chiapas—The Quiché Empire in Guatemala—The Nahuas in Nicaragua and Salvador—Etymology of Names81


System of Government—The Aztec Confederacy—Order of Succession—Election of Kings among the Mexicans—Royal Prerogatives—Government and Laws of Succession among the Toltecs, and in Michoacan, Tlascala, Cholula, Huexotzinco, and Oajaca—Magnificence of the Nahua Monarchs—Ceremony of Anointment—Ascent to the Temple—The Holy Unction—Address of the High-Priest to iv the King—Penance and Fasting in the House called Tlacatecco—Homage of the Nobles—General Rejoicing throughout the Kingdom—Ceremony of Coronation—The Procuring of Sacrifices—Description of the Crown—Coronation Feasts and Entertainments—Hospitality extended to Enemies—Coronation Speech of Nezahualpilli, King of Tezcuco, to Montezuma II. of Mexico—Oration of a Noble to a Newly elected King133


Extent and Interior of the Great Palace in Mexico—The Palace of Nezahualcoyotl, King of Tezcuco—The Zoölogical Collections of the Nahua Monarchs—Montezuma's Oratory—Royal Gardens and Pleasure-Grounds—The Hill of Chapultepec—Nezahualcoyotl's Country Residence at Tezcozinco—Toltec Palaces—The Royal Guard—The King's Meals—An Aztec Cuisine—The Audience Chamber—After-dinner Amusements—The Royal Wardrobe—The King Among his People—Meeting of Montezuma II. and Cortés—The King's Harem—Revenues of the Royal Household—Policy of Aztec Kings158


Titles of the Nobility and Gentry—The Power of the Nobles—The Aristocracy of Tezcuco—The Policy of King Techotlalatzin—Privileges of the Nobles—Montezuma's Policy—Rivalry between Nobles and Commons—The Knightly Order of Tecuhtli—Ceremony of Initiation—Origin of the Order—The Nahua Priesthood—The Priests of Mexico—Dedication of Children—Priestesses—Priesthood of Miztecapan—The Pontiff of Yopaa—Tradition of Wixipecocha—The Cave of Yopaa—The Zapotec Priests—Toltec Priests—Totonac Priests—Priests of Michoacan, Puebla, and Tlascala186


Influence of the Commoners—Oppression by Nobles—Deprived of Office by Montezuma II.—Classes of Slaves—Penal Slaves—Voluntary Slavery—Slave Market at Azcapuzalco—Punishment and Privileges of Slaves—Division of Lands—Crown Lands—Lands of the Nobles—Municipal Property—Property of the Temples—Tenure of Lands in Zapotecapan, Miztecapan, Michoacan, Tlascala, Cholula, and Huexotzinco—Similarity to Feudal System of Europe—System of Taxation—Municipal Taxes—Lice Tribute—Tribute from Conquered Provinces—Revenue Officers—Injustice of Montezuma II. 216 v


Education of the Nahua Youth—Manner of Punishment—Marriage Preliminaries—Nuptial Ceremony—Observance after Marriage—Mazatec, Otomí, Chichimec, and Toltec Marriages—Divorce—Concubinage—Ceremonies Preliminary to Childbirth—Treatment of Pregnant Women—Proceedings of Midwife—Superstitions with regard to Women who Died in Childbed—Abortion—Baptism—Speeches of Midwife—Naming of Children—Baptism among the Tlascaltecs, Mixtecs, and Zapotecs—Circumcision and Scarification of Infants240


Excessive Fondness for Feasts—Manner of Giving Feasts—Serving the Meal—Professional Jesters—Parting Presents to Guests—Royal Banquets—Tobacco Smoking—Public Dances—Manner of Singing and Dancing—The Neteteliztli—The Drama among the Nahuas—Music and Musical Instruments—Nahua Poetry—Acrobatic Feats—The Netololiztli, or 'Bird Dance'—Professional Runners—The Game of Tlactli—Games of Chance—The Patoliztli, or 'Bean Game'—Totoloque, Montezuma's Favorite Game283


Frequent Occurrence of Religious Feasts—Human Sacrifices—Feasts of the Fourth Year—Monthly Festivals—Sacrifice of Children—Feast of Xipe—Manner of Sacrifice—Feasts of Camaxtli, of the Flower Dealers, of Centeotl, of Tezcatlipoca, and of Huitzilopochtli—Festival of the Salt Makers—The Sacrifice by Fire—Feast of the Dead—The Coming of the Gods—The Footprints on the Mat—Hunting Feast—The Month of Love—Hard Times—Nahua Lupercalia—Feasts of the Sun, of the Winter Solstice—Harvest and Eight-Year Festivals—The Binding of the Sheaf302


Origin of Agriculture—Floating Gardens—Agricultural Products—Manner of preparing the Soil—Description of Agricultural Implements—Irrigation—Granaries—Gardens—The Harvest Feast—Manner of Hunting—Fishing—Methods of procuring Salt—Nahua Cookery—Various kinds of Bread—Beans—Pepper—Fruit—Tamales—Miscellaneous vi Articles of Food—Eating of Human Flesh—Manufacture of Pulque—Preparation of Chocolatl—Other Beverages—Intoxicating Drinks—Drunkenness—Time and Manner of Taking Meals342


Progress in Dress—Dress of the Pre-Aztec Nations—Garments of the Chichimecs and Toltecs—Introduction of Cotton—The Maxtli—The Tilmatli—Dress of the Acolhuas—Origin of the Tarascan Costume—Dress of the Zapotecs and Tabascans—Dress of Women—The Huipil and Cueitl—Sandals—Manner of Wearing the Hair—Painting and Tattooing—Ornaments used by the Nahuas—Gorgeous Dress of the Nobles—Dress of the Royal Attendants—Names of the Various Mantles—The Royal Diadem—The Royal Wardrobe—Costly Decorations363


The Main Features of Nahua Commerce—Commerce in Pre-Aztec Times—Outrages Committed by Aztec Merchants—Privileges of the Merchants of Tlatelulco—Jealousy between Merchants and Nobles—Articles used as Currency—The Markets of Anáhuac—Arrangement and Regulations of the Market-Places—Number of Buyers and Sellers—Transportation of Wares—Traveling Merchants—Commercial Routes—Setting out on a Journey—Caravans of Traders—The Return—Customs and Feasts of the Merchants—Nahua Boats and Navigation378


Importance of the Military Profession—Indications of Rank—Education of Warriors—Rewards for Valor—Military Orders and their Dress—Gorgeous War-Dresses of Montezuma and the Aztec Nobility—Dress of the Common Soldiers—Armor and Defensive Weapons—Offensive Weapons—Standards—Ambassadors and Couriers—Fortifications—The Military Council—Articles of War—Declaration of War—Spies—Order of March and Battle—War Customs of the Tlascaltecs and Tarascos—Return of the Conquering Army—Celebration of Feats of Arms400


General Remarks—the Cihuacoatl, or Supreme Judge—the Court of the Tlacatecatl—Jurisdiction of the Tecuhtlis—the Centectlapixques vii and Topillis—Law Courts and Judges of Tezcuco—Eighty-Day Council—Tribunal of the King—Court Proceedings—Lawyers—Witnesses—Remuneration of Judges—Justice of King Nezahualpilli—He orders his Son's Execution—Montezuma and the Farmer—Jails—Laws against Theft, Murder, Treason, Kidnapping, Drunkenness, Witchcraft, Adultery, Incest, Sodomy, Fornication, and other Crimes—Story of Nezahualcoyotl and the Boy433


Metals Used and Manner of Obtaining Them—Working of Gold and Silver—Wonderful Skill in Imitating Gilding and Plating—Working in Stone—Lapidary Work—Wood Carving—Manufacture of Pottery—Various Kinds of Cloth—Manufacture of Paper and Leather—Preparation of Dyes and Paints—The Art of Painting—Feather Mosaic Work—Leaf-Mats—Manner of Kindling Fire—Torches—Soap—Council of Arts in Tezcuco—Oratory and Poetry—Nezahualcoyotl's Odes on the Mutability of Life, and the Tyrant Tezozomoc—Aztec Arithmetical System473


Astronomical Knowledge of the Aztecs—Contradictions of Authors respecting the Calendar—Value of the Researches of Various Writers—The First Regular Calendar—The Mexican Cycle—The Civil Year—The Aztec Months—Names of the Days and their Signification—The Commencement of the Aztec Year—The Ritual Calendar—Gama's Arrangement of the Months—The Calendar-Stone—The Four Destructions of the World—The Calendar of Michoacan—Reckoning of the Zapotecs502


Hieroglyphic Records—The Native Books—Authorities—Destruction of the Native Archives by Zumárraga and his Confrères—Picture-Writings used after the Conquest for Confession and Law-Suits—Value of the Records—Documents sent to Spain in the Sixteenth Century—European Collections—Lord Kingsborough's Work—Picture-Writings retained in Mexico—Collections of Ixtlilxochitl, Sigüenza, Gemelli Careri, Boturini, Veytia, Leon y Gama, Pichardo, Aubin, and the National Museum of Mexico—Process of Hieroglyphic Development—Representative, Symbolic, and Phonetic Picture-Writing—Origin of Modern Alphabets—The Aztec System—Specimen from the Codex Mendoza—Specimen from Gemelli Careri—Specimen from the Boturini Collection—Probable future Success of Interpreters—The Nepohualtzitzin523 viii


Architecture of the Ancient Nations—General Features of Nahua Architecture—The Arch—Exterior and Interior Decorations—Method of Building—Inclined Planes—Scaffolds—The use of the Plummet—Building Materials—Position and Fortification of Towns—Mexico Tenochtitlan—The Great Causeways—Quarters and Wards of Mexico—The Market Place—Fountains and Aqueducts—Light-houses and Street-work—City of Tezcuco—Dwellings—Aztec Gardens—Temple of Huitzilopochtli—Temple of Mexico—Other Temples—Teocalli at Cholula and Tezcuco553


Mexican Contributions to Medical Science—The Botanical Gardens—Longevity—Prevalent Diseases—Introduction of Small-Pox and Syphilis—Medical Treatment—The Temazcalli—Aboriginal Physicians—The Aztec Faculty—Standard Remedies—Surgery—Superstitious Ceremonies in Healing—Funeral Rites of Aztecs—Cremation—Royal Obsequies—Embalming—The Funeral Pyre—Human Sacrifice—Disposal of the Ashes and Ornaments—Mourners—Funeral Ceremonies of the People—Certain Classes Buried—Rites for the Slain in Battle—Burial among the Teo-Chichimecs and Tabascans—Cremation Ceremonies in Michoacan—Burial by the Miztecs in Oajaca591


Introductory Remarks—Votan's Empire—Zamná's Reign—The Royal Families of Yucatan, Cocomes, Tutul Xius, Itzas, and Cheles—Titles and Order of Succession—Classes of Nobles—The Quiché-Cakchiquel Empire in Guatemala—The Ahau Ahpop and Succession to the Throne—Privileged Classes—Government of the Provinces—The Royal Council—The Chiapanecs—The Pipiles—Nations of Nicaragua—The Maya Priesthood—Plebeian Classes—Slaves—Tenure of Lands—Inheritance of Property—Taxation—Debtors and Creditor—Laws and the Administration of Justice630


Education of Youth—Public Schools of Guatemala—Branches of Study in Yucatan—Marrying-Age—Degrees of Consanguinity allowed in Marriage—Preliminaries of Marriage—Marriage Ceremonies—The ix Custom of the Droit du Seigneur in Nicaragua—Widows—Monogamy—Concubinage—Divorce—Laws Concerning Adultery—Fornication—Rape—Prostitution—Unnatural Crimes—Desire for Children—Childbirth Ceremonies—Rite of Circumcision—Manner of Naming Children—Baptismal Ceremonies661


Special Observances—Fixed Feasts—Sacrifice of Slaves—Monthly Feasts of the Yucatecs—Renewal of the Idols—Feast of the Chacs—Hunting Festival—The Tuppkak—Feast of the Cacao-Planters—War Feast—The Maya New Year's Day—Feasts of the Hunters, Fishers, and Apiarists—Ceremonies in honor of Cukulcan—Feast of the Month of Mol—Feasts of the Years Kan, Muluc, Ix, and Cauac—Yucatec Sacrifices—The Pit of Chichen—Sacrifices of the Pipiles—Feast of Victory—Feasts and Sacrifices in Nicaragua—Banquets—Dances—Musical Instruments—Games687


Introduction of Agriculture—Quiché Tradition of the Discovery of Maize—Maize Culture—Superstitions of Farmers—Hunting and Fishing—Domestic Animals, Fowl, and Bees—Preservation and Cooking of Food—Meals—Drinks and Drinking—Habits—Cannibalism—Dress of the Mayas—Maxtlis, Mantles, and Sandals—Dress of Kings and Priests—Women's Dress—Hair and Beard—Personal Decoration—Head-Flattening, Perforation, Tattooing, and Painting—Personal Habits—Commerce—Currency—Markets—Superstitions of Travelers—Canoes and Balsas—War—Military Leaders—Insignia—Armor—Weapons—Fortifications—Battles—Treatment of Captives715


Scarcity of Information—Use of Metals—Gold and Precious Stones—Implements of Stone—Sculpture—Pottery—Manufacture of Cloth—Dyeing—System of Numeration—Maya Calendar in Yucatan—Days, Weeks, Months, and Years—Indictions and Katunes—Perez' System of Ahau Katunes—Statements of Landa and Cogolludo—Intercalary Days and Years—Days and Months in Guatemala, Chiapas, and Soconusco—Maya Hieroglyphic System—Testimony of Early Writers on the Use of Picture-Writing—Destruction of Documents—Specimens which have Survived—The Dresden Codex—Manuscript Troano—Tablets of Palenque, Copan, and Yucatan—Bishop Landa's Key—Brasseur de Bourbourg's Interpretation748



Scanty Information given by the Early Voyagers—Private Houses of the Mayas—Interior Arrangement, Decoration, and Furniture—Maya Cities—Description of Utatlan—Patinamit, the Cakchiquel Capital—Cities of Nicaragua—Maya Roads—Temples at Chichen Itza and Cozumel—Temples of Nicaragua and Guatemala—Diseases of the Mayas—Medicines used—Treatment of the Sick—Propitiatory Offerings and Vows—Superstitions—Dreams—Omens—Witchcraft—Snake-Charmers—Funeral Rites and Ceremonies—Physical Peculiarities—Character783

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Definition of the Terms—Force and Nature—The Universal Soul of Progress—Man the Instrument and not the Element of Progress—Origin of Progressional Phenomena—The Agency of Evil—Is Civilization Conducive to Happiness?—Objective and Subjective Humanity—Conditions Essential to Progress—Continental Configurations—Food and Climate—Wealth and Leisure—Association—War, Slavery, Religion, and Government—Morality and Fashion—The Development of Progressional Law.

The terms Savage and Civilized, as applied to races of men, are relative and not absolute terms. At best these words mark only broad shifting stages in human progress; the one near the point of departure, the other farther on toward the unattainable end. This progress is one and universal, though of varying rapidity and extent; there are degrees in savagism and there are degrees in civilization; indeed, though placed in opposition, the one is but a degree of the other. The Haidah, whom we call savage, is as much superior to the Shoshone, the lowest of Americans, as the Aztec is superior to the Haidah, or the European to the Aztec. 2 Looking back some thousands of ages, we of to-day are civilized; looking forward through the same duration of time, we are savages.

Nor is it, in the absence of fixed conditions, and amidst the many shades of difference presented by the nations along our western seaboard, an easy matter to tell where even comparative savagism ends and civilization begins. In the common acceptation of these terms, we may safely call the Central Californians savage, and the Quichés of Guatemala civilized; but between these two extremes are hundreds of peoples, each of which presents some claim for both distinctions. Thus, if the domestication of ruminants, or some knowledge of arts and metals, constitute civilization, then are the ingenious but half-torpid Hyperboreans civilized, for the Eskimos tame reindeer, and the Thlinkeets are skillful carvers and make use of copper; if the cultivation of the soil, the building of substantial houses of adobe, wood, and stone, with the manufacture of cloth and pottery, denote an exodus from savagism, then are the Pueblos of New Mexico no longer savages; yet in both these instances enough may be seen, either of stupidity or brutishness, to forbid our ranking them with the more advanced Aztecs, Mayas, and Quichés.

We know what savages are; how, like wild animals, they depend for food and raiment upon the spontaneous products of nature, migrating with the beasts and birds and fishes, burrowing beneath the ground, hiding in caves, or throwing over themselves a shelter of bark or skins or branches or boards, eating or starving as food is abundant or scarce; nevertheless, all of them have made some advancement from their original naked, helpless condition, and have acquired some aids in the procurement of their poor necessities. Primeval man, the only real point of departure, and hence the only true savage, nowhere exists on the globe to-day. Be the animal man never so low—lower in skill and wisdom than the brute, less active in obtaining food, less ingenious in building his den—the first step 3 out of his houseless, comfortless condition, the first fashioning of a tool, the first attempt to cover nakedness and wall out the wind, if this endeavor spring from intellect and not from instinct, is the first step toward civilization. Hence the modern savage is not the pre-historic or primitive man; nor is it among the barbarous nations of to-day that we must look for the rudest barbarism.


Often is the question asked, What is civilization? and the answer comes, The act of civilizing; the state of being civilized. What is the act of civilizing? To reclaim from a savage or barbarous state; to educate; to refine. What is a savage or barbarous state? A wild uncultivated state; a state of nature. Thus far the dictionaries. The term civilization, then, popularly implies both the transition from a natural to an artificial state, and the artificial condition attained. The derivation of the word civilization, from civis, citizen, civitas, city, and originally from cœtus, union, seems to indicate that culture which, in feudal times, distinguished the occupants of cities from the ill-mannered boors of the country. The word savage, on the other hand, from silva, a wood, points to man primeval; silvestres homines, men of the forest, not necessarily ferocious or brutal, but children of nature. From these simple beginnings both words have gradually acquired a broader significance, until by one is understood a state of comfort, intelligence, and refinement; and by the other, humanity wild and bestial.

Guizot defines civilization as an "improved condition of man resulting from the establishment of social order in place of the individual independence and lawlessness of the savage or barbarous life;" Buckle as "the triumph of mind over external agents;" Virey as "the development more or less absolute of the moral and intellectual faculties of man united in society;" Burke as the exponent of two principles, "the spirit of a gentleman and the spirit of religion." "Whatever be the characteristics of what we call savage life," says 4 John Stuart Mill, "the contrary of these, or the qualities which society puts on as it throws off these, constitute civilization;" and, remarks Emerson, "a nation that has no clothing, no iron, no alphabet, no marriage, no arts of peace, no abstract thought, we call barbarous."

Men talk of civilization and call it liberty, religion, government, morality. Now liberty is no more a sign of civilization than tyranny; for the lowest savages are the least governed of all people. Civilized liberty, it is true, marks a more advanced stage than savage liberty, but between these two extremes of liberty there is a necessary age of tyranny, no less significant of an advance on primitive liberty than is constitutional liberty an advance on tyranny. Nor is religion civilization, except in so far as the form and machinery of sacerdotal rites, and the abandonment of fetichism for monotheism become significant of intenser thought and expansion of intellect. No nation ever practiced grosser immorality, or what we of the present day hold to be immorality, than Greece during the height of her intellectual refinement. Peace is no more civilization than war, virtue than vice, good than evil. All these are the incidents, not the essence, of civilization.

That which we commonly call civilization is not an adjunct nor an acquirement of man; it is neither a creed nor a polity, neither science nor philosophy nor industry; it is rather the measure of progressional force implanted in man, the general fund of the nation's wealth, learning, and refinement, the storehouse of accumulated results, the essence of all best worth preserving from the distillations of good and the distillations of evil. It is a something between men, no less than a something within them; for neither an isolated man nor an association of brutes can by any possibility become civilized.


Further than this, civilization is not only the measure of aggregated human experiences, but it is a living 5 working principle. It is a social transition; a moving forward rather than an end attained; a developing vitality rather than a fixed entity; it is the effort or aim at refinement rather than refinement itself; it is labor with a view to improvement and not improvement consummated, although it may be and is the metre of such improvement. And this accords with latter-day teachings. Although in its infancy, and, moreover, unable to explain things unexplainable, the science of evolution thus far has proved that the normal condition of the human race, as well as that of physical nature, is progressional; that the plant in a congenial soil is not more sure to grow than is humanity with favorable surroundings certain to advance. Nay, more, we speak of the progress of civilization as of something that moves on of its own accord; we may, if we will, recognize in this onward movement, the same principle of life manifest in nature and in the individual man.

To things we do not understand we give names, with which by frequent use we become familiar, when we fancy that we know all about the things themselves. At the first glance civilization appears to be a simple matter; to be well clad, well housed, and well fed, to be intelligent and cultured are better than nakedness and ignorance; therefore it is a good thing, a thing that men do well to strive for,—and that is all. But once attempt to go below this placid surface, and investigate the nature of progressional phenomena, and we find ourselves launched upon an eternity of ocean, and in pursuit of the same occult Cause, which has been sought alike by philosophic and barbaric of every age and nation; we find ourselves face to face with a great mystery, to which we stand in the same relation as to other great mysteries, such as the origin of things, the principle of life, the soul-nature. When such questions are answered as What is attraction, heat, electricity; what instinct, intellect, soul? Why are plants forced to grow and molecules to conglomerate 6 and go whirling in huge masses through space?—then we may know why society moves ever onward like a river in channels predetermined. At present, these phenomena we may understand in their action partially, in their essence not at all; we may mark effects, we may recognize the same principle under widely different conditions though we may not be able to discover what that principle is. Science tells us that these things are so; that certain combinations of certain elements are inevitably followed by certain results, but science does not attempt to explain why they are so. Nevertheless, a summary of such few simple thoughts as I have been able to gather upon the subject, may be not wholly valueless.


And first, to assist our reflections, let us look for a moment at some of the primal principles in nature, not with a view to instruct in that direction, but rather to compare some of the energies of the material world with the intellectual or progressional energy in man; and of these I will mention such only as are currently accepted by latter-day science.

Within the confines of the conceivable universe one element alone is all-potential, all-pervading,—Force. Throughout the realms of space, in and round all forms of matter, binding minutest atoms, balancing systems of worlds, rioting in life, rotting in death, under its various aspects mechanical and chemical, attractive and repulsive, this mighty power is manifest; a unifying, coalescing, and flowing power, older than time, quicker than thought, saturating all suns and planets and filling to repletion all molecules and masses. Worlds and systems of worlds are sent whirling, worlds round worlds and systems round systems, in a mazy planetary dance, wherein the slightest tripping, the least excess of momentum or inertia, of tension or traction, in any part, and chaos were come again. Every conceivable entity, ponderable and imponderable, material and immaterial, is replete with force. 7 By it all moving bodies are set in motion, all motionless bodies held at rest; by it the infinitesimal atom is held an atom and the mass is held concrete, vapory moisture overspreads the land, light and heat animate senseless substance; by it forms of matter change, rocks grow and dissolve, mountains are made and unmade, the ocean heaves and swells, the eternal hills pulsate, the foundations of the deep rise up, and seas displace continents.

One other thing we know, which with the first comprises all our knowledge,—Matter. Now force and matter are interdependent, one cannot exist without the other; as for example, all substance, unless held together—which term obviously implies force—would speedily dissolve into inconceivable nothingness. But no less force is required to annihilate substance than to create it; force, therefore, is alike necessary to the existence or non-existence of matter, which reduces the idea of a possible absence of either force or matter to an absurdity; or, in other words, it is impossible for the human mind to conceive of a state of things wherein there is no matter, and consequently no force.

Force has been called the soul of nature, and matter the body, for by force matter lives and moves and has its being.

Force like matter, is divisible, infinitely so, as far as human experience goes; for, though ultimates may exist, they have never yet been reached; and it would seem that all physical phenomena, endlessly varied and bewildering as they may appear, spring from a few simple incomprehensible forces, the bases of which are attraction and repulsion; which may yet, indeed, derive their origin from One Only Source. In the morphological and geometrical displays of matter these phenomena assume a multitude of phases; all are interactive and interdependent, few are original or primary,—for example, heat and electricity are the offspring of motion which is the result of attractive and repulsive force. 8

What is force and what matter, whether the one is the essence of a self-conscious Creator and the other his handiwork, or whether both are the offspring of a blind chance or fate—which latter hypothesis is simply unthinkable—it is not my purpose here to consider. I propose in this analysis to take things as I find them, to study the operations rather than the origin of phenomena, to determine what man does rather than what he ought to do, and to drop the subject at the confines of transcendentalism. When, therefore, I speak of force as the life of matter, it no more implies a self-existant materialism in man, than the soul of man implies a pantheistic self-existant soul in nature. Omnipotence can as easily create and sustain a universe through the media of antagonistic and interdependent forces as through any other means, can as easily place nature and man under the governance of fixed laws as to hold all under varying arbitrary dispensations, and can reconcile these laws with man's volition. Wells of bitterness are dug by disputants under meaningless words; scientists are charged with materialism and religionists with fanaticism, in their vain attempts to fathom the ways of the Almighty and restrict his powers to the limits of our weak understanding.

It has been said that, in the beginning, the sixty and odd supposed several elements of matter were in a chaotic state; that matter and force were poised in equilibrium or rioted at random throughout space, that out of this condition of things sprang form and development; regular motion and time began; matter condensed into revolving masses and marked off the days, and months, and years; organization and organisms were initiated and intellectual design became manifest. The infinitesimal molecules, balanced by universal equilibrium of forces, which before motion and time were but chaotic matter and force, were finally supposed to have been each endowed with an innate individuality. However this may be, we now see every atom in the universe athrill with force, and 9 possessed of chemical virtues, and, under conditions, with the faculty of activity. As to the Force behind force, or how or by what means this innate energy was or is implanted in molecules, we have here nothing to do. It is sufficient for our purpose that we find it there; yet, the teachings of philosophy imply that this innate force is neither self-implanted nor self-operative; that whether, in pre-stellar times, infinitesimal particles of matter floated in space as nebulous fluid or objectless vapor without form or consistence, or whether all matter was united in one mass which was set revolving, and became broken into fragments, which were sent whirling as suns and planets in every direction; that in either case, or in any other conceivable case, matter, whether as molecules or masses, was primordially, and is, endowed and actuated by a Creative Intelligence, which implanting force, vitality, intellect, soul, progress, is ever acting, moving, mixing, unfolding, and this in every part and in all the multitudinous combinations of matter; and that all forces and vitalities must have co-existed in the mass, innate in and around every atom.


Thus, in his great theory of the projectile impulse given to heavenly bodies in counteraction of the attractive impulse, Sir Isaac Newton assumes that both impulses were given from without; that some power foreign to themselves projected into space these heavenly bodies and holds them there. So, too, when Laplace promulgated the idea that in pre-planetary times space was filled with particles and vapors, solar systems existing only in a nebulous state and this nebula set revolving in one mass upon its own axis from west to east, and that as the velocity of this mass increased suns and planets were, by centrifugal force, thrown off and condensed into habitable but still whirling worlds, some impulse foreign to the revolving mass setting it in motion is implied.

With organization and motion, the phases of force, called heat, light, electricity and magnetism, hitherto 10 held dormant in molecules are engendered; composition and decomposition ensue; matter assumes new and varying forms; a progressional development, which is nothing but intelligently directed motion, is initiated, and motion becomes eternal.

It is a well-established principle of physics that force cannot be created or lost. The conservation of force is not affected by the action or energies of moving bodies. Force is not created to set a body in motion, nor when expended, as we say, is it lost. The sum of all potential energies throughout the universe is always the same, whether matter is at rest or in motion. It is evident that so long as every molecule is charged with attractive force no atom can drop out into the depths of unoccupied and absolute space and become lost or annihilated; and so long as force is dependent on matter for its perceivable existence, force cannot escape beyond the confines of space and become lost in absolute void.

Not only are forces interdependent, but they are capable of being metamorphosed one into another. Thus intellectual energy invents a machine which drives a steamship across the ocean. This invention or creation of the mind is nothing else than a vitalization or setting at liberty of mechanical forces, and without this vitalization or applied intellectual force such mechanical force lies dormant as in so-called dead matter. Gravitation is employed to turn a water-wheel, caloric to drive a steam-engine, by means of either of which weights may be raised, heat, electricity, and light produced, and these new-created forces husbanded and made to produce still other forces or turned back into their original channels. And so in chemical and capillary action, the correlation of forces everywhere is found.


Between mind and matter there exists the most intimate relationship. Immateriality, in its various phases of force, life, intellect, so far as human consciousness can grasp it, is inseparable from materiality. 11 The body is but part of the soil on which it treads, and the mind can receive no impressions except through the organs of the body. The brain is the seat of thought and the organ of thought; neither can exist in a normal state apart from the other. As a rule, the power of the intellect is in proportion to the size and quality of the brain. Among animals, those of lowest order have the least brains; man, the most intellectual of animals, has relatively, if not absolutely, the largest brain. True, in some of the largest animals the cerebral mass is larger than in man, but, in its chemical composition, its convolutions, shape, and quality, that in man is superior; and it is in the quality, rather than in the quantity of the nervous tissues, that their superiority consists. Intelligence enters the brain by the organs of the senses, and through the nervous system its subtle influence radiates to every part of the body. All human activities are either mental or mechanical; nor will it be denied that mental activity is produced by mechanical means, or, that mechanical activity is the result of mental force. Corporeal motion is mental force distributed to the various parts of the body.

The action of immaterial forces on the material substances of the human body manifestly accords with the action of immaterial forces elsewhere. All the physical and mechanical actions of the human body accord with the physical and mechanical forces elsewhere displayed. Man, we are told, was the last of all created things, but in the making of man no new matter was employed; nor in setting the body in motion can we discover that any new force was invented. Thus the heart beats upon mechanical principles; the eye sees, and the voice speaks in accordance with the general laws of optics and acoustics.

To the observer, organic activity is but the product of combined inorganic forces. The same processes are at work, and in the same manner, in living and in so-called dead matter. Life, to all appearance, is but the 12 result of combined chemical and mechanical processes. Assimilation, digestion, secretion, are explainable by chemistry, and by chemistry alone. The stomach is a chemical retort, the body a chemical laboratory. Carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, combine and separate in the body as out of the body. The blood circulates upon purely mechanical principles; all muscular action is mechanical. In the phenomena of life, the only perceptible difference is in the combinations of fundamental elements; yet chemistry and mechanics cannot produce a live body.

With the foregoing well-recognized principles before us, let us now notice some few parallelisms between mechanical and social energetics.

Man, like every other natural substance, is a compound of force and matter. "Respiration," says Liebig, "is the falling weight, the bent spring, which keeps the clock in motion; the inspirations and respirations are the strokes of the pendulum which regulates." Atoms of matter, through the instrumentality of living force, cohere and coalesce under endless complex conditions into endless varieties of form and substance; so also the activities of man, corporeal and intellectual, result in vast accumulations of experiences, which accumulations become the property of the whole society. Society, like matter, is composed of units, each possessing certain forces, attractive and repulsive; societies act upon each other, like celestial bodies, in proportion to their volume and proximity, and the power of the unit increases with the increase of the mass. In association there is a force as silent and as subtle as that which governs atoms and holds worlds in equipoise; its grosser forms are known as government, worship, fashion, and the like; its finer essence is more delicate than thought. It is this social force, attractive and repulsive, that binds men together, tears them asunder, kneads, and knits, and shapes, and evolves; it is the origin of every birth, the ultimate of every activity. Mechanical forces are manifest in machines, as the 13 lever, the wheel, the inclined plane; professional force is manifest in intellectual ingenuity, literature, art, science, which are the machines of human progress.


How many of all our joys and sorrows, our loves and hates, our good and evil actions, spring from physical causes only? Even material substances display moods and affections, as when heated, electrified, decomposed, or set in motion; the sea at rest presents a different mood from the sea raging. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's idea that the soul might be governed for its good by material things working through the media of the senses, is not so extravagant after all. "The gospel according to Jean-Jacques," as Carlyle puts it, runs as follows on this point—and, indeed, the great Genevan evangelist at one time intended to devote a book to the subject under the title of La Morale Sensitive:—"The striking and numerous observations that I had collected were beyond all dispute; and, in their physical origin, they appeared to me proper for furnishing an exterior regimen, which, varied according to circumstances, should be able to place or maintain the soul in the state most favorable to virtue. How many wanderings one might save the reason, how many vices might be hindered birth, if one could but force the animal economy to favor the moral order that it troubles so often. Climates, seasons, sounds, colors, darkness, light, the elements, food, noise, silence, movement, repose, all act on our bodily frame, and, by consequence, on our soul; all offer us a thousand firm holds to govern, in their origin, those sentiments by which we allow ourselves to be dominated."

In contemplating the numerous activities by which we are surrounded, again and again we are called upon to wonder at the marvelous regularity which characterizes all their movements. So regular are these movements, so sure are certain conditions to accompany certain results, that in physics, in chemistry, in physiology, and even in society, facts are collected and classified, and from them laws are discovered as fixed 14 and irrevocable as the facts themselves, which laws, indeed, are themselves facts, no less than the facts from which they are deduced.

Highly cultivated nations frame laws that provide for many contingencies, but the code of nature has yet finer provisions. There are conditions that neither political nor social laws reach, there are none not reached by physical law; in society, criminals sometimes evade the law; in nature, never. So subtle are the laws of nature, that even thought cannot follow them; when we see that every molecule, by virtue of its own hidden force, attracts every other molecule, up to a certain point, and then from the same inherent influence every atom repels every other atom; when by experiments of physicists it has been proved that in polarization, crystallization, and chemical action, there is not the slightest deviation from an almost startling regularity, with many other facts of like import, how many natural laws do we feel to be yet unrevealed and, from the exquisite delicacy of their nature, unrevealable to our present coarse understanding.

It would be indeed strange, if, when all the universe is under the governance of fixed laws—laws which regulate the motion of every molecule, no less than the revolutions of suns—laws of such subtle import, as for instance, regulate the transformations of heat, the convertibility and correlation of force; it would be strange, I say, if such laws as these, when they reached the domain of human affairs should pause and leave the world of man alone in purposeless wanderings.


To continue our analogies. As, latent in the atom, or in the mass, there are energies releasable only by heat or friction,—as in charcoal, which holds, locked up, muriatic acid gas equivalent to ninety times its volume; or in spongy platinum, which holds in like manner oxygen, equal to eight hundred times its volume; so, latent in every individual, are numberless energies, which demand the friction of society to call them out.

Force comprises two elements, attraction and repulsion, 15 analagous to the principles commonly called good and evil in the affairs of human society; take away from mechanical force either of these two oppugnant elements, and there could be neither organism nor life, so without both good and evil in human affairs there could be no progress.

If none of the forces of nature are dissipated or lost, and if force can no more be extinguished than matter, and like matter passes from one form into another, we may conclude that intellectual force is never dissipated or lost, but that the potential energies of mind and soul perpetually vibrate between man and nature.

Or, again, if, as we have seen, energy of every kind is clothed in matter, and when employed and expended returns again to its place in matter; and if the mind draws its forces from the body, as it appears to do, both growing, acting, and declining simultaneously; and if the body draws its energy from the earth, which is no less possible; then may not intellectual and progressional force be derived from man's environment, and return thither when expended? Every created being borrows its material from the storehouse of matter, and when uncreated restores it again; so every individual born into society becomes charged with social force, with progressional energy, which, when expended, rests with society. Winslow's opinion on this subject is, that "all electric and magnetic currents originate in—are inducted from—and radiate either directly or indirectly out of the globe as the fountain of every form and constituency of mechanical force, and that abstract immaterial mechanical energy, as we have thus far discussed and developed its dual principles, is absolutely convertible through molecular motion into every form and expansion of secondary force, passing successively from heat through electricity, magnetism, etc., and vice versa, it follows that this same mechanical energy itself, as hypostatical motive power, must proceed out of the globe also."

Thus is loaded with potential energy the universe of 16 matter, generating life, mind, civilization, and hence we may conclude that whatever else it is, civilization is a force; that it is the sum of all the forces employed to drive humanity onward; that it acts on man as mechanical force acts on matter, attracting, repelling, pressing forward yet holding in equilibrium, and all under fixed and determined laws.

From all which it would appear that nothing is found in man that has not its counterpart in nature, and that all things that are related to man are related to each other; even immortal mind itself is not unlike that subtle force, inherent in, and working round every atom.

In this respect physical science is the precursor of social science. Nature produces man; man in his earlier conception of nature, that is in his gods, reproduces himself; and later, his knowledge of intrinsic self depends upon his knowledge of extrinsic agencies, so that as the laws that govern external nature are better understood, the laws that govern society are more definitely determined. The conditions of human progress can be wrought into a science only by pursuing the same course that raises into a science any branch of knowledge; that is, by collecting, classifying, and comparing facts, and therefrom discovering laws. Society must be studied as chemistry is studied; it must be analyzed, and its component parts—the solubilities, interactions, and crystallizations of religions, governments and fashions, ascertained. As in the earlier contemplations of physical nature, the action of the elements was deemed fortuitous, so in a superficial survey of society, all events appear to happen by chance; but on deeper investigation, in society as in physics, events apparently fortuitous, may be reduced to immutable law. To this end the life of mankind on the globe must be regarded as the life of one man, successions of societies as successions of days in that life; for the activities of nations are but the sum of the activities of the individual members thereof. 17


We have seen that man's organism, as far as it may be brought under exact observation, is governed by the same processes that govern elemental principles in inorganic nature. The will of man attempting to exert itself in antagonism to these laws of nature is wholly ineffectual. We are all conscious of a will, conscious of a certain freedom in the exercise of our will, but wholly unconscious as to the line of separation between volition and environment. Part of our actions arise from fixed necessity, part are the result of free will. Statistics, as they are accumulated and arranged, tend more and more to show that by far the greater part of human actions are not under individual control, and that the actions of masses are, in the main, wholly beyond the province of the human will.

Take the weather for a single day, and note the effect on the will. The direction of the wind not unfrequently governs one's train of thought; resolution often depends upon the dryness of the atmosphere, benevolence upon the state of the stomach; misfortunes, arising from physical causes, have ere now changed the character of a ruler from one of lofty self-sacrifice, to one of peevish fretfulness, whereat his followers became estranged and his empire lost in consequence. In the prosecution of an enterprise, how often we find ourselves drifting far from the anticipated goal. The mind is governed by the condition of the body, the body by the conditions of climate and food; hence it is that many of our actions, which we conceive to be the result of free choice, arise from accidental circumstances.

It is only in the broader view of humanity that general laws are to be recognized, as Dr Draper remarks: "He who is immersed in the turmoil of a crowded city sees nothing but the acts of men; and, if he formed his opinion from his experience alone, must conclude that the course of events altogether depends on the uncertainties of human volition. But he who ascends to a sufficient elevation loses sight of the passing 18 conflicts, and no longer hears the contentions. He discovers that the importance of individual action is diminishing as the panorama beneath him is extending; and if he could attain to the truly philosophical, the general point of view, disengage himself from all terrestrial influences and entanglements, rising high enough to see the whole at a glance, his acutest vision would fail to discern the slightest indication of man, his free will, or his works."

Let us now glance at some of the manifestations of this progressional influence; first in its general aspects, after which we will notice its bearing on a few of the more important severalties intimately affecting humanity, such as religion, morality, government, and commerce,—for there is nothing that touches man's welfare, no matter how lightly, in all his long journey from naked wildness to clothed and cultured intelligence, that is not placed upon him by this progressional impulse.


In every living thing there is an element of continuous growth; in every aggregation of living things there is an element of continuous improvement. In the first instance, a vital actuality appears; whence, no one can tell. As the organism matures, a new germ is formed, which, as the parent stock decays, takes its place and becomes in like manner the parent of a successor. Thus even death is but the door to new forms of life. In the second instance, a body corporate appears, no less a vital actuality than the first; a social organism in which, notwithstanding ceaseless births and deaths, there is a living principle. For while individuals are born and die, families live; while families are born and die, species live; while species are born and die, organic being assumes new forms and features. Herein the all-pervading principle of life, while flitting, is nevertheless permanent, while transient is yet eternal. But above and independent of perpetual birth and death is this element of continuous 19 growth, which, like a spirit, walks abroad and mingles in the affairs of men. "All our progress," says Emerson, "is an unfolding, like the vegetable bud. You have first an instinct; then an opinion, then a knowledge, as the plant has root bud and fruit."

Under favorable conditions, and up to a certain point, stocks improve; by a law of natural selection the strongest and fittest survive, while the ill-favored and deformed perish; under conditions unfavorable to development, stocks remain stationary or deteriorate. Paradoxically, so far as we know, organs and organisms are no more perfect now than in the beginning; animal instincts are no keener, nor are their habitudes essentially changed. No one denies that stocks improve, for such improvement is perceptible and permanent; many deny that organisms improve, for if there be improvement it is imperceptible, and has thus far escaped proof. But, however this may be, it is palpable that the mind, and not the body, is the instrument and object of the progressional impulse.

Man in the duality of his nature is brought under two distinct dominions; materially he is subject to the laws that govern matter, mentally to the laws that govern mind; physiologically he is perfectly made and non-progressive, psychologically he is embryonic and progressive. Between these internal and external forces, between moral and material activities there may be, in some instances, an apparent antagonism. The mind may be developed in excess and to the detriment of the body, and the body may be developed in excess and to the detriment of the mind.

The animal man is a bundle of organs, with instincts implanted that set them in motion; man intellectual is a bundle of sentiments, with an implanted soul that keeps them effervescent; mankind in the mass, society,—we see the fermentations, we mark the transitions; is there, then, a soul in aggregated humanity as there is in individual humanity?

The instincts of man's animality teach the organs 20 to perform their functions as perfectly at the first as at the last; the instincts of man's intellectuality urge him on in an eternal race for something better, in which perfection is never attained nor attainable; in society, we see the constant growth, the higher and yet higher development; now in this ever-onward movement are there instincts which originate and govern action in the body social as in the body individual? Is not society a bundle of organs, with an implanted Soul of Progress, which moves mankind along in a resistless predetermined march?

Nations are born and die; they appear first in a state of infancy or savagism; many die in their childhood, some grow into manhood and rule for a time the destinies of the world; finally, by sudden extinction, or a lingering decrepitude, they disappear, and others take their place. But in this ceaseless coming and going there is somewhere a mysterious agency at work, making men better, wiser, nobler, whether they will or not. This improvement is not the effect of volition; the plant does not will to unfold, nor the immature animal to grow; neither can the world of human kind cease to advance in mind and in manners. Development is the inevitable incident of being. Nations, under normal conditions, can no more help advancing than they can throw themselves into a state of non-existence; than can the individual stop his corporeal growth, or shut out from the intellect every perception of knowledge, and become a living petrification. And in whatever pertains to intellectual man this fundamental principle is apparent. It underlies all moralities, governments, and religions, all industries, arts, and commerce; it is the mainspring of every action, the consequence of every cause; it is the great central idea toward which all things converge; it is the object of all efforts, the end of all successes; it absorbs all forces, and is the combined results of innumerable agencies, good and evil.

Before the theory of Dr von Martius and his followers, 21 that the savage state is but a degeneration from something higher, can become tenable, the whole order of nature must be reversed. Races may deteriorate, civilized peoples relapse into barbarism, but such relapse cannot take place except under abnormal conditions. We cannot believe that any nation, once learning the use of iron would cast it away for stone. Driven from an iron-yielding land, the knowledge of iron might at last be forgotten, but its use would never be voluntarily relinquished. And so with any of the arts or inventions of man. Societies, like individuals, are born, mature, and decay; they grow old and die; they may pause in their progress, become diseased, and thereby lose their strength and retrograde, but they never turn around and grow backward or ungrow,—they could not if they would.


In the brute creation this element of progress is wanting. The bird builds its nest, the bee its cell, the beaver its dam, with no more skill or elaboration to-day, than did the bird or bee or beaver primeval. The instinct of animals does not with time become intellect; their comforts do not increase, their sphere of action does not enlarge. By domestication, stocks may be improved, but nowhere do we see animals uniting for mutual improvement, or creating for themselves an artificial existence. So in man, whose nature comprises both the animal and the intellectual, the physical organism neither perceptibly advances nor deteriorates. The features may, indeed, beam brighter from the light of a purer intellectuality cast upon them from within, but the hand, the eye, the heart, so far as we know, is no more perfect now than in the days of Adam.

As viewed by Mr Bagehot, the body of the accomplished man "becomes, by training, different from what it once was, and different from that of the rude man, becomes charged with stored virtue and acquired faculty which come away from it unconsciously." But the body of the accomplished man dies, and the son can 22 in no wise inherit it, whereas the soul of his accomplishments does not die, but lives in the air, and becomes part of the vital breath of society. And, again, "power that has been laboriously acquired and stored up as statical in one generation" sometimes, says Maudsley, "becomes the inborn faculty of the next; and the development takes place in accordance with that law of increasing speciality and complexity of adaption to external nature which is traceable through the animal kingdom; or, in other words, that law of progress, from the general to the special, in development, which the appearance of nerve force amongst natural forces and the complexity of the nervous system of man both illustrate." On the other side John Stuart Mill is just as positive that culture is not inherent. "Of all vulgar modes," he remarks, "of escaping from the consideration of the effect of social and moral influences on the human mind, the most vulgar is that of attributing the diversities of conduct and character to inherent natural differences;" and, says Mr Buckle, "we cannot safely assume that there has been any permanent improvement in the moral or intellectual faculties of man, nor have we any decisive ground for saying that those faculties are likely to be greater in an infant born in the most civilized part of Europe, than in one born in the wildest region of a barbarous country."

Whether or not the nervous system, which is the connective tissue between man's animality and his intellectuality, transmits its subtle forces from one generation to another, we may be sure that the mind acts on the nerves, and the nerves on every part of the system, and that the intelligence of the mind influences and governs the materialism of the body, and the consequences in some way are felt by succeeding generations; but that the mind becomes material, and its qualities transmitted to posterity, is an hypothesis yet unestablished.


Moreover we may safely conclude that the improvement of mankind is a phenomenon purely intellectual. 23

Not that the improvement of the mind is wholly independent of the condition of the body; for, as we shall hereafter see, so intimate is the connection between the mind and the body, that the first step toward intellectual advancement cannot be taken until the demands of the body are satisfied. Nervous phenomena are dependent upon the same nutritive processes that govern physical development; and that this nerve force, through whose agency the system is charged with intellectuality, as the molecule is charged with mechanical force, does exist, is capable, to some extent, of transmitting acquirements or artificial instincts from parent to child, we have every reason to believe; but, so far as we know, intellectual force, per se, is no more a transmittable entity than is the flesh-quivering of the slain ox life.

The strangest part of it all is, that though wrought out by man as the instrument, and while acting in the capacity of a free agent, this spirit of progress is wholly independent of the will of man. Though in our individual actions we imagine ourselves directed only by our free will, yet in the end it is most difficult to determine what is the result of free will, and what of inexorable environment. While we think we are regulating our affairs, our affairs are regulating us. We plan out improvements, predetermine the best course and follow it, sometimes; yet, for all that, the principle of social progress is not the man, is not in the man, forms no constituent of his physical or psychical individual being; it is the social atmosphere into which the man is born, into which he brings nothing and from which he takes nothing. While a member of society he adds his quota to the general fund and there leaves it; while acting as a free agent he performs his part in working out this problem of social development, performs it unconsciously, willing or unwilling he performs it, his baser passions being as powerful instruments of progress as his nobler; for avarice drives on intellect as effectually as benevolence, 24 hate as love, and selfishness does infinitely more for the progress of mankind than philanthropy. Thus is humanity played upon by this principle of progress, and the music sometimes is wonderful; green fields as if by magic take the place of wild forests, magnificent cities rise out of the ground, the forces of nature are brought under the dominion of man's intelligence, and senseless substances endowed with speech and action.

It is verily as Carlyle says; "under the strangest new vesture, the old great truth (since no vesture can hide it) begins again to be revealed: That man is what we call a miraculous creature, with miraculous power over men; and, on the whole, with such a Life in him, and such a World round him, as victorious Analysis, with her Physiologies, Nervous Systems, Physic and Metaphysic, will never completely name, to say nothing of explaining."

Thus, to sum up the foregoing premises: in society, between two or more individuals, there is at work a mysterious energy, not unlike that of force between molecules or life in the organism; this social energy is under intelligent governance, not fortuitous nor causeless, but reducible to fixed law, and capable of being wrought into a science; is, moreover, a vital actuality, not an incident nor an accident, but an entity, as attraction and repulsion are entities; under this agency society, perforce, develops like the plant from a germ. This energy acts on the intellect, and through the intellect on the organism; acts independently of the will, and cannot be created or destroyed by man; is not found in the brute creation, is not transmittable by generation through individuals, is wrought out by man as a free-will agent, though acting unconsciously, and is the product alike of good and evil.


As to the causes which originate progressional phenomena there are differences of opinion. One sees in the intellect the germ of an eternal unfolding; another recognizes in the soul-element the vital principle of 25 progress, and attributes to religion all the benefits of enlightenment; one builds a theory on the ground-work of a fundamental and innate morality; another discovers in the forces of nature the controlling influence upon man's destiny; while yet others, as we have seen, believe accumulative and inherent nervous force to be the media through which culture is transmitted. Some believe that moral causes create the physical, others that physical causes create the moral.

Thus Mr Buckle attempts to prove that man's development is wholly dependent upon his physical surroundings. Huxley points to a system of reflex actions,—mind acting on matter, and matter on mind,—as the possible culture-basis. Darwin advances the doctrine of an evolution from vivified matter as the principle of progressive development. In the transmution of nerve-element from parents to children, Bagehot sees "the continuous force which binds age to age, which enables each to begin with some improvement on the last, if the last did itself improve; which makes each civilization not a set of detached dots, but a line of color, surely enhancing shade by shade." Some see in human progress the ever-ruling hand of a divine providence, others the results of man's skill; with some it is free will, with others necessity; some believe that intellectual development springs from better systems of government, others that wealth lies at the foundation of all culture; every philosopher recognizes some cause, invents some system, or brings human actions under the dominion of some species of law.

As in animals of the same genus or species, inhabiting widely different localities, we see the results of common instincts, so in the evolutions of the human race, divided by time or space, we see the same general principles at work. So too it would seem, whether species are one or many, whether man is a perfectly created being or an evolution from a lower form, that all the human races of the globe are formed on one 26 model and governed by the same laws. In the customs, languages, and myths of ages and nations far removed from each other in social, moral, and mental characteristics, innumerable and striking analogies exist. Not only have all nations weapons, but many who are separated from each other by a hemisphere use the same weapon; not only is belief universal, but many relate the same myth; and to suppose the bow and arrow to have had a common origin, or that all flood-myths, and myths of a future life are but offshoots from Noachic and Biblical narratives is scarcely reasonable.

It is easier to tell what civilization is not, and what it does not spring from, than what it is and what its origin. To attribute its rise to any of the principles, ethical, political, or material, that come under the cognizance of man, is fallacy, for it is as much an entity as any other primeval principle; nor may we, with Archbishop Whately, entertain the doctrine that civilization never could have arisen had not the Creator appeared upon earth as the first instructor; for, unfortunately for this hypothesis, the aboriginals supposedly so taught, were scarcely civilized at all, and compare unfavorably with the other all-perfect works of creation; so that this sort of reasoning, like innumerable other attempts of man to limit the powers of Omnipotence, and narrow them down to our weak understandings, is little else than puerility.


Nor, as we have seen, is this act of civilizing the effect of volition; nor, as will hereafter more clearly appear, does it arise from an inherent principle of good any more than from an inherent principle of evil. The ultimate result, though difficult of proof, we take for granted to be good, but the agencies employed for its consummation number among them more of those we call evil than of those we call good. The isolated individual never, by any possibility, can become civilized like the social man; he cannot even speak, and without a flow of words there can be no complete flow 27 of thought. Send him forth away from his fellow-man to roam the forest with the wild beasts, and he would be almost as wild and beastlike as his companions; it is doubtful if he would ever fashion a tool, but would not rather with his claws alone procure his food, and forever remain as he now is, the most impotent of animals. The intellect, by which means alone man rises above other animals, never could work, because the intellect is quickened only as it comes in contact with intellect. The germ of development therein implanted cannot unfold singly any more than the organism can bear fruit singly. It is a well-established fact that the mind without language cannot fully develop; it is likewise established that language is not inherent, that it springs up between men, not in them. Language, like civilization, belongs to society, and is in no wise a part or the property of the individual. "For strangely in this so solid-seeming World," says Carlyle, "which nevertheless is in continual restless flux, it is appointed that Sound, to appearance the most fleeting, should be the most continuing of all things." And further, as remarked by Herbert Spencer: "Now that the transformation and equivalence of forces is seen by men of science to hold not only throughout all inorganic actions, but throughout all organic actions; now that even mental changes are recognized as the correlatives of cerebral changes, which also conform to this principle; and now that there must be admitted the corollary, that all actions going on in a society are measured by certain antecedent energies, which disappear in effecting them, while they themselves become actual or potential energies from which subsequent actions arise; it is strange that there should not have arisen the consciousness that these higher phenomena are to be studied as lower phenomena have been studied—not, of course, after the same physical methods, but in conformity with the same principles."

We may hold then, a priori, that this progressional 28 principle exists; that it exists not more in the man than around him; that it requires an atmosphere in which to live, as life in the body requires an atmosphere which is its vital breath, and that this atmosphere is generated only by the contact of man with man. Under analysis this social atmosphere appears to be composed of two opposing principles—good and evil—which, like attraction and repulsion, or positive and negative electricity, underlie all activities. One is as essential to progress as the other; either, in excess or disproportionately administered, like an excess of oxygen or of hydrogen in the air, becomes pernicious, engenders social disruptions and decay which continue until the equilibrium is restored; yet all the while with the progress of humanity the good increases while the evil diminishes. Every impulse incident to humanity is born of the union of these two opposing principles. For example, as I have said, and will attempt more fully to show further on, association is the first requisite of progress. But what is to bring about association? Naked nomads will not voluntarily yield up their freedom, quit their wanderings, hold conventions and pass resolutions concerning the greatest good to the greatest number; patriotism, love, benevolence, brotherly kindness, will not bring savage men together; extrinsic force must be employed, an iron hand must be laid upon them which will compel them to unite, else there can be no civilization; and to accomplish this first great good to man,—to compel mankind to take the initial step toward the amelioration of their condition,—it is ordained that an evil, or what to us of these latter times is surely an evil, come forward,—and that evil is War.


Primeval man, in his social organization, is patriarchal, spreading out over vast domains in little bands or families, just large enough to be able successfully to cope with wild beasts. And in that state humanity would forever remain did not some terrible cause force these bands to confederate. War is an evil, 29 originating in hateful passions and ending in dire misery; yet without war, without this evil, man would forever remain primitive. But something more is necessary. War brings men together for a purpose, but it is insufficient to hold them together; for when the cause which compacted them no longer exists, they speedily scatter, each going his own way. Then comes in superstition to the aid of progress. A successful leader is first feared as a man, then reverenced as a supernatural being, and finally himself, or his descendant, in the flesh or in tradition, is worshiped as a god. Then an unearthly fear comes upon mankind, and the ruler, perceiving his power, begins to tyrannize over his fellows. Both superstition and tyranny are evils; yet, without war superstition and tyranny, dire evils, civilization, which many deem the highest good, never by any possibility, as human nature is, could be. But more of the conditions of progress hereafter; what I wish to establish here is, that evil is no less a stimulant of development than good, and that in this principle of progress are manifest the same antagonism of forces apparent throughout physical nature; the same oppugnant energies, attractive and repulsive, positive and negative, everywhere existing. It is impossible for two or more individuals to be brought into contact with each other, whether through causes or for purposes good or evil, without ultimate improvement to both. I say whether through causes or for purposes good or evil, for, to the all-pervading principle of evil, civilization is as much indebted as to the all-pervading principle of good. Indeed, the beneficial influences of this unwelcome element have never been generally recognized. Whatever be this principle of evil, whatever man would be without it, the fact is clearly evident that to it civilization, whatever that may be, owes its existence. "The whole tendency of political economy and philosophical history," says Lecky, "which reveal the physiology of society, is to show that the happiness and welfare 30 of mankind are evolved much more from our selfish than what are termed our virtuous acts." No wonder that devil-worship obtains, in certain parts, when to his demon the savage finds himself indebted for skill not only to overthrow subordinate deities, but to cure diseases, to will an enemy to death, to minister to the welfare of departed friends, as well as to add materially to his earthly store of comforts. The world, such as it is, man finds himself destined for a time to inhabit. Within him and around him the involuntary occupant perceives two agencies at work; agencies apparently oppugnant, yet both tending to one end—improvement; and Night or Day, Love or Crime, leads all souls to the Good, as Emerson sings. The principle of evil acts as a perpetual stimulant, the principle of good as a reward of merit. United in their operation, there is a constant tendency toward a better condition, a higher state; apart, the result would be inaction. For, civilization being a progression and not a fixed condition, without incentives, that is without something to escape from and something to escape to, there could be no transition, and hence no civilization.

Had man been placed in the world perfected and sinless, obviously there would be no such thing as progress. The absence of evil implies perfect good, and perfect good perfect happiness. Were man sinless and yet capable of increasing knowledge, the incentive would be wanting, for, if perfectly happy, why should he struggle to become happier? The advent of civilization is in the appearance of a want, and the first act of civilization springs from the attempt to supply the want. The man or nation that wants nothing remains inactive, and hence does not advance; so that it is not in what we have but in what we have not that civilization consists. These wants are forced upon us, implanted within us, inseparable from our being; they increase with an increasing supply, grow hungry from what they feed on; in quick succession, aspirations, 31 emulations, and ambitions spring up and chase each other, keeping the fire of discontent ever glowing, and the whole human race effervescent.

The tendency of civilizing force, like the tendency of mechanical force, is toward an equilibrium, toward a never-attainable rest. Obviously there can be no perfect equilibrium, no perfect rest, until all evil disappears, but in that event the end of progress would be attained, and humanity would be perfect and sinless.

Man at the outset is not what he may be, he is capable of improvement or rather of growth; but childlike, the savage does not care to improve, and consequently must be scourged into it. Advancement is the ultimate natural or normal state of man; humanity on this earth is destined some day to be relatively, if not absolutely, good and happy.

The healthy body has appetites, in the gratification of which lies its chiefest enjoyment; the healthy mind has proclivities, the healthy soul intuitions, in the exercise and activities of which the happiest life is attainable; and in as far as the immaterial and immortal in our nature is superior to the material and mortal, in so far does the education and development of our higher nature contribute in a higher degree to our present benefit and our future well-being.


There is another thought in this connection well worthy our attention. In orthodox and popular parlance, labor is a curse entailed on man by vindictive justice; yet viewed as a civilizing agent, labor is man's greatest blessing. Throughout all nature there is no such thing found as absolute inertness; and, as in matter, so with regard to our faculties, no sooner do they begin to rest than they begin to rot, and even in the rotting they can obtain no rest. One of the chief objects of labor is to get gain, and Dr Johnson holds that "men are seldom more innocently employed than when they are making money."

Human experience teaches, that in the effort is greater pleasure than in the end attained; that labor is 32 the normal condition of man; that in acquisition, that is progress, is the highest happiness; that passive enjoyment is inferior to the exhilaration of active attempt. Now imagine the absence from the world of this spirit of evil, and what would be the result? Total inaction. But before inaction can become more pleasurable than action, man's nature must be changed. Not to say that evil is a good thing, clearly there is a goodness in things evil; and in as far as the state of escaping from evil is more pleasurable than the state of evil escaped from, in so far is evil conducive to happiness.

The effect of well-directed labor is twofold; by exercise our faculties strengthen and expand, and at the same time the returns of that labor give us leisure in which to direct our improved faculties to yet higher aims. By continual efforts to increase material comforts, greater skill is constantly acquired, and the mind asserts more and more its independence. Increasing skill yields ever increased delights, which encourage and reward our labor. This, up to a certain point; but with wealth and luxury comes relaxed energy. Without necessity there is no labor; without labor no advancement. Corporeal necessity first forces corporeal activity; then the intellect goes to work to contrive means whereby labor may be lessened and made more productive.


The discontent which arises from discomfort, lies at the root of every movement; but then comfort is a relative term and complete satisfaction is never attained. Indeed, as a rule, the more squalid and miserable the race, the more are they disposed to settle down and content themselves in their state of discomfort. What is discomfort to one is luxury to another; "the mark of rank in nature is capacity for pain"; in following the intellectual life, the higher the culture the greater the discontent; the greater the acquisition, the more eagerly do men press forward toward some higher and greater imaginary good. We 33 all know that blessings in excess become the direst curses; but few are conscious where the benefit of a blessing terminates and the curse begins, and fewer still of those who are able thus to discriminate have the moral strength to act upon that knowledge. As a good in excess is an evil, so evil as it enlarges outdoes itself and tends toward self-annihilation. If we but look about us, we must see that to burn up the world in order to rid it of gross evil—a dogma held by some—is unnecessary, for accumulative evils ever tend towards reaction. Excessive evils are soonest remedied; the equilibrium of the evil must be maintained, or the annihilation of the evil ensues.

Institutions and principles essentially good at one time are essential evils at another time. The very aids and agencies of civilization become afterward the greatest drags upon progress. At one time it would seem that blind faith was essential to improvement, at another time skepticism, at one time order and morality, at another time lawlessness and rapine; for so it has ever been, and whether peace and smiling plenty, or fierce upheavals and dismemberments predominate, from every social spasm as well as fecund leisure, civilization shoots forward in its endless course. The very evils which are regarded as infamous by a higher culture were the necessary stepping-stones to that higher life. As we have seen, no nation ever did or can emerge from barbarism without first placing its neck under the yokes of despotism and superstition; therefore, despotism and superstition, now dire evils, were once essential benefits. No religion ever attained its full development except under persecution. Our present evils are constantly working out for humanity unforeseen good. All systems of wrongs and fanaticisms are but preparing us for and urging us on to a higher state.

If then civilization is a predestined, ineluctable, and eternal march away from things evil toward that which is good, it must be that throughout the world 34 the principle of good is ever increasing and that of evil decreasing. And this is true. Not only does evil decrease, but the tendency is ever toward its disappearance. Gradually the confines of civilization broaden; the central principle of human progress attains greater intensity, and the mind assumes more and more its lordly power over matter.

The moment we attempt to search out the cause of any onward movement we at once encounter this principle of evil. The old-time aphorism that life is a perpetual struggle; the first maxim of social ethics 'the greatest happiness to the greatest number'; indeed, every thought and action of our lives points in the same direction. From what is it mankind is so eager to escape; with what do we wrestle; for what do we strive? We fly from that which gives pain to that which gives pleasure; we wrestle with agencies which bar our escape from a state of infelicity; we long for happiness.


Then comes the question, What is happiness? Is man polished and refined happier than man wild and unfettered; is civilization a blessing or a curse? Rousseau, we know, held it to be the latter; but not so Virey. "What!" he exclaims, "is he happier than the social man, this being abandoned in his maladies, uncared for even by his children in his improvident old age, exposed to ferocious beasts, in fear of his own kind, even of the cannibal's tooth? The civilized man, surrounded in his feebleness by affectionate attention, sustains a longer existence, enjoys more pleasure and daily comforts, is better protected against inclemencies of weather and all external ills. The isolated man must suffice for himself, must harden himself to endure any privation; his very existence depends upon his strength, and if necessity requires it of him, he must be ready to abandon wife and children and life itself at any moment. Such cruel misery is rare in social life, where the sympathies of humanity are awakened, and freely exercised." 35

Continue these simple interrogatories a little farther and see where we land. Is the wild bird, forced to long migrations for endurable climates and food, happier than the caged bird which buys a daily plentiful supply for a song? Is the wild beast, ofttimes hungry and hunted, happier than its chained brother of the menagerie? Is the wild horse, galloping with its fellows over the broad prairie, happier than the civilized horse of carriage, cart, or plow? May we not question whether the merchant, deep in his speculating ventures, or the man of law, poring over his brain-tearing brief, derives a keener sense of enjoyment than does the free forest-native, following the war-path or pursuing his game?

As I have attempted to show, civilization is not an end attained, for man is never wholly civilized,—but only the effort to escape from an evil, or an imaginary evil—savagism. I say an evil real or imaginary, for as we have seen, the question has been seriously discussed whether civilization is better or worse than savagism. For every advantage which culture affords, a price must be paid,—some say too great a price. The growth of the mind is dependent upon its cultivation, but this cultivation may be voluntary or involuntary, it may be a thing desired or a thing abhorred.

Every nation, every society, and every person has its or his own standard of happiness. The miser delights in wealth, the city belle in finery, the scholar in learning. The Christian's heaven is a spiritual city, where they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; the Norse-man's a Valhalla of alternate battle and wassail; the Mahometan's, a paradise of houris and lazy sensuality. The martyr at the stake, triumphant in his faith, may be happier than the man of fashion dying of ennui and gout; the savage, wandering through forest and over plain in pursuit of game, or huddled in his hut with wives and children, may be happier than the care-laden speculator or the wrangling politician. Content, the essence of all happiness, is as prevalent 36 among the poor and ill-mannered, as among the rich, refined and civilized. Ubi bene, ibi patria, where it is well with me, there is my country, is the motto of the Indian,—and to be well with him signifies only to be beyond the reach of hunger and enemies. Ask the savage which is preferable, a native or a cultured state, and he will answer the former; ask the civilized man, and he will say the latter. I do not see any greater absurdity in the wild man saying to the tamed one: Give up the despotisms and diseases of society and throw yourself with me upon beauteous, bounteous nature; than in the European saying to the American: If you would find happiness, abandon your filth and naked freedom, accept Christianity and cotton shirts, go to work in a mission, rot on a reservation, or beg and starve in civilized fashion!

Of all animals, man alone has broken down the barriers of his nature in civilizing, or, as Rousseau expresses it, in denaturalizing himself; and for this denaturalization some natural good must be relinquished; to every infringement of nature's law, there is a penalty attached; for a more delicate organism the price is numberless new diseases; for political institutions the price is native freedom. With polished manners the candidate for civilization must accept affectation, social despotism; with increasing wealth, increasing wants; civilization engenders complexity in society, and in its turn is engendered thereby. Peoples the most highly cultured are moved by the most delicate springs; a finer touch, the result of greater skill, with a finer tone, the result of greater experience, produces music more and yet more exquisite.


Were man only an animal, this denaturalization and more, would be true. The tamed brute gives up all the benefits of savagism for few of the blessings of civilization; in a cultured state, as compared to a state of wild freedom, its ills are numberless, its advantages infinitesimal. But human nature is twofold, objective and subjective, the former typical of the 37 savage state, the latter of the civilized. Man is not wholly animal; and by cultivating the mind, that is, by civilizing himself, he is no more denaturalized than by cultivating the body, and thereby acquiring greater physical perfection. We cannot escape our nature; we cannot re-create ourselves; we can only submit ourselves to be polished and improved by the eternal spirit of progress. The moral and the intellectual are as much constituents of human nature as the physical; civilization, therefore, is as much the natural state of man as savagism.

Another more plausible and partially correct assertion is, that by the development of the subjective part of our nature, objective humanity becomes degenerated. The intellectual cannot be wrought up to the highest state of cultivation except at the expense of the physical, nor the physical fully developed without limiting the mental. The efforts of the mind draw from the energies of the body; the highest and healthiest vigor of the body can only be attained when the mind is at rest, or in a state of careless activity. In answer to which I should say that beyond a certain point, it is true; one would hardly train successfully for a prize fight and the tripos at the same time; but that the non-intellectual savage, as a race, is physically superior, capable of enduring greater fatigue, or more skillful in muscular exercise than the civilized man is inconsistent with facts. Civilization has its vices as well as its virtues, savagism has its advantages as well as its demerits.

The evils of savagism are not so great as we imagine; its pleasures more than we are apt to think. As we become more and more removed from evils their magnitude enlarges; the fear of suffering increases as suffering is less experienced and witnessed. If savagism holds human life in light esteem, civilization makes death more hideous than it really is; if savagism is more cruel, it is less sensitive. Combatants accustomed to frequent encounter think lightly of 38 wounds, and those whose life is oftenest imperiled think least of losing it. Indifference to pain is not necessarily the result of cruelty; it may arise as well from the most exalted sentiment as from the basest.

Civilization not only engenders new vices, but proves the destroyer of many virtues. Among the wealthier classes energy gives way to enjoyment, luxury saps the foundation of labor, progress becomes paralyzed, and with now and then a noble exception, but few earnest workers in the paths of literature, science, or any of the departments which tend to the improvement of mankind, are to be found among the powerful and the affluent, while the middle classes are absorbed in money-getting, unconsciously thereby, it is true, working toward the ends of civilization.

That civilization is expedient, that it is a good, that it is better than savagism, we who profess to be civilized entertain no doubt. Those who believe otherwise must be ready to deny that health is better than disease, truth than superstition, intellectual power than stupid ignorance; but whether the miseries and vices of savagism, or those of civilization are the greater, is another question. The tendency of civilization is, on the whole, to purify the morals, to give equal rights to man, to distribute more equally among men the benefits of this world, to melioriate wholesale misery and degradation, offer a higher aim and the means of accomplishing a nobler destiny, to increase the power of the mind and give it dominion over the forces of nature, to place the material in subservience to the mental, to elevate the individual and regulate society. True, it may be urged that this heaping up of intellectual fruits tends toward monopoly, toward making the rich richer and the poor poorer, but I still hold that the benefits of civilization are for the most part evenly distributed; that wealth beyond one's necessity is generally a curse to the possessor greater than the extreme of poverty, and that the true blessings of culture and refinement like air and sunshine are free to all. 39

Civilization, it is said, multiplies wants, but then they are ennobling wants, better called aspirations, and many of these civilization satisfies.

If civilization breeds new vices, old ones are extinguished by it. Decency and decorum hide the hideousness of vice, drive it into dark corners, and thereby raise the tone of morals and weaken vice. Thus civilization promotes chastity, elevates woman, breaks down the barriers of hate and superstition between ancient nations and religions; individual energy, the influence of one over the many, becomes less and less felt, and the power of the people becomes stronger.

Civilization in itself can not but be beneficial to man; that which makes society more refined, more intellectual, less bestial, more courteous; that which cures physical and mental diseases, increases the comforts and luxury of life, purifies religions, makes juster governments, must surely be beneficial: it is the universal principle of evil which impregnates all human affairs, alloying even current coin, which raises the question. That there are evils attending civilization as all other benefits, none can deny, but civilization itself is no evil.


If I have succeeded in presenting clearly the foregoing thoughts, enough has been said as to the nature and essence of civilization; let us now examine some of the conditions essential to intellectual development. For it must not be forgotten that, while every department of human progress is but the unfolding of a germ; while every tendency of our life, every custom and creed of our civilization finds its rudiment in savagism; while, as man develops, no new elements of human nature are created by the process; while, as the organism of the child is as complex and complete as the organism of the man, so is humanity in a savage state the perfect germ of humanity civilized,—it must not be forgotten in all this, that civilization cannot unfold except under favorable conditions. Just as the plant, 40 though endowed with life which corresponds to the mind-principle in progress, requires for its growth a suitable soil and climate, so this progressional phenomenon must have soil and sunshine before it yields fruit; and this is another proof that civilization is not in the man more than around him; for if the principle were inherent in the individual, then the Hyperborean, with his half year of light and half year of underground darkness, must of necessity become civilized equally with the man born amidst the sharpening jostles of a European capital, for in all those parts that appertain solely to the intrinsic individual, the one develops as perfectly as the other. A people undergoing the civilizing process need not necessarily, does not indeed, advance in every species of improvement at the same time; in some respects the nation may be stationary, in others even retrograde. Every age and every nation has its special line of march. Literature and the fine arts reached their height in pagan Greece; monotheism among the Hebrews; science unfolded in Egypt, and government in Rome.

In every individual there is some one talent that can be cultivated more advantageously than any other; so it is with nations, every people possesses some natural advantage for development in some certain direction over every other people, and often the early history of a nation, like the precocious proclivities of the child, points toward its future; and in such arts and industries as its climate and geographical position best enable it to develop, is discovered the germ of national character. Seldom is the commercial spirit developed in the interior of a continent, or the despotic spirit on the border of the sea, or the predatory spirit in a country wholly devoid of mountains and fastnesses. It cannot be said that one nation or race is inherently better fitted for civilization than another; all may not be equally fitted for exactly the same civilization, but all are alike fitted for that civilization which, if left to itself, each will work out. 41

Mankind, moreover, advances spasmodically, and in certain directions only at a time, which is the greatest drawback to progress. As Lecky remarks: "Special agencies, such as religious or political institutions, geographical conditions, traditions, antipathies, and affinities, exercise a certain retarding, accelerating, or deflecting influence, and somewhat modify the normal progress." Perfect development only is permanent, and that alone is perfect which develops the whole man and the whole society equally in all its parts; all the activities, mental, moral, and physical, must needs grow in unison and simultaneously, and this alone is perfect and permanent development. Should all the world become civilized there will still be minor differences; some will advance further in one direction and some in another, all together will form the complete whole.

Civilization as an exotic seldom flourishes. Often has the attempt been made by a cultivated people to civilize a barbarous nation, and as often has it failed. True, one nation may force its arts or religion upon another, but to civilize is neither to subjugate nor annihilate; foreigners may introduce new industries and new philosophies, which the uncultured may do well to accept, but as civilization is an unfolding, and not a creation, he who would advance civilization must teach society how to grow, how to enlarge its better self; must teach in what direction its highest interests lie.

Thus it appears that, while this germ of progress is innate in every human society, certain conditions are more favorable to its development than others,—conditions which act as stimulants or impediments to progress. Often we see nations remain apparently stationary, the elements of progress evenly balanced by opposing influences, and thus they remain until by internal force, or external pressure, their system expands or explodes, until they absorb or are absorbed 42 by antagonistic elements. The intrinsic force of the body social appears to demand extrinsic prompting before it will manifest itself. Like the grains of wheat in the hand of Belzoni's mummy, which held life slumbering for three thousand years, and awoke to growth when buried in the ground, so the element of human progress lies dormant until planted in a congenial soil and surrounded by those influences which provoke development.

This stimulant, which acts upon and unfolds the intellect, can be administered only through the medium of the senses. Nerve force, which precedes intellectual force, is supplied by the body; the cravings of man's corporeal nature, therefore, must be quieted before the mind can fix itself on higher things. The first step toward teaching a savage is to feed him; the stomach satisfied he will listen to instruction, not before.

Cultivation of at least the most necessary of the industrial arts invariably precedes cultivation of the fine arts; the intellect must be implanted in a satisfied body before it will take root and grow. The mind must be allowed some respite from its attendance on the body, before culture can commence; it must abandon its state of servitude, and become master; in other words, leisure is an essential of culture.

As association is the primal condition of progress, let us see how nature throws societies together or holds them asunder. In some directions there are greater facilities for intercommunication (another essential of improvement) than in other directions. Wherever man is most in harmony with nature, there he progresses most rapidly; wherever nature offers the greatest advantages, such as a sea that invites to commerce, an elevated plateau lifting its occupants above the malaria of a tropical lowland, a sheltering mountain range that wards off inclement winds and bars out hostile neighbors, there culture flourishes best.


So that humanity, in its twofold nature, is dependent 43 for its development upon two distinct species of stimulants, objective and subjective. Material causations, or those forces which minister to the requirements of man's material nature but upon which his intellectual progress is dependent, are configurations of surface, soil, climate, and food. Those physical conditions which, when favorable, give to their possessors wealth and leisure, are the inevitable precursors of culture. Immaterial causations are those forces which act more directly upon man's immaterial nature, as association, religion, wealth, leisure, and government. Continuing the analysis, let us first examine physical stimulants. Admitting readily two of M. Taine's primordial humanity-moving forces, 'le milieu' or environment, and his 'le moment' or inherited impulse, we will pass over the third force 'la race';—for inherent differences in race, in the present stage of science, are purely hypothetical; it remains yet to be proved that one nation is primarily inherently inferior or superior to another nation. That man once created is moulded and modified by his environment, there can be no doubt. Even a cursory survey of the globe presents some indications favorable and unfavorable to the unfolding of the different forms of organic being.

Great continents, for instance, appear to be congenial to the development of animal life; islands and lesser continents to the growth of exuberant vegetation. Thus, in the eastern hemisphere, which is a compact oval, essentially continental, with vast areas far removed from the influence of the ocean, flourish the elephant, the hippopotamus, the rhinoceros, the courageous lion, the fierce tiger, the largest and lordliest of animal kind, while in the more oceanic western hemisphere inferior types prevail. Cold and dryness characterize the one; heat and humidity the other; in one are the greatest deserts, in the other the greatest lakes and rivers. Warm oceanic currents bathe the frosty shores of the northern extremities of the continents and render them habitable; the moisture-laden 44 equatorial atmosphere clothes the adjacent islands and firm land in emerald verdure. Upon the same parallel of latitude are the great Sahara Desert of Africa, and the wilderness of luxuriant billowy foliage of the American Isthmus. In warm, moist climates, such species of animal life attain the fullest development as are dependent upon the aqueous and herbous agencies. In tropical America are seen the largest reptiles, the most gorgeous insects,—there the inhabitants of warm marshes and sluggish waters assume gigantic proportions, while only upon the broad inland prairies or upon elevated mountain ranges, away from the influences of warm waters and humid atmospheres, are found the buffalo, bear, and elk. The very complexion and temperament of man are affected by these vegetative and umbrageous elements. Unprotected from the perpendicular rays of the sun, the African is black, muscular, and cheerful; under the shadow of primeval forest, man assumes a coppery hue, lacking the endurance of the negro, and becomes in disposition cold and melancholy.

And again, if we look for the natural causes which tend to promote or retard association, we find in climates and continental configurations the chief agencies. The continent of the two Americas, in its greatest length, lies north and south, the eastern continental group extends east and west. Primitive people naturally would spread out in those directions which offered the least change of climate from that of the primitive centre. Obviously, variations of climate are greater in following a meridian than along a parallel of latitude. Thus, the tropical man passing along a meridian is driven back by unendurable cold, while a continent may be traversed on any parallel, elevations excepted, with but little variation in temperature. A savage, exposed and inexperienced, not knowing how to protect himself against severe changes of climate, could not travel far in a northerly or southerly direction without suffering severely from the cold or heat; 45 hence, other things being equal, the inhabitants of a country whose greatest length lay east and west, would intermingle more readily than those whose territory extended north and south.


That the eastern hemisphere attained a higher degree of civilization than the western, may be partly due to the fact, that the former presents wider spaces of uniform climate than the latter. The climatic zones of the New World, besides being shorter, are intersected by mountain barriers, which tend to retard the intercourse that would otherwise naturally follow. Thus the Mexican table-land, the seat of Aztec civilization, is a tierra fria situated above the insalubrious tierra caliente of either coast and the healthful tierra templada of the slopes, but below the mountain ranges which rise from this table-land, forming a tierra frígida, a region of perpetual snow. To this day, the natives of the Mexican plateau cannot live on the sea-coast, though less than a day's journey distant.

Between the climatic zones which extend through Europe and Asia, there are contrasts as marked and changes as sudden, but these differences are between the different zones rather than between longitudinal sections of the same zone. Hence, in the old world, where climatic zones are separated by mountain ranges which make the transition from one to the other sudden and abrupt, we see a greater diversity of race than in America, where the natural barriers extend north and south and intersect the climatic zones, thereby bringing the inhabitants along a meridian in easier communication than those who live in the same latitude but who are separated by mountains, table-lands and large rivers. That is, if color and race are dependent on climate, America should offer greater varieties in color and race than Europe, for America traverses the most latitudes; but the mountain barriers of America extend north and south, thereby forcing its people to intermingle, if at all, in that direction, while the chief ranges of the eastern continent extend east and west, 46 parallel with climatic zones, thereby forming in themselves distinctly marked lines between peoples, forcing the African to remain under his burning sun, and the northmen in their cooler latitudes; so that in the several climatic zones of the old world, we see the human race distinctly marked, Aryan, Semitic, and Turanian—white, black, and yellow—while throughout the two Americas, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, type and color are singularly uniform.

Who can picture the mighty tide of humanity, which, while the eastern hemisphere has been developing so high a state of culture, in America has ebbed and flowed between barbarisms and civilizations? Through what long and desperate struggles, continuing age after age through the lives of nations, now advancing, now receding, have these peoples passed? Asia, from its central position and favorable climate, would seem naturally to encourage a redundant population and a spontaneous civilization; the waters of the Mediterranean invite commerce and intercommunication of nations, while the British Isles, from their insular situation and distance from hypothetical primitive centres, would seem necessarily to remain longer in a state of barbarism. In the Pacific States of North America we find the densest population north along the shores of the ocean, and south on the cordillera table-land, from the fact that the former offers the best facilities for food and locomotion until the latter is reached, when the interior presents the most favorable dwelling-place for man.

Climate affects both mental and moral endowments, the temperament of the body, and the texture of the brain; physical energy, and mental vigor. Temperate climates are more conducive to civilization, not for the reason given by Mr Harris, "as developing the higher qualities, and not invigorating the baser feelings", for the Hyperborean is as unchaste and as great a slave to passion as the sub-equatorial man—but because a 47 temperate climate, while it lures to exertion, rewards the laborer.


Next, let us consider the agency of food in human development. The effect of food is to supply the body with caloric, which is essential to its life, and to repair the muscular fibres which are constantly undergoing waste in our daily activities. These two effects are produced by two different kinds of diet; carbonized food, such as animal flesh, fish, oils and fats, and oxidized food, which consists chiefly of vegetables. In hot climates, obviously, less carbonized food is required to keep up the necessary temperature of the body than in cold climates. Hence it is, that hyperborean nations subsist on whale's blubber, oil, and flesh, while the tropical man confines himself almost exclusively to a vegetable diet.

It is not my purpose here to enter into the relative effects of the different kinds of food on physiological and mental development; I desire, however, to call attention to the comparative facility with which carbonized and oxidized food is procured by man, and to note the effect of this ease or difficulty in obtaining a food supply, upon his progress. In warm, humid climates vegetation is spontaneous and abundant; a plentiful supply of food may, therefore, be obtained with the smallest expenditure of labor. The inhabitants of cold climates, however, are obliged to pursue, by land and water, wild and powerful animals, to put forth all their strength and skill in order to secure a precarious supply of the necessary food. Then, again, besides being more difficult to obtain, and more uncertain as to a steady supply, the quantity of food consumed in a cold climate is much greater than that consumed in a hot climate. Now as leisure is essential to cultivation, and as without a surplus of food and clothing there can be no leisure, it would seem to follow naturally that in those countries where food and clothing are most easily obtained culture should 48 be the highest; since so little time and labor are necessary to satisfy the necessities of the body, the mind would have opportunity to expand. It would seem that a fertile soil, an exuberant vegetation, soft skies and balmy air, a country where raiment was scarcely essential to comfort, and where for food the favored inhabitant had but to pluck and eat, should become the seat of a numerous population and a high development. Is this the fact? "Wherever snow falls," Emerson remarks, "there is usually civil freedom. Where the banana grows, the animal system is indolent, and pampered at the cost of higher qualities; the man is sensual and cruel;" and we may add that where wheat grows, there is civilization, where rice is the staple, there mental vigor is relaxed.

Heat and moisture being the great vegetative stimulants, tropical lands in proximity to the sea are covered with eternal verdure. Little or no labor is required to sustain life; for food there is the perpetually ripening fruit, a few hours' planting, sometimes, being sufficient to supply a family for months; for shelter, little more than the dense foliage is necessary, while scarcely any clothing is required.

But although heat and moisture, the great vegetative stimulants, lie at the root of primitive progress, these elements in superabundance defeat their own ends, and in two ways: First, excessive heat enervates the body and prostrates the mind, languor and inertia become chronic, while cold is invigorating and prompts to activity. And in tropical climates certain hours of the day are too hot for work, and are, consequently, devoted to sleep. The day is broken into fragments; continuous application, which alone produces important results, is prevented, and habits of slackness and laxity become the rule of life. Satisfied, moreover, with the provisions of nature for their support, the people live without labor, vegetating, plant-like, through a listless and objectless life. Secondly, vegetation, stimulated by excessive heat and moisture, grows with 49 such strength and rapidity as to defy the efforts of inexperienced primitive man; nature becomes domineering, unmanageable, and man sinks into insignificance. Indeed the most skillful industry of armed and disciplined civilization is unable to keep under control this redundancy of tropical vegetation. The path cleared by the pioneer on penetrating the dense undergrowth, closes after him like the waters of the sea behind a ship; before the grain has time to spring up, the plowed field is covered with rank weeds, wild flowers, and poisonous plants no less beautiful than pernicious. I have seen the very fence-posts sprouting up and growing into trees. So destructive is the vegetation of the Central American lowlands, that in their triumphal march the persistent roots penetrate the crevices of masonry, demolish strong walls, and obliterate stupendous tumuli. The people whose climate makes carbonized food a necessity, are obliged to call into action their bolder and stronger faculties in order to obtain their supplies, while the vegetable-eater may tranquilly rest on bounteous nature. The Eskimo struggles manfully with whale, and bear, and ice, and darkness, until his capacious stomach is well filled with heat-producing food, then he dozes torpidly in his den while the supply lasts; the equatorial man plucks and eats, basks in the open air, and sleeps.


Here we have a medley of heterogeneous and antagonistic elements. Leisure is essential to culture; before leisure there must be an accumulation of wealth; the accumulation of wealth is dependent upon the food-supply; a surplus of food can only be easily obtained in warm climates. But labor is also essential to development, and excessive heat is opposed to labor. Labor, moreover, in order to produce leisure must be remunerative, and excessive cold is opposed to accumulation. It appears, therefore, that an excess of labor and an excess of leisure are alike detrimental to improvement. Again, heat and moisture are essential to an abundant supply of oxidized food. But heat and moisture, 50 especially in tropical climates, act as a stimulant upon other rank productions, engendering dense forests, tangled brush-wood, and poisonous shrubs, and filling miasmatic marshes with noxious reptiles. These enemies to human progress the weaponless savage is unable to overcome.

It is, therefore, neither in hot and humid countries, nor in excessively cold climates, that we are to look for a primitive civilization; for in the latter nature lies dormant, while in the former the redundancy of nature becomes unmanageable. It is true that in the tropics of America and Asia are found the seats of many ancient civilizations, but if we examine them one after the other, we shall see, in nearly every instance, some opposite or counteracting agency. Thus, the Aztecs, though choosing a low latitude in proximity to both oceans, occupied an elevated table-land, in a cool, dry atmosphere, seven or eight thousand feet above the level of the sea. The river Nile, by its periodic inundations, forced the ancient Egyptians to lay by a store of food, which is the very first step toward wealth. The rivers of India are, some of them, subject to like overflowings, while the more elevated parts are dry and fertile.

Egypt was the cradle of European development. Long before the advent of Christianity, the fertile banks of the Nile, for their pyramidal tombs, their colossi, their obelisks and catacombs and sphinxes and temples, were regarded by surrounding barbarians as a land of miracles and marvels. Thence Greece derived her earliest arts and maxims. The climate of Egypt was unchangeable, and the inundations of the Nile offered a less uncertain water-supply than the rains of many other districts, and thus agriculture, while offering to the laborer the greater part of the year for leisure, was almost certain to be remunerative. Common instincts and common efforts, uniformity of climate and identity of interests produced a homogeneous people, and forty centuries of such changeless 51 coming and going could not fail to result in improvement.


Mr Buckle, in his attempt to establish a universal theory that heat and moisture inevitably engender civilization, and that without those combined agencies no civilization can arise, somewhat overreaches himself. "In America, as in Asia and Africa," he says, "all the original civilizations were seated in hot countries; the whole of Peru, proper, being within the southern tropic, the whole of Central America and Mexico within the northern tropic." The fact is, that Cuzco, the capital city of the Incas, is in the cordilleras, three hundred miles from and eleven thousand feet above the sea. For the latitude the climate is both cold and dry. The valley of Mexico is warmer and moister, but cannot be called hot and humid. Palenque and Copan approach nearer Mr Buckle's ideal than Cuzco or Mexico, being above the tierra caliente proper, and yet in a truly hot and humid climate.

The Hawaiian Islands,—an isolated group of lava piles, thrown up into the trade winds on the twentieth parallel, and by these winds deluged on one side with rain, while the other is left almost dry, with but little alluvial soil, and that little exceedingly fertile,—at the time of their discovery by Captain Cook appeared to have made no inconsiderable advance toward feudalism. Systems of land tenure and vassalage were in operation, and some works for the public weal had been constructed. Here were the essentials for a low order of improvement such as was found there, but which never, in all probability, would have risen much higher.

Again, Mr Buckle declares that, "owing to the presence of physical phenomena, the civilization of America was, of necessity, confined to those parts where alone it was found by the discoverers of the New World." An apparently safe postulate; but, upon any conceivable hypothesis, there are very many 52 places as well adapted to development as those in which it was found. Once more: "The two great conditions of fertility have not been united in any part of the continent north of Mexico." When we consider what it is, namely, heat and humidity, upon which Mr Buckle makes intellectual evolution dependent, and that not only the Mexican plateau lacked both these essentials, in the full meaning of the term, but that both are found in many places northward, as for instance, in some parts of Texas and in Louisiana, a discrepancy in his theory becomes apparent. "The peculiar configuration of the land," he continues, "secured a very large amount of coast, and thus gave to the southern part of North America the character of an island." An island, yes, but, as M. Guyot terms it, an "aerial island;" bordered on either side by sea-coast, but by such sea-coast as formed an almost impassable barrier between the table-land and the ocean.

"While, therefore," adds Mr Buckle, "the position of Mexico near the equator gave it heat, the shape of the land gave it humidity; and this being the only part of North America in which these two conditions were united it was likewise the only part which was at all civilized. There can be no doubt, that if the sandy plains of California and Southern Columbia, instead of being scorched into sterility, had been irrigated by the rivers of the east, or if the rivers of the east had been accompanied by the heat of the west, the result of either combination would have been that exuberance of soil, by which, as the history of the world decisively proves, every early civilization was preceded. But inasmuch as, of the two elements of fertility, one was deficient in every part of America north of the twentieth parallel, it followed that, until that line was passed, civilization could gain no resting place; and there never has been found, and we may confidently assert never will be found, any evidence that even a single ancient nation, in the whole of that enormous continent, was able to make much progress in the arts of life, or organize 53 itself into a fixed and permanent society." This is a broad statement embodying precipitate deductions from false premises, and one which betrays singular ignorance of the country and its climate. These same "sandy plains of California" so far from being "scorched into sterility", are to-day sending their cereals in every direction—to the east and to the west—and are capable of feeding all Europe.


I have often wondered why California was not the seat of a primitive civilization; why, upon every converging line the race deteriorates as this centre is approached; why, with a cool, salubrious seaboard, a hot and healthful interior, with alternate rainy and dry seasons, alternate seasons of labor and leisure which encourage producing and hoarding and which are the primary incentives to accumulation and wealth, in this hot and cool, moist and dry, and invigorating atmosphere, with a fertile soil, a climate which in no part of the year can be called cold or inhospitable, should be found one of the lowest phases of humanity on the North American continent. The cause must be sought in periods more remote, in the convulsions of nature now stilled; in the tumults of nations whose history lies forgotten, forever buried in the past. Theories never will solve the mystery. Indeed, there is no reason why the foundations of the Aztec and Maya-Quiché civilizations may not have been laid north of the thirty-fifth parallel, although no architectural remains have been discovered there, nor other proof of such an origin; but upon the banks of the Gila, the Colorado, and the Rio Grande, in Chihuahua, and on the hot dry plains of Arizona and New Mexico, far beyond the limits of Mr Buckle's territory where "there never has been found, and we may confidently assert never will be found" any evidence of progress, are to-day walled towns inhabited by an industrial and agricultural people, whose existence we can trace back for more than three centuries, besides ruins of massive buildings of whose history nothing is known. 54

Thus, that California and many other parts of North America could not have been the seat of a primitive civilization, cannot be proved upon the basis of any physical hypothesis; and, indeed, in our attempt to elucidate the principles of universal progress, where the mysterious and antagonistic activities of humanity have been fermenting all unseen for thousands of ages, unknown and unknowable, among peoples of whom our utmost knowledge can be only such as is derived from a transient glimpse of a disappearing race, it is with the utmost difficulty that satisfactory conclusions can in any instance be reached.

It is in a temperate climate, therefore, that man attains the highest development. On the peninsulas of Greece and Italy, where the Mediterranean invites intercourse; in Iran and Armenia, where the climate is cold enough to stimulate labor, but not so cold as to require the use of all the energies of body and mind in order to acquire a bare subsistence; warm enough to make leisure possible, but not so warm as to enervate and prostrate the faculties; with a soil of sufficient fertility to yield a surplus and promote the accumulation of wealth, without producing such a redundancy of vegetation as to be unmanageable by unskilled, primitive man—there it is that we find the highest intellectual culture.

It sometimes happens that, in those climates which are too vigorous for the unfolding of the tender germ, cultivation is stimulated into greater activity than in its original seats. It sometimes happens that, when the shell of savagism is once fairly broken, a people may overcome a domineering vegetation, and flourish in a climate where by no possibility could their development have originated. Even in the frozen regions of the north, as in Scandinavia, man, by the intensity of his nature, was enabled to surmount the difficulties of climate and attain a fierce, rude cultivation. The regions of Northern Europe and Northern America, notwithstanding their original opposition to man, 55 are to-day the most fruitful of all lands in industrial discoveries and intellectual activities, but in the polar regions, as in the equatorial, the highest development never can be reached.

The conditions which encourage indigenous civilization are not always those that encourage permanent development, and vice versa. Thus, Great Britain in her insulation, remained barbarous long after Greece and Italy had attained a high degree of cultivation, yet when once the seed took root, that very insulation acted as a wall of defense, within which a mighty power germinated and with its influence overspread the whole earth.

Thus we have seen that a combination of physical conditions is essential to intellectual development. Without leisure, there can be no culture, without wealth no leisure, without labor no wealth, and without a suitable soil and climate no remunerative labor.

Now, throughout the material universe, there is no object or element which holds its place, whether at rest or in motion, except under fixed laws; no atom of matter nor subtle mysterious force, no breath of air, nor cloudy vapor nor streak of light, but in existing obeys a law. The Almighty fiat: Be fruitful and multiply, fruitful in increase, intellectual as well as physical, was given alike to all mankind; seeds of progress were sown broadcast throughout all the races human; some fell on stony places, others were choked with weeds, others found good soil. When we see a people in the full enjoyment of all these physical essentials to progress yet in a state of savagism, we may be sure that elements detrimental to progress have, at some period of their history, interposed to prevent natural growth. War, famine, pestilence, convulsions of nature, have nipped in the bud many an incipient civilization, whose history lies deep buried in the unrecorded past.


The obvious necessity of association as a primary condition of development leaves little to be said on 56 that subject. To the manifestation of this Soul of Progress a body social is requisite, as without an individual body there can be no manifestation of an individual soul. This body social, like the body individual, is composed of numberless organs, each having its special functions to perform, each acting on the others, and all under the general government of the progressional idea. Civilization is not an individual attribute, and though the atom, man, may be charged with stored energy, yet progress constitutes no part of individual nature; it is something that lies between men and not within them; it belongs to society and not to the individual; man, the molecule of society, isolate, is inert and forceless. The isolated man, as I have said, never can become cultivated, never can form a language, does not possess in its fullness the faculty of abstraction, nor can his mind enter the realm of higher thought. All those characteristics which distinguish mankind from animal-kind become almost inoperative. Without association there is no speech, for speech is but the conductor of thought between two or more individuals; without words abstract thought cannot flow, for words, or some other form of expression, are the channels of thought, and with the absence of words the fountain of thought is in a measure sealed.

At the very threshold of progress social crystallization sets in; something there is in every man that draws him to other men. In the relationship of the sexes, this principle of human attraction reaches its height, where the husband and wife, as it were, coalesce, like the union of one drop of water with another, forming one globule. As unconsciously and as positively are men constrained to band together into societies as are particles forced to unite and form crystals. And herein is a law as palpable and as fixed as any law in nature; a law, which if unfulfilled, would result in the extermination of the race. But the law of human attraction is not perfect, does not fulfill its purpose apart from the law of human repulsion, for as we have 57 seen, until war and despotism and superstition and other dire evils come, there is no progress. Solitude is insupportable, even beasts will not live alone; and men are more dependent on each other than beasts. Solitude carries with it a sense of inferiority and insufficiency; the faculties are stinted, lacking completeness, whereas volume is added to every individual faculty by union.


But association simply, is not enough; nothing materially great can be accomplished without union and coöperation. It is only when aggregations of families intermingle with other aggregations, each contributing its quota of original knowledge to the other; when the individual gives up some portion of his individual will and property for the better protection of other rights and property; when he entrusts society with the vindication of his rights; when he depends upon the banded arm of the nation, and not alone upon his own arm for redress of grievances, that progress is truly made. And with union and coöperation comes the division of labor by which means each, in some special department, is enabled to excel. By fixing the mind wholly upon one thing, by constant repetition and practice, the father hands down his art to the son, who likewise, improves it for his descendants. It is only by doing a new thing, or by doing an old thing better than it has ever been done before, that progress is made. Under the régime of universal mediocrity the nation does not advance; it is to the great men,—great in things great or small, that progress is due; it is to the few who think, to the few who dare to face the infinite universe of things and step, if need be, outside an old-time boundary, that the world owes most.

Originally implanted is the germ of intelligence, at the first but little more than brute instinct. This germ in unfolding undergoes a double process; it throws off its own intuitions and receives in return those of another. By an interchange of ideas, the experiences 58 of one are made known for the benefit of another, the inventions of one are added to the inventions of another; without intercommunication of ideas the intellect must lie dormant. Thus it is with individuals, and with societies it is the same. Acquisitions are eminently reciprocal. In society, wealth, art, literature, polity, and religion act and react on each other; in science a fusion of antagonistic hypotheses is sure to result in important developments. Before much progress can be made, there must be established a commerce between nations for the interchange of aggregated human experiences, so that the arts and industries acquired by each may become the property of all the rest, and thus knowledge becomes scattered by exchange, in place of each having to work out every problem for himself. Thus viewed, civilization is a partnership entered into for mutual improvement; a joint stock operation, in which the product of every brain contributes to a general fund for the benefit of all. No one can add to his own store of knowledge without adding to the general store; every invention, and discovery, however insignificant, is a contribution to civilization.

In savagism, union and coöperation are imperfectly displayed. The warriors of one tribe unite against the warriors of another; a band will coöperate in pursuing a herd of buffalo; even one nation will sometimes unite with another nation against a third, but such combinations are temporary, and no sooner is the particular object accomplished than the confederation disbands, and every man is again his own master. The moment two or more persons unite for the accomplishment of some purpose which shall tend permanently to meliorate the condition of themselves and others, that moment progress begins. The wild beasts of the forest, acting in unison, were physically able to rise up and extirpate primitive man, but could beasts in reality confederate and do this, such confederation of wild beasts could become civilized. 59


But why does primitive man desire to abandon his original state and set out upon an arduous never-ending journey? Why does he wish to change his mild paternal government, to relinquish his title to lands as broad as his arm can defend, with all therein contained, the common property of his people? Why does he wish to give up his wild freedom, his native independence, and place upon his limbs the fetters of a social and political despotism? He does not. The savage hates civilization as he hates his deadliest foe; its choicest benefits he hates more than the direst ills of his own unfettered life. He is driven to it; driven to it by extraneous influences, without his knowledge and against his will; he is driven to it by this Soul of Progress. It is here that this progressional phenomenon again appears outside of man and in direct opposition to the will of man; it is here that the principle of evil again comes in and stirs men up to the accomplishment of a higher destiny. By it Adam, the first of recorded savages, was driven from Eden, where otherwise he would have remained forever, and remained uncivilized. By it our ancestors were impelled to abandon their simple state, and organize more heterogeneous complex forms of social life. And it is a problem for each nation to work out for itself. Millions of money are expended for merely proselyting purposes, when if the first principles of civilization were well understood, a more liberal manner of teaching would prevail.

Every civilization has its peculiarities, its idiosyncrasies. Two individuals attempting the same thing differ in the performance; so civilization evolving under incidental and extraneous causes takes an individuality in every instance. This is why civilizations will not coalesce; this is why the Spaniards could make the Aztecs accept their civilization only at the point of the sword. Development engendered by one set of phenomena will not suit the developments of other circumstances. The government, religion, and customs 60 of one people will not fit another people any more than the coat of one person will suit the form of another. Thought runs in different channels; the happiness of one is not the happiness of another; development springs from inherent necessity, and one species cannot be engrafted on another.

Let us now examine the phenomena of government and religion in their application to the evolution of societies, and we shall better understand how the wheels of progress are first set in motion,—and by religion I do not mean creed or credulity, but that natural cultus inherent in humanity, which is a very different thing. Government is early felt to be a need of society; the enforcement of laws which shall bring order out of social chaos; laws which shall restrain the vicious, protect the innocent, and punish the guilty; which shall act as a shield to inherent budding morality. But before government, there must arise some influence which will band men together. An early evil to which civilization is indebted is war; the propensity of man—unhappily not yet entirely overcome—for killing his fellow-man.


The human race has not yet attained that state of homogeneous felicity which we sometimes imagine; upon the surface, we yet bear many of the relics of barbarism; under cover of manners, we hide still more. War is a barbarism which civilization only intensifies, as indeed civilization intensifies every barbarism which it does not eradicate or cover up. The right of every individual to act as his own avenger; trial by combat; justice dependent upon the passion or caprice of the judge or ruler and not upon fixed law; hereditary feuds and migratory skirmishes; these and the like are deemed barbarous, while every nation of the civilized world maintains a standing army, applies all the arts and inventions of civilization to the science of killing, and upon sufficient provocation, as a disputed boundary or a fancied insult, no greater nor more important than 61 that which moved our savage ancestors to like conduct, falls to, and after a respectable civilized butchery of fifty or a hundred thousand men, ceases fighting, and returns, perhaps, to right and reason as a basis for the settlement of the difficulty. War, like other evils which have proved instruments of good, should by this time have had its day, should have served its purpose. Standing armies, whose formation was one of the first and most important steps in association and partition of labor, are but the manifestation of a lingering necessity for the use of brute force in place of moral force in the settlement of national disputes. Surely, rational beings who retain the most irrational practices concerning the simplest principles of social life cannot boast of a very high order of what we are pleased to call civilization. Morality, commerce, literature, and industry, all that tends toward elevation of intellect, is directly opposed to the warlike spirit. As intellectual activity increases, the taste for war decreases, for an appeal to war in the settlement of difficulties is an appeal from the intellectual to the physical, from reason to brute force.

Despotism is an evil, but despotism is as essential to progress as any good. In some form despotism is an inseparable adjunct of war. An individual or an idea may be the despot, but without cohesion, without a strong central power, real or imaginary, there can be no unity, and without unity no protracted warfare. In the first stages of government despotism is as essential as in the last it is noxious. It holds society together when nothing else would hold it, and at a time when its very existence depends upon its being so held. And not until a moral inherent strength arises sufficient to burst the fetters of despotism, is a people fit for a better or milder form of government; for not until this inherent power is manifest is there sufficient cohesive force in society to hold it together without being hooped by some such band as despotism. Besides thus cementing society, war generates many virtues, such 62 as courage, discipline, obedience, chivalrous bearing, noble thought; and the virtues of war, as well as its vices, help to mould national character.

Slavery to the present day has its defenders, and from the first it has been a preventive of a worse evil,—slaughter. Savages make slaves of their prisoners of war, and if they do not preserve them for slaves they kill them. The origin of the word, servus, from servare, to preserve, denotes humane thought rather than cruelty. Discipline is always necessary to development, and slavery is another form of savage discipline. Then, by systems of slavery, great works were accomplished, which, in the absence of arts and inventions, would not have been possible without slavery. And again, in early societies where leisure is so necessary to mental cultivation and so difficult to obtain, slavery, by promoting leisure, aids elevation and refinement. Slaves constitute a distinct class, devoted wholly to labor, thereby enabling another class to live without labor, or to labor with the intellect rather than with the hands.

Primordially, society was an aggregation of nomadic families, every head of a family having equal rights, and every individual such power and influence as he could acquire and maintain. In all the ordinary avocations of savage life this was sufficient; there was room for all, and the widest liberty was possessed by each. And in this happy state does mankind ever remain until forced out of it. In unity and coöperation alone can great things be accomplished; but men will not unite until forced to it. Now in times of war—and with savages war is the rule and not the exception—some closer union is necessary to avoid extinction; for other things being equal, the people who are most firmly united and most strongly ruled are sure to prevail in war. The idea of unity in order to be effectual must be embodied in a unit; some one must be made chief, and the others must obey, as in a band of wild beasts that follow the one most conspicuous for its 63 prowess and cunning. But the military principle alone would never lay the foundation of a strong government, for with every cessation from hostilities there would be a corresponding relaxation of government.


Another necessity for government here arises, but which likewise is not the cause of government, for government springs from force and not from utility. These men do not want government, they do not want culture; how then is an arm to be found sufficiently strong to bridle their wild passions? In reason they are children, in passion men; to restrain the strong passions of strong non-reasoning men requires a power; whence is this power to come? It is in the earlier stage of government that despotism assumes its most intense forms. The more passionate, and lawless, and cruel the people, the more completely do they submit to a passionate, lawless, and cruel prince; the more ungovernable their nature, the more slavish are they in their submission to government; the stronger the element to be governed, the stronger must be the government.

The primitive man, whoever or whatever that may be, lives in harmony with nature; that is, he lives as other animals live, drawing his supplies immediately from the general storehouse of nature. His food he plucks from a sheltering tree, or draws from a sparkling stream, or captures from a prolific forest. The remnants of his capture, unfit for food, supply his other wants; with the skin he clothes himself, and with the bones makes implements and points his weapons. In this there are no antagonisms, no opposing principles of good and evil; animals are killed not with a view of extermination, but through necessity, as animals kill animals in order to supply actual wants. But no sooner does the leaven of progress begin to work than war is declared between man and nature. To make room for denser populations and increasing comforts, forests must be hewn down, their primeval inhabitants extirpated or domesticated, and the soil 64 laid under more direct contribution. Union and coöperation spring up for purposes of protection and aggression, for the accomplishment of purposes beyond the capacity of the individual. Gradually manufactures and commerce increase; the products of one body of laborers are exchanged for the products of another, and thus the aggregate comforts produced are doubled to each. Absolute power is taken from the hands of the many and placed in the hands of one, who becomes the representative power of all. Men are no longer dependent upon the chase for a daily supply of food; even agriculture no longer is a necessity which each must follow for himself, for the intellectual products of one person or people may be exchanged for the agricultural products of another. With these changes of occupation new institutions spring up, new ideas originate, and new habits are formed. Human life ceases to be a purely material existence; another element finds exercise, the other part of man is permitted to grow. The energies of society now assume a different shape; hitherto the daily struggle was for daily necessities, now the accumulation of wealth constitutes the chief incentive to labor. Wealth becomes a power and absorbs all other powers. The possessor of unlimited wealth commands the products of every other man's labor.

But in time, and to a certain extent, a class arises already possessed of wealth sufficient to satisfy even the demands of avarice, and something still better, some greater good is yet sought for. Money-getting gives way before intellectual cravings. The self-denials and labor necessary to the acquisition of wealth are abandoned for the enjoyment of wealth already acquired and the acquisition of a yet higher good. Sensual pleasure yields in a measure to intellectual pleasure, the acquisition of money to the acquisition of learning.

Where brute intelligence is the order of the day, man requires no more governing than brutes, but when 65 lands are divided, and the soil cultivated, when wealth begins to accumulate and commerce and industry to flourish, then protection and lawful punishment become necessary. Like the wild horse, leave him free, and he will take care of himself; but catch him and curb him, and the wilder and stronger he is the stronger must be the curb until he is subdued and trained, and then he is guided by a light rein. The kind of government makes little difference so that it be strong enough.


Granted that it is absolutely essential to the first step toward culture that society should be strongly governed, how is the first government to be accomplished; how is one member of a passionate, unbridled heterogeneous community to obtain dominion absolute over all the others? Here comes in another evil to the assistance of the former evils, all for future good,—Superstition. Never could physical force alone compress and hold the necessary power with which to burst the shell of savagism. The government is but a reflex of the governed. Not until one man is physically or intellectually stronger than ten thousand, will an independent people submit to a tyrannical government, or a humane people submit to a cruel government, or a people accustomed to free discussion to an intolerant priesthood.

At the outset, if man is to be governed at all, there must be no division of governmental force. The cause for fear arising from both the physical and the supernatural must be united in one individual. In the absence of the moral sentiment the fear of legal and that of spiritual punishments are identical, for the spiritual is feared only as it works temporal or corporal evil. Freedom of thought at this stage is incompatible with progress, for thought without experience is dangerous, tending towards anarchy. Before men can govern themselves they must be subjected to the sternest discipline of government, and whether this government be just or humane or pleasant is of small consequence 66 so that it be only strong enough. As with polity so with morality and religion; conjointly with despotism there must be an arbitrary central church government, or moral anarchy is the inevitable consequence. At the outset it is not for man to rule but to obey; it is not for savages, who are children in intellect to think and reason, but to believe.

And thus we see how wonderfully man is provided with the essentials of growth. This tender germ of progress is preserved in hard shells and prickly coverings, which, when they have served their purpose are thrown aside as not only useless but detrimental to further development. We know not what will come hereafter, but up to the present time a state of bondage appears to be the normal state of humanity; bondage, at first severe and irrational, then ever loosening, and expanding into a broader freedom. As mankind progresses, moral anarchy no more follows freedom of thought than does political anarchy follow freedom of action. In Germany, in England, in America, wherever secular power has in any measure cut loose from ecclesiastical power and thrown religion back upon public sentiment for support, a moral as well as an intellectual advance has always followed. What the mild and persuasive teachings and lax discipline of the present epoch would have been to the Christians of the fourteenth century, the free and lax government of republican America would have been to republican Rome. Therefore, let us learn to look charitably upon the institutions of the past, and not forget how much we owe to them; while we rejoice at our release from the cruelty and ignorance of mediæval times, let us not forget the debt which civilization owes to the rigorous teachings of both Church and State.


Christianity, by its exalted un-utilitarian morality and philanthropy, has greatly aided civilization. Indeed so marked has been the effect in Europe, so great the contrast between Christianity and Islamism and the polytheistic creeds in general, that Churchmen 67 claim civilization as the offspring of their religion. But religion and morality must not be confounded with civilization. All these and many other activities act and react on each other as proximate principles in the social organism, but they do not, any or all of them, constitute the life of the organism. Long before morality is religion, and long after morality religion sends the pious penitent to his knees. Religious culture is a great assistant to moral culture as intellectual training promotes the industrial arts, but morality is no more religion than is industry intellect. When Christianity, as in the early settlement of Mexico and Central America, falls into the hands of unprincipled adventurers or blind zealots who stand up in deadly antagonism to liberty, then Christianity is a drag upon civilization; and therefore we may conclude that in so far as Christianity grafts on its code of pure morality the principle of intellectual freedom, in so far is civilization promoted by Christianity, but when Christianity engenders persecution, civilization is retarded thereby.

Then Protestantism sets up a claim to the authorship of civilization, points to Spain and then to England, compares Italy and Switzerland, Catholic America and Puritan America, declares that the intellect can never attain superiority while under the dominion of the Church of Rome; in other words, that civilization is Protestantism. It is true that protestation against irrational dogmas, or any other action that tends toward the emancipation of the intellect, is a great step in advance; but religious belief has nothing whatever to do with intellectual culture. Religion from its very nature is beyond the limits of reason; it is emotional rather than intellectual, an instinct and not an acquisition. Between reason and religion lies a domain of common ground upon which both may meet and join hands, but beyond the boundaries of which neither may pass. The moment the intellect attempts to penetrate the domain of the Supernatural all intellectuality vanishes, and emotion and imagination fill its place. 68 There can be no real conflict between the two, for neither, by any possibility, can pass this neutral ground. Before the mind can receive Christianity, or Mahometanism, or any other creed, it must be ready to accept dogmas in the analysis of which human reason is powerless. Among the most brilliant intellects are found Protestants, Romanists, Unitarians, Deists, and Atheists; judging from the experiences of mankind in ages past, creeds and formulas, orthodoxy and heterodoxy, have no inherent power to advance or retard the intellect. Some claim, indeed, that strong doctrinal bias stifles thought, fosters superstition, and fetters the intellect; still religious thought, in some form, is inseparable from the human mind, and it would be very difficult to prove that belief is more debasing than non-belief.


Religion at first is a gross fetichism, which endows every wonder with a concrete personality. Within every appearance is a several personal cause, and to embody this personal cause in some material form is the first effort of the savage mind. Hence, images are made in representation of these imaginary supernatural powers. Man, of necessity, must clothe these supernatural powers in the elements of some lower form. The imagination cannot grasp an object or an idea beyond the realms of human experience. Unheard-of combinations of character may be made, but the constituent parts must, at some time and in some form, have had an existence in order to be conceivable. It is impossible for the human mind to array in forms of thought anything wholly and absolutely new. This state is the farthest remove possible from a recognition of those universal laws of causation toward which every department of knowledge is now so rapidly tending. Gods are made in the likeness of man and beast, endowed with earthly passions, and a sensual polytheism, in which blind fate is a prominent element, becomes the religious ideal. Religious conceptions are 69 essentially material; all punishments and rewards are such as effect man as a material being; morality, the innate sense of right and wrong, lies stifled, almost dormant.

Thrown wholly upon himself, without experience to guide him, the savage must, of necessity, invest nature with his own qualities, for his mind can grasp none other. But when experience dispels the nearer illusions, objects more remote are made gods; in the sun and stars he sees his controlling destinies; the number of his gods is lessened until at last all merge into one God, the author of all law, the great and only ruler of the universe. In every mythology we see this impersonation of natural phenomena; frost and fire, earth and air and water, in their displays of mysterious powers, are at once deified and humanized. These embodiments of physical force are then naturally formed into families, and their supposed descendants worshiped as children of the gods. Thus, in the childhood of society, when incipient thought takes up its lodgment in old men's brains, shadows of departed heroes mingle with shadows of mysterious nature, and admiration turns to adoration.

Next arises the desire to propitiate these unseen powers, to accomplish which some means of communication must be opened up between man and his deities. Now, as man in his gods reproduces himself, as all his conceptions of supernatural power must, of necessity, be formed on the skeleton of human power, naturally it follows that the strongest and most cunning of the tribe, he upon whom leadership most naturally falls, comes to be regarded as specially favored of the gods. Powers supernatural are joined to powers temporal, and embodied in the chieftain of the nation. A grateful posterity reveres and propitiates departed ancestors. The earlier rulers are made gods, and their descendants lesser divinities; the founder of a dynasty, perhaps, the supreme god, his progeny subordinate deities. The priesthood and kingship thus become united; 70 religion and civil government join forces to press mankind together, and the loose sands of the new strata cohere into the firm rock, that shall one day bear alone the wash of time and tide.

Hence arise divine kingship, and the divine right of kings, and with the desire to win the favor of this divine king, arise the courtesies of society, the first step toward polish of manners. Titles of respect and worship are given him, some of which are subsequently applied to the Deity, while others drop down into the common-place compliments of every-day life.

Here then, we have as one of the first essentials of progress the union of Church and State, of superstition and despotism, a union still necessarily kept up in some of the more backward civilizations. Excessive loyalty and blind faith ever march hand in hand. The very basis of association is credulity, blind loyalty to political powers and blind faith in sacerdotal terrors. In all mythologies at some stage temporal and spiritual government are united, the supernatural power being incarnated in the temporal chief; political despotism and an awful sanguinary religion,—a government and a belief, to disobey which was never so much as thought possible.

See how every one of these primary essentials of civilization becomes, as man advances, a drag upon his progress; see how he now struggles to free himself from what, at the outset, he was led by ways he knew not to endure so patiently. Government, in early stages always strong and despotic, whether monarchical, oligarchical, or republican, holding mankind under the dominion of caste, placing restrictions upon commerce and manufactures, regulating social customs, food, dress,—how men have fought to break loose these bonds! Religion, not that natural cultus instinctive in humanity, the bond of union as well under its most disgusting form of fetichism, as under its latest, loveliest form of Christianity; but those forms and dogmas of sect and creed which stifle thought 71 and fetter intellect,—how men have lived lives of sacrifice and self-denial as well as died for the right to free themselves from unwelcome belief!


In primeval ages, government and religion lay lightly on the human race; ethnology, as well as history, discloses the patriarchal as the earliest form of government, and a rude materialism as the earliest religious ideal; these two simple elements, under the form of monsters, became huge abortions, begotten of ignorance, that held the intellect in abject slavery for thousands of years, and from these we, of this generation, more than any other, are granted emancipation. Even wealth, kind giver of grateful leisure, in the guise of avarice becomes a hideous thing, which he who would attain the higher intellectual life, must learn to despise.

Government, as we have seen, is not an essential element of collective humanity. Civilization must first be awakened, must even have passed the primary stages before government appears. Despotism, feudalism, divine kingship, slavery, war, superstition, each marks certain stages of development, and as civilization advances all tend to disappear; and, as in the early history of nations the state antedates the government, so the time may come in the progress of mankind when government will be no longer necessary. Government always grows out of necessity; the intensity of government inevitably following necessity. The form of government is a natural selection; its several phases always the survival of the fittest. When the federalist says to the monarchist, or the monarchist to the federalist: My government is better than yours, it is as if the Eskimo said to the Kaffir: My coat, my house, my food, is better than yours.

The government is made for the man, and not the man for the government. Government is as the prop for the growing plant; at first the young shoot stands alone, then in its rapid advancement for a time it requires support, after which it is able again to stand 72 alone. What we term the evils of government are rather its necessities, and are, indeed, no evils at all. The heavy bit which controls the mouth of an untamed horse is to that horse an evil, yet to the driver a necessity which may be laid aside as the temper of the animal is subdued. So despotism, feudalism, slavery, are evils to those under their dominion, yet are they as necessary for the prevention of anarchy, for the restraint of unbridled passions, as the powerful bit to the horse, and will as surely be laid aside when no longer required. Shallow-minded politicians talk of kingcraft, arbitrary rule, tyrants, the down-trodden masses, the withholding of just rights; as though the government was some independent, adverse element, wholly foreign to the character of the people; as though one man was stronger than ten thousand; as though, if these phases of society were not the fittest, they would be tolerated for a moment. The days of rigorous rule were ever the best days of France and Spain, and so it will be until the people become stronger than the strength of rulers. Republicanism is as unfit for stupid and unintellectual populations, as despotism would be for the advanced ideas and liberal institutions of Anglo-Saxon America. The subject of a liberal rule sneeringly crying down to the subject of an absolute rule his form of government, is like the ass crying to the tiger: Leave blood and meat; feed on grass and thistles, the only diet fit for civilized beasts! Our federal government is the very best for our people, when it is not so it will speedily change; it fits the temper of American intelligence, but before it can be planted in Japan or China the traditions and temper of the Asiatics must change.

We of to-day are undergoing an important epoch in the history of civilization. Feudalism, despotism, and fanaticism have had each its day, have each accomplished its necessary purpose, and are fast fading away. Ours is the age of democracy, of scientific investigation, and freedom of religious thought; what these may 73 accomplish for the advancing intellect remains to be seen. Our ancestors loved to dwell upon the past, now we all look toward the future.


The sea of ice, over which our forefathers glided so serenely in their trustful reliance, is breaking up. One after another traditions evaporate; in their application to proximate events they fail us, history ceases to repeat itself as in times past. Old things are passing away, all things are becoming new; new philosophies, new religions, new sciences; the industrial spirit springs up and overturns time-honored customs; theories of government must be reconstructed. Thus, says experience, republicanism, as a form of government, can exist only in small states; but steam and electricity step in and annihilate time and space. The Roman republic, from a lack of cohesive energy, from failure of central vital power sufficient to send the blood of the nation from the heart to the extremities, died a natural death. The American republic, covering nearly twice the territory of republican Rome in her palmiest days, is endowed with a different species of organism; in its physiological system is found a new series of veins and arteries, the railway, the telegraph, and the daily press,—through which pulsates the life's blood of the nation, millions inhaling and exhaling intelligence as one man. By means of these inventions all the world, once every day, are brought together. By telegraphic wires and railroad iron men are now bound as in times past they were bound by war, despotism, and superstition. The remotest corners of the largest republics of to-day, are brought into closer communication than were the adjoining states of the smallest confederations of antiquity. A united Germany, from its past history held to be an impossibility, is, with the present facilities of communication, an accomplished fact. England could as easily have possessed colonies in the moon, as have held her present possessions, three hundred years ago. Practically, San Francisco is nearer Washington 74 than was Philadelphia when the foundations of the Capitol were laid. What is to prevent republics from growing, so long as intelligence keeps pace with extension? The general of an army may now sit before his maps, and manœuvre half a score of armies a hundred or a thousand miles apart, know hourly the situation of every division, the success of every battle, order an advance or a retreat, lay plots and make combinations, with more exactness than was once possible in the conduct of an ordinary campaign.


A few words about morals, manners, and fashion, will further illustrate how man is played upon by his environment, which here takes the shape of habit. In their bearing on civilization, these phenomena all come under the same category; and this, without regard to the rival theories of intuition and utility in morals. Experience teaches, blindly at first yet daily with clearer vision, that right conduct is beneficial, and wrong conduct detrimental; that the consequences of sin invariably rest on the evil-doer; that for an unjust act, though the knowledge of it be forever locked in the bosom of the offender, punishment is sure to follow; yet there are those who question the existence of innate moral perceptions, and call it all custom and training. And if we look alone to primitive people for innate ideas of morality and justice I fear we shall meet with disappointment. Some we find who value female chastity only before marriage, others only after marriage,—that is, after the woman and her chastity both alike become the tangible property of somebody. Some kindly kill their aged parents, others their female infants; the successful Apache horse-thief is the darling of his mother, and the hero of the tribe; often these American Arabs will remain from home half-starved for weeks, rather than suffer the ignominy of returning empty-handed. Good, in the mind of the savage, is when he steals wives; bad, is when his own wives are stolen. Where it is that inherent 75 morality in savages first makes its appearance, and in what manner, it is often difficult to say; the most hideous vices are everywhere practiced with unblushing effrontery.

Take the phenomena of Shame. Go back to the childhood of our race, or even to our own childhood, and it will be hard to discover any inherent quality which make men ashamed of one thing more than another. Nor can the wisest of us give any good and sufficient reason why we should be ashamed of our body any more than of our face. The whole man was fashioned by one Creator, and all parts equally are perfect and alike honorable. We cover our person with drapery, and think thereby to hide our faults from ourselves and others, as the ostrich hides its head under a leaf, and fancies its body concealed from the hunter. What is this quality of shame if it be not habit? A female savage will stand unblushingly before you naked, but strip her of her ornaments and she will manifest the same appearance of shame, though not perhaps so great in degree, that a European woman will manifest if stripped of her clothes. It is well known how civilized and semi-civilized nations regard this quality of propriety. Custom, conventional usage, dress and behavior, are influences as subtle and as strong as any that govern us, weaving their net-work round man more and more as he throws off allegiance to other powers; and we know but little more of their origin and nature than we do of the origin and nature of time and space, of life and death, of origin and end.

Every age and every society has its own standard of morality, holds up some certain conduct or quality as a model, saying to all, Do this, and receive the much-coveted praise of your fellows. Often what one people deem virtue is to another vice; what to one age is religion is to another superstition; but underlying all this are living fires, kindled by Omnipotence, and destined to burn throughout all time. In the Spartan 76 and Roman republics the moral ideal was patriotism; among mediæval Churchmen it took the form of asceticism; after the elevation of woman the central idea was female chastity.

In this national morality, which is the cohesive force of the body social, we find the fundamental principle of the progressional impulse, and herein is the most hopeful feature of humanity; mankind must progress, and progress in the right direction. There is no help for it until God changes the universal order of things; man must become better in spite of himself; it is the good in us that grows and ultimately prevails.

As a race we are yet in our nonage; fearful of the freedom given us by progress we cling tenaciously to our leading-strings; hugging our mother, Custom, we refuse to be left alone. Liberty and high attainments must be meted out to us as we are able to receive them, for social retchings and vomitings inevitably follow over-feedings. Hence it is, that we find ourselves escaped from primeval and mediæval tyrannies only to fall under greater ones; society is none the less inexorable in her despotisms because of the sophistry which gives her victims fancied freedom. For do we not now set up forms and fashions, the works of our own hands, and bow down to them as reverently as ever our heathen ancestors did to their gods of wood and stone? Who made us? is not the first question of our catechism, but What will people say?


Of all tyrannies, the tyranny of fashion is the most implacable; of all slaveries the slavery to fashion is the most abject; of all fears the fear of our fellows is the most overwhelming; of all the influences that surround and govern man the forms and customs which he encounters in society are the most domineering. It is the old story, only another turn of the wheel that grinds and sharpens and polishes humanity,—at the first a benefit, now a drag. Forms and fashions are essential; we cannot live without them. If we 77 have worship, government, commerce, or clothes, we must have forms; or if we have them not we still must act and do after some fashion; costume, which is but another word for custom, we must have, but is it necessary to make the form the chief concern of our lives while we pay so little heed to the substance? and may we not hope while rejoicing over our past emancipations, that we shall some day be free from our present despotisms?

Dress has ever exercised a powerful influence on morals and on progress; but this vesture-phenomenon is a thing but imperfectly understood. Clothes serve as a covering to the body of which we are ashamed, and protect it against the weather, and these, we infer, are the reasons of our being clothed. But the fact is, aboriginally, except in extreme cases, dress is not essential to the comfort of man until it becomes a habit, and as for shame, until told of his nakedness, the primitive man has none. The origin of dress lies behind all this; it is found in one of the most deep-rooted elements of our nature, namely, in our love of approbation. Before dress is decoration. The successful warrior, proud of his achievement, besmears his face and body with the blood of the slain, and straightway imitators, who also would be thought strong and brave, daub themselves in like manner; and so painting and tattooing become fashionable, and pigments supply the place of blood. The naked, houseless Californian would undergo every hardship, travel a hundred miles, and fight a round with every opposing band he met, in order to obtain cinnabar from the New Almaden quicksilver mine. So when the hunter kills a wild beast, and with the tail or skin decorates his body as a trophy of his prowess, others follow his example, and soon it is a shame to that savage who has neither paint, nor belt, nor necklace of bears' claws. And so follow head-flattenings, and nose-piercings, and lip-cuttings, and, later, chignons, and breast-paddings, and bustles. Some say that jealousy prompted the 78 first Benedicks to hide their wives' charms from their rivals, and so originated female dress, which, from its being so common to all aborigines, is usually regarded as the result of innate modesty. But whatever gave us dress, dress has given much to human progress. Beneath dress arose modesty and refinement, like the courtesies that chivalry threw over feudalism, covering the coarse brutality of the barons, and paving the way to real politeness.


From the artificial grimaces of fashion have sprung many of the natural courtesies of life; though here, too, we are sent back at once to the beginning for the cause. From the ages of superstition and despotism have descended the expressions of every-day politeness. Thus we have sir, from sieur, sire, seigneur, signifying ruler, king, lord, and aboriginally father. So madam, ma dame, my lady, formerly applied only to women of rank. In place of throwing ourselves upon the ground, as before a god or prince, we only partially prostrate ourselves in bowing, and the hat which we touch to an acquaintance we take off on entering a church in token of our humility. Again, the captive in war is made a slave, and as such is required to do obeisance to his master, which forms of servility are copied by the people in addressing their superiors, and finally become the established usage of ordinary intercourse. Our daily salutations are but modified acts of worship, and our parting word a benediction; and from blood, tomahawks, and senseless superstitions we turn and find all the world of humanity, with its still strong passions and subtle cravings, held in restraint by a force of which its victims are almost wholly unconscious,—and this force is Fashion. In tribunals of justice, in court and camp etiquette, everywhere these relics of barbarism remain with us. Even we of this latter-day American republicanism, elevate one of our fellows to the chieftainship of a federation or state, and call him Excellency; we set a man upon the bench and plead our cause before him; we send a loafer to a legislature, 79 and straightway call him Honorable,—such divinity doth hedge all semblance of power.

Self-denial and abstinence lie at the bottom of etiquette and good manners. If you would be moral, says Kant, you must "act always so that the immediate motive of thy will may become a universal rule for all intelligent beings," and Goethe teaches that "there is no outward sign of courtesy that does not rest on a deep, moral foundation."

Fine manners, though but the shell of the individual, are, to society, the best actions of the best men crystallized into a mode; not only the best thing, but the best way of doing the best thing. Good society is, or ought to be, the society of the good; but fashion is more than good society, or good actions; it is more than wealth, or beauty, or genius, and so arbitrary in its sway that, not unfrequently, the form absorbs the substance, and a breach of decorum becomes a deadly sin.

Thus we see in every phase of development the result of a social evolution; we see men coming and going, receiving their leaven from the society into which by their destiny they are projected, only to fling it back into the general fund interpenetrated with their own quota of force. Meanwhile, this aggregation of human experiences, this compounding of age with age, one generation heaping up knowledge upon another; this begetting of knowledge by knowledge, the seed so infinitesimal, the tree now so rapidly sending forth its branches, whither does it tend? Running the eye along the line of progress, from the beginning to the end, the measure of our knowledge seems nearly full; resolving the matter, experience assures us that, as compared with those who shall come after us, we are the veriest barbarians. The end is not yet; not until infinity is spanned and eternity brought to an end, will mankind cease to improve.

Out of this conglomeration of interminable relationships 80 concordant and antagonistic laws are ever evolving themselves. Like all other progressional phenomena, they wait not upon man; they are self-creative, and force themselves upon the mind age after age, slowly but surely, as the intellect is able to receive them; laws without law, laws unto themselves, gradually appearing as from behind the mists of eternity. At first, man and his universe appear to be regulated by arbitrary volitions, by a multitude of individual minds; each governs absolutely his own actions; every phenomenon of nature is but the expression of some single will. As these phenomena, one after another, become stripped of their mystery, there stands revealed not a god, but a law; seasons come and go, and never fail; sunshine follows rain, not because a pacified deity smiles, but because the rain-clouds have fallen and the sun cannot help shining. Proximate events first are thus made godless, then the whole host of deities is driven farther and farther back. Finally the actions of man himself are found to be subject to laws. Left to his own will, he wills to do like things under like conditions.

As to the nature of these laws, the subtle workings of which we see manifest in every phase of society, I cannot even so much as speak. An infinite ocean of phenomena awaits the inquirer; an ocean bottomless, over whose surface spreads an eternity of progress, and beneath whose glittering waves the keenest intellect can scarcely hope to penetrate far. The universe of man and matter must be anatomized; the functions of innumerable and complex organs studied; the exercise and influence of every part on every other part ascertained, and events apparently the most capricious traced to natural causes; then, when we know all, when we know as God knoweth, shall we understand what it is, this Soul of Progress.




The American Civilization of the Sixteenth Century—Its Disappearance—The Past, a New Element—Dividing line between Savage and Civilized Tribes—Bounds of American Civilization—Physical Features of the Country—Maya and Nahua Branches of Aboriginal Culture—The Nahua Civilization—The Aztecs its Representatives—Limits of the Aztec Empire—Ancient History of Anáhuac in Outline—The Toltec Era—The Chichimec Era—The Aztec Era—Extent of the Aztec Language—Civilized Peoples outside of Anáhuac—Central American Nations—The Maya Culture—The Primitive Maya Empire—Nahua Influence in the South—Yucatan and the Mayas—The Nations of Chiapas—The Quiché Empire in Guatemala—The Nahuas in Nicaragua and Salvador—Etymology of Names.

In the preceding volume I have had occasion several times to remark that, in the delineation of the Wild Tribes of the Pacific States, no attempt is made to follow them in their rapid decline, no attempt to penetrate their past or prophesy a possible future, no profitless lingering over those misfortunes that wrought among them such swift destruction. To us the savage nations of America have neither past nor future; only a brief present, from which indeed we may judge somewhat of their past; for the rest, foreign avarice and interference, European piety and greed, saltpetre, steel, small-pox, and syphilis, tell a speedy tale. Swifter still must be the hand that sketches the incipient civilization of the Mexican and 82 Central American table-lands. For although here we have more past, there is still less present, and scarcely any future. Those nations raised the highest by their wealth and culture, were the first to fall before the invader, their superior attainments offering a more shining mark to a rapacious foe; and falling, they were the soonest lost,—absorbed by the conquering race, or disappearing in the surrounding darkness. Although the savage nations were rapidly annihilated, traces of savagism lingered, and yet linger; but the higher American culture, a plant of more delicate growth and more sensitive nature, withered at the first rude touch of foreign interference. Instead of being left to its own intuitive unfoldings, or instead of being fostered by the new-comers, who might have elevated by interfusion both their own culture and that of the conquered race, the spirit of progress was effectually stifled on both sides by fanatical attempts to substitute by force foreign creeds and polities for those of indigenous origin and growth. And now behold them both, the descendants of conquerors and of conquered, the one scarcely less denaturalized than the other, the curse inflicted by the invaders on a flourishing empire returning and resting with crushing weight on their own head. Scarce four centuries ago the empire of Charles the Fifth, and the empire of Montezuma the Second, were brought by the force of progress most suddenly and unexpectedly face to face; the one then the grandest and strongest of the old world as was the other of the new. Since which time the fierce fanaticism that overwhelmed the New World empire, has pressed like an incubus upon the dominant race, and held it fast while all the world around were making the most rapid strides forward.


No indigenous civilization exists in America to-day, yet the effects of a former culture are not altogether absent. The descendant of the Aztec, Maya, and Quiché, is still of superior mind and haughtier spirit than his roving brother who boasts of none but a savage ancestry. 83 Still, so complete has been the substitution of foreign civil and ecclesiastical polities, and so far-reaching their influence on native character and conduct; so intimate the association for three and more centuries with the Spanish element; so closely guarded from foreign gaze has been every manifestation of the few surviving sparks of aboriginal modes of thought, that a study of the native condition in modern times yields, by itself, few satisfactory results. This study, however, as part of an investigation of their original or normal condition, should by no means be neglected, since it may furnish illustrative material of no little value.

Back of all this lies another element which lends to our subject yet grander proportions. Scattered over the southern plateaux are heaps of architectural remains and monumental piles. Furthermore, native traditions, both orally transmitted and hieroglyphically recorded by means of legible picture-writings, afford us a tolerably clear view of the civilized nations during a period of several centuries preceding the Spanish conquest, together with passing glances, through momentary clearings in the mythologic clouds, at historical epochs much more remote. Here we have as aids to this analysis,—aids almost wholly wanting among the so-called savage tribes, antiquities, tradition, history, carrying the student far back into the mysterious New World past; and hence it is that from its simultaneous revelation and eclipse, American civilization would otherwise offer a more limited field for investigation than American savagism, yet by the introduction of this new element the field is widely extended.

Nor have we even yet reached the limits of our resources for the investigation of this New World civilization. In these relics of architecture and literature, of mythology and tradition, there are clear indications of an older and higher type of culture than that brought immediately to the knowledge of the invaders; of a type that had temporarily deteriorated, perhaps through the 84 influence of long-continued and bloody conflicts, civil and foreign, by which the more warlike rather than the more highly cultured nations had been brought into prominence and power. But this anterior and superior civilization, resting largely as it does on vague tradition, and preserved to our knowledge in general allusions rather than in detail, may, like the native condition since the conquest, be utilized to the best advantage here as illustrative of the later and better-known, if somewhat inferior civilization of the sixteenth century, described by the conqueror, the missionary, and the Spanish historian.

Antique remains of native skill, which have been preserved for our examination, may also be largely used in illustration of more modern art, whose products have disappeared. These relics of the past are also of the highest value as confirming the truth of the reports made by Spanish writers, very many, or perhaps most, of whose statements respecting the wonderful phenomena of the New World, without this incontrovertible material proof, would find few believers among the sceptical students of the present day. These remains of antiquity, however, being fully described in another volume of this work, may be referred to in very general terms for present purposes.


Of civilization in general, the nature of its phenomena, the causes and processes by which it is evolved from savagism, I have spoken sufficiently in the foregoing chapter. As for the many theories respecting the American civilization in particular, its origin and growth, it is not my purpose to discuss them in this volume. No theory on these questions could be of any practical value in the elucidation of the subject, save one that should stand out among the rest so preëminently well-founded as to be generally accepted among scientific men, and no one of all the multitude proposed has acquired any such preëminence. A complete résumé of all the theories on the subject, with the foundations which support them, is given elsewhere 85 in connection with the ancient traditionary history of the aboriginal nations. It is well, however, to remark that our lack of definite knowledge about the origin of this civilization is not practically so important as might appear at first thought. True, we know not for certain whether it is indigenous or exotic; and if the former, whether to ascribe its cradle to the north or south, to one locality or many; or if the latter, whether contact with the old world was effected at one or many points, on one occasion or at divers epochs, through the agency of migrating peoples or by the advent of individual civilizers and teachers. Yet the tendency of modern research is to prove the great antiquity of the American civilization as well as of the American people; and if either was drawn from a foreign source, it was at a time probably so remote as to antedate any old-world culture now existing, and to prevent any light being thrown on the offspring by a study of the parent stock; while if indigenous, little hope is afforded of following rationally their development through the political convulsions of the distant past down to even a traditionally historic epoch.

I may then dispense with theories of origin and details of past history as confusing rather than aiding my present purpose, and as being fully treated elsewhere in this work. Neither am I required in this treatment of the civilized races to make an accurate division between them and their more savage neighbors, to determine the exact standard by which savagism and civilization are to be measured, or to vindicate the use of the word civilized as applied to the American nations in preference to that of semi-civilized, preferred by many writers. We have seen that civilization is at best only a comparative term, applied to some of the ever-shifting phases of human progress. In many of the Wild Tribes already described some of its characteristics have been observed, and the opposite elements of savagism will not be wanting among what I proceed 86 to describe as the Civilized Nations. There is not a savage people between Anáhuac and Nicaragua that has not been influenced in its institutions by intercourse, warlike, social, or commercial, with neighbors of higher culture, and has not exerted in its turn a reflex influence on the latter. The difficulty of drawing division-lines between nations thus mutually acting on each other is further increased in America by the fact that two or three nations constitute the central figure of nearly all that has been observed or written by the few that came in actual contact with the natives. This volume will, therefore, deal rather with the native civilization than with the nations that possessed it.

While, however, details on all the points mentioned, outside of actual institutions found existing in the sixteenth century, would tend to confusion rather than to clearness, besides leading in many cases to endless repetition, yet a general view of the whole subject, of the number, extent, location, and mutual relations of the nations occupying the central portions of the continent at its discovery, as well as of their relations to those of the more immediate past, appears necessary to an intelligent perusal of the following pages. In this general view I shall avoid all discussion of disputed questions, reserving arguments and details for future volumes on antiquities and aboriginal history.


That portion of what we call the Pacific States which was the home of American civilization within historic or traditionally historic times, extends along the continent from north-west to south-east, between latitudes 22° and 11°. On the Atlantic side the territory stretches from Tamaulipas to Honduras, on the Pacific from Colima to Nicaragua. Not that these are definitely drawn boundaries, but outside of these limits, disregarding the New Mexican Pueblo culture, this civilization had left little for Europeans to observe, while within them lived few tribes uninfluenced or unimproved by contact with it. No portion of the globe, perhaps, embraces 87 within equal latitudinal limits so great a variety of climate, soil, and vegetation; a variety whose important bearing on the native development can be understood in some degree, and which would doubtless account satisfactorily for most of the complications of progressional phenomena observed within the territory, were the connection between environment and progress fully within the grasp of our knowledge. All the gradations from a torrid to a temperate clime are here found in a region that lies wholly within the northern tropic, altitudinal variations taking the place of and producing all the effects elsewhere attributable to latitude alone. These variations result from the topography of the country as determined by the conformation given to the continent by the central cordillera. The Sierra Madre enters this territory from the north in two principal ranges, one stretching along the coast of the Pacific, while the other and more lofty range trends nearer the Atlantic, the two again uniting before reaching the isthmus of Tehuantepec. This eastern branch between 18° 40´ and 20° 30´ opens out into a table-land of some seventy-five by two hundred miles area, with an altitude of from six to eight thousand feet above the sea level. This broad plateau or series of plateaux is known as the tierra fria, while the lower valleys, with a band of the surrounding slopes, at an elevation of from three to five thousand feet, including large portions of the western lands of Michoacan, Guerrero, and Oajaca, between the two mountain branches, constitute the tierra templada. From the surface of the upper table-land rise sierras and isolated peaks of volcanic origin, the highest in North America, their summits covered with eternal snow, which shelter, temper, and protect the fertile plateaux lying at their base. Centrally located on this table-land, surrounded by a wall of lofty volcanic cliffs and peaks, is the most famous of all the valley plateaux, something more than one hundred and sixty miles in circuit, the valley of Mexico, Anáhuac, that is to say, 'country by 88 the waters,' taking its name from the lakes that formerly occupied one tenth of its area. Anáhuac, with an elevation of 7,500 feet, may be taken as representative of the tierra fria. It has a mean temperature of 62°, a climate much like that of southern Europe, although dryer, and to which the term 'cold' can only be comparatively applied. The soil is fertile and productive, though now generally presenting a bare and parched surface, by reason of the excessive evaporation on lofty plains exposed to the full force of a tropical sun, its natural forest-covering having been removed since the Spanish conquest, chiefly, it is believed, through artificial agencies. Oak and pine are prominent features of the native forest-growth, while wheat, barley, and all the European cereals and fruits flourish side by side with plantations of the indigenous maize, maguey, and cactus. From May to October of each year, corresponding nearly with the hot season of the coast, rains or showers are frequent, but rarely occur during the remaining months. Trees retain their foliage for ten months in the year, and indeed their fading is scarcely noticeable. Southward of 18°, as the continent narrows, this eastern table-land contracts into a mountain range proper, presenting a succession of smaller terraces, valleys, and sierras, in place of the broader plateaux of the region about Anáhuac. Trending south-eastward toward the Pacific, and uniting with the western Sierra Madre, the chain crosses the isthmus of Tehuantepec at a diminished altitude, only to rise again and expand laterally into the lofty Guatemalan ranges which stretch still south-eastward to Lake Nicaragua, where for the second time a break occurs in the continental cordillera at the southern limit of the territory now under consideration. From this central cordillera lateral subordinate branches jut out at right angles north and south toward either ocean. As we go southward the vegetation becomes more dense, and the temperature higher at equal altitudes, but the same gradations of 89 'fria' and 'templada' are continued, blending into each other at a height of 5,000 to 6,000 feet. The characteristics of the cordillera south of the Mexican table-land are lofty volcanic peaks whose lower bases are clothed with dense forests, fertile plateaux bounded by precipitous cliffs, vertical fissures or ravines of immense depth torn in the solid rock by volcanic action, and mountain torrents flowing in deep beds of porphyry and forming picturesque lakes in the lower valleys. Indeed, in Guatemala, where more than twenty volcanoes are in active operation, all these characteristic features appear to unite in their highest degree of perfection. One of the lateral ranges extends north-eastward from the continental chain, forming with a comparatively slight elevation the back-bone of the peninsula of Yucatan.


At the bases of the central continental heights, on the shores of either ocean, is the tierra caliente, a name applied to all the coast region with an elevation of less than 1,500 feet, and also by the inhabitants to many interior valleys of high temperature. So abruptly do the mountains rise on the Pacific side that the western torrid band does not perhaps exceed twenty miles in average width for its whole length, and has exerted comparatively little influence on the history and development of the native races. But on the Atlantic or gulf coast is a broad tract of level plain and marsh, and farther inland a more gradual ascent to the interior heights. This region presents all the features of an extreme tropical climate and vegetation. In the latitude of Vera Cruz barren and sandy tracts are seen; elsewhere the tierra caliente is covered with the densest tropical growth of trees, shrubs, vines, and flowers, forming in their natural state an almost impenetrable thicket. Cocoa, cotton, cacao, sugar-cane, indigo, vanilla, bananas, and the various palms are prominent among the flora; while the fauna include birds in infinite variety of brilliant plumage, with myriads of tormenting and deadly insects and reptiles. The atmosphere 90 is deadly to all but natives. The moist soil, enriched by the decay of vegetable substances, breathes pestilence and malaria from every pore, except during the winter months of incessant winds, which blow from October to March. Southern Vera Cruz and Tabasco, the tierra caliente par excellence, exhibit the most luxuriant display of nature's prodigality. Of alluvial and comparatively recent formation this region is traversed by the Goazacoalco, Alvarado, Usumacinta, and other noble rivers, which rise in the mountains of Guatemala, Chiapas, and Tehuantepec. River-banks are crowded with magnificent forest-trees, and the broad savanas farther back marked off into natural plantations of the valuable dye-woods which abound there, by a network of branch streams and canals, which serve both for irrigation and as a medium of transport for the native products that play no unimportant rôle in the world's commerce. Each year inundations are expected between June and October, and these transform the whole system of lagoons into a broad lake. Farther up the course of the rivers on the foothills of the cordillera, are extensive forests of cedar, mahogany, zapote, Brazil, and other precious woods, together with a variety of medicinal plants and aromatic resins.

The whole of Yucatan may, by reason of its temperature and elevation above the sea, be included in the tierra caliente, but its climate is one of the most healthful in all tropical America. The whole north and west of the peninsula are of fossil shell formation, showing that at no very distant date this region was covered by the waters of the sea. There are no rivers that do not dry up in winter, but by a wonderful system of small ponds and natural wells the country is supplied with water, the soil being moreover always moist, and supporting a rich and vigorous vegetation.


Notwithstanding evident marks of similarity in nearly all the manifestations of the progressional spirit in aboriginal America, in art, thought, and religion, 91 there is much reason for and convenience in referring all the native civilization to two branches, the Maya and the Nahua, the former the more ancient, the latter the more recent and wide-spread. It is important, however, to understand the nature and extent of this division, and just how far it may be considered real and how far ideal. Of all the languages spoken among these nations, the two named are the most wide-spread, and are likewise entirely distinct. In their traditional history, their material relics, and, above all, in their methods of recording events by hieroglyphics, as well as in their several lesser characteristics, these two stocks show so many and so clear points of difference standing prominently out from their many resemblances, as to indicate either a separate culture from the beginning, or what is more probable and for us practically the same thing, a progress in different paths for a long time prior to the coming of the Europeans. Very many of the nations not clearly affiliated with either branch show evident traces of both cultures, and may be reasonably supposed to have developed their condition from contact and intermixture of the parent stocks with each other, and with the neighboring savage tribes. It is only, however, in a very general sense that this classification can be accepted, and then only for practical convenience in elucidating the subject; since there are several nations that must be ranked among our civilized peoples, which, particularly in the matter of language, show no Maya nor Nahua affinities. Nor is too much importance to be attached to the names Maya and Nahua by which I designate these parallel civilizations. The former is adopted for the reason that the Maya people and tongue are commonly regarded as among the most ancient in all the Central American region, a region where formerly flourished the civilization that left such wonderful remains at Palenque, Uxmal, and Copan; the latter as being an older designation than either Aztec or Toltec, both of which stocks the race Nahua includes. 92 The civilization of what is now the Mexican Republic, north of Tehuantepec, belonged to the Nahua branch, both at the time of the conquest and throughout the historic period preceding. Very few traces of the Maya element occur north of Chiapas, and these are chiefly linguistic, appearing in two or three nations dwelling along the shores of the Mexican gulf. In published works upon the subject the Aztecs are the representatives of the Nahua element; indeed, what is known of the Aztecs has furnished material for nine tenths of all that has been written on the American civilized nations in general. The truth of the matter is that the Aztecs were only the most powerful of a league or confederation of three nations, which in the sixteenth century, from their capitals in the valley, ruled central Mexico. This confederation, moreover, was of comparatively recent date. These three nations were the Acolhuas, the Aztecs, and the Tepanecs, and their respective capitals, Tezcuco, Mexico, and Tlacopan (Tacuba) were located near each other on the lake borders, where, except Mexico, they still are found in a sad state of dilapidation. Within the valley, in general terms, the eastern section belonged to Tezcuco, the southern and western to Mexico, and a limited territory in the north-west to Tlacopan. At the time when the confederation was formed, which was about one hundred years before the advent of the Spaniards, Tezcuco was the most advanced and powerful of the allies, maintaining her precedence nearly to the end of the fifteenth century. Tlacopan was far inferior to the other two. Her possessions were small, and according to the terms of the compact, which seem always to have been strictly observed, she received but one fifth of the spoils obtained by successful war. While keeping within the boundaries of their respective provinces, so far as the valley of Mexico was concerned, these three chief powers united their forces to extend their conquests beyond the limits of the valley in every direction. Thus under the leadership of a line 93 of warlike kings Mexico extended her domain to the shores of either ocean, and rendered the tribes therein tributary to her. During this period of foreign conquest, the Aztec kings, more energetic, ambitious, warlike, and unscrupulous than their allies, acquired a decided preponderance in the confederate councils and possessions; so that, originally but a small tribe, one of the many which had settled in the valley of Anáhuac, by its valor and success in war, by the comparatively broad extent of its domain, by the magnificence of its capital, the only aboriginal town in America rebuilt by the conquerors in anything like its pristine splendor, and especially by being the people that came directly into contact with the invaders in the desperate struggles of the conquest, the Aztecs became to Europeans, and to the whole modern world, the representatives of the American civilized peoples. Hence, in the observations of those who were personally acquainted with these people, little or no distinction is made between the many different nations of Central Mexico, all being described as Aztecs. Indeed, many of the lesser nations favored this error, being proud to claim identity with the brave and powerful people to whose valor they had been forced to succumb. While this state of things doubtless creates some confusion by failing to show clearly the slight tribal differences that existed, yet the difficulty is not a serious one, from the fact that very many of these nations were unquestionably of the same blood as the Aztecs, and that all drew what civilization they possessed from the same Nahua source. I may therefore continue to speak of the Aztecs in their representative character, including directly in this term all the nations permanently subjected to the three ruling powers in Anáhuac, due care being taken to point out such differences as may have been noticed and recorded.


To fix the limits of the Aztec Empire with any approximation to accuracy is exceedingly difficult, both by reason of conflicting statements, and because the 94 boundaries were constantly changing as new tribes were brought under Aztec rule, or by successful revolt threw off the Mexican yoke. Clavigero, followed by Prescott, gives to the empire the territory from 18° to 21° on the Atlantic, and 14° to 19° on the Pacific, exclusive, according to the latter author, of the possessions of Tezcuco and Tlacopan. But this extent of territory, estimated at nearly twice that of the state of California, gives an exaggerated idea of Anáhuac, even when that term is applied to the conquered territory of the whole confederacy. The limits mentioned are in reality the extreme points reached by the allied armies in their successful wars, or rather, raids, during the most palmy days of Aztec rule. Within these bounds were several nations that were never conquered, even temporarily, by the arms of Anáhuac, as for example the Tlascaltecs, the Tarascos, and the Chiapanecs. Many nations, indeed most of those whose home was far from the central capitals, were simply forced on different occasions by the presence of a conquering army to pay tribute and allegiance to the Aztec kings, an allegiance which they were not slow to throw off as soon as the invaders had withdrawn. Such were the nations of northern Guatemala and Soconusco, whose conquest was in reality but a successful raid for plunder and captives; such the nations of Tehuantepec, such the Miztecs and Zapotecs of Oajaca, the latter having completely regained their independence and driven the Aztecs from their soil before the coming of the Spaniards. Other nations were conquered only in the years immediately preceding the Spanish conquest; instance the Matlaltzincas just west of Anáhuac, and the Huastecs and Totonacs of Vera Cruz. By their successful raids among these latter peoples, the Aztecs only sealed their own doom, making inveterate foes of the coast nations, whose services would have been most efficacious in resisting the fatal progress of the Castilian arms. But other tribes less warlike and powerful, or nearer the strongholds of 95 their conquerors, were, by means of frequent military expeditions made to check outbreaking rebellion, kept nominally subject to the Aztecs during fifty years, more or less, preceding the coming of the Spaniards, paying their annual tribute with some regularity. Outside the rocky barriers of their valley, the Mexicans maintained their supremacy only by constant war; and even within the valley their sway was far from undisputed, since several tribes, notably the Chalcas on the southern lake, broke out in open rebellion whenever the imperial armies were elsewhere occupied.


The Aztec empire proper, not restricting it to its original seat in the valley of Mexico, nor including within its limits all the nations which were by the fortunes of war forced at one time or another to pay tribute, may then be said to have extended from the valley of Mexico and its immediate environs, over the territories comprised in the present States of Mexico (with its modern subdivisions of Hidalgo and Morelos), Puebla, southern Vera Cruz, and Guerrero. Of all the nations that occupied this territory, most of them, as I have said, were of one blood and language with their masters, and all, by their character and institutions, possessed in greater or less degree the Nahua culture. Of many of the multitudinous nations occupying the vast territory surrounding the valley of Mexico, nothing is known beyond their names and their likeness, near or remote, to the Aztecs. For a statement of their names and localities in detail, the reader is referred to the Tribal Boundaries following the chapter on the Central Mexicans in the first volume of this work. Let it be understood, therefore, that the description of Aztec institutions contained in this volume applies to all the nations of the empire as bounded above, except where special limitation is indicated; besides which it has a general application to a much wider region, in fact to the whole country north of the isthmus of Tehuantepec.


In this connection, and before attempting a description 96 of the Mexican nations beyond the limits of the empire, nations more or less independent of Aztec sway, a glance at ancient Mexican history seems necessary, as well to throw light on the mutual relations of the peoples of Anáhuac, as to partially explain the broad extent of the Nahua civilization and of the Aztec idiom. The old-time story, how the Toltecs in the sixth century appeared on the Mexican table-land, how they were driven out and scattered in the eleventh century, how after a brief interval the Chichimecs followed their footsteps, and how these last were succeeded by the Aztecs who were found in possession,—the last two, and probably the first, migrating in immense hordes from the far north-west,—all this is sufficiently familiar to readers of Mexican history, and is furthermore fully set forth in the fifth volume of this work. It is probable, however, that this account, accurate to a certain degree, has been by many writers too literally construed; since the once popular theory of wholesale national migrations of American peoples within historic times, and particularly of such migrations from the north-west, may now be regarded as practically unfounded. The sixth century is the most remote period to which we are carried in the annals of Anáhuac by traditions sufficiently definite to be considered in any proper sense as historic records. At this period we find the Nahua civilization and institutions established on the table-land, occupied then as at every subsequent time by many tribes more or less distinct from each other. And there this culture remained without intermixture of essentially foreign elements down to the sixteenth century; there the successive phases of its development appeared, and there the progressional spirit continued to ferment for a period of ten centuries, which fermentation constitutes the ancient Mexican history. During the course of these ten centuries we may follow now definitely now vaguely the social, religious, and political convulsions through which these aboriginals were doomed to pass. 97 From small beginnings we see mighty political powers evolved, and these overturned and thrown into obscurity by other and rival unfoldings. Religious sects in like manner we see succeed each other, coloring their progress with frequent persecutions and reformations, not unworthy of old-world mediæval fanaticism, as partisans of rival deities shape the popular superstition in conformity with their creeds. Wars, long and bloody, are waged for plunder, for territory, and for souls; now, to quell the insurrection of a tributary prince, now to repel the invasion of outer barbarian hordes. Leaders, political and religious, rising to power with their nation, faction, city, or sect, are driven at their fall into exile, and thereby forced to seek their fortunes and introduce their culture among distant tribes. Outside bands, more or less barbarous, but brave and powerful, come to settle in Anáhuac, and to receive, voluntarily or involuntarily, the benefits of its arts and science.

I have no disposition unduly to magnify the New World civilization, nor to under-rate old world culture, but during these ten centuries of almost universal mediæval gloom, the difference between the two civilizations was less than most people imagine. On both sides of the Dark Sea humanity lay floundering in besotted ignorance; the respective qualities of that ignorance it is hardly profitable to analyze. The history of all these complicated changes, so far as it may be traced, separates naturally into three chronologic periods, corresponding with what are known as the Toltec, the Chichimec, and the Aztec empires. Prior to the sixth century doubtless there were other periods of Nahua greatness, for there is little evidence to indicate that this was the first appearance in Mexico of this progressive people, but previous developments can not be definitely followed, although affording occasional glimpses which furnish interesting matter for antiquarian speculation.

At the opening then, of the historic times, we find 98 the Toltecs in possession of Anáhuac and the surrounding country. Though the civilization was old, the name was new, derived probably, although not so regarded by all, from Tollan, a capital city of the empire, but afterward becoming synonymous with all that is excellent in art and high culture. Tradition imputes to the Toltecs a higher civilization than that found among the Aztecs, who had degenerated with the growth of the warlike spirit, and especially by the introduction of more cruel and sanguinary religious rites. But this superiority, in some respects not improbable, rests on no very strong evidence, since this people left no relics of that artistic skill which gave them so great traditional fame; there is, however, much reason to ascribe the construction of the pyramids at Teotihuacan and Cholula to the Toltec or a still earlier period. Among the civilized peoples of the sixteenth century, however, and among their descendants down to the present day, nearly every ancient relic of architecture or sculpture is accredited to the Toltecs, from whom all claim descent. In fact the term Toltec became synonymous in later times with all that was wonderful or mysterious in the past; and so confusing has been the effect of this universal reference of all traditional events to a Toltec source, that, while we can not doubt the actual existence of this great empire, the details of its history, into which the supernatural so largely enters, must be regarded as to a great extent mythical.


There are no data for fixing accurately the bounds of the Toltec domain, particularly in the south. There is very little, however, to indicate that it was more extensive in this direction than that of the Aztecs in later times, although it seems to have extended somewhat farther northward. On the west there is some evidence that it included the territory of Michoacan, never subdued by the Aztecs; and it probably stretched eastward to the Atlantic, including the Totonac territory of Vera Cruz. Of the tribes or nations 99 that made up the empire none can be positively identified by name with any of the later peoples found in Anáhuac, though there can be little doubt that several of the latter were descended directly from the Toltecs and contemporary tribes; and indeed it is believed with much reason that the semi-barbarous Otomís of Anáhuac, and several nations beyond the limits of the valley, may date their tribal history back to a period even preceding the Toltec era. During the most flourishing period of its traditional five centuries of duration, the Toltec empire was ruled by a confederacy similar in some respects to the alliance of later date between Mexico, Tezcuco, and Tlacopan. The capitals were Culhuacan, Otompan, and Tollan, the two former corresponding somewhat in territory with Mexico and Tezcuco, while the latter was just beyond the limits of the valley toward the north-west. Each of these capital cities became in turn the leading power in the confederacy. Tollan reached the highest eminence in culture, splendor, and fame, and Culhuacan was the only one of the three to survive by name the bloody convulsions by which the empire was at last overthrown, and retain anything of her former greatness.

Long-continued civil wars, arising chiefly from dissensions between rival religious factions, resulting naturally in pestilence and famine, which in the aboriginal annals are attributed to the direct interposition of irate deities, gradually undermine the imperial thrones. Cities and nations previously held in subjection or overshadowed by the splendor and power of Tollan, take advantage of her civil troubles to enlarge their respective domains and to establish independent powers. Distant tribes, more or less barbarous, but strong and warlike, come and establish themselves in desirable localities within the limits of an empire whose rulers are now powerless to repel invasion. So the kings of Tollan, Culhuacan, and Otompan lose, year by year, their prestige, and finally, in the middle of 100 the eleventh century, are completely overthrown, leaving the Mexican table-land to be ruled by new combinations of rising powers. Thus ends the Toltec period of ancient Anáhuac history.

The popular account pictures the whole Toltec population, or such part of it as had been spared by war, pestilence, and famine, as migrating en masse southward, and leaving Anáhuac desolate and unpeopled for nearly a half century, to be settled anew by tribes that crowded in from the north-west when they learned that this fair land had been so strangely abandoned. This account, like all other national migration-narratives pertaining to the Americans, has little foundation in fact or in probability.

The royal families and religious leaders of the Toltecs were doubtless driven into perpetual exile, and were accompanied by such of the nobility as preferred, rather than content themselves with subordinate positions at home, to try their fortunes in new lands, some of which were perhaps included in the southern parts of the empire concerning which so little is known. That there was any essential or immediate change in the population of the table-land beyond the irruption of a few tribes, is highly improbable. The exiled princes and priests, as I have said, went southward, where doubtless they played an important part in the subsequent history of the Maya-Quiché nations of Central America, a history less fully recorded than that of Anáhuac. That these exiles were the founders of the Central American civilization, a popular belief supported by many writers, I cannot but regard as another phase of that tendency above-mentioned to attribute all that is undefined and ill-understood to the great and wonderful Toltecs; nor do I believe that the evidence warrants such an hypothesis. If the pioneer civilizers of the south, the builders of Palenque, Copan, and other cities of the more ancient type, were imbued with or influenced by the Nahua culture, as is not improbable, 101 it certainly was not that culture as carried southward in the eleventh century, but a development or phase of it long preceding that which took the name of Toltec on the Mexican plateaux. With the destruction of the empire the term Toltec, as applied to an existing people, disappeared. This disappearance of the name while the institutions of the nation continued to flourish, may indicate that the designation of the people—or possibly of the ruling family—of Tollan, was not applied contemporaneously to the whole empire, and that in the traditions and records of later times, it has incidentally acquired a fictitious importance. Of the Toltec cities, Culhuacan, on the lake border, recovered under the new political combinations something of her old prominence; the name Culhuas applied to its people appears much more ancient than that of Toltecs, and indeed the Mexican civilization as a whole might perhaps as appropriately be termed Culhua as Nahua.


The new era succeeding the Toltec rule is that of the Chichimec empire, which endured with some variations down to the coming of Cortés. The ordinary version of the early annals has it, that the Chichimecs, a wild tribe living far in the north-west, learning that the fertile regions of Central Mexico had been abandoned by the Toltecs, came down in immense hordes to occupy the land. Numerous other tribes came after them at short intervals, were kindly received and granted lands for settlement, and the more powerful of the new comers, in confederation with the original Chichimec settlers, developed into the so-called empire. Now, although this occupation of the central table-lands by successive migrations of foreign tribes cannot be accepted by the sober historian, and although we must conclude that very many of the so-called new comers were tribes that had occupied the country during the Toltec period,—their names now coming into notice with their increasing importance and power,—yet it is probable that some new tribes, 102 sufficiently powerful to exercise a great if not a controlling influence in building up the new empire, did at this time enter Anáhuac from the immediately bordering regions, and play a prominent part, in conjunction with the rising nations within the valley, in the overthrow of the kings of Tollan. These in-coming nations, by alliance with the original inhabitants, infused fresh life and vigor into the worn-out monarchies, furnishing the strength by which new powers were built up on the ruins of the old, and receiving on the other hand the advantages of the more perfect Nahua culture.

If one, and the most powerful, of these new nations was, as the annals state, called the Chichimec, nothing whatever is known of its race or language. The Chichimecs, their identity, their idiom, and their institutions, if any such there were, their name even, as a national appellation, were merged into those of the Nahua nations that accompanied or followed them, and were there lost. The ease and rapidity with which this tribal fusion of tongue and culture is represented to have been accomplished would indicate at least that the Chichimecs, if a separate tribe, were of the same race and language as the Toltecs; but however this may be, it must be conceded that, while they can not have been the wild cave-dwelling barbarians painted by some of the historians, they did not introduce into Anáhuac any new element of civilization.


The name Chichimec at the time of the Spanish conquest, and subsequently, was used with two significations, first, as applied to the line of kings that reigned at Tezcuco, and second, to all the wild hunting tribes, particularly in the broad and little-known regions of the north. Traditionally or historically the name has been applied to nearly every people mentioned in the ancient history of America. This has caused the greatest confusion among writers on the subject, a confusion which I believe can only be cleared up by the supposition that the name Chichimec, like 103 that of Toltec, never was applied as a tribal or national designation proper to any people, while such people were living. It seems probable that among the Nahua peoples that occupied the country from the sixth to the eleventh centuries, a few of the leading powers appropriated to themselves the title Toltecs, which had been at first employed by the inhabitants of Tollan, whose artistic excellence soon rendered it a designation of honor. To the other Nahua peoples, by whom these leading powers were surrounded, whose institutions were identical but whose polish and elegance of manner were deemed by these self-constituted autocrats somewhat inferior, the term Chichimecs, barbarians, etymologically 'dogs,' was applied. After the convulsions that overthrew Tollan and reversed the condition of the Nahua nations, the 'dogs' in their turn assumed an air of superiority and retained their designation Chichimecs as a title of honor and nobility.

The names of the tribes represented as entering Anáhuac after the Chichimecs, but respecting the order of whose coming there is little agreement among authors, are the following: Matlaltzincas, Tepanecs, Acolhuas, Teo-Chichimecs (Tlascaltecs), Malinalcas, Cholultecs, Xochimilcas, Chalcas, Huexotzincas, Cuitlahuacs, Cuicatecs, Mizquicas, Tlahuicas, Cohuixcas, and Aztecs. Some of these, as I have said, may have entered the valley from the immediate north. Which these were I shall not attempt to decide, but they were nearly all of the same race and language, all lived under Nahua institutions, and their descendants were found living on and about the Aztec plateau in the sixteenth century, speaking, with one or two exceptions, the Aztec tongue.

In the new era of prosperity that now dawned on Anáhuac, Culhuacan, where some remnants even of the Toltec nobility remained, under Chichimec auspices regained to a great extent its old position as a centre of culture and power. Among the new nations 104 whose name now first appears in history, the Acolhuas and Tepanecs soon rose to political prominence in the valley. The Acolhuas were the Chichimecs par excellence, or, as tradition has it, the Chichimec nation was absorbed by them, giving up its name, language, and institutions. The capitals which ruled the destinies of Anáhuac down to the fifteenth century, besides Culhuacan, were Tenayocan, Xaltocan, Coatlychan, Tezcuco, and Azcapuzalco. These capitals being governed for the most part by branches of the same royal Chichimec family, the era was one of civil intrigue for the balance of power and for succession to the throne, rather than one of foreign conquest. During the latter part of the period, Tezcuco, the Acolhua capital under the Chichimec kings proper, Azcapuzalco the capital of the Tepanecs, and Culhuacan held the country under their sway, sometimes allied to meet the forces of foreign foes, but oftener plotting against each other, each, by alliance with a second against the third, aiming at universal dominion. At last in this series of political manœuvres Culhuacan was permanently overthrown, and the Chichimec ruler at Tezcuco was driven from his possessions by the warlike chief of the Tepanecs, who thus for a short time was absolute master of Anáhuac.

But with the decadence of the Culhua power at Culhuacan, another of the tribes that came into notice in the valley after the fall of the Toltecs, had been gradually gaining a position among the nations. This rising power was the Aztecs, a people traditionally from the far north-west, whose wanderings are described in picture-writings shown in another part of this volume. Their migration is more definitely described than that of any other of the many who are said to have come from the same direction, and has been considered by different writers to be a migration from California, New Mexico, or Asia. Later researches indicate that the pictured annals are intended 105 simply as a record of the Aztec wanderings in the valley of Mexico and its vicinity. Whatever their origin, by their fierce and warlike nature and bloody religious rites, from the first they made themselves the pests of Anáhuac, and later its tyrants. For some centuries they acquired no national influence, but were often conquered, enslaved, and driven from place to place, until early in the fourteenth century, when Mexico or Tenochtitlan was founded, and under a line of able warlike kings started forward in its career of prosperity unequaled in the annals of aboriginal America. At the fall of Culhuacan, Mexico ranked next to Tezcuco and Azcapuzalco, and when the armies of the latter prevailed against the former, Mexico was the most powerful of all the nations that sprang to arms, and pressed forward to humble the Tepanec tyrant, to reïnstate the Acolhua monarch on his throne, and to restore Tezcuco to her former commanding position. The result was the utter defeat of the Tepanecs, and the glory of Azcapuzalco departed forever.


Thus ended in the early part of the fifteenth century the Chichimec empire,—that is, it nominally ended, for the Chichimec kings proper lost nothing of their power,—and, by the establishment of the confederacy already described, the Aztec empire was inaugurated. Under the new dispensation of affairs, Mexico, by whose aid chiefly Azcapuzalco had been humbled, received rank and dominion at least equal to that of Tezcuco, while from motives of policy, and in order, so far as possible, to conciliate the good will of a strong though conquered people, Tlacopan, under a branch of the Tepanecs, with a less extensive domain, was admitted to the alliance. The terms of the confederacy seem, as I have said, never to have been openly violated; but in the first years of the sixteenth century the Aztecs had not only excited the hatred of the most powerful nations outside the bounds of Anáhuac by their foreign raids, but by their arrogant overbearing spirit had made themselves obnoxious 106 at home. Their aim at supreme power was apparent, and both Tezcuco and the independent republic of Tlascala began to tremble at the dangerous progress of their mighty neighbor. A desperate struggle was imminent, in which the Aztecs, pitted against all central Mexico, by victory would have grasped the coveted prize of imperial power, or crushed as were the Tepanecs before them by a coalition of nations, would have yielded their place in the confederacy to some less dangerous rival. At this juncture Cortés appeared. This renowned chieftain aided Montezuma's foes to triumph, and in turn fastened the shackles of European despotism on all alike, with a partial exception in favor of brave Tlascala. The nations which formed the Aztec empire proper, were the tribes for the most part that have been named as springing into existence or notice in Anáhuac early in the Chichimec period, and the names of most of them have been preserved in the names of modern localities. It will be seen, in treating of the languages of the Pacific States, that the Aztec tongue, in a pure state, in distinct verbal or grammatical traces, and in names of places, is spread over a much wider extent of territory than can be supposed to have ever been brought under subjection to Anáhuac during either the Toltec, Chichimec, or Aztec phases of the Nahua domination. To account for this we have the commercial connections of the Aztecs, whose traders are known to have pushed their mercantile ventures far beyond the regions subjected by force of arms; colonies which, both in Toltec and Aztec times, may be reasonably supposed to have sought new homes; the exile of nobles and priests at the fall of the Toltec empire, and other probable migrations, voluntary and involuntary, of princes and teachers; the large detachments of Aztecs who accompanied the Spaniards in the expeditions by which the continent was brought under subjection; and finally, if all these are not sufficient, the unknown 107 history and migrations of the Nahua peoples during the centuries preceding the Toltec era.


I will now briefly notice the civilized nations beyond the limits of Anáhuac, and more or less independent of the Aztec rule, concerning whose institutions and history comparatively little or nothing is known, except what is drawn from the Aztec annals, with some very general observations on their condition made by their Spanish conquerors. Westward of the Mexican valley was the flourishing independent kingdom of Michoacan, in possession of the Tarascos, whose capital was Tzintzuntzan on Lake Patzcuaro. Their country, lying for the most part between the rivers Mexcala and Tololotlan, is by its altitude chiefly in the tierra templada, and enjoys all the advantages of a tropical climate, soil, and vegetation. Topographically it presents a surface of undulating plains, intersected by frequent mountain chains and by the characteristic ravines, and well watered by many streams and beautiful lakes; hence the name Michoacan, which signifies 'land abounding in fish.' The lake region of Patzcuaro, the seat of the Tarasco kings, is described as unsurpassed in picturesque beauty, while in the variety of its agricultural products and in its yield of mineral wealth, Michoacan was equaled by few of the states of New Spain.

If we may credit the general statements of early authors, who give us but few details, in their institutions, their manners, wealth, and power, the Tarascos were at least fully the equals of the Aztecs, and in their physical development were even superior. That they successfully resisted and defeated the allied armies of Anáhuac is sufficient proof of their military prowess, although they yielded almost without a struggle to the Spaniards after the fall of Mexico. With respect to their civilization we must accept the statements of their superiority as the probably correct impression of those who came first in contact with this people, notwithstanding which I find no architectural or artistic 108 relics of a high culture within their territory. All that is known on the subject indicates that their civilization was of the Nahua type, although the language is altogether distinct from the Aztec, the representative Nahua tongue. The history of Michoacan, in the form of any but the vaguest traditions, does not reach back farther than the thirteenth century; nevertheless, as I have said, there is some reason to suppose that it formed part of the Toltec empire. The theory has even been advanced that the Tarascos, forming a part of that empire, were not disturbed by its fall, and were therefore the best representatives of the oldest Nahua culture. Their reported physical superiority might favor this view, but their distinct language on the contrary would render it improbable. A careful study of all that is known of this people convinces me that they had long been settled in the lands where they were found, but leaves on the mind no definite idea of their earlier history. Their later annals are made up of tales, partaking largely of the marvelous and supernatural, of the doings of certain demi-gods or priests, and of wars waged against the omnipresent Chichimecs. Branches of the great and primitive Otomí family are mentioned as having their homes in the mountains, and there are traditions that fragments of the Aztecs and other tribes which followed the Chichimecs into Anáhuac, lingered on the route of their migration and settled in the fertile valleys of Michoacan. Between the Tarascos and the Aztecs, speaking a language different from either but allied more or less intimately with the former, were the Matlaltzincas, whose capital was in the plateau valley of Toluca, just outside the bounds of Anáhuac. This was one of the tribes that have already been named as coming traditionally from the north-west. For a long time they maintained their independence, but in the last quarter of the fifteenth century were forced to yield to the victorious arms of Axayacatl, the Aztec warrior king. 109

Immediately below the mouth of the Mexcala, on the border of the Pacific, were the lands of the Cuitlatecs, and also the province or kingdom of Zacatollan, whose capital was the modern Zacatula. Of these two peoples absolutely nothing is known, save that they were tributary to the Aztec empire, the latter having been added to the domain of Tezcuco in the very last years of the fifteenth century.

The provinces that extended south-westward from Anáhuac to the ocean, belonging chiefly to the modern state of Guerrero and included in what I have described as the Aztec empire proper, were those of the Tlahuicas, whose capital was Cuernavaca, the Cohuixcas, capital at Acapulco, the Yoppi on the coast south of Acapulco, and the province of Mazatlan farther inland or north-east. The name Tlapanecs is also rather indefinitely applied to the people of a portion of this territory in the south, including probably the Yoppi. Of the names mentioned we have met those of the Tlahuicas and Cohuixcas among the tribes newly springing into notice at the beginning of the Chichimec period. It is probable that nearly all were more or less closely allied in race and language to their Mexican masters, their political subjection to whom dates from about the middle of the fifteenth century.


The western slope of the cordillera still farther south-west, comprising in general terms the modern state of Oajaca, was ruled and to a great extent inhabited by the Miztecs and Zapotecs, two powerful nations distinct in tongue from the Aztecs and from each other. Western Oajaca, the home of the Miztecs, was divided into Upper and Lower Miztecapan, the latter toward the coast, and the former higher up in the mountains, and sometimes termed Cohuaixtlahuacan. The Zapotecs in eastern Oajaca, when first definitely known to history, had extended their power over nearly all the tribes of Tehuantepec, besides encroaching somewhat on the Miztec boundaries. The Miztecs, notwithstanding the foreign aid of Tlascaltecs 110 and other eastern foes of the Aztec king, were first defeated by the allied forces of Anáhuac about 1458; and from that date the conquerors succeeded in holding their stronger towns and more commanding positions down to the conquest, thus enforcing the payment of tribute and controlling the commerce of the southern coast, which was their primary object. Tehuantepec and Soconusco yielded some years after to the conquering Axayacatl, and Zapotecapan still later to his successor Ahuitzotl; but in the closing years of the fifteenth century the Zapotecs recovered their country with Tehuantepec, leaving Socunusco, however, permanently in Aztec possession. The history of the two nations takes us no farther back than the fourteenth century, when they first came into contact with the peoples of Anáhuac; it gives a record of their rulers and their deeds of valor in wars waged against each other, against the neighboring tribes, and against the Mexicans. Prior to that time we have a few traditions of the vaguest character preserved by Burgoa, the historian of Oajaca. These picture both Miztecs and Zapotecs as originally wild, but civilized by the influence of teachers, priests, or beings of supernatural powers, who came among them, one from the south, and others from the direction of Anáhuac. Their civilization, however received, was surely Nahua, as is shown by the resemblances which their institutions, and particularly their religious rites, bear to those of the Aztecs. Being of the Nahua type, its origin has of course been referred to that inexhaustible source, the dispersion of the Toltecs, or to proselyting teachers sent southward by that wonderful people. Indeed, the Miztec and Zapotec royal families claimed a direct Toltec descent. It is very probable, however, that the Nahua element here was at least contemporaneous in its introduction with the same element known as Toltec in Anáhuac, rather than implanted in Oajaca by missionaries, voluntary or involuntary, from Tollan. I have already remarked that the presence of 111 Nahua institutions in different regions is too often attributed to the Toltec exiles, and too seldom to historical events preceding the sixth century. The Oajacan coast region or tierra caliente, if we may credit the result of researches by the Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg, was sometimes known as Anáhuac Ayotlan, as the opposite coast of Tabasco was called Anáhuac Xicalanco. Both these Anáhuacs were inhabited by enterprising commercial peoples, whose flourishing centres of trade were located at short intervals along the coast. Material relics of past excellence in architecture and other arts of civilization abound in Oajaca, chief among which stand the remarkable structures at Mitla.


Although Tehuantepec in the later aboriginal times was subject to the kings of Zapotecapan, yet within its limits, besides the Chontales,—a name resembling in its uncertainty of application that of Chichimecs farther north,—were the remnants of two old nations that still preserved their independence. These were the Mijes, living chiefly by the chase in the mountain fastnesses of the north, and the Huaves, who held a small territory on the coast and islands of the lagoons just east of the city of Tehuantepec. The Mijes, so far as the vague traditions of the country reveal anything of their past, were once the possessors of Zapotecapan and the isthmus of Tehuantepec, antedating the Zapotecs and perhaps the Nahua culture in this region, being affiliated, as some believe, in institutions and possibly in language, with the Maya element of Central America. While this connection must be regarded as somewhat conjectural, we may nevertheless accept as probably authentic the antiquity, civilization, and power of this brave people. The Huaves were traditionally of southern origin, having come to Tehuantepec by sea from Nicaragua or a point still farther south. In navigation and in commerce they were enterprising, as were indeed all the tribes of this southern-coast Anáhuac, and they took gradually from the Mijes, 112 whom they found in possession, a large extent of territory, which as we have seen they were finally forced to yield up to their Zapotec conquerors.

Crossing now to the Atlantic or Gulf shores we have from the past nothing but a confused account of Olmecs, Xicalancas, and Nonohualcas, who may have been distinct peoples, or the same people under different names at different epochs, and who at some time inhabited the lowlands of Tehuantepec and Vera Cruz, as well as those of Tabasco farther south. At the time of the conquest we know that this region was thickly inhabited by a people scarcely less advanced than those of Anáhuac, and dotted with flourishing towns devoted to commerce. But neither in the sixteenth nor immediately preceding centuries can any one civilized nation be definitely named as occupying this Anáhuac Xicalanco. We know, however, that this country north of the Goazacoalco River formed a portion of the Aztec empire, and that its inhabitants spoke for the most part the Aztec tongue. These provinces, known as Cuetlachtlan and Goazacoalco, were conquered, chiefly with a view to the extension of the Aztec commerce, as early as the middle of the fifteenth century, notwithstanding the assistance rendered by the armies of Tlascala.


The plateau east of Anáhuac sometimes known as Huitzilapan was found by the Spaniards in the possession of the independent republics, or cities, of Tlascala, Huexotzinco, and Cholula. The people who occupied this part of the table-land were the Teo-Chichimecs, of the same language and of the same traditional north-western origin as the Aztecs, whom they preceded in Anáhuac. Late in the thirteenth century they left the valley of Mexico, and in several detachments established themselves on the eastern plateau, where they successfully maintained their independence of all foreign powers. As allies of the Chichimec king of Tezcuco they aided in overturning the Tepanec tyrant of Azcapuzalco; but after the subsequent dangerous 113 development of Aztec ambition, the Tlascaltec armies aided in nearly every attempt of other nations to arrest the progress of the Mexicans toward universal dominion. Their assistance, as we have seen, was unavailing except in the final successful alliance with the forces of Cortés; for, although secure in their small domain against foreign invasion, their armies were often defeated abroad. Tlascala has retained very nearly its original bounds, and the details of its history from the foundation of the city are, by the writings of the native historian Camargo, more fully known than those of most other nations outside of Anáhuac. This author, however, gives us the annals of his own and the surrounding peoples from a Tlascaltec stand-point only. Before the Teo-Chichimec invasion of Huitzilapan, Cholula had already acquired great prominence as a Toltec city, and as the residence of the great Nahua apostle Quetzalcoatl, of which era, or a preceding one, the famous pyramid remains as a memento. Outside of Cholula, however, the ancient history of this region presents but a blank page, or one vaguely filled with tales of giants, its first reputed inhabitants, and of the mysterious Olmecs, from some remaining fragments of which people the Tlascaltecs are said to have won their new homes. These Olmecs seem to have been a very ancient people who occupied the whole eastern region, bordering on or mixed with the Xicalancas in the south; or rather the name Olmec seems to have been the designation of a phase or era of the Nahua civilization preceding that known as the Toltec. It is impossible to determine accurately whether the Xicalancas should be classed with the Nahua or Maya element, although probably with the former.

The coast region east of Tlascala, comprising the northern half of the state of Vera Cruz, was the home of the Totonacs, whose capital was the famous Cempoala, and who were conquered by the Aztecs at the close of the fifteenth century. They were probably 114 one of the ancient pre-Toltec peoples like the Otomís and Olmecs, and they claimed to have occupied in former times Anáhuac and the adjoining territory, where they erected the pyramids of the sun and moon at Teotihuacan. Their institutions when first observed by Europeans seem to have been essentially Nahua, and the abundant architectural remains found in Totonac territory, as at Papantla, Misantla, and Tusapan, show no well-defined differences from Aztec constructions proper. Whether this Nahua culture was that originally possessed by them or was introduced at a comparatively late period through the influence of the Teo-Chichimecs, with whom they became largely consolidated, is uncertain. The Totonac language is, however, distinct from the Aztec, and is thought to have some affinity with the Maya.

North of the Totonacs on the gulf coast, in the present state of Tamaulipas, lived the Huastecs, concerning whose early history nothing whatever is known. Their language is allied to the Maya dialects. They were a brave people, looked upon by the Mexicans as semi-barbarous, but were defeated and forced to pay tribute by the king of Tezcuco in the middle of the fifteenth century.


The difficulties experienced in rendering to any degree satisfactory a general view of the northern nations, are very greatly augmented now that I come to treat of the Central American tribes. The causes of this increased difficulty are many. I have already noticed the prominence of the Aztecs in most that has been recorded of American civilization. During the conquest of the central portions of the continent following that of Mexico, the Spaniards found an advanced culture, great cities, magnificent temples, a complicated system of religious and political institutions; but all these had been met before in the north, and consequently mere mention in general terms of these later wonders was deemed sufficient by the conquerors, 115 who were a class of men not disposed to make minute observations or comparisons respecting what seemed to them unimportant details. As to the priests, their duty was clearly to destroy rather than to closely investigate these institutions of the devil. And in the years following the conquest, the association between the natives and the conquerors was much less intimate than in Anáhuac. These nations in many instances fought until nearly annihilated, or after defeat retired in national fragments to the inaccessible fastnesses of the cordillera, retaining for several generations—some of them permanently—their independence, and affording the Spaniards little opportunity of becoming acquainted with their aboriginal institutions. In the south, as in Anáhuac, native writers, after their language had been fitted to the Spanish alphabet, wrote more or less fully of their national history; but all such writings whose existence is known are in the possession of one or two individuals, and, excepting the Popol Vuh translated by Ximenes as well as Brasseur de Bourbourg, and the Perez Maya manuscript, their contents are only vaguely known to the public through the writings of their owners. Another difficulty respecting these writings is that their dependence on any original authority more trustworthy than that of orally transmitted traditions, is at least doubtful. The key to the hieroglyphics engraved on the stones of Palenque and Copan, and painted on the pages of the very few ancient manuscripts preserved, is now practically lost; that it was possessed by the writers referred to is, although not impossible, still far from proven. Again, chronology, so complicated and uncertain in the annals of Anáhuac, is here, through the absence of legible written records, almost entirely wanting, so that it is in many cases absolutely impossible to fix even an approximate date for historical events of great importance. The attempts of authors to attach some of these events, without sufficient data, 116 to the Nahua chronology, have done much to complicate the matter still further.

The only author who has attempted to treat of the subject of Central American civilization and antiquity comprehensively as a whole is the Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg. The learned abbé, however, with all his research and undoubted knowledge of the subject, and with his well-known enthusiasm and tact in antiquarian engineering, by which he is wont to level difficulties, apparently insurmountable, to a grade which offers no obstruction to his theoretical construction-trains, has been forced to acknowledge at many points his inability to construct a perfect whole from data so meagre and conflicting. Such being the case, the futility must be apparent of attempting here any outline of history which may throw light on the institutions of the sixteenth century. I must be content, for the purposes of this chapter, with a mention of the civilized nations found in possession of the country, and a brief statement of such prominent points in their past as seem well-authenticated and important.


Closely enveloped in the dense forests of Chiapas, Guatemala, Yucatan, and Honduras, the ruins of several ancient cities have been discovered, which are far superior in extent and magnificence to any seen in Aztec territory, and of which a detailed description may be found in the fourth volume of this work. Most of these cities were abandoned and more or less unknown at the time of the conquest. They bear hieroglyphic inscriptions apparently identical in character; in other respects they resemble each other more than they resemble the Aztec ruins—or even other and apparently later works in Guatemala and Honduras. All these remains bear evident marks of great antiquity. Their existence and similarity, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, would indicate the occupation of the whole country at some remote period by nations far advanced in civilization, and closely allied in manners and customs, if not in blood and language. Furthermore, the 117 traditions of several of the most advanced nations point to a wide-spread civilization introduced among a numerous and powerful people by Votan and Zamná, who, or their successors, built the cities referred to, and founded great allied empires in Chiapas, Yucatan and Guatemala; and moreover, the tradition is confirmed by the universality of one family of languages or dialects spoken among the civilized nations, and among their descendants to this day. I deem the grounds sufficient, therefore, for accepting this Central American civilization of the past as a fact, referring it not to an extinct ancient race, but to the direct ancestors of the peoples still occupying the country with the Spaniards, and applying to it the name Maya as that of the language which has claims as strong as any to be considered the mother tongue of the linguistic family mentioned. As I have said before, the phenomena of civilization in North America may be accounted for with tolerable consistency by the friction and mixture of this Maya culture and people with the Nahua element of the north; while that either, by migrations northward or southward, can have been the parent of the other within the traditionally historic past, I regard as extremely improbable. That the two elements were identical in their origin and early development is by no means impossible; all that we can safely presume is that within historic times they have been practically distinct in their workings.

There are also some rather vague traditions of the first appearance of the Nahua civilization in the regions of Tabasco and Chiapas, of its growth, the gradual establishment of a power rivalling that of the people I call Mayas, and of a struggle by which the Nahuas were scattered in different directions, chiefly northward, to reappear in history some centuries later as the Toltecs of Anáhuac. While the positive evidence in favor of this migration from the south is very meagre, it must be admitted that a southern origin of the Nahua culture is far more consistent with fact and 118 tradition than was the north-western origin, so long implicitly accepted. There are no data by which to fix the period of the original Maya empire, or its downfall or breaking-up into rival factions by civil and foreign wars. The cities of Yucatan, as is clearly shown by Mr Stephens, were, many of them, occupied by the descendants of the builders down to the conquest, and contain some remnants of wood-work still in good preservation, although some of the structures appear to be built on the ruins of others of a somewhat different type. Palenque and Copan, on the contrary, have no traces of wood or other perishable material, and were uninhabited and probably unknown in the sixteenth century. The loss of the key to what must have been an advanced system of hieroglyphics, while the spoken language survived, is also an indication of great antiquity, confirmed by the fact that the Quiché structures of Guatemala differed materially from those of the more ancient epoch. It is not likely that the Maya empire in its integrity continued later than the third or fourth century, although its cities may have been inhabited much later, and I should fix the epoch of its highest power at a date preceding rather than following the Christian era. A Maya manuscript fixes the date of the first appearance in Yucatan of the Tutul Xius at 171 A. D. The Abbé Brasseur therefore makes this the date of the Nahua dispersion, believing, on apparently very slight foundation, the Tutul Xius to be one of the Nahua fragments. With the breaking-up of this empire into separate nations at an unknown date, the ancient history of Central America as a whole ceases, and down to a period closely preceding the conquest we have only an occasional event preserved in the traditions of two or three nations.


Yucatan was occupied in the sixteenth century by the Mayas proper, all speaking the same language, and living under practically the same institutions, religious and political. The chief divisions were the 119 Cocomes, Tutul Xius, Itzas, and Cheles, which seem to have been originally the designations of royal or priestly families, rather than tribal names proper of the peoples over whom they held sway. Each of these had their origin-traditions of immigrating tribes or teachers who came in the distant past to seek new homes, escape persecution, or introduce new religious ideas, in the fertile Maya plains. Some of these stranger apostles of new creeds are identified by authors with Toltec missionaries or exiles from Anáhuac. The evidence in favor of this identity in any particular case is of course unsatisfactory, but that it was well-founded in some cases is both probable,—commercial intercourse having undoubtedly made the two peoples mutually acquainted with each other,—and is supported by the presence of Nahua names of rulers and priests, and of Nahua elements in the Yucatec religion, the same remark applying to all Central America. The ancient history of Yucatan is an account of the struggles, alliances, and successive domination of the factions mentioned. To enumerate here, in outline even, these successive changes so vaguely and confusedly recorded would be useless, especially as their institutions, so far as can be known, were but slightly affected by political changes among people of the same blood, language, and religion.

The Cocomes were traditionally the original Maya rulers of the land, and the Tutul Xius first came into notice in the second century, the Itzas and Cheles appearing at a much later date. One of the most prosperous eras in the later history of the peninsula of Yucatan is represented to have followed the appearance of Cuculcan, a mysterious stranger corresponding closely in his teachings, as in the etymology of his name, with the Toltec Quetzalcoatl. He became the head of the Cocome dynasty at Mayapan, and ruled the country as did his successors after him in alliance with the Tutul Xius at Uxmal, the Itzas at Chichen Itza, and the Cheles at Izamal. But later the Cocomes 120 were overthrown, and Mayapan destroyed by a revolution of the allies. The Tutul Xius now became the leading power, a position which they held down to the time, not long before the conquest, when the country was divided by war and civil dissensions into numerous petty domains, each ruled by its chief and independent of the rest, all in a weak and exhausted condition compared with their former state, and unable to resist by united effort the progress of the Spanish invaders whom individually they fought most bravely. Three other comparatively recent events of some importance in Yucatec history may be noticed. The Cocomes in the struggle preceding their fall called in the aid of a large force of Xicalancas, probably a Nahua people, from the Tabascan coast region, who after their defeat were permitted by the conquerors to settle in the country. A successful raid by some foreign people, supposed with some reason to be the Quichés from Guatemala, is reported to have been made against the Mayas with, however, no important permanent results. Finally a portion of the Itzas migrated southward and settled in the region of Lake Peten, establishing their capital city on an island in the lake. Here they were found, a powerful and advanced nation, by Hernan Cortés in the sixteenth century, and traces of their cities still remain, although it must be noted that another and older class of ruins are found in the same region, dating back perhaps to a time when the glory of the Maya empire had not wholly departed.


Chiapas, politically a part of the Mexican Republic, but belonging geographically to Central America, was occupied by the Chiapanecs, Tzendales, and Quelenes. The Tzendales lived in the region about Palenque, and were presumably the direct descendants of its builders, their language having nearly an equal claim with the Maya to be considered the mother tongue. The Chiapanecs of the interior were a warlike tribe, and had before the coming of the Spaniards conquered the 121 other nations, forcing them to pay tribute, and successfully resisting the attacks of the Aztec allies. They also are a very old people, having been referred even to the tribes that preceded the establishment of Votan's empire. Statements concerning their history are numerous and irreconcilable; they have some traditions of having come from the south; their linguistic affinity with the Mayas is at least very slight. The Quelenes or Zotziles, whose past is equally mysterious, inhabited the southern or Guatemalan frontier.

Guatemala and northern Honduras were found in possession of the Mames in the north-west, the Pocomams in the south-east, the Quichés in the interior, and the Cakchiquels in the south. The two latter were the most powerful and ruled the country from their capitals of Utatlan and Patinamit, where they resisted the Spaniards almost to the point of annihilation, retiring for the most part after defeat to live by the chase in the distant mountain gorges. Guatemalan history from the Votan empire down to an indefinite date not many centuries before the conquest is a blank. It recommences with the first traditions of the nations just mentioned. These traditions, as in the case of every American people, begin with the immigration of foreign tribes into the country as the first in the series of events leading to the establishment of the Quiché-Cakchiquel empire. Assuming the Toltec dispersion from Anáhuac in the eleventh century as a well-authenticated fact, most writers have identified the Guatemalan nations, except perhaps the Mames by some considered the descendants of the original inhabitants, with the migrating Toltecs who fled southward to found a new empire. I have already made known my scepticism respecting national American migrations in general, and the Toltec migration southward in particular, and there is nothing in the annals of Guatemala to modify the views previously expressed. The Quiché traditions are vague and without chronologic order, much less definite than 122 those relating to the mythical Aztec wanderings. The sum and substance of the Quiché and Toltec identity is the traditional statement that the former people entered Guatemala at an unknown period in the past, while the latter left Anáhuac in the eleventh century. That the Toltecs should have migrated en masse southward, taken possession of Guatemala, established a mighty empire, and yet have abandoned their language for dialects of the original Maya tongue is in the highest degree improbable. It is safer to suppose that the mass of the Quichés and other nations of Guatemala, Chiapas, and Honduras, were descended directly from the Maya builders of Palenque, and from contemporary peoples. Yet the differences between the Quiché-Cakchiquel structures, and the older architectural remains of the Maya empire indicate a new era of Maya culture, originated not unlikely by the introduction of foreign elements. Moreover, the apparent identity in name and teachings between the early civilizers of the Quiché tradition and the Nahua followers of Quetzalcoatl, together with reported resemblances between actual Quiché and Aztec institutions as observed by Europeans, indicate farther that the new element was engrafted on Maya civilization by contact with the Nahuas, a contact of which the presence of the exiled Toltec nobility may have been a prominent feature. After the overthrow of the original empire we may suppose the people to have been subdivided during the course of centuries by civil wars and sectarian struggles into petty states, the glory of their former greatness vanished and partially forgotten, the spirit of progress dormant, to be roused again by the presence of the Nahua chiefs. These gathered and infused new life into the scattered remnants; they introduced some new institutions, and thus aided the ancient people to rebuild their empire on the old foundations, retaining the dialects of the original language.


In addition to the peoples thus far mentioned, there 123 were undoubtedly in Nicaragua, and probably in Salvador, nations of nearly pure Aztec blood and language. The former are known among different authors as Nicaraguans, Niquirans, or Cholutecs, and they occupied the coast between lake Nicaragua and the ocean, with the lake islands. Their institutions, political and religious, were nearly the same as those of the Aztecs of Anáhuac, and they have left abundant relics in the form of idols and sepulchral deposits, but no architectural remains. These relics are moreover hardly less abundant in the territory of the adjoining tribes, nor do they differ essentially in their nature; hence we must conclude that some other Nicaraguan peoples, either by Aztec or other influence, were considerably advanced in civilization. The Nahua tribes of Salvador, the ancient Cuscatlan, were known as Pipiles, and their culture appears not to have been of a high order. Both of these nations probably owe their existence to a colony sent southward from Anáhuac; but whether in Aztec or pre-Aztec times, the native traditions, like their interpretation by writers on the subject, are inextricably confused and at variance. For further details on the location of Central American nations I refer to the statement of tribal boundaries at the end of Chapter VII., Volume I., of this work.

I here close this general view of the subject, and if it is in some respects unsatisfactory, I cannot believe that a different method of treatment would have rendered it less so. To have gone more into detail would have tended to confuse rather than elucidate the matter in the reader's mind, unless with the support of extensive quotations from ever-conflicting authorities, which would have swollen this general view from a chapter to a volume. As far as antiquity is concerned, the most intricate element of the subject, I shall attempt to present—if I cannot reconcile—all the important variations of opinion in another division of this work. 124

In the treatment of my subject, truth and accuracy are the principal aim, and these are never sacrificed to graphic style or glowing diction. As much of interest is thrown into the recital as the authorities justify, and no more. Often may be seen the more striking characteristics of these nations dashed off with a skill and brilliance equaled only by their distance from the facts; disputed points and unpleasing traits glossed over or thrown aside whenever they interfere with style and effect. It is my sincere desire, above all others, to present these people as they were, not to make them as I would have them, nor to romance at the expense of truth; nevertheless, it is to be hoped that in the truth enough of interest will remain to command the attention of the reader. My treatment of the subject is essentially as follows: The civilized peoples of North America naturally group themselves in two great divisions, which for convenience may be called the Nahuas and the Mayas respectively; the first representing the Aztec civilization of Mexico, and the second the Maya-Quiché civilization of Central America. In describing their manners and customs, five large divisions may be made of each group. The first may be said to include the systems of government, the order of succession, the ceremonies of election, coronation, and anointment, the magnificence, power, and manner of life of their kings; court forms and observances; the royal palaces and gardens. The second comprises the social system; the classes of nobles, gentry, plebeians and slaves; taxation, tenure, and distribution of lands; vassalage and feudal service; the inner life of the people; their family and private relations, such as marriage, divorce, and education of youth; other matters, such as their dress, food, games, feasts and dances, knowledge of medicine, and manner of burial. The third division includes their system of war, their relations with foreign powers, their warriors and orders of knighthood, their treatment of prisoners of war and 125 their weapons. The fourth division embraces their system of trade and commerce, the community of merchants, their sciences, arts, and manufactures. The fifth and last considers their judiciary, law-courts, and legal officials. I append as more appropriately placed here than elsewhere, a note on the etymological meaning and derivation, so far as known, of the names of the Civilized Nations.


Acolhuas;—Possibly from coloa, 'to bend,' meaning with the prefix atl, 'water-colhuas,' or 'people at the bend of the water.' Not from acolli, 'shoulder,' nor from colli, 'grandfather.' Buschmann, Ortsnamen, pp. 85, 89. 'Coloa, encoruar, o entortar algo, o rodear yendo camino.' 'Acolli, ombro.' 'Culhuia, lleuar a otro por rodeos a alguna parte.' Molina, Vocabulario. Colli, 'grand-father,' plural colhuan. Colhuacan, or Culiacan, may then mean 'the land of our ancestors.' Gallatin, in Amer. Ethno. Soc., Transact., vol. i., pp. 204-5. 'El nombre de aculhuas, ó segun la ortografía mexicana, aculhuaque, en plural, y no aculhuacanes, ni aculhues.' Dicc. Univ., tom. i., p. 39. 'Col, chose courbe, faisant coloa, colua, ou culhua, nom appliqué plus tard dans le sens d'ancêtre, parce que du Colhuacan primitif, des îles de la Courbe, vinrent les émigrés qui civilisèrent les habitants de la vallée d'Anahuac.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Quatre Lettres, p. 407. 'Colhua, ou culhua, culua, de coltic, chose courbée. De là le nom de la cité de Colhuacan, qu'on traduit indifféremment, ville de la courbe, de choses recourbées (des serpents), et aussi des aïeux, de coltzin, aïeul.' Id., Popol Vuh, p. xxix.

Aztecs;—From Aztlan, the name of their ancient home, from a root Aztli, which is lost. It has no connection with azcatl, 'ant,' but may have some reference to iztac, 'white.' Buschmann, Ortsnamen, pp. 5-6. 'De Aztlan se deriva el nacional Aztecatl.' Pimentel, Cuadro, tom. i., p. 158. 'Az, primitif d'azcatl, fourmi, est le mot qui désigne, à la fois, d'une manière générale, la vapeur, le gaz, ou toute chose légère, comme le vent ou la pluie; c'est l'aile, aztli qui désigne aussi la vapeur, c'est le héron dans aztatl. Il se retrouve, avec une légère variante, dans le mot nahuatl composé, tem-az-calli, bain de vapeur, dans ez-tli, le sang ou la lave; dans les vocables quichés atz, bouffée du fumée, épouvantail, feu-follet.... Ainsi les fourmis de la tradition haïtienne, comme de la tradition mexicaine, sont à la fois des images des feux intérieurs de la terre et de leurs exhalaisons, comme du travail des mines et de l'agriculture. Du même primitif az vient Aztlan "le Pays sur ou dans le gaz, az-tan, az-dan, la terre sèche, soulevée par les gaz ou remplie de vapeurs."' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Quatre Lettres, p. 311.

Chalcas;—'Il nome Chalcho vale, Nella gemma. Il P. Acosta dice, che Chalco vuol dire, Nelle bocche.' Clavigero, Storia Ant. del Messico, tom. ii., p. 253. Buschmann believes Acosta's definition 'in the mouths' to be more 126 correct. Ortsnamen, p. 83. 'Chalca, Ce qui est le calcaire; c'est l'examen de tous les vocables mexicains, commençant en chal, qui m'a fait découvrir le sens exact de ce mot; il se trouve surtout dan chal-chi-huitl, le jade, littéralement ce qui est sorti du fond du calcaire.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Quatre Lettres, pp. 403, 406.

Cheles;—'Le Chel dans la langue maya est une espèce d'oiseaux particuliers à cette contrée.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. ii., p. 19.

Chiapanecs;—Chiapan, 'locality of the chia' (oil-seed). Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 187. 'Chiapanèque, du nahuatl chiapanecatl, c'est-à-dire homme de la rivière Chiapan (eau douce), n'est pas le nom véritable de ce peuple; c'est celui que lui donnèrent les Mexicains.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. ii., p. 87.

Chichimecs;—'Chichi, perro, o perra.' Molina, Vocabulario. Chichi, 'dog'; perhaps as inhabitants of Chichimecan, 'place of dogs.' Mecatl may mean 'line,' 'row,' 'race,' and Chichimecatl, therefore 'one of the race of dogs.' Buschmann, Ortsnamen, pp. 79, 81. 'Chichimèque veut dire, à proprement parler, homme sauvage.... Ce mot désigne des hommes qui mangent de la viande crue et sucent le sang des animaux; car chichiliztli veut dire, en mexicain, sucer; chichinaliztli, la chose que l'on suce, et Chichihualli, mamelle.... Toutes les autres nations les redoutaient et leur donnaient le nom de Suceurs, en mexicain, Chichimecatechinani. ... Les Mexicains nomment aussi les chiens chichime, parce qu'ils lèchent le sang des animaux et le sucent.' Camargo, Hist. Tlaxcallan, in Nouvelles Annales des Voy., 1843, tom. xcviii., p. 140. 'Teuchichimecas, que quiere decir del todo barbados, que por otro nombre se decian Cacachimecas, ó sea hombres silvestres.' Sahagun, Hist. Gen., tom. iii., p. 116. 'Chichimec ou chichimetl, suceur de maguey, et de là les Chichimèques.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. i., pp. 171, 56. Other derivations are from Chichen, a city of Yucatan, and from chichiltic 'red,' referring to the color of all Indians. Id., Popol Vuh, p. lxiii. 'Chi ... selon Vetancourt, c'est une préposition, exprimant ce qui est tout en bas, au plus profond, comme aco signifie ce qui est au plus haut.... Chichi est un petit chien (chi-en), de ceux qu'on appelle de Chihuahua, qui se creusent des tanières souterraines.... Chichi énonce tout ce qui est amer, aigre ou âcre, tout ce qui fait tache: il a le sens de sucer, d'absorber; c'est la salive, c'est le poumon et la mamelle. Si maintenant ... j'ajoute me, primitif de metl, aloès, chose courbée, vous aurez Chichime, choses courbes, tortueuses, suçantes, absorbantes, amères, âcres ou acides, se cachant, comme les petits chiens terriers, sous le sol où elles se concentrent, commes des poumons ou des mamelles.... Or, puisqu'il est acquis, d'après ces peintures et ces explications, que tout cela doit s'appliquer à une puissance tellurique, errante, d'ordinaire, comme les populations nomades, auxquelles on attacha le nom de Chichimeca.' Id., Quatre Lettres, pp. 111-12.

Cholultecs;—From choloa, meaning 'to spring,' 'to run,' 'to flee,' or 'place where water springs up,' 'place of flight,' or 'fugitives.' Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 100. 'C'est du lieu d'où ils étaient sortis primitivement, ou plutôt à cause de leur qualité actuelle d'exilés, qu'ils prirent ensuite le nom 127 de Cholutecas.' 'Cholutecas, mieux Cholultecas, c'est-à-dire, Exilés, et aussi, Habitants de Cholullan.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. ii., p. 79.

Chontales;—'Chontalli, estrangero o forastero.' Molina, Vocabulario; Orozco y Berra, Geografía, p. 21; Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 133; Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. iii., p. 47.

Cocomes;—'Cocom signifie écouteur, croyant.' Landa, Rel. de las Cosas de Yucatan, p. 39. 'Cocom est un nom d'origine nahuatl; il est le pluriel de cohuatl, serpent.... Dans la langue maya, le mot cocom a la signification d'écouteur, celui qui entend; cette étymologie nous paraît plus rationnelle que la première.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. i., p. 78.

Cohuixcas;—Ayala translates the name of their province Cuixca, 'tierra de lagartijas.' Orozco y Berra, Geografía, p. 48.

Cuitlahuacs;—'Cuitlatl, excremento, y genéricamente cosa sucia.' Orozco y Berra, Geografía, p. 47. 'Cuitlahuac, Dans celui qui a les Excréments, de cuitlatl, excrément, déjection de l'homme ou de l'animal, mais que le chroniste mexicain applique ici aux déjections du volcan voisin de la Grande-Base ... de là le nom de teo-cuitlatl, excréments divins, donné aux métaux précieux, l'or avec l'adjectif jaune, l'argent avec l'adjectif blanc.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Quatre Lettres, p. 407. Cuitlatlan, 'locality of dirt.' Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 15. 'Cuitlatl, mierda.' Molina, Vocabulario. The name of the Cuitlatecs seems to have no separate etymological meaning.

Culhuas;—See Acolhuas. The two people are not supposed to have been the same, but it is probable that they are identical in the derivation of their names.

Huastecs;—'Huaxtlan es una palabra mexicana que significa, "donde hay, ó abunda el huaxi," fruto muy conocido en México con el nombre castellanizado de guaje. Compónese aquella palabra de huaxin, perdiendo in por contraccion, muy usada en mexicano al componerse las palabras, y de tlan, partícula que significa "donde hay, ó abunda algo," y que sirve para formar colectivos. De huaxtlan es de donde, segun parece, viene el nombre gentilicio huaxtecatl, que los españoles convirtieron en huaxteca ó huaxteco.' Pimentel, Cuadro, tom. i., pp. 5-6; Buschmann, Ortsnamen, pp. 12-13. 'El que es inhábil ó tosco, le llaman ... cuextecatl.' From the name of their ruler, who took too much wine. 'Así por injuria, y como alocado, le llamaban de Cuextecatl.' Sahagun, Hist. Gen., tom. iii., lib. x., pp. 134-5, 143-4.

Huexotzincas;—Diminutive of huexotla, 'willow-forest.' Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 100.

Itzas;—From the name of Zamná, the first Yucatan civilizer. 'Le llamaban tambien Ytzamná, y le adoraban por Dios.' Cogolludo, Hist. de Yucathan, p. 196. 'Itzmat-ul, que quiere dezir el que recibe y posee la gracia, ó rozio, ó sustancia del cielo.' 'Ytzen caan, ytzen muyal, que era dezir yo soy el rozio ó sustancia del cielo y nubes.' Lizana, in Landa, Rel. de las Cosas de Yucatan, p. 356. 'Suivant Ordoñez, le mot itza est composé de itz, doux, et de hà, eau.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. ii., p. 15.

Malinalcas;—'Malina, nitla, torcer cordel encima del muslo.' 'Malinqui, 128 cosa torcida.' Molina, Vocabulario. 'Malinal est le nom commun de la liane, ou des cordes tordues.' 'Malina, tordre, qui fait malinal, liane ou corde. Ou bien plus littéralement de choses tournées, percée à jour, de mal, primitif de mamali, percer, tarauder, et de nal, de part en part, tout autour.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Quatre Lettres, pp. 407-8.

Mames;—'El verdadero nombre de la lengua y de la tribu es mem, que quiere decir tartamudos porque los pueblos que primero les oyeron hablar, encontraron semejanza entre los tardos para pronunciar, y la manera con que aquellos decian su lengua.' Orozco y Berra, Geografía, p. 24. 'A esta lengua llaman Mame, é indios mames á los de esta sierra, porque ordinariamente hablan y responden con esta palabra man, que quiere decir padre.' Reynoso, in Pimentel, Cuadro, tom. i., pp. 83-4. 'Mem veut dire bègue et muet.' '"Mem", mal à propos défiguré dans Mame par les Espagnols, servit depuis généralement à désigner les nations qui conservèrent leur ancienne langue et demeurèrent plus ou moins indépendantes des envahisseurs étrangers.' Mam 'veut dire ancien, vieillard.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. ii., p. 119. Mam sometimes means grand-son. Id., Popol Vuh, p. 41.

Matlaltzincas;—'El nombre Matlalcincatl, tomóse de Matlatl que es la red con la cual desgranaban el maiz, y hacian otras cosas.... Tambien se llaman Matlatzincas de hondas que se dicen tlematlate, y así Matlatzincas por otra interpretacion quiere decir, honderos ó fondibularios; porque los dichos Matlatzincas cuando muchachos, usaban mucho traer las hondas, y de ordinario las traían consigo, como los Chichimecas sus arcos, y siempre andaban tirando con ellas. Tambien les llamaban del nombre de red por otra razon que és la mas principal, porque cuando à su idolo sacrificaban alguna persona, le echaban dentro en una red, y allí le retorcian y estrujaban con la dicha red, hasta que le hacian echar los intestinos. La causa de llamarse coatl (Ramirez) dice que "debe leerse cuaitl (cabeza). Coatl significa culebra," cuando es uno, y qüaqüatas cuando son muchos és, porque siempre traían la cabeza ceñida con la honda; por lo cual el vocablo se decia qüa por abreviatura, que quiere decir quaitl que es la cabeza, yta que quiere decir tamatlatl (Molina says 'Honda para tirar es tematlatl, tlatematlauiloni') ques es la honda, y así quiere decir quatlatl hombre que trae la honda en la cabeza por guirnalda: tambien se interpreta de otra manera, que quiere decir hombre de cabeza de piedra.' Sahagun, Hist. Gen., tom. iii., lib. x., p. 128, and Orozco y Berra, Geografía, pp. 29-30. 'Matlatzinia, dar palmadas.' 'Matlatepito, red pequeña.' Molina, Vocabulario. From matlatl, 'net', meaning therefore 'small place of nets'. Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 13. 'De Matlatl, le filet, les mailles.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Quatre Lettres, p. 408. 'Matlatzinco es una palabra mexicana que significa "lugarcito de las redes", pues se compone de matlat, red, y la partícula tzinco que expresa diminucion. Fácilmente se comprende, pues, que matlatzinca viene de matlatzinco, y que la etimología exige que estas palabras se escriban con c (mejor k) y no con g como hacen algunos autores', Pimentel, Cuadro, tom. i., p. 500.

Mayas;—'"Mai", une divinité ou un personnage des temps antiques, sans doute celui à l'occasion duquel le pays fut appelé Maya.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, 129 in Landa, Rel. de las Cosas de Yucatan, p. 42. 'Maya ou Maïa, nom antique d'une partie du Yucatan, paraît signifier aussi la terre.' Id., p. lxx. 'Maayhà, non adest aqua, suivant Ordoñez, c'est-à-dire, Terre sans eau.' Id., Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. i., p. 76. The terminations a and o of this name are Spanish. Pimentel, Cuadro, tom. ii., p. 35.

Mizquicas;—'Mizquitl, arbol de goma para tinta.' Molina, Vocabulario. Mizquitl, a tree yielding the pure gum arabic, a species of acacia. Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 104.

Miztecs;—'La palabra mexicana Mixtecatl, es nombre nacional, derivado de mixtlan, lugar de nubes ó nebuloso, compuesto de mixtli, nube, y de la terminacion tlan.' Pimentel, Cuadro, tom. i., p. 39. Mixtlan, 'place of clouds.' Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 18. 'Mixtecapan ... pays des brouillards.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. i., p. 146.

Nahuas;—'Todos los que hablan claro la lengua mexicana que les llaman nahóas, son descendientes de los Tultecas.' Sahagun, Hist. Gen., tom. iii., lib. x., p. 114. 'Nahoatl ó nahuatl, segun el diccionario de Molina, significa cosa que suena bien, de modo que viene à ser un adjetivo que aplicado al sustantivo idioma, creo que puede traducirse por armonioso.' Pimentel, Cuadro, tom. i., p. 158. Something of fine, or clear, or loud sound; nahuatlato means an interpreter; nahuati, to speak loud; nahuatia, to command. The name has no connection whatever with Anáhuac. Buschmann, Ortsnamen, pp. 7-8. 'Molina le traduit par Ladino, instruit, expert, civilisé, et lui donne aussi un sens qui se rapporte aux sciences occultes. On n'en trouve pas, toutefois, la racine dans le mexicain. La langue quichée en donne une explication parfaite: il vient du verbe Nao ou Naw, connaître, sentir, savoir, penser; Tin nao, je sais; Naoh, sagesse, intelligence. Il y a encore le verbe radical Na, sentir, soupçonner. Le mot Nahual dans son sens primitif et véritable, signifie donc littéralement "qui sait tout"; c'est la même chose absolument que le mot anglais Know-all, avec lequel il a tant d'identité. Le Quiché et le Cakchiquel l'emploient fréquemment aussi dans le sens de mystérieux, extraordinaire, merveilleux.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. i., pp. 101-2, 194.

Nonohualcas;—The Tutul-Xius, chiefs of a Nahuatl house in Tulan, seem to have borne the name of Nonoual, which may have given rise to Nonohualco or Onohualco. 'Nonoual ne serait-il pas une altération de Nanaual ou Nanahuatl?' Brasseur de Bourbourg, in Landa, Rel. de las Cosas de Yucatan, p. 420.

Olmecs;—Olmecatl was the name of their first traditionary leader. Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. i., p. 152. Olmecatl may mean an inhabitant of the town of Olman; but as mecatl is also used for 'shoot', 'offspring', 'branch', the word probably comes from olli, and means 'people of the gum'. Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 16.

Otomís;—'El vocablo Otomitl, que es el nombre de los Otomies, tomáronlo de su caudillo, el cual se llamaba Oton.' Sahagun, Hist. Gen., tom. iii., lib. x., p. 122. Not a native word, but Mexican, derived perhaps from otli, 'road', and tomitl, 'animal hair', referring possibly to some peculiar mode of wearing the hair. Buschmann, Ortsnamen, pp. 18-19. 'Otho en la misma lengua othomí quiere decir nada, y mi, quieto, ó sentado, de manera que 130 traducida literalmente la palabra, significa nada-quieto, cuya idea pudiéramos expresar diciendo peregrino ó errante.' Pimentel, Cuadro, tom. i., p. 118; Náxera, Disertacion, p. 4. 'Son étymologie mexicaine, Otomitl, signifie la flèche d'Oton.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. i., p. 158.

Pipiles;—A reduplication of pilli, which has two meanings, 'noble' and 'child', the latter being generally regarded as its meaning in the tribal name. Buschmann, Ortsnamen, pp. 137-8. So called because they spoke the Mexican language with a childish pronunciation. Juarros' Hist. Guat., p. 224.

Pokomams;—'Pokom, dont la racine pok désigne une sorte de tuf blanc et sablonneux.... La termination om est un participe présent. De Pokom vient le nom de Pokomam et de Pokomchi, qui fut donné à ces tribus de la qualité du sol où ils bâtirent leur ville.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. ii., p. 122.

Quichés;—'La palabra quiché, kiché, ó quitze, significa muchos árboles.' Pimentel, Cuadro, tom. ii., p. 124. 'De quï beaucoup, plusieurs, et de che, arbre, ou de queche, quechelah, qechelah, la forêt.' Ximenez, in Brasseur de Bourbourg, Popol Vuh, p. cclxv.

Tarascos;—'Tarasco viene de tarhascue, que en la lengua de Michoacan significa suegro, ó yerno segun dice el P. Lagunas en su Gramática.' Pimentel, Cuadro, tom. i., p. 273. 'Taras en la lengua mexicana se dice Mixcoatl, que era el dios de los Chichimecas.' Sahagun, Hist. Gen., tom. iii., lib. x., p. 138. 'Á quienes dieron el nombre de tarascos, por el sonido que les hacian las partes genitales en los muslos al andar.' Veytia, Hist. Ant. Mej., tom. ii., p. 105; Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. des Nat. Civ., tom. iii., p. 57.

Tepanecs;—Tepan, 'stony place', from tetl, or tecpan, 'royal palace'. Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 92. 'Tecpantlan signifie auprès des palais.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Popol Vuh, p. cx. 'Cailloux roulés sur la roche, te-pa-ne-ca, littéralement ce qui est mêlé ensemble sur la pierre; ou bien te-pan-e-ca, c'est-à-dire avec des petites pierres sur la roche ou le solide, e, pour etl, le haricot, frijol, étant pris souvent dans le sens d'une petite pierre sur une surface, etc.' Id., Quatre Lettres, p. 408.

Tlahuicas;—From tlahuitl, 'cinnabar', from this mineral being plentiful in their country. Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 93. Tlahuilli, 'poudres brillantes.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Quatre Lettres, p. 422. 'Tlauia, alumbrar a otros con candela o hacha.' Molina, Vocabulario.

Tlapanecs;—'Y llámanlos tambien tlapanecas que quiere decir hombres almagrados, porque se embijaban con color.' Sahagun, Hist. Gen., tom. iii., lib. x., p. 135. From tlalpantli, 'ground'; may also come from tlalli, 'land'. Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 162. Tlapallan, 'terre colorée'. Brasseur de Bourbourg, Popol Vuh, p. lxiii. Tla, 'feu'. Id., Quatre Lettres, p. 416. 'Tlapani, quebrarse algo, o el tintorero que tiñe paños.' Molina, Vocabulario. Probably a synonym of Yoppi, q. v. Orozco y Berra, Geografía, pp. 26-7.

Tlascaltecs;—'Tlaxcalli, tortillas de mayz, o pan generalmente.' Molina, Vocabulario. Tlaxcalli, 'place of bread or tortillas', the past participle of ixca, 'to bake or broil'. Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 93. 131

Toltecs;—'Toltecayotl, maestria de arte mecanica. Toltecatl, official de arte mecanica. Toltecauia, fabricar o hazer algo el maestro.' Molina, Vocabulario. 'Los tultecas todos se nombraban chichimecas, y no tenian otro nombre particular sino este que tomaron de la curiosidad, y primor de las obras que hacian, que se llamaron obras tultecas ó sea como si digesemos, oficiales pulidos y curiosos como ahora los de Flandes, y con razon, porque eran sutiles y primorosos en cuanto ellos ponian la mano, que todo era muy bueno.' Sahagun, Hist. Gen., tom. iii., lib. x., p. 107. Toltecs, 'people of Tollan'. Tollan, 'place of willows or reeds', from tolin, 'willow, reed.' Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 76. 'Toltecatl était le titre qu'on donnait à un artiste habile.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. i., p. 194. Tollan: 'Elle est frappante ... par l'identité qu'elle présente avec le nom de Metztli ou le Croissant. En effet, ce qu'elle exprime, d'ordinaire, c'est l'idée d'un "pays recourbé" ou incliné. Sa première syllabe tol, primitif de toloa, "abaxar, inclinar la cabeça," dit Molina, "entortar, encorvar," dit-il ailleurs, signifie donc baisser, incliner la tête, se tortuer, courber, ce qui, avec la particule locale lan pour tlan ou tan, la terre, l'endroit, annonce une terre ou un pays recourbé, sens exact du mot tollan. Du même verbe vient tollin, le jonc, le roseau, dont la tête s'incline au moindre vent; de là, le sens de Jonquière, de limné, que peut prendre tollan, dont le hiéroglyphe représente précisément le son et la chose, et qui paraît exprimer doublement l'idée de cette terre fameuse de la Courbe ou du Croissant, basse et marécageuse en beaucoup d'endroits suivant la tradition.... Dans sa (the word toloa) signification active, Molina le traduit par "tragar", avaler, engloutir, ce qui donne alors pour tollan, le sens de terre engloutie, abîmée, qui, comme vous le voyez, convient on ne peut mieux dans le cas présent. Mais si tollan est la terre engloutie, si c'est en même temps le pays de la Courbe, Metztli ou le Croissant, ces deux noms, remarquez-le, peuvent s'appliquer aussi bien au lieu où il a été englouti, à l'eau qui se courbait le long des rivages du Croissant, soit à l'intérieur des grandes golfes du nord et du midi, soit au rivage convexe, tourné comme le genou de la jambe, vers l'Orient. C'est ainsi qu'on retrouve l'identification continuelle de l'idée mâle avec l'idée femelle, du contenu et du contenant, de tollan, le pays englouti, avec tollan, l'océan engloutisseur, de l'eau qui est contenue et des continents qui l'enserrent dans leurs limites. Ajoutons, pour compléter cette analyse, que tol, dans la langue quichée, est un verbe, dont tolan est le passé, et qu'ainsi que tulan il signifie l'abandon, la nudité, etc. De tol, faites tor, dans la même langue, et vous aurez avec toran, ce qui est tourné ou retourné, comme en mexicain, de même que dans turn (touran) vous trouverez ce qui a été renversé, bouleversé de fond en comble, noyé sous les eaux, etc. Dans la langue maya, tul signifie remplir, combler, et an, comme en quiché, est le passé du verbe: mais si à tul on ajoute ha ou a, l'eau, nous avons Tuhla ou Tula, rempli, submergé d'eau. En dernière analyse, tol ou tul paraît avoir pour l'origine ol, ul, couler, venir, suivant le quiché encore; primitif d'olli, ou bien d'ulli, en langue nahuatl, la gomme élastique liquide, la boule noire du jeu de paume, qui devient le hiéroglyphe de l'eau, remplissant les deux golfes. Le préfixe t pour ti serait une préposition; faisant to, il signifie l'orbite de l'œil, en quiché, image de l'abîme que la boule noire remplit comme 132 sa prunelle, ce dont vous pouvez vous assurer dans la figure de la page suivante; to est, en outre, l'aide, l'instrument, devenant tool; mais en mexicain, to, primitif de ton, est la chaleur de l'eau bouillante. Tol, contracté de to-ol, pourrait donc avoir signifié "le liquide bouillant", ou la venue de la chaleur bouillante, de l'embrasement. Avec teca, étendre, le mot entier tolteca, nous aurions donc, étendre le courbé, etc., et tol-tecatl, le toltèque, serait ce qui étend le courbé ou l'englouti, on bien l'eau bouillante, etc. Ces étymologies rentrent donc toutes dans la même idée qui, sous bien des rapports, fait des Toltèques, une des puissances telluriques, destructrices de la terre du Croissant.' Id., Quatre Lettres, pp. 118-20.

Totonacs;—From tototl and nacatl, 'bird-flesh'; or from tona, 'to be warm'. Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 13. 'Totonaco significa á la letra, tres corazones en un sentido, y tres panales en otro,' from toto, 'three', and naco, 'heart', in the Totonac language. Dominguez, in Pimentel, Cuadro, tom. i., pp. 226-7. 'Totonal, el signo, en que alguno nasce, o el alma y espiritu.' Molina, Vocabulario.

Tutul-Xius;—'Le nom des Tutul-Xiu paraît d'origine nahuatl; il serait dérivé de totol, tototl, oiseau, et de xíuitl, ou xíhuitl, herbe.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, in Landa, Rel. de las Cosas de Yucatan, p. 47.

Xicalancas;—'Xicalli, vaso de calabaça.' Molina, Vocabulario. Xicalli, 'place of this species of calabash or drinking-shell.' Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 17. 'Xicalanco, la Ville des courges ou des tasses faites de la courge et appelée Xicalli dans ces contrées, et dont les Espagnols ont fait Xicara.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. i., p. 110.

Xochimilcas;—From xochitl, 'flower', and milli, 'piece of land', meaning 'place of flower-fields.' Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 94. 'Xochimicque captiuos en guerra.' Molina, Vocabulario. 'Xochimilca, habitants de Xochimilco, lieu où l'on sème tout en bas de la Base, nom de la terre végétale et fertile où l'on ensemençait, m'il, qu'on retourne, d'où le mot mil ou milli, champ, terre ensemencée, et sans doute aussi le latin milium, notre míl et millet.' 'J'ajouterai seulement que ce nom signifie dans le langage ordinaire, ceux qui cultivent de fleurs, de xochitl, fleur, littéralement, ce qui vit sous la base.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Quatre Lettres, pp. 406-8.

Yoppi;—'Llámanles yopes porque su tierra se llama Yopinzinco.' Sahagun, Hist. Gen., tom. iii., lib. x., p. 135. 'Inferimos ... que yope, yopi, jope, segun se encuentra escrita la palabra en varios lugares, es sinónimo de tlapaneca.' Orozco y Berra, Geografía, pp. 26-7. Yopaa, 'Land of Tombs.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. iii., p. 9.

Zapotecs;—'Tzapotl, cierta fruta conocida.' Molina, Vocabulario. Tzapotlan, 'place of the zapotes, trees or fruits.' Buschmann, Ortsnamen, p. 16. 'Derivado de la palabra mexicana tzapotlan, que significa "lugar de los zapotes", nombre castellanizado de una fruta muy conocida.' Pimentel, Cuadro, tom. i., p. 319. 'Zapotecapan est le nom que les Mexicains avaient donné à cette contrée, à cause de la quantité et de la qualité supérieure de ses fruits.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. iii., p. 38.

Zotziles;—'Zotzil, murciélago.' Pimentel, Cuadro, tom. ii., p. 245. Zotzilha 'signifie la ville des Chauves-Souris.' Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ., tom. ii., p. 88.




System of Government—The Aztec Confederacy—Order of Succession—Election of Kings among the Mexicans—Royal Prerogatives—Government and Laws of Succession among the Toltecs and in Michoacan, Tlascala, Cholula, Huexotzinco, and Oajaca—Magnificence of the Nahua Monarchs—Ceremony of Anointment—Ascent to the Temple—The Holy Unction—Address of the High-Priest to the King—Penance And Fasting in the House called Tlacatecco—Homage of the Nobles—General Rejoicing throughout the Kingdom—Ceremony of Coronation—The Procuring of Sacrifices—Description of the Crown—Coronations, Feasts, and Entertainments—Hospitality Extended to Enemies—Coronation-Speech of Nezahualpilli, King of Tezcuco, to Montezuma II. of Mexico—Oration of a Noble to a Newly Elected King.

The prevailing form of government among the civilized nations of Mexico and Central America was monarchical and nearly absolute, although some of the smaller and less powerful states, as for instance, Tlascala, affected an aristocratic republican system. The three great confederated states of Mexico, Tezcuco, and Tlacopan were each governed by a king, who had supreme authority in his own dominion, and in matters touching it alone. Where, however, the welfare of the whole allied community was involved, no one king could act without the concurrence of the others; nevertheless, the judgment of one who was held to be especially skilful and wise in any question under consideration, 134 was usually deferred to by his colleagues. Thus in matters of war, or foreign relations, the opinion of the king of Mexico had most weight, while in the administration of home government, and in decisions respecting the rights of persons, it was customary during the reigns of the two royal sages of Tezcuco, Nezahualcoyotl and Nezahualpilli, to respect their counsel above all other.[1] The relative importance of these three kingdoms must, however, have shown greater disparity as fresh conquests were made, since in the division of territory acquired by force of arms, Tlacopan received only one fifth, and of the remainder, judging by the relative power and extent of the states when the Spaniards arrived, it is probable that Mexico took the larger share.[2]



In Tezcuco and Tlacopan the order of succession was lineal and hereditary, in Mexico it was collateral and elective. In the two former kingdoms, however, 135 although the sons succeeded their fathers, it was not according to birth, but according to rank; the sons of the queen, or principal wife, who was generally a daughter of the royal house of Mexico, being always preferred to the rest.[3] In Mexico, the eldest surviving brother of the deceased monarch was generally elected to the throne, and when there were no more brothers, then the nephews, commencing with the eldest son of the first brother that had died; but this order was not necessarily observed, since the electors, though restricted in their choice to one family, could set aside the claims of those whom they considered incompetent to reign; and, indeed, it was their particular duty to select from among the relatives of the deceased king the one best fitted to bear the dignity and responsibility of supreme lord.[4] During the early days of the Mexican monarchy 136 the king was elected by vote of the whole people, who were guided in their choice by their leaders; even the women appear to have had a voice in the 137 matter at this period.[5] Afterwards, the duty of electing the king of Mexico devolved upon four or five of the chief men of the empire. The kings of Tezcuco and Tlacopan were also electors, but with merely an honorary rank; they ratified the decision of the others, but probably took no direct part in the election, although their influence and wishes doubtless carried great weight with the council. As soon as the new king had been chosen the body of electors was dissolved, and others were appointed in their place, whose duties also terminated with their first electoral vote.[6]


This plan of election was not without its advantages. As the persons to whom the choice was entrusted were great ministers or lords who lived at court, they had better opportunities of observing the true character of the future candidates for the throne than the common people, who are ever too apt to judge, by pleasing exterior rather than by real merit, those with whose private life they can have no acquaintance. In the next place, the high private rank of the Mexican electors placed them beyond the ordinary influence of bribery or threats; and thus the state was in a measure free from that system of corruption which makes the voice of the people a mockery in more democratic communities, and which would have prevailed to a far greater extent in a country where feudal relations existed between lord and vassal. Then again, the freedom of choice accorded to electors enabled them to prevent imbeciles from assuming the responsibilities of kingship, and thus the most conspicuous evil of an hereditary monarchy was avoided.


The almost absolute authority vested in the person 139 of the sovereign rendered great discrimination necessary in his selection. It was essential that the ruler of a people surrounded by enemies and continually bent upon conquest, should be an approved and valiant warrior; having the personal direction of state affairs, it was necessary that he should be a deep and subtle politician; the gross superstition and theocratic tendencies of the governed required the governor to be versed in religion, holding the gods in reverence; and the records of the nation prove that he was generally a man of culture, and a patron of art and science.

In its first stages the Mexican monarchy partook rather of an aristocratic than of an absolute nature. Though the king was ostensibly the supreme head of the state, he was expected to confer with his council, which was composed of the royal electors, and other exalted personages, before deciding upon any important step;[7] and though the legislative power rested entirely in his hands, the executive government was entrusted to regularly appointed officials and courts of justice. As the empire, owing to the able administration of a succession of conquering princes, increased in greatness, the royal power gradually increased, although I find nothing of constitutional amendments or reconstructions until the time of Montezuma II., when the authority of all tribunals was reduced almost to a dead letter, if opposed to the desires or commands of the king.

The neighboring independent and powerful kingdom 140 of Michoacan was governed by an absolute monarch, who usually resided at his capital, on Lake Patzcuaro. Over each province was placed a governor, chosen from the first ranks of the nobility, who ruled with great if not absolute authority, in the name of the king, and maintained a court that was in almost every respect a miniature of that of his sovereign. The order of succession was hereditary and lineal, the eldest son generally succeeding to the throne. The selection of a successor, however, was left to the reigning king, who, when he felt himself to be near his end, was at liberty to choose from among his sons the one whom he thought best fitted to govern. In order to test his capability and accustom him to handling the reigns of government, and that he might have the old monarch's advice, the chosen heir immediately began to exercise the functions of king. A custom similar to this existed among the ancient Toltecs. Their kings were only permitted to reign for a xiuhmolpilli, that is to say an 'age,' which was fifty-two years, after which time the eldest son was invested with royal authority and commenced to reign.[8] When the old Michoacan monarch fell sick, the son who had been nominated as his successor immediately dispatched messengers to all the grandees of the kingdom, with orders to repair immediately to the capital. None was exempt from being present, and a failure to comply with the summons was held to be lèse-majesté. Having assembled at the palace, if the invalid is able to receive them, the nobles pass one by one through his chamber and with words of condolence and encouragement seek to comfort him. Before leaving the palace each mourner deposits in the throne-room certain presents, brought for the occasion as a more substantial testimonial of his sorrow. If, however, the physicians pronounce the royal patient beyond hope of recovery, no one is allowed to see him.[9]




He who reads the romantic story of the conquest, feels his heart warm towards that staunch little nation of warriors, the Tlascaltecs. There is that about the men who ate their meat saltless for fifty years rather than humble themselves before the mighty despots of Mexico, that savors of the same material that defied the Persian host at Thermopylæ. Had the Tlascaltecs steadily opposed the Spaniards, Cortés never could have gone forward to look upon the face of King Montezuma, nor backward to King Charles as the conqueror of New Spain; the warriors who routed their allied enemies on the bloody plains of Poyauhtlan, assuredly could have offered the hearts of the invaders an acceptable sacrifice to the gods of Tlascala. The state of Tlascala, though invariably spoken of as a republic, was certainly not so in the modern acceptation of the term. At the time of the conquest it was governed by four supreme lords, each independent in his own territory, and possessed of equal authority with the others in matters concerning the welfare of all.[10] A parliament or senate, composed of these four lords and the rest of the nobility, settled the affairs of government, especially those relating to peace and war. The law of succession was much the same as in Michoacan. The chief before his death named the son whom he wished to succeed him, who, however, did not, as in Michoacan, commence to govern until after his father's death. The old chief's choice was restricted in two ways: in the first place the approval of his three colleagues was necessary; 142 and secondly, legitimate sons, that is the sons of a wife to whom he had been united according to certain forms, must take precedence of his other children. In default of sons, the brothers of the deceased chief succeeded.[11] In any event the property of the late ruler was inherited by his brothers, who also, according to a custom which we shall find to be almost universal among the civilized peoples of the New World, married his widows.[12] Such information as I find upon the subject ascribes the same form of government to Cholula and Huexotzinco, that was found in Tlascala.[13] The Miztecs and Zapotecs acknowledged one supreme chief or king; the law of inheritance with them was similar to that of Tlascala, except that in default of sons a daughter could inherit.[14] The Zapotecs appear, at least in the more ancient times, to have been, if possible, even more priest-ridden than their neighbors; the orders of priests existing among them were, as will be seen elsewhere, numerous, and seem to have possessed great power, secular as well as sacerdotal. Yopaa, one of their principal cities, was ruled absolutely by a pontiff, in whom the Zapotec monarchs had a powerful rival. It is impossible to overrate the reverence in which this spiritual king was held. He was looked upon as a god, whom the earth was not worthy to hold, nor the sun to shine upon. He profaned his sanctity if he so much as touched the ground with his foot. The officers who bore his palanquin upon their shoulders were members of the first Zapotec families; he scarcely deigned to look upon anything about him. He never appeared in public, except with the most extraordinary pomp, 143 and all who met him fell with their faces to the ground, fearing that death would overtake them were they to look upon the face of the holy Wiyatao, as he was called. The most powerful lords never entered his presence except with eyes lowered and feet bared, and even the Zapotec princes of the blood must occupy a seat before him lower than his own. Continence was strictly imposed upon the Zapotec priests, and especially was it incumbent upon the pontiff of Yopaa, from the eminence of his position, to be a shining light of chastity for the guidance of those who looked up to him; yet was the pontifical dignity hereditary in the family of the Wiyatao. The way in which this paradox is explained is as follows: on certain days in each year, which were generally celebrated with feasts and dances, it was customary for the high-priest to become drunk. While in this state, seeming to belong neither to heaven nor to earth, one of the most beautiful of the virgins consecrated to the service of the gods was brought to him. If the result of this holy debauch proved to be a male infant, the child was brought up with great care as a prince of the royal family. The eldest son of the reigning pontiff inherited the throne of Yopaa, or in default of children, the high-priest's nearest relative succeeded. The younger children devoted themselves to the service of the gods, or married and remained laymen, according to their inclination or the paternal wish; in either case the most honorable and important positions usually fell to their lot.[15]

The pomp and circumstance which surrounded the Aztec monarchs, and the magnificence of their every-day life was most impressive. From the moment of his coronation the Aztec sovereign lived in an atmosphere of adulation unknown to the mightiest potentate of the old world. Reverenced as a god, the 144 haughtiest nobles, sovereigns in their own land, humbled themselves before him; absolute in power, the fate of thousands depended upon a gesture of his hand.


The ceremony of anointment, which preceded and was entirely distinct from that of coronation, was an occasion of much display. In Mexico, as soon as the new king was elected, which was immediately after the funeral of his predecessor, the kings of Tezcuco and Tlacopan were sent for to be present at the ceremony of anointment; all the great feudatory lords, who had been present at the funeral of the late king, were also invited to attend. When all are assembled the procession sets out for the temple of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war. The kings of Tezcuco and Tlacopan, surrounded by all the most powerful nobles of the realm, bearing their ensigns and insignia of rank, lead the van. Next comes the king elect, naked, excepting only the maxtli, or cloth about the loins; following these are the lesser nobles, and after them the common people. Silently the procession wends its way along the streets; no beat of drum nor shout of people is heard above the tramping. The road in advance is as free from obstruction as a corridor in the royal palace; no one moves among the multitude that string along its edges, but all stand with bended head and eyes downcast until the solemn pageant has passed, when they close in with the jostling and whispering crowd that follows. Arrived at the temple the king and that part of the procession which precedes him ascend to the summit. During the ascent he is supported on either side by a great lord, and such aid is not superfluous, for the staircases, having in all one hundred and fourteen steps, each a foot high, are so arranged that it is necessary to go completely round the building several times before reaching the top. On the summit the king is met by the high-priest and his colleagues, the people meanwhile waiting below. His first action upon reaching 145 the summit is to pay reverence to the image of the god of battles by touching the earth with his hand and then carrying it to his mouth. The high-priest now anoints the king throughout his entire body with a certain black ointment, and sprinkles him with water which has been blessed at the grand feast of Huitzilopochtli, using for this purpose branches of cedar and willow and leaves of maize;[16] at the same time he addresses a few words of counsel to him. The newly anointed monarch is next clothed with a mantle, on which are represented skulls and bones, to remind him, we are told, that even kings are mortal; his head is covered with two cloths, or veils, one blue and the other black, and decorated in a similar manner; about his neck is tied a small gourd, containing a certain powder, which is esteemed a strong preservative against disease, sorcery, and treason. A censer containing live coals is put into his right hand, and into his left a bag of copal, and thus accoutred and provided he proceeds to incense the god Huitzilopochtli.[17] This act of worship he performs 146 on his knees, amid the cheers of the people below, and the playing of musical instruments. He has concluded now, and the high-priest again addresses a short speech to him. Consider well, Sire, he says, the great honor which your subjects have conferred upon you, and remember now that you are king, that it is your duty to watch over your people with great care, to look upon them as your children, to preserve them from suffering, and to protect the weak from the oppression of the strong. Behold before you the chiefs of your kingdom together with all your subjects, to whom you are both father and mother, for it is to you they turn for protection. It is now your place to command and to govern, and most especially is it your duty to bestow great attention upon all matters relating to war, to search out and punish criminals without regard to rank, to put down rebellion, and to chastise the seditious. Let not the strength of religion decline during your reign, see that the temples are well cared for, let there be ever an abundance of victims for sacrifice, and so will you prosper in all your undertakings and be beloved of the gods. Gomara affirms that the high-priest imposed an oath upon the king that during his reign he would maintain the religion of his ancestors, and observe their laws; that he would give offence to none, and be valiant in war; that he would make the sun to shine, the clouds to give rain, the rivers to flow, and the earth to bring forth fruits in abundance.[18] The allied kings and the nobles next address him to the same purpose; to which the king answers with thanks and promises to exert himself to the utmost of his power for the happiness of the state.

The speeches being ended the procession again winds round the temple until, following terrace after terrace, it finally reaches the ground in the same order that it went up. The king now receives homage and gifts 147 from the rest of the nobility, amidst the loud acclaims of the people. He is next conducted to a temple called Tlacatecco, where during four days he remains alone, doing penance and eating but once a day, with the liberty, however, of choosing his own food. Twice in each twenty-four hours he bathes, once at noon and once at midnight, and after each bath he draws blood from his ears and offers it, together with some burnt copal, to Huitzilopochtli. The remainder of his time during these four days he occupies in praying the gods to endow him with the wisdom and prudence necessary to the ruler of a mighty kingdom. On the fifth day he is conducted in state to the royal palace, where the feudatory lords come to renew the investiture of their feifs. Then follow great public rejoicings, with games, feasts, dances, and illuminations.


The coronation was, as I have stated, a ceremony distinct from the anointment. To prepare for it, it was necessary that the newly elected king should go out to war, to procure victims for the sacrifices necessary on such an occasion. They were never without enemies upon whom war might be made; either some province of the kingdom had rebelled, or Mexican merchants had been unjustly put to death, or insult had been offered to the royal ambassadors, or, if none of these excuses was at hand, the importance of the occasion alone rendered war justifiable. Of the manner in which war was waged, and of the triumphal return of the victorious army, I shall speak in another place. It appears that when a king of Mexico was crowned, the diadem was placed upon his head by the king of Tezcuco. The crown, which was called by the Mexicans copilli, was in shape like a small mitre, the fore part of which stood erect and terminated in a point, while the hinder part hung down over the neck. It was composed of different materials, according to the pleasure of the wearer; sometimes it was of thin plates of gold, sometimes it was woven of golden thread 148 and adorned with beautiful feathers.[19] Accounts of the particular ceremonies used at the coronation are wanting, but all agree that they were of unparalleled splendor. The new king entertained most sumptuously at his own palace all the great nobles of his realm; honors were conferred with a lavish hand, and gifts were made in profusion both by and to the king. Splendid banquets were given in which all the nobility of the kingdom participated, and the lower classes were feasted and entertained with the greatest liberality. The fondness of the Aztecs for all kinds of public games and festivals is evidenced in the frequency of their feasts, and in no way could a newly elected monarch better secure a place in the affections of his subjects than by inaugurating his reign with a series of splendid entertainments. The strange fascination which this species of enjoyment possessed for them is shown by the fact that strangers and foreigners came from afar to witness the coronation feasts, and it is related that members of hostile nations were frequently discovered disguised among the crowd, and were not only allowed by the clemency of the king to pass unmolested, but were provided with seats, from which they could obtain a good view of the proceedings and where they would be secure from insult.[20] One of the principal 149 features of the day was the congratulatory speech of one monarch to another, which was courteous and flattering and filled with good advice; the following address of Nezahualpilli, king of Tezcuco, to Montezuma II., on the occasion of the accession of the latter to the throne of Mexico, will illustrate.


The great good fortune, most mighty lord, which has befallen this kingdom in deserving thee for its monarch, is plainly shown by the unanimity with which thou wast elected, and by the general rejoicing of thy people thereat. And they have reason to rejoice; for so great is the Mexican empire that none possessed of less wisdom, prudence, and courage, than thou, were fit to govern it. Truly is this people beloved of the gods, in that they have given it light to choose that which is best; for who can doubt that a prince who, before he came to the throne, made the nine heavens his study,[21] will, now that he is king, obtain the good things of the earth for his people? 150 Who can doubt that his well-tried courage will be even greater now that it is so much needed? Who can believe that so mighty and powerful a prince will be found wanting in charity toward the orphan and the widow? Who can doubt that the Mexican people are favored of the gods, in having for a king one to whom the great Creator has imparted so much of his own glory that by simply looking upon his face we are made to partake of that glory? Rejoice, O happy land! for the gods have given thee a prince who will be a firm pillar for thy support, a father and a refuge for thy succor, a more than brother in pity and mercy toward his people. Verily thou hast a king who will not avail himself of his high place to give himself up to sloth and pleasure, but who, rather, will lie sleepless through the night, pondering thy welfare. Tell me, then, most fortunate land, have I not reason for saying, Rejoice and be happy! And thou most noble and puissant lord, be of good heart, for as the high gods have appointed thee to this office, so will they grant thee strength to fill it; and be well assured that the gods who have been so gracious to thee during these many years, will not now fail in their goodness; by them hast thou been raised to thy present exalted position; we pray that with their help thou mayest continue to hold it during many happy years to come.[22]

It is probable that the orations used upon those occasions by the Aztecs were, like their prayers, not spoken ex tempore, nor even prepared beforehand by the speaker; most likely they were in the form of a fixed ritual, each being prepared to suit a special occasion, such as the coronation or burial of a monarch, and repeated as often as such an occasion occurred. Some orations must be delivered by particular persons; others needed only an eloquent speaker. Sahagun gives us a speech which was addressed to a newly elected king. It could be delivered, he says, 151 by one of the high-priests, or by a noble noted for his eloquence, or by some delegate from the provinces who was an eloquent speaker, or possibly by some learned senator, or other person well versed in the art of speech-making. The language is constrained and quaint, and possibly tiresome, but as a specimen of Aztec oratory I give it in full, adhering to the sense, and as clearly as possible to the words of the original:

O king, most pitiful, most devout, and best beloved, more worthy to be esteemed than precious stones or choice feathers, thou art here by the will of the Lord our God, who has appointed thee to rule over us in the place of the kings thy ancestors, who, dying, have let fall from their shoulders the burden of government under which they labored, even as one who toils up a hill heavy-laden. Perchance these dead ones still remember and care for the land which they governed, now, by the will of God, a desert, in darkness, and desolate without a king; peradventure they look with pity upon their country, which is become a place of briars and barren, and upon their poor people who are orphans, fatherless and motherless, knowing not nor understanding those things which are best; who are unable to speak for dumbness, who are as a body without a head. He who has lately left us was strong and valorous: for a few short days he was lent to us, then like a vision he slipped from our midst, and his passing was as a dream, for the Lord our God hath called him to rest with the dead kings, his ancestors, who are to-day in a manner shut from our sight in a coffer. Thus was he gathered to his people, and is even now with our father and mother, the God of Hell, who is called Mictlantecutli. Will he, peradventure, return from the place to which he is gone? May it not be that he will come back to us? Gone is he forever, and his kingdom has lost him. Never again, through all coming time, may we see his face, nor those who come after us. He is gone from our sight forever. Our light is put out; we, whom he 152 illumined, whom he carried, as it were, upon his shoulders, are abandoned, and in darkness, and in great peril of destruction. Behold he has left his people and the throne and seat whereon our Lord God placed him, and which he made it his constant aim to hold in peace and quietness. He did not cover his hands and feet with his mantle for laziness, but with diligence did he work for the good of his people. In thee, O most compassionate king, we have a great solace and joy; in thee hath the Lord God given us a sun-like glory and splendor. God points at thee with his finger, he hath written down thy name in red letters. It is fixed above and below, in heaven and in hell, that thou shalt be king and possess the throne and seat and dignity of this kingdom, the root of which was deep planted long ago by thine ancestors, they themselves being its first branches. To thee, Sire, is entrusted the care of the seignory. Thou art the successor of the lords, thy predecessors, and must bear the burden they bore; upon thy back must thou place the load of this kingdom; to the strength of thy thighs and thine arms does the Lord God entrust the government of the common people, who are capricious and hard to please. For many years must thou support and amuse them as though they were young children; during all thy life must thou dandle them in thine arms, nurse them on thy lap and soothe them to sleep with a lullaby. O, our lord, most serene and estimable, this thing was determined in heaven and in hell; this matter was considered and thou wast signaled out, upon thee fell the choice of the Lord our God. Was it possible that thou couldst hide thyself or escape this decision? In what esteem dost thou hold the Lord God? With what respect dost thou consider the kings and great nobles who have been inspired by God to choose thee for our father and mother, whose election is divine and irrevocable?

This being so, O our lord, see that thou girdest thyself for thy task, that thou puttest thy shoulder to the 153 burden which has been imposed upon thee. Let the will of God be obeyed. Perchance thou wilt carry this load for a space, or it may be that death will cut thee off, and thy election be as a dream. Take heed, therefore, that thou art not ungrateful, setting small store by the benefits of God. Be assured that he sees all secret things, and that he will afflict thee in such manner as may seem good to him. Peradventure he will send thee into the mountains and waste places, or he will cast thee upon dirt and filthiness, or some fearful and ugly thing will happen to thee; perchance thou shalt be defamed and covered with shame, or discord and revolt shall arise in thy kingdom, so that thou shalt fall into contempt and be cast down; perhaps other kings, thine enemies, may rise up against thee and conquer thee; or possibly the Lord may suffer famine and want to desolate thy kingdom. What wilt thou do if in thy time thy kingdom should be destroyed, and the wrath of our God should visit thee in a pestilence? Or if the light of thy splendor should be turned into utter darkness, and thy dominions laid waste? Or if death should come upon thee while thou art yet young, or the Lord God should set his foot upon thee before thou hast fully gathered up the reins of government? What wilt thou do if God on a sudden should send forth armies of enemies against thee, from the wilderness or from the sea, from the waste and barren places where men wage war and shed blood that the thirst of the sun and the earth may be slaked? Manifold are the punishments of God for those that offend him. Wherefore, O our king, it behoves thee with all thy strength to do that which is right in the fulfilment of thine office, taking care that this be done with tears and sighs, and continual prayer to the Lord our God, the invisible, the impalpable. Draw near to him, Sire, weeping, and in all sincerity, that he may help thee to govern in peace. Beware that thou receivest with kindness and humility those that approach thee in 154 grief and despair. Neither speak nor act rashly, but hear calmly and to the end all complaints brought before thee; do not harshly interrupt the words of the speaker, for thou art the image of the Lord God, in thee is represented his person, thou art his reliance, with thy mouth he speaks, with thine ear he listens. Be no respecter of persons, Sire, but punish all alike, and justly, for thou hast thy power of God, thy right hand to punish is as the claws and teeth of God, for thou art his judge and executioner. Do justice, therefore, heeding the wrath of none; this is the command of God, who hath given the doing of these things into thine hand. Take care that in the high places of the lords and judges there be nothing done snatchingly nor in haste, that there be no hot words nor deeds done in anger. Say not now in thine heart, I am the lord, my will is law, but rather let this be an occasion for the humbling of thy valor and the lowering of thy self-esteem. Look to it that thy new dignities be not the means of puffing thee up with pride and haughtiness, but in place thereof ponder often on thy former lowly estate, from which, without desert, thou wast taken and placed where thou now art. Say to thine heart, Who was I? Who am I? Not by mine own deserts did I attain this high place, but by the will of God; verily all this is a dream, and not sober truth. Be watchful, Sire, that thou dost not rest free from care, that thou dost not grow heedless with pleasure, and become a glutton and wine-bibber, spending in feasting and drunkenness that which is earned by the sweat of thy subjects; let not the graciousness which God has shown in electing thee king, be repaid with profanity, folly, and disturbances.

O King and grandchild of ours, God watches over those that govern his kingdoms, and when they do wrong he laughs at them; he mocks and is silent; for he is the Lord our God, he does what he pleases, he scoffs at whom he pleases; we are the work of his hand, in the hollow of his palm he tosses us to and fro 155 even as balls and playthings, he makes a mockery of us as we stumble and fall, he uses us for his ends as we roll from side to side. Strive hard, O king, to do what thou hast to do little by little. Perchance the number of our sins has rendered us unworthy, and thy election will be to us a vision that passes; or perchance it may be the will of the Lord that thou possess the royal dignity for a time; perchance he will prove thee, and put thee to the test, and, if thou art found wanting will set up another in thy place. Are not the friends of the Lord great in number? Art thou the only one whom he holds dear? Many are the friends of the Lord; many are those that call upon him; many are those that lift up their voices before him; many are those that weep before him; many are those that tearfully pray to him; many are those that sigh in his presence; verily all these are uncountable. There are many generous and prudent men of great ability and power, who pray to the Lord and cry aloud to him; behold, therefore, there are not lacking others beside thyself on whom to confer the dignity of king. Peradventure as a thing that endures not, as a thing seen in sleep, the Lord gives thee this great honor and glory; peradventure he gives thee to smell of his tender sweetness, and passes it quickly over thy lips. O king, most fortunate, bow down and humble thyself; weep with sadness and sigh; pray fervently and do the will of the Lord by night as well as by day, during the time he sees fit to spare thee. Act thy part with calmness, continually praying on thy throne with kindness and softness. Take heed that thou givest none cause for pain or weariness or sorrow, that thou settest thy foot upon none, that thou frightest none with angry words or fierce looks. Refrain also, O our king, from all lewd jests and converse, lest thou bring thy person into contempt; levity and buffoonery are not fit for one of thy dignity. Incline not thine ear to ribaldry, even though it come from a near relative, for though as a man thou art mortal, yet in respect 156 to thine office thou art as God. Though thou art our fellow-creature and friend, our son and our brother, yet are we not thine equals, nor do we look upon thee as a man, in that thou now art the image of the Lord God; he it is that speaks within thee, instructing us and making himself heard through thy lips; thy mouth is his mouth, thy tongue is his tongue, thy face is his face. Already he has graced thee with his authority, he has given thee teeth and claws that thou mayest be feared and respected. See to it, Sire, that thy former levity be now laid aside, that thou take to thyself the heart of an old man, of one who is austere and grave. Look closely to thine honor, to the decency of thy person, and the majesty of thine office; let thy words be few and serious, for thou art now another being. Behold the place on which thou standest is exceeding high, and the fall therefrom is perilous. Consider that thou goest on a lofty ridge and upon a narrow path having a fearful depth sheer down on either side, so that it is impossible to swerve to the right or to the left without falling headlong into the abyss. It also behoves thee, Sire, to guard thyself against being cross-grained and fierce and dreaded as a wild beast by all. Combine moderation with rigor, inclining rather to mercy than to pitilessness. Never show all thy teeth nor put forth the full length of thy claws. Never appear startled or in fear, harsh or dangerous; conceal thy teeth and claws; assemble thy chief men together, make thyself acceptable to them with gifts and kind words. Provide also for the entertainment of the common people according to their quality and rank; adapt thyself to the different classes of the people and ingratiate thyself with them. Have a care and concern thyself about the dances, and about the ornaments and instruments used at them, for they are the means of infusing a warlike spirit into men. Gladden the hearts of the common people with games and amusements, for thus wilt thou become famous and be beloved, and even after death 157 thy fame will live and the old men and women who knew thee will shed tears of sorrow for thine absence. O most fortunate and happy king, most precious treasure, bear in mind that thou goest by a craggy and dangerous road, whereon thou must step with firmness, for in the path of kings and princes there are many yawning gulfs, and slippery places, and steep, pathless slopes, where the matted thorn-bushes and long grass hide pitfalls having pointed stakes set upright in them. Wherefore it behoves thee to call upon thy God with moanings and lamentations, to watch constantly, and to shun the harlot, who is a curse and a sickness to man. Sleep not lightly in thy bed, Sire, but rather lie and ponder the affairs of thy kingdom; even in thy slumbers let thy dreams be of the good things in thy charge, that thou mayest know how best to distribute them among thy lords and courtiers, for there are many who envy the king, and would fain eat as he eats and drink as he drinks, wherefore is it said that kings 'eat the bread of grief.' Think not, Sire, that the royal throne is a soft and pleasant seat, for there is nothing but trouble and penitence. O blessed and most precious king, it is not my wish to cause pain to thine heart nor to excite thy wrath and indignation; it is sufficient for me that I have many times stumbled and slipped, aye, and have even fallen, during this discourse of mine; enough for me are the faults of the speech which I have spoken, going, in a manner, with jumps like a frog before our Lord God, the invisible, the impalpable, who is here and listening to us, who has heard distinctly the slightest of the words which I have spoken stammeringly and with hesitation, in bad order and with unapt gestures; but in doing this I have complied with the custom which obliges the aged men of the state to address a newly elected king. In like manner have I done my duty to our God who hears me, to whom I make an offering of this my speech. Long mayest thou live and reign, O lord and king. I have spoken.




Extent and Interior of the Great Palace in Mexico—The Palace of Nezahualcoyotl, King of Tezcuco—The Zoölogical Collections of the Nahua Monarchs—Montezuma's Oratory—Royal Gardens and Pleasure-Grounds—The Hill of Chapultepec—Nezahualcoyotl's Country Residence at Tezcozinco—Toltec Palaces—the Royal Guard—The King's Meals—An Aztec Cuisine—The Audience Chamber—After-dinner Amusements—The Royal Wardrobe—The King Among his People—Meeting of Montezuma II. and Cortés—the King's Harem—Revenues of the Royal Household—Policy of Aztec Kings.


In the preceding chapter we have seen how the monarchs were chosen, and anointed, and crowned, and feasted, and lectured; now let us follow them to their homes. And here I must confess I am somewhat staggered by the recitals. It is written that as soon as the new king was formally invested with the right of sovereignty, he took possession of the royal palaces and gardens, and that these abodes of royalty were on a scale of magnificence almost unparalleled in the annals of nations. How far we may rely on these accounts it is difficult to say; how we are to determine disputed questions is yet more difficult. In the testimony before us, there are two classes of evidence: one having as its base selfishness, superstition, and patriotism; the other disaffection, jealousy, and hatred. Between these contending evils, fortunately, we may 159 at least approximate to the truth. To illustrate: there can be no doubt that much concerning the Aztec civilization has been greatly exaggerated by the old Spanish writers, and for obvious reasons. It was manifestly to the advantage of some, both priests and adventurers, to magnify the power and consequence of the people conquered, and the cities demolished by them, knowing full well that tales of mighty realms, with countless man-eaters and fabulous riches, would soonest rouse the zeal and cupidity of the Spaniards, and best secure to them both honors and supplies. Gathered from the lips of illiterate soldiers little prone to diminish the glory of their achievements in the narration, or from the manuscripts of native historians whose patriotic statements regarding rival states no longer in existence could with difficulty be disproved, these accounts passed into the hands of credulous writers of fertile imagination, who drank in with avidity the marvels that were told them, and wrote them down with superhuman discrimination—with a discrimination which made every so-called fact tally with the writings of the Fathers. These writers possessed in an eminent degree the faculty called by latter-day scholars the imaginative in history-writing. Whatever was told them that was contrary to tradition was certainly erroneous, a snare of the devil; if any facts were wanting in the direction pointed out by doctrines or dogmas, it was their righteous duty to fill them in. Thus it was in certain instances. But to the truth of the greater part of these relations, testimony is borne by the unanimity of the authors, though this is partly owing to their copying each from the writings of the others, and, more conclusively, by the architectural remains which survived the attacks of the iconoclastic conquerors, and the golden and bejeweled ornaments of such exquisite workmanship as to equal if not surpass anything of the kind in Europe, which ornaments were sent to Spain as proofs of the richness of the country. At this distance of time it 160 is impossible to draw a definite line between the true and the false; nor do I feel it my duty to dogmatize in these matters, but rather to tell the tale as I find it, at the same time laying every shade of evidence before the reader.


The principal palace in the city of Mexico was an irregular pile of low buildings, enormous in extent, constructed of huge blocks of tetzontli, a kind of porous stone common to that country, cemented with mortar. The arrangement of the buildings was such that they enclosed three great plazas or public squares, in one of which a beautiful fountain incessantly played. Twenty great doors opened on the squares, and on the streets, and over these was sculptured in stone the coat of arms of the kings of Mexico,—an eagle gripping in his talons a jaguar.[23] In the interior were many halls, each of immense size, and one in particular is said by a writer who accompanied Cortés, known as the Anonymous Conqueror, to have been of sufficient extent to contain three thousand men; while upon the terrace that formed its roof thirty men on horseback could have gone through the spear exercise.[24] In addition to these there were more than one hundred smaller rooms, and the same number of marble baths, which together with the fountains, ponds, and basins in the gardens, were supplied with water from the neighboring hill of Chapultepec. There were also splendid suites of apartments retained for the use of the kings of Tezcuco and Tlacopan, and their attendants, when they visited Mexico, 161 and for the ministers and counselors, and the great lords and their suites, who constantly resided at the capital. Besides these, the private attendants of the king—and their name was legion—had to be provided for; so that when we consider the other extensive buildings, such as the harem, in which, according to some authorities, were nearly three thousand women; the armory, the granaries, storehouses, menageries, and aviaries, which either formed part or were in the immediate vicinity of the palace buildings, we are prepared somewhat to credit the Anonymous Conqueror aforesaid when he affirms that, although he four times wandered about the palace until he was tired, with no other purpose than to view its interior, yet he never succeeded in seeing the whole of it.[25] The walls and floors of halls and apartments were many of them faced with polished slabs of marble, porphyry, jasper, obsidian, and white tecali;[26] lofty columns of the same fine stones supported marble balconies and porticoes, every niche and corner of which was filled with wondrous ornamental carving, or held a grinning grotesquely sculptured head. The beams and casings were of cedar, cypress, and other valuable woods, profusely carved and put together without nails. The roofs of the palace buildings formed a suite of immense terraces, from which a magnificent view of the whole city could be obtained. Superb mats of most exquisite finish were spread upon the marble floors; the tapestry that draped the walls and the curtains that hung before the windows were made of a fabric most wonderful for its delicate texture, elegant designs and brilliant colors; through the halls and corridors a thousand golden censers, in which burned precious spices and perfumes, diffused a subtle odor.[27]


The palace built by Nezahualcoyotl, king of Tezcuco, even surpassed that of Montezuma in many respects. The Tezcucan historian, Ixtlilxochitl, has given a full description of it, which I partially translate. The collection of buildings, which composed not only the royal residence, but also the public offices and courts of law, extended from east to west twelve hundred and thirty-four and a half yards, and from north to south, nine hundred and seventy-eight yards. These were encompassed by a wall made of adobes strongly cemented together, and standing on a foundation of very hard mortar, six feet in width at the base. On its southern and eastern sides the wall was three times a man's stature in height; on the western side, towards the lake, and on the northern side it rose to the height of five times a man's stature.[28] For one third of the distance from the base to the top, the wall grew gradually thinner, while the remainder was of one thickness.[29] Within this inclosure were the royal dwelling, the council-chambers, and other halls and apartments. There were also two large plazas, the outer one of which served as the public market-place. The inner court-yard was surrounded by the various courts of justice, and other halls where matters relative to science, art, and the army were judicially and otherwise considered, all of which will be described in their place, and also a hall where the archives of the kingdom were preserved. In the centre of the court-yard, which was also used as a market-place, was a tennis-court; on the west side were the apartments of the king, more than three hundred in number, all admirably arranged; here 163 were also storehouses for tribute, and splendid suites of apartments reserved for the use of the kings of Mexico and Tlacopan when they visited Tezcuco. These apartments led into the royal pleasure-gardens, which were artistically laid out with labyrinthian walks winding through the dark foliage, where often the uninitiated would lose themselves; then there were sparkling fountains, and inviting baths, and shady groves of cedar and cypress, and ponds well stocked with fish, and aviaries filled with birds of every hue and species, besides extensive menageries.[30] The city of Mexico, however, furnished the largest collection of animals, or at all events it is more fully described by the conquerors than others. The Aztec monarchs took special pleasure in maintaining zoölogical collections on an immense scale, which fancy was probably more fully indulged by Montezuma II. than by any other. That prince caused to be erected in the city of Mexico an immense edifice, surrounded by extensive gardens, which was used for no other purpose than to keep and display all kinds of birds and beasts.


One portion of this building consisted of a large open court, paved with stones of different colors, and divided into several compartments, in which were kept wild beasts, birds of prey, and reptiles. The larger animals were confined in low wooden cages made of massive beams. They were fed upon the intestines of human sacrifices, and upon deer, rabbits, and other animals. The birds of prey were distributed according to their species, in subterranean chambers, which were more than seven feet deep, and upwards of seventeen feet in length and breadth. Half of each chamber was roofed with slabs of stone, under which perches were fixed in the wall, where the birds might sleep and be protected from the rain; the other half was covered only with a wooden grating, which 164 admitted air and sunlight. Five hundred turkeys were daily killed for food for these birds. Alligators were kept in ponds walled round to prevent their escape, and serpents in long cages or vessels, large enough to allow them to move about freely. These reptiles were also fed on human blood and intestines. Mr Prescott tells us that the whole of this menagerie "was placed under the charge of numerous keepers, who acquainted themselves with the habits of their prisoners, and provided for their comfort and cleanliness."

Thomas Gage, the shrewd old English heretic, takes another view. In his quaint though free and slashing style he writes: "But what was wonderful to behold, horrid to see, hideous to hear in this house, was the Officers' daily occupations about these beasts, the floor with blood like a gelly, stinking like a slaughter-house, and the roaring of the Lions, the fearful hissing of the Snakes and Adders, the doleful howling and barking of the Wolves, the sorrowful yelling of the Ownzes and Tigres, when they would have meat. And yet in this place, which in the night season seemed a dungeon of hell, and a dwelling place for the Devil, could a heathen Prince pray unto his Gods and Idols; for near unto this Hall was another of a hundred and fifty foot long and thirty foot broad, where was a chappel with a roof of silver and gold in leaf, wainscotted and decked with great store of pearl and stone, as Agats, Cornerines, Emeralds, Rubies, and divers other sorts; and this was the Oratory where Montezuma prayed in the night season, and in that chappel the Devil did appear unto him, and gave him answer according to his prayers, which as they were uttered among so many ugly and deformed beasts, and with the noise of them which represented Hell it self, were fitted for a Devil's answer."[31]


In another part of the building was an immense hall which served as an aviary, in which were collected 165 specimens of all the birds in the empire, excepting those of prey. They were of infinite variety and splendid plumage; many specimens were so difficult to obtain that their feathers brought almost fabulous prices in the Mexican market; while some few, either because of their extreme rarity or their inability to live in confinement, did not appear even in the royal aviary, except in imitation, for we are told that, both in Mexico and Tezcuco, all kinds of birds and animals that could not be obtained alive were represented in gold and silver so skillfully that they are said to have served the naturalist Hernandez for models. But to attain this honor, a bird must indeed have been a rara avis, a very phœnix, for it is related by Torquemada and many others, on the authority of a Spanish eye-witness, that the Emperor Montezuma II. happening one day to see a sparrow-hawk soaring through the air, and "taking a fancy to its beauty and mode of flight," ordered his followers to catch it without delay and bring it alive to his hand; and such were the efforts made and care used, that in an incredibly short space of time "they captured that fierce and haughty hawk as though it had been but a gentle domestic pigeon, and brought it to the king."[32]

Marble galleries, supported upon jasper pillars, all of one piece, surrounded this building, and looked out upon a large garden, wherein were groves of rare trees, choice shrubbery and flowers, and fountains filled with fish. But the prominent feature of the garden was ten large ponds for the use of water-fowl, some of which were filled with fresh and some with salt water, according to the nature of the birds that frequented them. Each pond was surrounded with tessellated marble 166 pavement and shaded by clumps of trees. As often as the water began to stagnate it was drained off and renewed. Montezuma is said to have passed much of his time here, alone or with his women, seated in the shade, amid the plashing of fountains and odor of flowers, musing upon affairs of state or diverting his mind from such cares by watching the motions of the strange birds upon the water.

No less than three hundred persons were employed in attending upon the water-fowl and the birds in the aviary; feeding them and in the moulting season carefully gathering the gorgeous plumes, which served as material for the celebrated Aztec feather-work. The habits of the birds were closely studied, and great care was taken that every species should be supplied with the food best suited to its taste, whether it consisted of worms, insects, or seeds. The fish with which the water-fowl were supplied amounted to one hundred and fifty pounds daily. In another hall a collection of human monstrosities was kept. As we shall presently see, many of these unfortunate creatures were trained to play the part of jesters at the royal table. Yet another hall contained a number of albinos, or white Indians, who were considered a great curiosity.

In addition to these city palaces the Aztec monarchs had numerous equally splendid country residences, besides whole tracts of country set apart as royal hunting-grounds. In these parts timber was not allowed to be cut nor game disturbed, which regulations were enforced with great rigor.


The principal country villa of Montezuma II., and the only one of which any signs are yet visible, was situated upon the hill of Chapultepec, which stood in a westerly direction from the city of Mexico. In the days of the Aztec kings, the lake of Tezcuco washed the base of the hill, round which the royal grounds stretched for miles in every direction. The gardens were laid out in terraces, that wound down the hillside amid dense groves of pepper-trees, myrtles, and cypresses, 167 innumerable fountains and artificial cascades. Little of the ancient glory of either palace or gardens is now left, except the natural beauty of the foliage that clothes the hill, and the magnificent view to be obtained from the summit. Two statues of Montezuma II. and his father, cut in bas relief on the porphyry rock, were still to be seen, Gama tells us, in the middle of the last century, but these are now gone, swept away by the same ruthless hands that laid waste the hanging gardens and tore down halls and monuments until the groves of gigantic cypresses are all that is left standing in the gardens of Chapultepec that ministered to the pleasure of the ancient owners. Peter Martyr, describing the palace at Iztapalapan, writes, in the language of an early translator: "That house also hath orchardes, finely planted with diuers trees, and herbes, and flourishing flowers, of a sweete smell. There are also in the same, great standing pooles of water with many kindes of fish, in the which diuers kindes of all sortes of waterfoule are swimminge. To the bottome of these lakes, a man may descend by marble steppes brought farr of. They report strange thinges of a walke inclosed with nettinges of Canes, least any one should freely come within the voyde plattes of grounde, or to the fruite of the trees. Those hedges are made with a thousande pleasant deuises, as it falleth out in those delicate purple crosse alleyes, of mirtle, rosemary, or boxe, al very delightfull to behold."[33]

Nezahualcoyotl, the Tezcucan Solomon, was no whit behind his royal brother of Mexico in the matter of splendid country residences and gardens. Not content with the royal pleasure-grounds called Huectecpan, writes the Chichimec historian,[34] this great king made others, such as the forest so famous in Tezcotzincan history, and those called Cauchiacac, Tzinacamoztoc, 168 Cozcaquauhco, Cuetlachatitlan, or Tlateitec, and those of the lake Acatelelco, and Tepetzinco; he likewise marked out a large tract, where he might pass his leisure moments in hunting. These gardens were adorned with fountains, drains, sewers, ponds, and labyrinths, and were planted with all kinds of flowers and trees, both indigenous and foreign.

But Nezahualcoyotl was not one to overlook utility in laying out his grounds. Five large patches of the most fertile lands lying near the capital were brought under cultivation and the products appropriated exclusively to the use of the royal household.

Certain towns and provinces in the vicinity of the court furnished attendants and laborers for the palaces, gardens, and plantations. In return for such service said towns and provinces were exempt from taxation and enjoyed certain privileges. The manner of service was divided; thus twenty-eight towns supplied those who attended to the cleanliness and order of the royal buildings and waited upon the king and his suite; fourteen of these towns[35] did service during one half of the year and the remainder[36] during the other half. Five towns provided attendants for the king's chamber,[37] and eight provinces,[38] with their dependent towns, furnished, each in its turn, foresters, gardeners, and agricultural laborers for the woods and gardens, ornamental or otherwise.


King Nezahualcoyotl's favorite country residence, 169 some remains of which are still visible, was at Tezcozinco, on a conical hill lying about two leagues from Tezcuco. A broad road, running between high hedges, and probably winding spirally round the hill, appears to have led up to the summit,[39] which, however, could be reached in a shorter time by means of a flight of steps, many of which were cut into the living rock, and the remainder made of pieces of stone firmly cemented together. Dávila Padilla, who wrote in the latter part of the sixteenth century, says that he counted five hundred and twenty of these steps, without reckoning those that had already crumbled to pieces.[40] He furthermore adds that for the last twelve steps in the ascent the staircase was tunneled through the solid rock, and became so narrow that only one person could pass at a time. Dávila Padilla inquired the reason of this of the natives, and was told by them, as they had heard it from their fathers, that this narrow passage enabled the Tezcucan monarch to assert his rank by taking precedence of his royal visitors when they went in a body to worship the idol that stood upon the summit; not a very polite proceeding certainly.[41] Water was brought over hill and dale to the top of the mountain by means of a solid stone aqueduct. Here it was received in a large basin, having in its centre a great rock, upon which were inscribed in a circle the hieroglyphics representing the years that had elapsed since Nezahualcoyotl's birth, with a list of his most noteworthy achievements in each.[42] Within this circle the royal coat of arms was sculptured, 170 the elaborate device of which it is almost impossible to imagine from the clumsy description of it given by Ixtlilxochitl. As nearly as I can make it out, certain figures representing a deer's foot adorned with feathers and having a precious stone tied to it, a hind supporting an arm which grasps a bow and arrows, and a corseleted warrior, wearing a helmet with its ear-pieces, formed the centre; these were flanked by two houses, one in flames and falling to pieces, the other whole and highly ornamented; two tigers of the country, vomiting fire and water, served as supporters; the whole was surrounded by a border composed of twelve heads of kings and great nobles. From this basin the water was distributed through the gardens in two streams, one of which meandered down the northern side of the hill, and the other down the southern side. Dávila Padilla relates that there also stood upon the summit an image of a coyote, hewn from the living rock, which represented a celebrated fasting Indian.[43] There were likewise several towers or columns of stone, having their capitals made in the shape of a pot, from which protruded plumes of feathers, which signified the name of the place. Lower down was the colossal figure of a winged beast, called by Ixtlilxochitl a lion,[44] lying down, with its face toward the east, and bearing in its mouth a sculptured portrait of the king; this statue was generally covered with a canopy adorned with gold and feather-work.[45]


A little lower yet were three basins of water, emblematic of the great lake, and on the borders of the middle one three female figures were sculptured on the solid rock, representing the heads of the confederated 171 states of Mexico, Tezcuco, and Tlacopan.[46] Upon the northern side of the hill was another pond; and here upon the rock was carved the coat of arms of the city of Tollan, which was formerly the chief town of the Toltecs; upon the southern slope of the hill was yet another pond, bearing the coat of arms and the name of the city of Tenayuca, which was formerly the head town of the Chichimecs. From this basin a stream of water flowed continually over the precipice, and being dashed into spray upon the rocks, was scattered like rain over a garden of odorous tropical plants.[47] In the garden were two baths, dug out of 172 one large piece of porphyry,[48] and a flight of steps also cut from the solid rock, worked and polished so smooth that they looked like mirrors, and on the front of the stairs were carved the year, month, day, and hour in which information was brought to King Nezahualcoyotl of the death of a certain lord of Huexotzinco, whom he esteemed very highly, and who died while the said staircase was being built.[49] The garden is said to have been a perfect little paradise. The gorgeous flowers were all transplanted from the distant tierra caliente; marble pavilions, supported on slender columns, with tesselated pavements and sparkling fountains, nestled among the shady groves and afforded a cool retreat during the long summer days. At the end of the garden, almost hidden by the groups of gigantic cedars and cypresses that surrounded it, 173 was the royal palace,[50] so situated that while its spacious halls were filled with the sensuous odors of the tropics, blown in from the gardens, it remained sheltered from the heat.[51]


If the ancient traditions may be believed, the Toltec monarchs built as magnificent palaces as their Aztec successors. The sacred palace of that mysterious Toltec priest-king, Quetzalcoatl, had four principal halls, facing the four cardinal points. That on the east was called the Hall of Gold, because its halls were ornamented with plates of that metal, delicately chased and finished; the apartment lying toward the west was named the Hall of Emeralds and Turquoises, and its walls were profusely adorned with all kinds of precious stones; the hall facing the south was decorated with plates of silver and with brilliant-colored sea-shells, which were fitted together with great skill. The walls of the fourth hall, which was on the north, were red jasper, covered with carving and ornamented with shells. Another of these palaces or temples, for it is not clear which they were, had also four principal 174 halls decorated entirely with feather-work tapestry. In the eastern division the feathers were yellow; in the western they were blue, taken from a bird called Xiuhtototl; in the southern hall the feathers were white, and in that on the north they were red.[52]

The number of attendants attached to the royal houses was very great. Every day from sunrise until sunset the antechambers of Montezuma's palace in Mexico were occupied by six hundred noblemen and gentlemen, who passed the time lounging about and discussing the gossip of the day in low tones, for it was considered disrespectful to speak loudly or make any noise within the palace limits. They were provided with apartments in the palace,[53] and took their meals from what remained of the superabundance of the royal table, as did, after them, their own servants, of whom each person of quality was entitled to from one to thirty, according to his rank. These retainers, numbering two or three thousand, filled several outer courts during the day.



The king took his meals alone, in one of the largest halls of the palace. If the weather was cold, a fire was kindled with a kind of charcoal made of the bark of trees, which emitted no smoke, but threw out a delicious perfume; and that his majesty might suffer no inconvenience from the heat, a screen ornamented with gold and carved with figures of the idols[54] was placed between his person and the fire. He was seated upon a low leather cushion, upon which were thrown various soft skins, and his table was of a similar description, except that it was larger and rather higher, and was covered with white cotton cloths of the finest texture. The dinner-service was of the finest ware of Cholula, and many of the goblets were of gold and 175 silver, or fashioned of beautiful shells. He is said to have possessed a complete service of solid gold, but as it was considered below a king's dignity to use anything at table twice, Montezuma with all his extravagance, was obliged to keep this costly dinner-set in the temple. The bill of fare comprised everything edible of fish, flesh, and fowl, that could be procured in the empire or imported from beyond it. Relays of couriers were employed in bringing delicacies from afar, and as the royal table was every day supplied with fresh fish brought, without the modern aids of ice and air-tight packing, from a sea-coast more than two hundred miles distant, by a road passing chiefly through a tropical climate, we can form some idea of the speed with which these couriers traveled. There were cunning cooks among the Aztecs, and at these extravagant meals there was almost as much variety in the cooking as in the matter cooked. Sahagun[55] gives a most formidable list of roast, stewed, and boiled dishes of meat, fish, and poultry, seasoned with many kinds of herbs, of which, however, the most frequently mentioned is chile.[56] He further describes many kinds of bread, all bearing a more or less close resemblance to the modern Mexican tortilla,[57] and all most tremendously named; imagine, for instance, when one wished for a piece of bread, having to ask one's neighbor to be good enough to pass the totanquitlaxcallitlaquelpacholli; then there were tamales of all kinds,[58] 176 and many other curious messes, such as frog-spawn, and stewed ants cooked with chile, but more loathsome to us than even such as these, and strangest of all the strange compounds that went to make up the royal carte, was one highly seasoned, and probably savory-smelling dish, so exquisitely prepared that its principal ingredient was completely disguised, yet that ingredient was nothing else than human flesh.[59] Each dish was kept warm by a chafing-dish placed under it. Writers do not agree as to the exact quantity of food served up at each meal, but it must have been immense, since the lowest number of dishes given is three hundred,[60] and the highest three thousand.[61] They were brought into the hall by four hundred pages of noble birth, who placed their burdens upon the matted floor and retired noiselessly. The king then pointed out such viands as he wished to partake of, or left the selection to his steward, who doubtless took pains to study the likes and dislikes of the royal palate. This steward was a functionary of the highest rank and importance; he alone was privileged to place the designated delicacies before the king upon the 177 table; he appears to have done duty both as royal carver and cup-bearer, and, according to Torquemada, to have done it barefooted and on his knees.[62] Everything being in readiness, a number of the most beautiful of the king's women[63] entered, bearing water in round vessels called xicales, for the king to wash his hands in, and towels that he might dry them, other vessels being placed upon the ground to catch the drippings. Two other women at the same time brought him some small loaves of a very delicate kind of bread made of the finest maize-flour, beaten up with eggs. This done, a wooden screen, carved and gilt, was placed before him, that no one might see him while eating.[64] There were always present five or six aged lords, who stood near the royal chair barefooted, and with bowed heads. To these, as a special mark of favor, the king occasionally sent a choice morsel from his own plate. During the meal the monarch sometimes amused himself by watching the performances of his jugglers and tumblers, whose marvelous feats of strength and dexterity I shall describe in another place; at other times there was dancing, accompanied by singing and music; there were also present dwarfs, and professional jesters, who were allowed to speak, a privilege denied all others under penalty of death, and, after the manner of their kind, to tell sharp truths in the shape of jests. The more solid food was followed by pastry, sweetmeats, and a magnificent dessert of fruit. The only beverage drank at the meal was chocolate,[65] of which about fifty jars were provided;[66] 178 it was taken with a spoon, finely wrought of gold or shell, from a goblet of the same material. Having finished his dinner, the king again washed his hands in water brought to him, as before, by the women. After this, several painted and gilt pipes were brought, from which he inhaled, through his mouth or nose, as suited him best, the smoke of a mixture of liquid-amber, and an herb called tobacco.[67] His siesta over, he devoted himself to business, and proceeded to give audience to foreign ambassadors, deputations from cities in the empire, and to such of his lords and ministers as had business to transact with him. Before entering the presence-chamber, all, no matter what their rank might be, unless they were of the blood-royal, were obliged to leave their sandals at the door, to cover their rich dresses with a large coarse mantle, and to approach the monarch, barefooted and with downcast eyes, for it was death to the subject who should dare to look his sovereign in the face.[68] The king usually answered through his secretaries,[69] or when he deigned to speak 179 directly to the person who addressed him, it was in such a low tone as scarcely to be heard;[70] at the same time he listened very attentively to all that was communicated to him, and encouraged those who, from embarrassment, found difficulty in speaking. Each applicant, when dismissed, retired backward, keeping his face always toward the royal seat. The time set apart for business having elapsed, he again gave himself up to pleasure, and usually passed the time in familiar badinage with his jesters, or in listening to ballad-singers who sang of war and the glorious deeds of his ancestors, or he amused himself by looking on at the feats of strength and legerdemain of his jugglers and acrobats; or, sometimes, at this hour, he would retire to the softer pleasures of the harem. He changed his dress four times each day, and a dress once worn could never be used again. Concerning this custom, Peter Martyr, translated into the quaintest of English, writes: "Arising from his bed, he is cloathed after one maner, as he commeth forth to bee seene, and returning backe into his chamber after he hath dined, he changeth his garments: and when he commeth forthe againe to supper, hee taketh another, and returning backe againe the fourth which he weareth vntill he goe to bed. But concerning 3. garments, which he changeth euery day, many of them that returned haue reported the same vnto me, with their owne mouth: but howsoeuer it be, all agree in the changing of garmentes, that being once taken into the wardrope, they are there piled vp on heaps, not likely to see the face of Muteczuma any more: but what manner of garmentes they be, we will elswhere declare, for they are very light. These things being 180 obserued, it wil not be wōdred at, that we made mention before concerning so many garments presented. For accounting the yeares, and the dayes of the yeares, especially, wherein Muteczuma hath inioyed peace & howe often he changeth his garments euery daye, all admiration will cease. But the readers will demand, why he heapeth vp so great a pile of garments, & that iustly. Let them knowe that Muteczuma vsed to giue a certeine portion of garments to his familiar friends, or well deseruing soldiers, in steed of a beneuolence, or stipend, when they go to the wars, or returne from ye victory, as Augustus Cæsar lord of the world, a mightier Prince than Muteczuma, commāded only a poore reward of bread to be giuen ouer & aboue to such as performed any notable exployt, while being by Maro admonished, that so smal a larges of bread was an argumēt yt he was a bakers son: then although it be recorded in writīg that Cæsar liked ye mery cōceit, yet it is to be beleued yt he blushed at that diuinatiō, because he promised Virgil to alter his dispositiō & that hereafter he would bestow gifts worthy a great king, & not a bakers son."[71]


The kings did not often appear among their people,[72] though we are told that they would sometimes go forth in disguise to see that no part of the religious feasts and ceremonies was omitted, to make sure that the laws were observed, and probably, as is usual in such cases, to ascertain the true state of public opinion with regard to themselves.[73] Whenever they did appear abroad, however, it was with a parade that corresponded with their other observances. Upon these occasions the king was seated in a magnificent litter, overshadowed by a canopy of feather-work, the whole being adorned with gold and precious stones, and carried upon the shoulders of four noblemen. He was 181 attended by a vast multitude of courtiers of all ranks, who walked without speaking, and with their eyes bent upon the ground. The procession was headed by an official carrying three wands, whose duty it was to give warning of the king's approach, and by others who cleared the road of all obstructions.[74] All who chanced to meet the royal party, instantly stopped, and remained motionless with heads bent down, like friars chanting the Gloria Patri, says Father Motolinia, until the procession had passed. When the monarch alighted, a carpet was spread upon the ground for him to step on. The meeting of Montezuma II. and Cortés, as described by Bernal Diaz, will show the manner in which the Aztec kings were attended when out of doors:

"When we arrived at a spot where another narrow causeway led towards Cuyoacan, we were met by a number of caciques and distinguished personages, all splendidly dressed. They had been sent by Montezuma to meet us and welcome us in his name; and as a sign of peace each touched the earth with his hand and then kissed it.[75] While we were thus detained, the lords of Tezcuco, Iztapalapa, Tacuba, and Cuyoacan, advanced to meet the mighty Montezuma, who was approaching seated on a splendid litter, and escorted by a number of powerful nobles. When we arrived at a place not far from the capital, where were certain fortifications, Montezuma, descending from his litter, came forward leaning on the arms of some of the attendant lords, while others held over him a canopy of rich feather-work ornamented with silver and gold, having an embroidered border from which hung pearls and chalchihuis stones.[76] Montezuma was very sumptuously dressed, according to his custom, and 182 had on his feet a kind of sandals, with soles of gold, the upper part being studded with precious stones. The four grandees[77] who supported him were also very richly attired, and it seemed to us that the clothes they now wore must have been held in readiness for them somewhere upon the road, for they were not thus dressed when they first came out to meet us. And besides these great lords there were many others, some of whom held the canopy over the king's head, while others went in advance, sweeping the ground over which he was to walk, and spreading down cotton cloths that his feet might not touch the earth. Excepting only the four nobles upon whose arms he leaned, and who were his near relatives, none of all his followers presumed to look in the king's face, but all kept their eyes lowered to the ground in token of respect."[78]


Besides the host of retainers already mentioned there were innumerable other officers attached to the royal household, such as butlers, stewards, and cooks of all grades, treasurers, secretaries, scribes, military officers, superintendents of the royal granaries and arsenals, and those employed under them. A great number of artisans were constantly kept busy repairing old buildings and erecting new ones, and a little army of jewelers and workers in precious metals resided permanently at the palace for the purpose of supplying the king and court with the costly ornaments that were eventually such a windfall for the conquerors, and over the description of which they one and all so lovingly linger. Nor was the softer sex unrepresented at court. The Aztec sovereigns were notorious for their uxoriousness. Montezuma II. had in his harem at least one thousand women, and this number is increased by most of the historians to three thousand, including the female attendants and slaves. Of these we are 183 told on good authority that he had one hundred and fifty pregnant at one time, all of whom killed their offspring in the womb;[79] yet notwithstanding this wholesale abortion, he had more than fifty sons and daughters. His father had one hundred and fifty children, of whom Montezuma II. killed all his brothers and forced his sisters to marry whom he pleased;—at least such is the import of Oviedo's statement.[80] Nezahualpilli, of Tezcuco, had between seventy and one hundred children.[81] Camargo tells us that Xicotencatl, one of the chiefs of Tlascala had a great number of sons by more than fifty wives or concubines.[82] These women were the daughters of the nobles, who thought themselves honored by having a child in the royal harem. Occasionally the monarch presented one of his concubines to some great lord or renowned warrior, a mark of favor which thenceforth distinguished the recipient as a man whom the king delighted to honor. The seraglio was presided over by a number of noble matrons, who kept close watch and ward over the conduct of their charges and made daily reports to the king, who invariably caused the slightest indiscretion to be severely punished. Whether eunuchs were employed in the Aztec harems is uncertain; this, however, we read in Motolinia: "Moteuczomatzin had in his palace dwarfs and little hunchbacks, who when children were with great ingenuity made crook-backed, ruptured,[83] and disjointed, because the lords in this country made the same use of them as at the present day the Grand Turk does of eunuchs."[84]


The enormous expenditure incurred in the maintenance of such a household as this, was defrayed by the people, who, as we shall see in a future chapter, were sorely oppressed by over-taxation. The management of the whole was entrusted to a head steward or majordomo, who, with the help of his secretaries, kept minute hieroglyphic accounts of the royal revenue. Bernal Diaz tells us that a whole apartment was filled with these account-books.[85] In Tezcuco, writes Ixtlilxochitl, the food consumed by the court was supplied by certain districts of the kingdom, in each of which was a gatherer of taxes, who besides collecting the regular tributes, was obliged to furnish the royal household, in his turn, with a certain quantity of specified articles, for a greater or less number of days, according to the wealth and extent of his department. The daily supply amounted to thirty-one and a quarter bushels of grain; nearly three bushels and three quarters of beans;[86] four hundred thousand ready-made tortillas; four xiquipiles[87] of cocoa, making in all thirty-two thousand cocoa-beans;[88] one hundred cocks of the country;[89] twenty loaves of salt; twenty great baskets of large chiles, and twenty of small chiles; ten baskets of tomatoes; and ten of seed.[90] All this was furnished daily for seventy days by the city of Tezcuco and its suburbs, and by the districts of Atenco, and Tepepulco; for sixty-five days by the district of Quauhtlatzinco; and for forty-five days by the districts of Azapocho and Ahuatepec.[91]


Such, as full in detail as it is handed down to us, was 185 the manner in which the Aztec monarchs lived. The policy they pursued toward their subjects was to enforce obedience and submission by enacting laws that were calculated rather to excite awe and dread than to inspire love and reverence. To this end they kept the people at a distance by surrounding themselves with an impassable barrier of pomp and courtly etiquette, and enforced obedience by enacting laws that made death the penalty of the most trivial offenses. There was little in common between king and people; as is ever the case between a despot and his subjects. The good that the kings did by their liberality and love of justice, and the success they nearly all achieved by their courage and generalship, merited the admiration of their subjects. On the other hand, the oppression which they made their vassals feel, the heavy burdens they imposed upon them, their own pride and arrogance, and their excessive severity in punishments, engendered what we should now call a debasing fear, but which is none the less an essential element of progress at certain stages.[92]




Titles of the Nobility and Gentry—The Power of the Nobles—The Aristocracy of Tezcuco—The Policy of King Techotlalatzin—Privileges of the Nobles—Montezuma's Policy—Rivalry between Nobles and Commons—The Knightly Order of Tecuhtli—Ceremony of Initiation—Origin of the Order—The Nahua Priesthood—The Priests of Mexico—Dedication of Children—Priestesses—Priesthood of Miztecapan—The Pontiff of Yopaa—Tradition of Wixipecocha—The Cave of Yopaa—The Zapotec Priests—Toltec Priests—Totonac Priests—Priests of Michoacan, Puebla, and Tlascala.


Descending in due order the social scale of the Aztecs, we now come to the nobility, or, more properly speaking, the privileged classes. The nobles of Mexico, and of the other Nahua nations, were divided into several classes, each having its own peculiar privileges and badges of rank. The distinctions that existed between the various grades, and their titles, are not, however, clearly defined. The title of Tlatoani was the highest and most respected; it signified an absolute and sovereign power, an hereditary and divine right to govern. The kings, and the great feudatory lords who were governors of provinces, and could prove their princely descent and the ancient independence of their families, belonged to this order. The title of Tlatopilzintli was given to the eldest son of the king, and that of Tlatoque to all the princes in 187 general. Tlacahua signified a lord without sovereignty, but who had vassals under his orders, and was, to a certain extent, master of his people. The appellation of Pilli was given to all who were noble, without regard to rank. Axcahua, was a rich man, a proprietor of wealth in general, and Tlaquihua, a landed proprietor, or almost the same thing as an English country gentleman.

The title of Tlatoani was invariably hereditary, but many of the others were conferred only for life, as a reward for important military or other services to the state. Of the tenure by which they held their lands I shall have occasion to speak hereafter.

The power of the nobles, as a body, was very great; according to some accounts there were, in Montezuma's realms, thirty great lords who each controlled one hundred thousand vassals, and three thousand other lords also very powerful. A number of nobles possessing such formidable power as this, would, if permitted to live on their estates, some of which were a long distance from the capital, have been a constantly threatening source of danger to the crown; at any moment an Aztec Runnimede might have been expected. To guard against any such catastrophe, the more powerful nobles were required to reside in the capital, at least during the greater part of each year; and permission to return to their homes for a short time, could only be obtained on condition that they left a son or brother as a guarantee of good faith during their absence.[93]

In the kingdom of Tezcuco were twenty-six great fiefs,[94] each independent of the rest and having several fiefs of less importance subjected to it. The greater part of these great chiefs bore the sovereign title of Tlatoani, or a similar one. They recognized no prerogative of the king except his right to preside at 188 their grand assemblies, to receive their homage upon his accession to the throne, to levy certain tributes in their provinces, and to call upon them to appear in the field with a contingent of troops in case of war. For the rest, each Tlatoani was perfectly independent in his own domain, which he governed with the same omnipotence as the king of Tezcuco himself. Notwithstanding the precautions taken, it frequently happened that one of these great feudatories would feel himself strong enough to set the authority of the king at defiance, but as their private feuds generally prevented any number of the Tlatoanis from uniting their forces against the crown, the rebels were in most instances speedily reduced to subjection; in which event the leaders either suffered death or were degraded from their rank.

They were an unruly family, these overgrown vassals, and the Aztec monarchs were often at their wit's end in endeavors to conciliate and keep them within bounds. Torquemada tells us that Techotlalatzin, king of Tezcuco, was sorely harassed by the powerful nobles of his realm. He accordingly set about remedying the evil with great prudence and perseverance. His first step was to unite, by strong bonds of interest, the less important nobles to the crown. To this end he heaped favors upon all. The vanity of some he flattered by conferring the dignity and title of Tlatoani upon them, to others he gave wealth and lands. By this means he weakened the individual power of the great vassals by increasing their number, a policy the efficiency of which has been frequently proved in the old world as well as in the new. Techotlalatzin next proceeded to summon them one after another to court, and then under pretense of being in constant need of their advice, he formed twenty-six of their number into a council of state, obliging them by this means to reside constantly in the capital. With this council he conferred upon all grave and difficult questions, whatever might be their nature. It was the 189 duty of its members to draw up and issue ordinances, both for the general government and for the administration of affairs in particular provinces; and to enact laws for enforcing good order in towns and villages, as well as those relating to agriculture, science and art, military discipline, and the tribunals of justice.


At the same time Techotlalatzin created a large number of new offices and honorary trusts, which were dependent on the crown. Four of the most powerful nobles were invested with the highest dignities. The first, with the title Tetlahto, was made commander-in-chief of the army, and president of the military council. The second was entitled Yolqui; his office was that of grand master of ceremonies; it was his duty to receive and introduce the ambassadors and ministers of foreign princes, to conduct them to court, to lodge them and provide for their comfort, and to offer them the presents appointed by the king. The third lord received the title of Tlami or Calpixcontli; he was master of the royal household, and minister of finance, and was assisted in his functions by a council of other nobles. It was the duty of this body to keep strict account of all taxes paid by the people; its members were required to be well informed as to the exact condition of each town and province, with the nature of its produce, and the fertility of its soil; they had also to distribute the taxes with equality and justice, and in proportion to the resources of the people. The care and management of the interior of the palace was also intrusted to them, and it was their place to provide all the food for the consumption of the royal household. The fourth great officer was styled Amechichi; he acted as grand chamberlain, and attended to the king's private apartments. Like the Tlami, he was assisted by other nobles. A fifth officer was afterward appointed, who bore the title of Cohuatl, and superintended the workers in precious metals, jewels, and feathers, who were employed by 190 the court. At first sight it may appear that such duties as these would be below the dignity of a haughty Aztec grandee, yet we find the nobles of Europe during the middle ages not only filling the same positions, but jealous of their right to do so, and complaining loudly if deprived of them. Sismondi tells us that the count of Anjou, under Louis VI., claimed the office of grand seneschal of France; that is, to carry dishes to the king's table on state days. The court of Charlemagne was crowded with officers of every rank, some of the most eminent of whom exercised functions about the royal person which would have been thought fit only for slaves in the palace of Augustus or Antonine. The free-born Franks saw nothing menial in the titles of cup-bearer, steward, marshal, and master of the horse, which are still borne by some of the noblest families in many parts of Europe.

As soon as habits of submission and an appreciation of the honors showered upon them had taken root among his great vassals, Techotlalatzin subdivided the twenty-six provinces of his kingdom into sixty-five departments. The ancient lords were not by this measure despoiled of all their authority, nor of those estates which were their private property; but the jurisdiction they exercised in person or through their officials was greatly diminished by the nomination of thirty-five new governors, chosen by the king, and of whose fidelity he was well assured. This was a mortal blow to the great aristocrats, and a preliminary step toward the total abolition of feudal power. But the master-stroke was yet to come. The inhabitants of each province were carefully counted and divided into sections. They were then changed about from place to place, in numbers proportioned to the size and population of the territory. For example, from a division containing six thousand people, two thousand were taken and transported into the territory of another lord, from the number of whose vassals two thousand 191 were also taken and placed upon the vacated land in the first lord's possessions; each noble, however, retained his authority over that portion of his vassals which had been removed. By this means, although the number of each lord's subjects remained the same, yet as a large portion of each territory was occupied by the vassals of another, a revolt would be difficult. Nor could two nobles unite their forces against the crown, as care was taken that the interchange of dependents should not be effected between two estates adjoining each other.

These measures, despotic as they were, were nevertheless executed without opposition from either nobles or people,—such was the awe in which the sovereign was held and his complete ascendancy over his subjects.[95]


The privileges of the nobles were numerous. They alone were allowed to wear ornaments of gold and gems upon their clothes, and, indeed, in their entire dress, as we shall presently see, they were distinguished from the lower classes. The exact limits of the power they possessed over their vassals is not known, but it was doubtless nearly absolute. Fuenleal, bishop of Santo Domingo, writes to Charles V. of the lower orders, that "they were, and still are, so submissive that they allow themselves to be killed or sold into slavery without complaining."[96] In Mexico their power and privileges were greatly augmented by Montezuma II., who we are told ousted every plebeian that held a position of high rank, and would allow none who were not of noble birth to be employed in his palace or about his person. At the time of this monarch's accession there were many members of the royal council who were men of low extraction; all 192 these he dismissed and supplied their places with creatures of his own.

It is related that an old man who had formerly been his guardian or tutor had the boldness to remonstrate with him against such a course; telling him with firmness that he acted contrary to his own interests, and advising him to weigh well the consequences of the measures he was adopting. To banish the plebeians from the palace, added the old man, was to estrange them forever from the king; and the time would come when the common people would no longer either wish or dare to look upon him. Montezuma haughtily made answer, that this was precisely what he wished; it was a burning shame, he said, that the low and common people should be allowed to mix with the nobles in the royal service; he was astonished and indignant that his royal predecessors had so long suffered such a state of things to be.[97]

By these measures the services of many brave soldiers, promoted, as a reward for their gallantry, from the ranks of the people, were lost to the crown; nor were such men likely to be slow to show their discontent. The new policy, incited by a proud aristocracy, struck exactly those men who had the best right to a share in the government. It was the officers promoted for their merits from the ranks who had contributed most to the success of the Mexican arms; it was the great merchants who, by their extended commerce, had made the wealth of the country. A spirit of rivalry had long existed between the poor well-born nobles, and the wealthy base-born merchants. During many successive reigns the importance of the latter class had been steadily increasing, owing to the valuable services they had rendered the state. From the earliest times they were permitted a certain degree of familiarity with the kings, who took great delight in hearing them recount the wonderful adventures they had met with while on their long 193 expeditions into strange parts. Doubtless the royal ear did not always meet the truth unembellished, any more than did that of Haroun Alraschid upon similar occasions, but probably the monarchs learned many little secrets in this way that they could never know by other means. Afterward these merchants were admitted to the royal councils, and during the latter years of the reign of Ahuitzotl we find them enjoying many of the exclusive privileges hitherto reserved to the warrior aristocracy.


The merchants appear to have partly brought upon themselves the misfortunes which subsequently overtook them, by aggravating the envious feelings with which they were already regarded. Not content with being admitted to equal privileges with the nobles, and vexed at not being able to vie with them in brilliant titles and long lines of illustrious ancestry, they did their utmost to surpass them in the magnificence of their houses, and in the pomp which they displayed upon every occasion. At the public feasts and ceremonies these parvenus outshone the proudest nobles by the profuseness of their expenditure; they strove for and obtained honors and exalted positions which the aristocracy could not accept for lack of wealth; they were sparing of money in no place where it could be used for their own advancement. It is easy to conceive the effect such a state of things had on the proud and overbearing nobles of Mexico. On several occasions they complained to their kings that their order was losing its prestige by being obliged to mix on equal terms with the plebeians; but the services that the great commercial body rendered every day to the crown were too material to allow the kings to listen patiently to such complaints. During the reign of Ahuitzotl, the pride of the merchants had reached its zenith; it is not therefore surprising that the leaders of the aristocratic party, when that monarch was dead, elected as his successor Montezuma II., a prince well known for his partiality for the higher classes. His 194 policy, as events proved, was a far less wise one than that of Techotlalatzin of Tezcuco, of which we have already spoken. By not restraining his overweening pride he prepared the way for disaffection and revolt; he furnished his enemies with weapons which they were not slow to use; he alienated the affections of his subjects, so that when aid was most needed there was none to help him, and when, fettered and a prisoner in the hand of the Spaniards, he called upon his people, the only replies were hoots and missiles.

The generals of the army and military officers of the higher ranks, must of course be included among the privileged classes; usually, indeed, they were noble by birth as well as influential by position, and in Mexico, from the time of Montezuma's innovations this was always the case. There were several military orders and titles which were bestowed upon distinguished soldiers for services in the field or the council. Of those which were purely the reward of merit, and such as could be attained by a plebeian, I shall speak in a future chapter. There was one, however, the membership of which was confined to the nobility; this was the celebrated and knightly order of the Tecuhtli.

To obtain this rank it was necessary to be of noble birth, to have given proof in several battles of the utmost courage, to have arrived at a certain age, and to have sufficient wealth to support the enormous expenses incurred by members of the order.


For three years before he was admitted, the candidate and his parents busied themselves about making ready for the grand ceremony, and collecting rich garments, jewels, and golden ornaments, for presents to the guests. When the time approached, the auguries were consulted, and a lucky day having been fixed upon, the relations and friends of the candidate, as well as all the great nobles and Tecuhtlis that could be brought together, were invited to a sumptuous banquet. On the morning of the all-important day 195 the company set out in a body for the temple of Camaxtli,[98] followed by a multitude of curious spectators, chiefly of the lower orders, intent upon seeing all there is to see. Arrived at the summit of the pyramid consecrated to Camaxtli, the aspirant to knightly honors bows down reverently before the altar of the god. The high-priest now approaches him, and with a pointed tiger's bone or an eagle's claw perforates the cartilage of his nose in two places, inserting into the holes thus made small pieces of jet or obsidian,[99] which remain there until the year of probation is passed, when they are exchanged for beads of gold and precious stones. This piercing the nose with an eagle's claw or a tiger's bone, signifies, says Torquemada, that he who aspires to the dignity of Tecuhtli must be as swift to overtake an enemy as the eagle, as strong in fight as the tiger. The high-priest, speaking in a loud voice, now begins to heap insults and injurious epithets upon the man standing meekly before him. His voice grows louder and louder; he brandishes his arms aloft, he waxes furious. The assistant priests are catching his mood; they gather closer about the object of the pontiff's wrath; they jostle him, they point their fingers sneeringly at him, and call him coward. For a moment the dark eyes of the victim gleam savagely, his hands close involuntarily, he seems about to spring upon his tormentors; then with an effort he calms himself and is passive as ever. That look made the taunters draw back, but it was only for a moment; they are upon him again; they know now that he is strong to endure, and they will prove him to the uttermost. Screaming insults in his ears, they tear his garments piece by piece from his body until nothing but the maxtli is left, and the man 196 stands bruised and naked in their midst. But all is useless, their victim is immovable, so at length they leave him in peace. He has passed safely through one of the severest ordeals of the day, but that fierce look a while ago was a narrow escape; had he lifted a finger in resistance, he must have gone down from the temple to be scorned and jeered at by the crowd below as one who had aspired to the dignity of Tecuhtli, yet who could restrain his temper no better than a woman. The long months of careful preparation would have been all in vain, his parents would have spat upon him for vexation and shame, perchance he would have been punished for sacrilege. But he is by no means a member of the coveted order yet. He is next conducted to another hall of the temple,[100] where he commences his noviciate, which is to last from one to two years, by four days of penance, prayer, and fasting. As soon as he is conducted to this hall the banquet which has been prepared for the guests commences, and after a few hours of conviviality each returns to his home.

During these first four days the candidate's powers of endurance are sorely taxed. The only articles of furniture allowed him are a coarse mat and a low stool; his garments are of the coarsest description. When night comes, the priests bring him a black preparation, with which to besmear his face, some spines of the maguey-plant to draw blood from his body with, a censer and some incense. His only companions are three veteran warriors, who instruct him in his duties and keep him awake, for during the four days he is only allowed to sleep for a few minutes at a time, and then it must be sitting upon his stool. If, overcome by drowsiness, he exceed this time, his guardians thrust the maguey-thorns 197 into his flesh, crying: Awake, awake! learn to be vigilant and watchful; keep your eyes open that you may look to the interests of your vassals. At midnight he goes to burn incense before the idol, and to draw blood from different parts of his body as a sacrifice. He then walks round the temple, and as he goes he burns paper and copal in four holes in the ground, which he makes at the four sides of the building, facing the cardinal points; upon each of these fires he lets fall a few drops of blood drawn from his body. These ceremonies he repeats at dawn and sunset. He breaks his fast only once in twenty-four hours, at midnight: and then his repast consists merely of four little dumplings of maize-meal, each about the size of a nut, and a small quantity of water; but even this he leaves untasted if he wishes to evince extraordinary powers of endurance. The four days having elapsed, he obtains permission from the high-priest to complete his time of probation in some temple of his own district or parish; but he is not allowed to go home, nor, if married, to see his wife during this period.


For two or three months preceding his formal admission into the order, the home of the postulant is in a bustle of preparation for the coming ceremony. A grand display is made of rich stuffs and dresses, and costly jewels, for the use of the new knight when he shall cast off his present chrysalis-husk of coarse nequen and emerge a full-blown Tecuhtli. A great number of presents are provided for the guests; a sumptuous banquet is prepared, and the whole house is decorated for the occasion. The oracles are again consulted, and upon the lucky day appointed the company assemble once more at the house of the candidate, in the same manner as at the commencement of his noviciate. In the morning the new knight is conducted to a bath, and after having undergone a good scrubbing, he is again carried, in the midst of music and dancing, to the temple of Camaxtli. Accompanied 198 by his brother Tecuhtlis he ascends the steps of the teocalli. After he has respectfully saluted the idol, the mean garments he has worn so long are taken off, and his hair is bound up in a knot on the top of his head with a red cord, from the ends of which hang some fine feathers; he is next clad in garments of rich and fine materials, the principal of which is a kind of tunic, ornamented with a delicately embroidered device, which is the insignia of his new rank; in his right hand he receives some arrows and in his left a bow. The high-priest completes the ceremony with a discourse, in which he instructs the new knight in his duties, tells him the names which he is to add to his own, as a member of the order; describes to him the signs and devices which he must emblazon on his escutcheon, and impresses upon his memory the advantages of being liberal and just, of loving his country and his gods. As soon as the newly made Tecuhtli has descended into the court of the temple, the music and dancing recommence, and are kept up until it is time to begin the banquet. This is served with great magnificence and liberality, and, to the guests at least, is probably the most interesting feature of the day. In front of each person at table are placed the presents intended for him, consisting of costly stuffs and ornaments in such quantity that each bundle was carried with difficulty by two slaves; each guest is also given a new garment, which he wears at table.

The value of the gifts was proportioned to the rank of the receiver, and such distinctions must be made with great care, for the Aztec nobility were very jealous of their rights of precedence. The places of such nobles as had been invited to the feast but were from illness or other cause unable to attend were left vacant, and their share of presents and food was placed upon the table exactly as if they had been present; Torquemada tells us, moreover, that the same courtesy was extended to the empty seat as to the actual 199 guest.[101] Upon these occasions the absent noble generally sent a substitute, whose seat was placed next to that of the person he represented. On the following day the servants and followers of the guests were feasted and presented with gifts, according to the means and liberality of the donor.

The privileges of the Tecuhtlis were important and numerous. In council they took the first places, and their votes outweighed all others; in the same manner at all feasts and ceremonies, in peace or in war, they were always granted preëminence. As before remarked, the vast expenses entailed upon a Tecuhtli debarred the honor from many who were really worthy of it. In some instances, however, when a noble had greatly distinguished himself in war, but was too poor to bear the expenses of initiation, these were defrayed by the governor of his province, or by the other Tecuhtlis.[102]


The origin of the order of Tecuhtli is not known. Both the Toltecs and the Tlascaltecs claim to have established it. Veytia, however, asserts that this was not the case, but that it was first instituted by Xolotl, king of the Chichimecs.[103] M. l'Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg infers from ancient Toltec history that the ceremony of initiation and the probation of the candidate derive their origin from the mysterious rites of which traces are still found among the nations of Mexico and Central America. The traditions relating to Votan and Quetzalcoatl, or Gucumatz, evidently allude to it. The birth of Ceacatl-Quetzalcoatl is celebrated by his father, Mixcohua-Camaxtli, at Culhuacan, with great rejoicings and the creation of a great 200 number of knights; it is these same knights who are afterwards sent to avenge his death upon his assassins at Cuitlahuac, a town which appears, since that time, to have been always the principal place of residence of the order. After the separation of Cholula from the rest of the Toltec empire by Ceacatl-Quetzalcoatl, that town, together with Huexotzinco and Tlascala, appears to have had special privileges in this particular. It is in these places that after the conquest of the Aztec plateau by the Teo-Chichimecs, we find most of their chiefs bearing the title of Tecuhtli; it may be that the priests were forced into confirming their warlike conquerors in the honor, or it may be that they did so voluntarily, hoping by this means to submit the warriors to their spiritual power. This, however, is certain, that the rank of Tecuhtli remained to the last the highest honor that a prince or soldier could acquire in the states of Tlascala, Cholula, and Huexotzinco.[104]


The priesthood filled a very important place among the privileged classes, but as a succeeding volume has been set apart for all matters relating to religion, I will confine myself here to such an outline of the sacerdotal system as is necessary to make our view of Aztec social distinctions complete. The learned Abbé, M. Brasseur de Bourbourg, gives us a very correct and concise account of the Mexican priesthood, a partial translation of which will answer the present purpose.

Among the nations of Mexico and Central America, whose civilization is identical, the priesthood always occupied a high rank in the state, and up to the last moment its members continued to exercise a powerful influence in both public and private affairs. In Anáhuac the priestly offices do not appear to have been appropriated exclusively by an hereditary caste; all had an equal right to fill them, with the exception of the offices about the temple of Huitzilopochtli, at Mexico, which were granted to some families dwelling 201 in certain quarters of that city.[105] The ministers of the various temples, to be fitted for an ecclesiastical career, must be graduates of the Calmecac, colleges or seminaries to which they had been sent by their parents in their infancy. The dignities of their order were conferred by vote; but it is evident that the priests of noble birth obtained almost invariably the highest honors. The quarrels between the priest and warrior classes, which, in former times, had brought so much harm to the Mexican nation, had taught the kings to do their best to effect a balance of power between the rival bodies; to this end they appropriated to themselves the privilege of electing priests, and placed at the head of the clergy a priest or a warrior of high rank, as they saw fit; this could be all the more easily done, as both classes received the same education in the same schools.

The august title of Topiltzin, which in ancient times expressed the supreme military and priestly power, came to mean, in after years, a purely ecclesiastical authority. In Tezcuco and Tlacopan, where the crown was inherited in a direct line by one of the sons of the deceased monarch, the supreme pontiff was usually selected from among the members of the royal family; but in Mexico, where it involved, almost always, the duties of Tlacochcalcatl, or commander-in-chief of the army, and, eventually, succession to the throne, the office of high-priest, like that of king, was elective. The election of the spiritual king, for so we may call him, generally followed close upon that of the temporal monarch, and such was the honor in which the former was held, that he was consecrated with the same sacred unguent with which the king was anointed. In this manner Axayacatl, Montezuma II., and Quauhtemoc, were each made pontiff before the royal crown was placed upon their head. The title of him who held this dignity was Mexicatl-Teohuatzin, that is to say, the 'Mexican lord of sacred things;' he 202 added also, besides a great number of other titles, that of Teotecuhtli, or 'divine master,' and he was, by right, high-priest of Huitzilopochtli; he was the 'head of the church,' and of all its branches, not only at Mexico, but in all the provinces of the Mexican empire; he had absolute authority over all priests, of whatever rank, and the colleges and monasteries of every class were under his control. He was elected by the two dignitaries ranking next to himself in the aboriginal hierarchy. The Mexicatl-Teohuatzin was looked upon as the right arm of the king, particularly in all matters of war and religion, and it rarely happened that any important enterprise was set on foot without his advice. At the same time it is evident that the high-priest was, after all, only the vicar and lieutenant of the king, for on certain solemn occasions the monarch himself performed the functions of grand sacrificer.

The Quetzalcoatl, that is, the high-priest of the god of that name, was almost equal in rank to the Mexicatl-Teohuatzin; but his political influence was far inferior. The ordinary title of the priests was Teopixqui, or 'sacred guardian;' those who were clothed with a higher dignity were called Huey-Teopixqui, or 'great sacred guardian.' The Huitznahuac-Teohuatzin and the Tepan-Teohuatzin followed, in priestly rank, the high-priest of Huitzilopochtli; they were his vicars, and superintended the colleges and monasteries in every part of his kingdom. The Tlaquimilol-Tecuhtli, or 'grand master of relics,'[106] took charge of the ornaments, furniture, and other articles specially relating to worship. The Tlillancalcatl, or 'chief of the house of Tlillan,' exercised the functions of principal sacristan; he took care of the robes and utensils used by the high-priest. The choristers were under the orders of the Ometochtli, the high-priest of the god so named, who had, as director of the singing-schools, 203 an assistant styled Tlapitzcatzin; it was this latter officer's duty to instruct his pupils in the hymns which were chanted at the principal solemnities. The Tlamacazcatlotl, or 'divine minister' overlooked the studies in the schools; another priest discharged the duties of grand master of the pontifical ceremonies; another was archdeacon and judge of the ecclesiastical courts; the latter had power to employ and discharge the attendants in the temples; besides these there was a crowd of other dignitaries, following each other rank below rank in perfect order.


In Mexico and the other towns of the empire, there were as many complete sets of priests as there were temples. Besides the seventy-eight sanctuaries dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, which were in part directed by the priests we have already enumerated, the capital contained many others. Each had jurisdiction in its own section, which corresponded to our parish; the priests and their pupils dwelling in a school or college which adjoined the temple.

It was the province of the priests to attend to all matters relating to religion and the instruction of youth. Some took charge of the sacrifices, others were skilled in the art of divination; certain of them were entrusted with the arrangement of the festivals and the care of the temple and sacred vessels, others applied themselves to the composition of hymns and attended to the singing and music. The priests who were learned in science superintended the schools and colleges, made the calculations for the annual calendar, and fixed the feast-days; those who possessed literary talent compiled the historical works, and collected material for the libraries. To each temple was attached a monastery, or we might call it a chapter, the members of which enjoyed privileges similar to those of our canons.

The Tlamacazqui, 'deacons' or 'ministers' and the Quaquacuiltin, 'herb-eaters,' were those who dedicated themselves to the service of the gods for life. 204 They led a very ascetic life; continence was strictly imposed upon them, and they mortified the flesh by deeds of penance in imitation of Quetzalcoatl, who was their patron deity. The name of Tlamacazcayotl, signifying 'government of the religious,' was given to these orders, and they had monasteries for the reception of both sexes. The high-priest of the god Quetzalcoatl was their supreme lord; he was a man of great authority, and never deigned to put his foot out of doors unless it was to confer with the king. When a father of a family wished to dedicate one of his children to the service of Quetzalcoatl, he with great humility advised the high-priest of his intention. That dignitary deputed a Tlamacazqui to represent him at the feast which was given in his honor, and to bring away the child. If at this time the infant was under four years of age, a slight incision was made on his chest, and a few drops of blood were drawn as a token of his future position. Four years was the age requisite for admission into the monastery. Some remained there until they were of an age to enter the world, some dedicated their whole lives to the service of the gods; others vowed themselves to perpetual continence. All were poorly clothed, wore their hair long, lived upon coarse and scanty fare, and did all kinds of work. At midnight they arose and went to the bath; after washing, they drew blood from their bodies with spines of the maguey-plant; then they watched and chanted praises of the gods until two in the morning. Notwithstanding this austerity, however, these monks could betake themselves alone to the woods, or wander through the mountains and deserts, there in solitude to spend the time in holy contemplation.


Females were consecrated to the service of the gods in several ways. When a girl was forty days old, the father carried her to the neighboring temple; he placed in her little hands a broom and a censer, and thus presented her to the Teopixqui, or priest; who by 205 accepting these symbols of his future state, bound himself to perform his part of the engagement. As soon as the little one was able to do so in person, she carried a broom and a censer to the temple, with some presents for the priest; at the required age she entered the monastery. Some of the girls took an oath of perpetual continence; others, on account of some vow which they had made during sickness, or that the gods might send them a good husband, entered the monastery for one, two, three, or four years. They were called Cihuatlamacasque, 'deaconesses,' or Cihuaquaquilli, 'eaters of vegetables.' They were under the surveillance of a number of staid matrons of good character; upon entering the monastery each girl had her hair cut short.[107] They all slept in one dormitory, and were not allowed to disrobe before retiring to rest, in order that they might always be ready when the signal was given to rise. They occupied themselves with the usual labors of their sex; weaving and embroidering the tapestry and ornamental work for the temple. Three times during the night they rose to renew the incense in the braziers, at ten o'clock, at midnight, and at dawn.[108] On these occasions a matron led the procession; with eyes modestly bent upon the ground, and without daring to cast a glance to one side or the other, the maidens filed up one side of the temple, while the priests did the same on the other, so that all met before the altar. In returning to the dormitory the same order was observed. They spent part of the morning in preparing bread and confectionery, which they placed, while warm, in the temple, where the priests partook of it after sacrifice.[109] 206 The young women, for their part, fasted strictly; they first broke their fast at noon, and with the exception of a scanty meal in the evening, this was all they ate during the twenty-four hours. On feast-days they were permitted to taste meat, but at all other times their diet was extremely meagre. While sweeping the temple they took great care never to turn their back to the idol, lest the god should be insulted.

If one of these young women unhappily violated her vows of chastity she redoubled her fasting and severity, in the fear that her flesh would rot, and in order to appease the gods and induce them to conceal her crime, for death was the punishment inflicted on the Mexican vestal who was convicted of such a trespass. The maiden who entered the service of the gods for a certain period only, and not for life, did not usually leave the monastery until she was about to be married. At that time the parents, having chosen a husband for the girl, and gotten everything in readiness, repaired to the monastery, taking care first to provide themselves with quails, copal, hollow canes filled with perfume, which Torquemada says they called poquietl, a brassier for incense, and some flowers. The girl was then clothed in a new dress, and the party went up to the temple; the altar was covered with a cloth, upon which were placed the presents they had brought with them, accompanied by sundry dishes of meats and pastry. A complimentary speech was next made by the parents to the Tequaquilli, or chief priest of the temple, and when this was concluded the girl was taken away to her father's house. But of those young men and maidens who stayed in the temple-schools for a time only, and received a regular course of instruction at the hands of the priests, it is my intention to speak further when treating of the education of the Mexican youth. The 207 original accounts are rather confused on this point, so that it is difficult to separate with accuracy those who entered with the intention of becoming permanent priests from those who were merely temporary scholars.


The ordinary dress of the Mexican priests differed little from that of other citizens; the only distinctive feature being a black cotton mantle, which they wore in the manner of a veil thrown back upon the head. Those, however, who professed a more austere life, such as the Quaquaquiltin and Tlamacazqui before mentioned, wore long black robes; many among them never cut their hair, but allowed it to grow as long as it would; it was twisted with thick cotton cords, and bedaubed with unctuous matter, the whole forming a weighty mass, as inconvenient to carry as it was disgusting to look at. The high-priest usually wore, as a badge of his rank, a kind of fringe which hung down over his breast, called Xicolli; on feast-days he was clothed in a long robe, over which he wore a sort of chasuble or cope, which varied in color, shape, and ornamentation, according to the sacrifices he made and the divinity to which he offered them.[110]

Among the Miztecs and Zapotecs the priests had as much or even more influence than among the Mexicans. In briefly reviewing the sacerdotal system of these nations, let us once more take M. Brasseur de Bourbourg for our guide.

The kingdom of Tilantongo, which comprised upper Miztecapan, was spiritually governed by the high-priest of Achiuhtla; he had the title of Taysacaa,[111] 208 and his power equalled, if it did not surpass, that of the sovereign. This office, it appears, was reserved for the royal family, and was transmitted from male to male; a member of any free family could, however, become a sacaa, or simple priest. All, even to the successor of the Taysacaa, had to submit to a vigorous noviciate of one year's duration, and to this rule no exceptions were made. Up to the time of commencing his noviciate, and for four years after it was ended, the candidate for the priesthood was supposed to have led a perfectly chaste life, otherwise he was judged unworthy to be admitted into the order. His only food during the year of probation was herbs, wild honey, and roasted maize; his life was passed in silence and retirement, and the monotony of his existence was only relieved by waiting on the priests, taking care of the altars, sweeping the temple, and gathering wood for the fires.

When four years after his admission to the priesthood had elapsed, during which time he seems to have served a sort of apprenticeship, he was permitted to marry if he saw fit, and at the same time to perform his priestly functions. If he did not marry he entered one of the monasteries which were dependent on the temples, and while performing his regular duties, increased the austerity of his life. Those priests who were entrusted with the higher and more important offices, such as the instruction of youth or a seat in the royal council, were selected from the latter class. The king, or the nobles, each in his own state, provided for their wants, and certain women, sworn to chastity, prepared their food. They never left the monastery except on special occasions, to assist at some feast, to play at ball in the court of their sovereign lord, to go on a pilgrimage for the accomplishment of a vow made by the king or by themselves, or to take their place at the head of the army, which, on 209 certain occasions, they commanded. If one of these monks fell sick, he was well cared for in the monastery; if he died he was interred in the court of the building. If one of them violated his vow of chastity, he was bastinadoed to death.



In Zapotecapan the supreme pontiff was called the Wiyatao;[112] his residence was in the city of Yopaa,[113] and there he was from time immemorial spiritual and temporal lord, though, indeed, he made his temporal power felt more or less throughout the whole kingdom; and he appears in the earliest history of this country as master and lord of both the princes and the people of those nations who acknowledged him as the supreme head of their religion. The origin of the city of Yopaa is not known; it was situated on the slope of Mount Teutitlan,[114] which in this place formed a valley, shut in by overshadowing rocks, and watered by a stream which lower down flowed into the river Xalatlaco. The original inhabitants of this region were the disciples and followers of a mysterious, white-skinned personage named Wixipecocha. What race he belonged to, or from what land he came when he presented himself to the Zapotecs, is not known; a certain vague tradition relates that he came by sea from the south, bearing a cross in his hand, and debarked in the neighborhood of Tehuantepec;[115] a statue representing him is still to be seen, on a high rock near the village of Magdalena. He is described as a man of a venerable aspect, having a bushy, white beard, dressed in a long robe and a cloak, and wearing a covering upon his head resembling a monk's 210 cowl. The statue represents him seated in a pensive attitude, apparently occupied in hearing the confession of a woman who kneels by his side.[116] His voice, to accord with his appearance, must have been of remarkable sweetness. Wixipecocha taught his disciples to deny themselves the vanities of this world, to mortify the flesh with penance and fasting, and to abstain from all sensual pleasures. Adding example to precept, he utterly abjured female society, and suffered no woman to approach him except in the act of auricular confession, which formed part of his doctrine.[117] This extraordinary conduct caused him to be much respected; especially as it was an unheard-of thing among these people for a man to devote his life to celibacy. Nevertheless, he was frequently persecuted by those whose vices and superstitions he attacked. Passing through one province after another he at length arrived in the Zapotec valley, a large portion of which was at that time occupied by a lake named Rualo. Afterwards, being entered into the country of the Miztecs, to labor for their conversion, the people sought to take his life. Those who were sent to take him prisoner, overtook him at the foot of Cempoaltepec, the most lofty peak in the country; but at the moment they thought to lay hands upon him, he disappeared suddenly from their sight, and soon afterwards, adds the tradition, his figure was seen standing on the summit of the highest peak of the mountain. Filled with astonishment, his persecutors hastened to scale the rocky height. When after great labor they arrived at the point where they had seen the figure, Wixipecocha appeared to them again for a few instants, then as suddenly vanished, leaving no traces of his presence save the imprints of his feet deeply impressed upon the rock where he had stood.[118] Since 211 then we do not know that Wixipecocha reappeared in the ordinary world, though tradition relates that he afterwards showed himself in the enchanted island of Monapostiac, near Tehuantepec, whither he probably went for the purpose of obtaining new proselytes. In spite of the silence which history maintains concerning the time of his advent and the disciples which he left behind him, there can be no doubt that the priests of Yopaa did not continue to promulgate his doctrines, or that the Wiyatao, the supreme pontiff in Zapotecapan, was not there as the vicar and successor of the prophet of Monapostiac. Like the ancient Brahmans of Hindustan, the first disciples of Wixipecocha celebrated the rites of their religion in a deep cave, which M. de Bourbourg thinks was most probably hollowed out in the side of the mountain by the waters of the flood. This was afterwards used as a place of worship by the Wiyataos, who, as the number of their proselytes increased, brought art to the aid of nature, and under the hands of able architects the cave of Yopaa was soon turned into a temple, having halls, galleries, and numerous apartments all cut in the solid rock. It was into the gloomy recesses of this temple that the priests descended on solemn feast-days to assist at those mysterious sacrifices which were sacred from the profane gaze of the vulgar, or to take part in the burial rites at the death of a king.[119]

The classes of religious men were as numerous and their names and duties as varied among the Zapotecs as elsewhere. A certain order of priests who made the interpreting of dreams their special province were called Colanii Cobee Pécala. Each form of divination was made a special study. Some professed to foretell the future by the aid of stars, earth, wind, fire, or water; others, by the flight of birds, the entrails of sacrificial victims, or by magic signs and circles. Among other divinities a species of parroquet, with 212 flaming plumage, called the ara,[120] was worshiped in some districts. In this bird a god was incarnate, who was said to have descended from the sky like a meteor. There were among the Zapotecs hermits or fakirs, who passed their entire lives in religious Ecstasy and meditation, shut up in dark caves, or rude huts, with no other companion but an ara, which they fed respectfully upon a species of altar; in honor of the bird they lacerated their flesh and drew blood from their bodies; upon their knees they kissed it morning and evening, and offered it with their prayers sacrifices of flowers and copal.


Priests of a lower order were styled Wiyana and Wizaechi, and the monks Copapitas. The influence which they were supposed to have with the gods, and the care which they took to keep their number constantly recruited with scions of the most illustrious families, gained them great authority among the people. No noble was so great but he would be honored by having a son in the temple. They added, also, to the credit of their profession by the strict propriety of their manners, and the excessive rigor with which they guarded their chastity. Parents who wished to consecrate one of their children to the service of the gods, led him, while still an infant, to the chief priest of the district, who after carefully catechizing the little one, delivered him over to the charge of the master of the novices. Besides the care of the sanctuary, which fell to their lot, these children were taught singing, the history of their country, and such sciences as were within their comprehension.

These religious bodies were looked upon with much respect. Their members were taught to bear themselves properly at home and in the street, and to preserve a modest and humble demeanor. The least infraction of the rules was severely punished; a glance or a sign which might be construed into a carnal desire, 213 was punished as criminal, and those who showed by their actions a strong disposition to violate their vow of chastity were relentlessly castrated.

The Wiyanas were divided into several orders, but all were ruled in the most absolute manner by the pontiff of Yopaa. I have already spoken of the veneration in which this spiritual monarch was held, and of the manner in which he surmounted the difficulty of having children to inherit the pontifical chair, when continence was strictly imposed upon him.[121]

The ordinary dress of the Zapotec priests was a full white robe, with openings to pass the arms through, but no sleeves; this was girt at the waist with a colored cord. During the ceremony of sacrifice, and on feast-days, the Wiyatao wore, over all, a kind of tunic, with full sleeves, adorned with tassels and embroidered in various colors with representations of birds and animals. On his head he wore a mitre of feather-work, ornamented with a very rich crown of gold; his neck, arms, and wrists were laden with costly necklaces and bracelets; upon his feet were golden sandals, bound to his legs with cords of gold and bright-colored thread.[122]


The Toltec sacerdotal system so closely resembled the Mexican already described that it needs no further description in this volume. Their priests wore a long 214 black robe reaching to the ground; their heads were covered with a hood, and their hair fell down over their shoulders and was braided. They rarely put sandals on their feet, except when about to start on a long journey.[123] Among the Totonacs six great ecclesiastics were elected, one as high-priest, one next to him in rank, and so on with the other four. When the high-priest died, the second priest succeeded him. He was anointed and consecrated with great ceremony; the unction used upon the occasion was a mixture of a fluid called in the Totonac tongue ole, and blood drawn at the circumcision of children.[124] There existed also among these people an order of monks devoted to their goddess Centeotl. They lived a very austere and retired life, and their character, according to the Totonac standard, was irreproachable. None but men above sixty years of age, who were widowers of virtuous life and estranged from the society of women, were admitted into this order. Their number was fixed, and when one of them died another was received in his stead. They were so much respected that they were not only consulted by the common people, but likewise by the great nobles and the high-priest. They listened to those who consulted them, sitting upon their heels, with their eyes fixed upon the ground, and their answers were received as oracles even by the kings of Mexico. They were employed in making historical paintings, which they gave to the high-priest that he might exhibit them to the people. The common Totonac priests wore long black cotton robes with hoods; their hair was braided like the other common priests of Mexico, and anointed with the blood of human sacrifices, but those who served the goddess Centeotl were always dressed in the skins of foxes or coyotes.[125] At Izacapu, in Michoacan, 215 there was a pontiff named Curinacanery, who was looked upon with such deep veneration that the king himself visited him once a year to offer him the first-fruits of the season, which he did upon his knees, having first respectfully kissed his hand. The common priests of Michoacan wore their hair loose and disheveled; a leathern band encircled their foreheads; their robes were white, embroidered with black, and in their hands they carried feather fans.[126] In Puebla they also wore white robes, with sleeves, and fringed on the edges.[127] The papas, or sacrificing priests of Tlascala, allowed their hair to grow long and anointed it with the blood of their victims.[128] Much more might be written concerning the priests of these countries, but as it does not strictly come within the province of this volume, it is omitted here.[129]




Influence of the Commoners—Oppression by Nobles—Deprived of Office by Montezuma II.—Classes of Slaves—Penal Slaves—Voluntary Slavery—Slave Market at Azcapuzalco—Punishment and Privileges of Slaves—Division of Lands—Crown Lands—Lands of the Nobles—Municipal Property—Property of the Temples—Tenure of Lands in Zapotecapan, Miztecapan, Michoacan, Tlascala, Cholula, and Huexotzinco—Similarity to Feudal System of Europe—System of Taxation—Municipal Taxes—Lice Tribute—Tribute from Conquered Provinces—Revenue Officers—Injustice of Montezuma II.


No writer seems to have thought it worth while to define the exact condition of the lower orders of free citizens among the Aztecs. In Mexico, under the earlier kings, they appear to have enjoyed considerable privileges. They were represented in the royal councils, they held high offices at court and about the king's person, their wishes were consulted in all affairs of moment, and they were generally recognized as an important part of the community. Gradually, however, their power lessened as that of the nobles increased, until, in the time of Montezuma II., they were, as we have seen, deprived of all offices that were not absolutely menial, and driven from the palace. Still, there is no doubt that from the earliest times the plebeians were always much oppressed by the nobles, or that, as the Bishop of Santo Domingo, 217 before quoted,[130] remarks, "they were, and still are, so submissive that they allow themselves to be killed or sold into slavery without complaining." Father Acosta, also, writes that "so great is the authority which the caciques have assumed over their vassals that these latter dare not open their lips to complain of any order given them, no matter how difficult or disagreeable it may be to fulfill; indeed, they would rather die and perish than incur the wrath of their lord; for this reason the nobles frequently abuse their power, and are often guilty of extortion, robbery, and violence towards their vassals."[131] Camargo tells us that the plebeians were content to work without pay for the nobles, if they could only insure their protection by so doing.[132]

Of those who stood below the macehuales, as the plebeians were called, and lowest of all in the social scale, the slaves, we have more definite information. Slavery was enforced and recognized by law and usage throughout the entire country inhabited by the Nahua nations. There were in ancient Mexico three classes of slaves; namely, prisoners of war, persons condemned for crime to lose their freedom, and those who sold themselves, or children sold by their parents. The captor of a prisoner of war had an undisputed right to doom his prize to be sacrificed to the gods; this power he almost invariably exerted, and it was held a punishable crime for another to deprive him of it by rescuing the prisoner or setting him free.[133] Sahagun tells us that the captor could, if he chose, either sell or hold his prisoners as slaves; and if among them any man or woman showed unusual ability in music, embroidering, weaving, or other domestic occupation, he or she was frequently purchased by the king or some noble or wealthy man, and employed 218 in his house, and thus saved from the sacrifice.[134] The offences which the Aztecs punished with slavery were the following: firstly, failure on the part of any relation of a person convicted of high treason, to give timely information of the plot to the proper authorities, provided he or she had knowledge of it, the wives and children of the traitor being also enslaved; secondly, the unauthorized sale of a free man or woman or of a free child kidnapped or found astray, the kidnapper fraudulently asserting such person to be a slave, or such child to be his own; thirdly, the sale or disposal, by a tenant or depositary, of another's property, without the permission of the owner or his representative, or of a proper legal authority; fourthly, hindering a collared slave from reaching the asylum of the sovereign's palace, provided it was the act of one who was not the owner or the owner's son; fifthly, stealing things of value, or being an inveterate thief; sixthly, stealing from a field a certain number of ears of corn or of useful plants, exception being made to this law when the act was committed by a child under ten years of age, or when the stolen property was paid for; seventhly, the impregnating, by a free man, of another's female slave, if the woman died during her pregnancy, or in consequence of it. This latter statement is contradicted by Torquemada, upon the strength of information given him, as he alleges, by Aztecs well acquainted with the laws of their country.[135] 219 Gomara asserts, though he allows that others deny it, that when a man died insolvent, his son or his wife became the property of his creditors.[136] Torquemada affirms that it was customary for a creditor to look for payment of his claim to the estate, real or personal, if any there was, but no member of the debtor's family was awarded to him to cancel the debt.[137] It sometimes happened that persons too poor to pay their taxes were put up for sale, but this mostly occurred in conquered provinces. Penal slaves did not become the property of the king or the state, but were publicly sold to private persons, or assigned to the parties whom they had injured; nor were such offenders held to be slaves, or their punishment considered to have commenced until they had been formally delivered to the new owner.


Among those who voluntarily surrendered their freedom for a consideration, besides such as were driven by extreme poverty to do so, were the indolent who would not trust to their own exertions for a livelihood, gamesters, to obtain the wherewithal to satisfy their passion for gambling,[138] and harlots, to provide themselves with showy clothing and finery. The two latter classes were not obliged to go into service until after the expiration of a year from the time of receiving the consideration for which they sold themselves.

Slaves were continually offered for sale in the public market-place of every town, but the principal slave-mart in the Mexican empire seems to have been the town of Azcapuzalco, which was situated about two leagues from the city of Mexico; it occupied the site of the ancient capital of the Tepanec kingdom, which was destroyed by King Nezahualcoyotl of Tezcuco. Great numbers of slaves were brought to Azcapuzalco from all the provinces; and it is said that 220 the merchants who traded in them had to adopt great precautions to prevent their property from being stolen or rescued on the journey. With a view to advantageous sales the slaves thus exposed in the public markets were kept well clothed and fed, and were forced to dance and look cheerful.

Parents could pawn, or sell a son as a slave, but were allowed to take him back on surrendering another son to serve in his stead; on such occasions the master was wont to show his generosity by allowing an extra compensation for the new servant. There was yet another kind of slavery, called by the Mexicans huehuetlatlacolli, meaning 'ancient servitude.' When one or more families were entirely destitute and famine-stricken, they sold a son to some noble, and bound themselves to always 'keep that slave alive,' that is to say, to supply another to fill his place if he died or became incapacitated. This obligation was binding upon each member of the families making the contract, but was null and void if the man who was actually serving died in his master's house, or if his employer took from him anything that he had lawfully acquired; therefore, to prevent this forfeiture of ownership, the master neither took from his slave anything but personal service, nor allowed him to dwell in his house. It frequently happened that as many as four or five families were bound in this manner to supply a noble and his heirs with a slave. But in 1505 or 1506, a year of famine in the country, Nezahualpilli of Tezcuco, foreseeing the evils that this system of perpetual contract would entail upon his subjects if the scarcity of food continued long, repealed the law, and declared all families exempt from its obligations; it is recorded that Montezuma II. soon after followed his example.[139]


Slavery in Mexico was, according to all accounts, 221 a moderate subjection, consisting merely of an obligation to render personal service, nor could that be exacted without allowing the slave a certain amount of time to labor for his own advantage. Slaves were kindly treated and were allowed far greater privileges than any in the old world; they could marry and bring up families, hold property, including other slaves to serve them, and their children were invariably born free. There is, however, some obscurity on this point, as Sahagun tells us that in the year Ce Tochtli, which came round every fifty-two years, there was generally a great famine in the land, and at that time many persons, driven to it by hunger, sold not only themselves as slaves, but also their children and descendants for countless generations.[140] Very young or poor slaves lived at the home of their master, and were treated almost as members of the family; the other slaves lived independently, either on their owner's land, or upon their own. It frequently happened that a master succumbed to the charms of one of his female slaves and made her his wife, or that a comely bondman found favor in the sight of his mistress, and became her lord; nor was this so strange as it may at first appear, there being no difference of race or color to make such alliances repugnant or shameful. Feelings of affection and respect existed, as a rule, between master and servant. A slave who had served long and faithfully was often entrusted with the stewardship of his owner's household and property, and, on the other hand, if the master through misfortune should become poor, his bondmen would cheerfully labor for his support. No well-behaved slave could 222 be sold without his consent unless his owner could prove that poverty or debt made such sale unavoidable; nor could such faults as laziness, disobedience, or running away, be punished without due warning, which the master for his own justification usually gave in the presence of respectable witnesses. If after this had occurred two or three times the slave continued refractory, a wooden collar was placed on his neck, and then his master was authorized to transfer him against his will. Purchasers of a collared slave always inquired how many times he had been so disposed of before, and if after two or three such sales he continued incorrigible, he could be sold for the sacrifice. But even yet he has one chance left; if he can escape from his master's premises and gain the courtyard of the royal palace, he not only avoids punishment, but he is from that day forth a free man; moreover, no person, save his owner or his owner's sons, is allowed in any manner to prevent him from reaching the asylum, under penalty of being made the slave of him whom he attempts to deprive of his chance for freedom.

The sale of a slave was conducted with much formality, and must be made in the presence of at least four respectable witnesses; in cases of self-sale the witnesses acted as conscientious arbitrators to secure the highest price and most favorable conditions for him who sold himself. The usual price for an average slave was twenty mantles, equivalent to one load of cotton cloth; some were worth less, while others brought as many as forty mantles.

Slavery among the Nahua nations appears, then, to have been only a partial deprivation of a freeman's rights. As a slave was permitted to possess property and even other slaves of his own, and as his children were born free and he had complete control of his own family, we can scarcely say he lost his citizenship, although it is true he was not eligible for public office. It was a common practice for a master during his 223 lifetime, or on his death-bed, to emancipate his slaves, but if no such provision were made they went to the heirs with the rest of the property. Murder of a slave, even by his master, was a capital offence.

Yet in spite of all this testimony in favor of the mildness of slavery among the Nahua nations, there is still room for some reasonable doubt concerning the patriarchal character of the system; inasmuch as we are told that many slaves, not mentioned as being prisoners of war or criminals, as well as servants, dwarfs, or deformed persons, and purchased children, were put to death at religious feasts and royal funerals.[141]


The lands were divided between the crown, the nobility, the various tribes or clans of the people, and the temples. The division, however, was by no means equal, by far the greater portion being appropriated 224 by the king and the aristocracy.[142] All landed property was duly surveyed, and each estate was accurately marked out on maps, or paintings, kept on file by a competent officer in the district where they were situated. The crown lands were painted in purple, those of the nobility in scarlet, and those of the calpullis, or wards, in light yellow. Certain portions of the crown property called tecpantlalli, or 'lands of the palace,' were granted to nobles of the rank of Tecuhtli, who were called tecpanpouhque or tecpantlaca, 'people of the palace.' They had the free use and enjoyment of such lands, and in return certain services were expected of them. It was their duty to attend to the repairs and proper arrangement of the royal residences, and to cultivate and keep in order the royal gardens, for all of which they had to provide the necessary number of workmen; besides this they were obliged to wait on the king and accompany him whenever he appeared in public. Although in consideration of these services the 'people of the palace' paid no rent, yet the eminent domain of their lands was vested in the sovereign. When one of them died his eldest son inherited his privileges, subject to the same obligations, but if he changed his residence to another part of the country, or died without male issue, the usufruct was forfeited and the land reverted to the sovereign, who transferred it to another usufructuary, or left the choice of one to the community in whose district the property was situated.[143] The produce of other lands belonging to the crown was set apart for the support of the royal household, and for benevolent purposes.


In conquered provinces, the habits and customs and established form of government of the vanquished were usually respected. The sovereigns of Anáhuac retained the native princes in power, and allowed the 225 people to keep their property; but they invariably set apart a certain part of the territory, proportioned to the conquest, which became the property of the conquering monarch. These lands, called yaotlalli, which means 'war lands,' were cultivated by the conquered people for the benefit of their conqueror. If they belonged to Mexico their name was mexica-tlalli; if to Acolhuacan, acolhua-tlalli, and so on.[144]


The lands of the nobility were called pillalli, and were either ancient possessions of the nobles transmitted by inheritance from father to son, or were rewards of valor granted by the king. They were held by various tenures; some of them could be alienated at the will of the owner, subject only to the restriction that they should not pass into the hands of a plebeian; others were entailed upon the eldest male issue and could not be otherwise disposed of. Many of the Aztec estates were of very ancient origin. After the Chichimecs obtained undisputed possession of the valley of Mexico, their chief or sovereign Xolotl made grants of land to his own people, and to others who acknowledged him as their supreme lord, under the condition that the grantees should render service to the crown with their persons, vassals, and estates, whenever he should require it of them, and the same policy was adopted by his successors.[145] Sons generally inherited their father's estates by right of primogeniture, but if the eldest son was judged incapable of taking proper care of the property, the father left it to whichever son he pleased, stipulating, however, that the heir should insure a competency to him he had supplanted.[146] In the republic of Tlascala 226 daughters could not inherit an estate, the object being to prevent landed property from going into the hands of strangers. In the kingdoms of Mexico, Tezcuco, and Tlacopan it is probable that the law was the same in this respect, but the authorities give us no information concerning the matter.[147] These feudatories paid no rent for their lands, but were bound to assist their suzerain, the king, with their persons, vassals, and fortunes in all cases of foreign or civil war. Each king, on his accession, confirmed the investiture of estates derived from the crown.[148] The lands of the people were called calpulli, and every city was divided into as many of these as there were wards in it, and the whole number of calpulli being collectively named altepatlalli. The calpulli, as well as the tlaxicalli, or streets, were all measured out and their boundaries marked, so that the inhabitants of one ward or street could not invade the possessions of another. Each of these divisions belonged to its respective community, and was of greater or less extent and importance according to the partition which had been made by the first settlers in Anáhuac. The owners of a calpulli were all members of the same clan or tribe, and their district bore their name. The right of tenure was perpetual and inalienable, and was the common property of the community and not of individuals. Any member of the community not possessed of any land, had the right to ask for a portion suitable to his position and requirements, which was granted him. This portion he was entitled to hold as long as he cultivated and improved it, and he could transmit it to his 227 heirs; he had no authority to sell his portion, but he could let it to another for a number of years. If he neglected to cultivate it for two years the head man of the calpulli remonstrated with him; if he paid no heed to this warning he was ousted the following year in favor of some other person; a reasonable excuse for such neglect was, however, always accepted. If the land assigned to anyone proved unfruitful and barren, he was at liberty to abandon it and another portion was granted him. Under no pretext whatever could any person settle upon the land lawfully occupied by another, nor could the authorities of the calpulli deprive the latter of his right. If a land-owner died without heirs, his portion was considered vacant and assigned to the first applicant for it. If a calpulli was in great need the authorities were allowed to lease its lands, but under no circumstances were the inhabitants permitted to work on the lands of another district. The elders of the tribe formed the council of the calpulli; this body elected a principal, called calpullec, whose duty it was to watch over the interests of the community; he acted only with the advice and consent of the council. Each city set apart a piece of land in the suburbs wherefrom to supply the needs of the army in time of war. These portions were called milchimalli, or cacalomilli, according to the kind of grain they produced, and were cultivated jointly by all the calpullis. It was not unusual for the kings to make a life-grant of a portion of the people's property to some favorite noble, for though there is no doubt that the calpulli lands of right belonged to the people, yet in this respect as in others, the kings were wont to usurp a power not their own.[149] Every temple, 228 great and insignificant, had its own lands and country estates, the produce of which was applied to the support of the priests and of public worship; the tenants who occupied these lands were looked upon as vassals of the temples. The chief priests, who, on the temple lands, exercised a power similar to that of the royal governors, frequently visited these estates to inspect their condition and to administer justice to their tenants. The temple of Huitzilopochtli was considered the wealthiest in Mexico. Torquemada says that in Tezcuco fifteen large cities furnished the temples of that kingdom with wood, provisions, and other necessaries.[150] Clavigero makes the number of towns twenty-nine.[151]

Throughout Zapotecapan and Miztecapan landed property was invariably transmitted from male to male, females being excluded from the succession. No one had the right to sell his land in perpetuity; the law forbade its transfer out of a family either by marriage or otherwise; and if a proprietor was compelled by the force of necessity to dispose of his real estate, it returned after the lapse of some years to his son or his nearest relative, who paid to the holder the consideration for which it had been pledged or its equivalent.[152] In Miztecapan the first-born son, before taking possession of his inheritance, had to do penance for a year; he was confined in a religious house, clothed in rags, daubed with India-rubber juice, and 229 his face and body rubbed with fetid herbs; during that time he had to draw blood repeatedly from his body and limbs, and was subjected to hard labor and privation. At the expiration of the year he was washed with odorous water by four girls, and then conducted by friends to his house with great pomp and festivity.[153]


Early writers say nothing about the tenure of lands among the Tarascos of Michoacan, but merely state in general terms that the sovereign's power over the lives and property of his subjects was unlimited.[154]

The tenure of lands in the republic of Tlascala had its origin in the division made at the time when the country was first settled; which was as follows: Any Tecuhtli who established an entail, called teccalli, or pilcalli, took for his own use the best and largest part of the lands that fell to his lot or were awarded to him in the partition, including woods, springs, rivers, and lakes; of the remainder a fair division was made among his servitors and vassals, or, in other words, his soldiers, friends, and kinsmen. All were bound to keep the manor-house in repair and to supply their lord with game, flowers, and other comforts, and he in his turn, was expected to entertain, protect, and feed them in his house. To these kinsmen, friends, and servitors, was given the name of teixhuihuan, meaning the 'grand-children of the manor-house.' In this manner all the nobles divided their land. All were greatly respected by their vassals. They derived their income from the taxes that their tenants paid them out of what they obtained from the chase, from the soil, and by raising domestic animals.[155]

No information has reached us respecting the provisions under which land was held in Cholula and 230 Huexotzinco, or among the Totonacs. In the province of Pánuco, the eldest son was the sole inheritor of land and, therefore, the only one that paid tribute; the other sons had to rent land from those who were in possession of it.[156]

There can be no doubt that in all this there is, as so many writers have observed, a strong resemblance to the feudal systems of Europe. The obligation of military service, and other relations of lord and vassal smack strongly of the institutions of the Middle Ages, but, as Mr Prescott says, the minor points of resemblance "fall far short of that harmonious system of reciprocal service and protection, which embraced, in nice gradation, every order of a feudal monarchy. The kingdoms of Anáhuac were, in their nature, despotic, attended, indeed, with many mitigating circumstances, unknown to the despotisms of the East; but it is chimerical to look for much in common—beyond a few accidental forms and ceremonies—with those aristocratic institutions of the Middle Ages, which made the court of every petty baron the precise image in miniature of that of his sovereign." I have no inclination to draw analogies, believing them, at least in a work of this kind, to be futile; and were I disposed to do so, space would not permit it. Nations in their infancy are almost as much alike as are human beings in their earlier years, and in studying these people I am struck at every turn by the similarity between certain of their customs and institutions and those of other nations; comparisons might be happily drawn between the division of lands in Anáhuac and that made by Lycurgus and Numa in Laconia and Rome, or between the relations of Aztec master and slave and those of Roman patron and client, for the former were nearly as mild as the latter; but the list of such comparisons would never be complete, and I am fain to leave them to the reader. 231


The people of Anáhuac and of the surrounding countries paid taxes to the crown and to the temples, either with personal service or with the productions or results of their labor; in short, with everything useful. We have seen that in the kingdom of Tezcuco twenty-nine cities were appointed to provide the king's household with everything requisite of food, furniture, and so forth, and were, consequently, exempt from all other taxes. Fourteen of these cities served in this manner during one half of the year, and fifteen during the other half. They likewise furnished the workingmen and laborers, such as water-carriers, sweepers, tillers of the palace lands, and gardeners. Boys who were too young to do men's work were required to provide annually four hundred armfuls of wood for the fires which were kept up day and night in the principal rooms of the palace. The young men of Tollantzinco, either themselves or through their servants supplied fine rushes for mats, stools, or seats, called icpalli, pine-wood splinters for lighting fires, other wood for torches, acayetl, or pipes with tobacco, various kinds of dyes, liquid amber both in cakes and in vessels, copal incense in their golden cylinders, and a large quantity of other articles, which it is unnecessary to specify.[157] Manufacturers paid their taxes with the objects produced by their industry. Journeymen mechanics, such as carpenters, masons, workers in feathers and precious metals, and musicians, were, according to Oviedo, exempt from such tax, and in lieu thereof rendered personal service to the sovereign without remuneration.[158] Merchants paid their taxes with such articles as they traded in. The last class of tribute-payers were the tlamaitl, tenants attached to a nobleman's land, who tilled the same for their own benefit. They were obliged to do a certain amount of work every year for the landlord, and to render military 232 service when it was required of them by the sovereign. Brasseur says that these tenants paid no tribute to the king, but his statement is contradicted by Clavigero.[159] Taxes paid in fruit and grain were collected immediately after harvest; other tributes were collected at different times through the year. In each town there was a magazine for storing the revenues, from which supplies were drawn as required. In the vicinity of Mexico it was customary to convey the agricultural produce into the capital, in order that the inhabitants, who, being surrounded with the waters of the lake, had no land of their own to cultivate, might be regularly supplied with food. There was no uniform system of collecting taxes from the merchants and manufacturers. Payments were made by them in accordance with their circumstances and the nature of the articles they contributed. There were about three hundred and seventy tributary towns in the Mexican empire, some of which paid their taxes every twenty days, and some every four days, while others only did so once in six months, or even only once a year. The people of Tlatelulco, says Purchas,[160] "were charged for tribute, alwayes to repaire the Church called Huiznahuac. Item, fortie great Baskets (of the bignesse of half a Bushell) of cacao ground, with the Meale of Maiz (which they called Chianpinoli,) and euery Basket had sixteene hundred Almonds of Cacao. Item, other fortie Baskets of Chianpinoli. Item, eight hundred burthens of great Mantels. Item, eightie pieces of Armour, of slight Feathers, and as many Targets of the same Feathers, of the deuices & colours as they are pictured. All the which tribute, except the said armes and targets they gaue euery 24. dayes,[161] and the said armes and targets they gaue for tribute 233 but once in the whole yeere. The said tribute had his beginning since the time of Quauhtlatoa and Moquihuix, which were Lords of Tlatilulco. The Lords of Mexico, which first enioyned to those of Tlatilulco, to pay tribute, and to acknowledge their subiection, were Yzcoatçi and Axiacaçi." Sometimes merchants' guilds or individuals did not pay their taxes at the regular assessment of the town in which they lived, but did so according to prior arrangement made with the revenue officers.



In addition to the taxes levied upon private individuals, each town contributed a large number of cotton garments, with a certain quantity of breadstuffs and feathers and such other productions as were a specialty of the province in which it was situated. Mazatlan, Xoconocho, Huehuetlan, and other towns on the Pacific coast, paid, besides the cotton garments, four thousand bundles of fine feathers of divers colors, two hundred sacks of cocoa, forty tiger-skins, and one hundred and sixty birds of a certain species. Coyolapan, Atlacuechahuaxan, Huaxyacac, and other towns of the Zapotecs, forty pieces of gold of a specified size, and twenty sacks of cochineal. Tlachquiauhco, Ayotlan, and Teotzapotlan, twenty vessels of a fixed size filled with gold dust. Tochtepec, Otlatitlan, Cozamalloapan, Michapan and other places on the gulf of Mexico, besides cotton garments, cocoa, and gold, paid twenty-four thousand bundles of exquisite feathers of various qualities and colors, six necklaces, two of which were of the finest emerald, and four of the commoner description, twenty ear-rings of amber set in gold, and an equal number made of crystal rock, one hundred pots of liquid amber, and sixteen thousand loads of India-rubber. Tepeyacac, Quecholac, Tecamachalco, Acatzinco and other towns of that region of country, each contributed four thousand sacks of lime, four thousand loads of solid reed for building purposes, with as many of smaller reed for making darts, and eight thousand loads of reeds filled with 234 aromatic substances. Malinaltepec, Tlalcozauhtitlan, Olinallan, Ichcatlan, Qualac, and other southern towns situated in the warm region, paid each six hundred measures of honey, forty large jars of yellow ochre for paint, one hundred and sixty copper shields, forty round plates of gold of fixed dimensions, ten small measures of fine turquoises, and one load of smaller turquoises. Quauhnahuac, Panchimalco, Atlacholoayan, Xiuhtepec, Huitzilac, and other towns of the Tlahuicas, paid each sixteen thousand large leaves of paper, and four thousand xicalli, or gourds, of different sizes. Quauhtitlan, Tehuilloyocan, and other neighboring towns, each gave eight thousand mats and eight thousand icpalli, or stools. Some cities paid their taxes with fire-wood, stone, and beams for building; others with copal-gum; others sent to the royal houses and forests a certain number of birds and animals, such as Xilotepec, Michmaloyan, and other cities of the Otomís, which were each compelled to furnish yearly forty live eagles to the king. After the Matlaltzincas were made subject to the Mexican crown by King Axayacatl, they were required not only to pay a heavy tax in kind, but also to keep under cultivation a field of seven hundred toesas[162] by three hundred and fifty, for the benefit of the army. As the Saxon king imposed a tax of wolves' heads upon his subjects for the purpose of ridding his kingdom of those ravenous animals, so did the Mexican monarchs exact from those who were too poor to pay the regular taxes a certain quantity of snakes, scorpions, centipedes and other obnoxious creatures. Lice, especially, were contributed in large numbers in Mexico.[163] It is related that soon after Cortés arrived in the city of Mexico, certain cavaliers of his force, among whom 235 were Alonso de Ojeda and Alonso de Mata, were roaming through the royal palace, admiring its great extent and all its wonders, doubtless with an eye to plunder, when they came across some bags, filled with some soft, fine, and weighty material; never doubting but that it must be valuable, they hastened to untie the mouth of one of the sacks, when to their disgust and disappointment they found its contents to consist of nothing but lice, which, as they afterwards ascertained, had been paid as tribute by the poor.[164] Duties were levied upon property, manufactures, and articles exposed for sale in the market-places, in proportion to the wealth of the person taxed or the value of the merchandise sold. Produce and merchandise of every description, carried into the city of Mexico, was subject to toll duties, which were paid into the royal treasury.

The proportion in which taxes were paid is stated at from thirty to thirty-three per cent., or about one third of everything made and produced. Oviedo affirms that each taxpayer, in addition to one third of his property, delivered one out of every three of his children, or in lieu thereof a slave, for the sacrifice; if he failed to do this he forfeited his own life.[165]

The government had in the head town of each province large warehouses for the storage of breadstuffs and merchandise received by the tax-gatherers; 236 also auditing offices to which the calpixques, or stewards of the revenue, were required to render a very strict account of their collections, and such as were convicted of embezzlement, were immediately put to death and their property confiscated.[166] In the royal treasury were paintings by which were recorded the tributary towns, and the quantity and kind of tribute paid by each. In the Codex Mendoza may be seen thirty-six such paintings, each one of which represents the principal towns of one or of several provinces of the empire, together with the quantity and quality of the taxes and the time when they were paid.[167]

The personal and ordinary service consisted in providing every day the water and wood needed at the chiefs' houses; this was distributed from day to day among the towns or wards, and thus each individual was occupied in rendering such service once or twice in the year at the utmost. Residents in the vicinity were the only ones so subjected, and then, in consideration of such service, were exempted from paying a portion of the imposts. Other labor was mostly done by slaves, of whom there were large numbers. Foreign provinces subjected by the empire without having made any resistance, were not required to pay a fixed tribute, but sent several times in the year whatever they thought proper, as a present to the king, who showed himself more or less gracious according to the value of the presents. No calpixques or tax-gatherers were placed in such provinces by the Mexican sovereign, but they continued under the rule of their own chiefs. Such countries as were reduced by war, had to submit to the rigorous conditions imposed by the conqueror, and bore the name of tequitin tlacotl, which means 'paying tribute like slaves.' Over them were stationed stewards and calpixques, who had authority even over the lords of the country, and who 237 besides recovering the tributes forced men to cultivate land, and women to spin, weave, and embroider for their private benefit; indeed, so great was their tyranny, that whatever they coveted they were sure to obtain by fair means or foul. The kings of Tezcuco and Tlacopan, and other sovereign lords, allies of the king of Mexico, shared these tributes if they aided in the conquest.[168]


The sovereigns selected the calpixques from among the Aztec pilli, or nobles of inferior rank. They were under the supervision of the chief treasurers or hueycalpixques, who resided at the several capitals, and it was their duty to gather the tributes or taxes, and to see that the lands belonging to the municipalities or to private persons were kept under cultivation. The duties of these calpixques were not very arduous at first, as the people generally hastened to pay their taxes before being called upon; but during the reign of Montezuma II. the taxes increased so enormously, owing to the great extravagance of the court, that this commendable zeal cooled down very considerably. The bulk of the immense wealth which the conquerors saw with so much admiration at Montezuma's court was the result of this excessive taxation, and it was one of the main causes of that alienation of the people from their sovereign which rendered the conquest a possible achievement. Notwithstanding the easy disposition of the taxpayers, they could not submit patiently to a yoke so onerous. The merchants, whose trading expeditions had been so useful to the state in former times, were no less overwhelmed by the taxes than the inhabitants of conquered provinces by the tributes. It was among that powerful class that the first symptoms of defection were noticed. To the main grievance was added the tyranny and harshness exhibited by the revenue officers in collecting the taxes. They carried a small rod in one hand 238 and a feather fan in the other, and, accompanied by a large retinue of understrappers, went through cities and fields, unmercifully maltreating the unfortunate beings who could not promptly comply with their demands, and even selling them into slavery; at least it is certain that such sales occurred in conquered provinces.


From the first years of his reign Montezuma II. began to oppress the merchants with heavy taxation, even upon the most trifling things. The greatest sufferers were the retail dealers, who had to pay excessive duties upon the merchandise they introduced into the principal tianguez, or market-place, from which such merchandise was taken to the lesser market-places. But the king and his creatures finding that this did not directly injure the wholesale traders, among whom were the judges of the mercantile court,—that is to say, the consuls and syndics, so to name them, of the company of Tlatelulco,—witnesses were soon found to trump up charges of high treason against them, which ended in their being put to death, and their goods and chattels confiscated and distributed among the people of the royal household. A very large portion of the taxes and tributes was expended in supporting the army, the public employees, the poor and destitute, such as widows, orphans, and the aged, and also in providing food for the people in times of great scarcity, but almost as large a portion was appropriated by the king to his own uses.[169] It was by such 239 acts as these that Montezuma II. undid the work of his fathers, and spoiled the harmony of his realm by caring only for his own glory and that of his court.




Education of the Nahua Youth—Manner of Punishment—Marriage Preliminaries—Nuptial Ceremony—Observance after Marriage—Mazatec, Otomí, Chichimec, and Toltec Marriages—Divorce—Concubinage—Ceremonies Preliminary to Childbirth—Treatment of Pregnant Woman—Proceedings of Midwife—Superstitions with regard to Women who Died in Childbed—Abortion—Baptism—Speeches of Midwife—Naming of Children—Baptism among the Tlascaltecs, Miztecs, and Zapotecs—Circumcision and Scarification of Infants.

In examining the domestic customs of the Nahua nations it will be as well to first inquire how their children were reared and instructed. The education of a child was commenced by its parents as soon as it was able to walk, and was finished by the priests. Aside from the superstitious and idolatrous flavor with which everything Aztec was more or less tainted, the care taken to mold aright the minds of the youth of both sexes is worthy of admiration. Both parents and priests strenuously endeavored to inspire their pupils with a horror of vice and a love of truth. Respect for their elders and modesty in their actions was one of their first lessons, and lying was severely punished.


In a series of ancient Aztec paintings, which give a hieroglyphical history of the Aztecs, are represented 241 the manner in which children were brought up, the portion of food allowed them, the labors they were employed in, and the punishments resorted to by parents for purposes of correction. Purchas relates that the book containing this picture-history with interpretations made by natives, was obtained by the Spanish governor, who intended it for a present to the emperor Charles V. The ship on which it was carried was captured by a French man-of-war, and the book fell into the hands of the French king's geographer, Andrew Thevet. At his death it was purchased for twenty French crowns by Richard Hakluyt, then chaplain to the English ambassador at the French court, and was left by him in his last will and testament to Samuel Purchas, who had woodcut copies made from the original and published them, with explanatory text, for the benefit of science and learning. In that part of the work which relates to the bringing up and education of children,—a specimen page of which is given in the chapter of this volume which treats of hieroglyphics,—a boy and girl with their father and mother are depicted; three small circles, each of which represents one year, show that the children are three years of age, while the good counsel they are receiving issues visibly from the father's lips; half an oval divided in its breadth shows that at this age they were allowed half a cake of bread at each meal. During their fourth and fifth years the boys are accustomed to light bodily labor, such as carrying light burdens, while the girl is shown a distaff by her mother, and instructed in its use. At this age their ration of bread is a whole cake. During their sixth and seventh years the pictures show how the parents begin to make their children useful. The boy follows his father to the market-place, carrying a light load, and while there occupies himself in gathering up grains of corn or other trifles that happen to be spilt about the stalls. The girl is represented as spinning, under the close 242 surveillance of her mother, who lectures and directs her at the same time. The allowance of bread is now a cake and a half, and continues to be so until the children have reached their thirteenth year. We are next shown the various modes of punishing unruly children. When eight years old they are merely shown the instruments of punishment as a warning. At ten, boys who were disobedient or rebellious were bound hand and foot and pricked in different parts of the body with thorns of the maguey; girls were only pricked in the hands and wrists; if this did not suffice they were beaten with sticks. If they were unruly when eleven years old they were held over a pile of burning chile, and forced to inhale the smoke, which caused great pain.[170] At twelve years of age a bad boy was bound hand and foot and exposed naked in a damp place during an entire day; the naughty girl of the same age was obliged to rise in the night and sweep the whole house.[171] From the age of thirteen years the allowance of bread was increased to two cakes. Between the ages of thirteen and fifteen the boys were employed in bringing wood from the mountains by land or in canoes, or in catching fish; the girls spent their time in grinding corn, cooking, and weaving. At fifteen, the boys were delivered to the priests to receive religious instruction, or were educated as soldiers by an officer called Achcauhtli.[172]


The schools and seminaries were annexed to the temples, and the instruction of the young of both 243 sexes was a monopoly in the hands of the priests. In general boys were sent to the colleges between the ages of six and nine years; they were dressed in black, their hair was left uncut,[173] and they were placed under the charge of priests specially appointed for that purpose, who instructed them in the branches most suitable to their future calling. All were instructed in religion and particular attention was given to good behavior and morals. No women were permitted to enter the college, nor could the youths on any account have communication with the other sex. At certain seasons they were required to abstain from various kinds of food.

The schools, or colleges, were of two distinct classes. Those attended by the common people were called telpochcalli, or 'houses of the youths;' there was one of these in each quarter of the city, after the manner of our public schools, and the parents of the district were required to enter their children at the age of four or five years. The telpochtlato, or 'chief of youth,' instructed them how to sweep the sanctuary, to replenish the fire in the sacred censers, to clean the schoolhouse, to do penance, more or less severe according to their age, and to go in parties to the forest to gather wood for the temple. Each pupil took his meals at the house of his parents, but all were obliged to sleep in the seminary. At nightfall all assembled in the cuicacalco, or 'house of song,' and were there taught the arts of singing and dancing, which formed part of a Mexican education; they were also exercised here 244 in the use of arms.[174] At the age of fifteen or sixteen, or sometimes earlier, it was customary for the parents to withdraw their children from the telpochcalli that they might follow a trade or profession, but this was never done without first making a present to the telpochtlato. The schools at which the sons of the nobility and those destined to be priests were educated, were called calmecac, which means a college, or monastery. The pupils did not do as much manual labor as those educated in the telpochcalli, nor did they take their meals at home, but in the building. They were under the supervision of priests of the Tlamacazqui order, who instructed them in all that the plebeians learned, besides many of the arts and sciences, such as the study of heroic songs and sacred hymns, which they had to learn by heart, history, religion, philosophy, law, astronomy, astrology, and the writing and interpreting of hieroglyphics. If not quick and diligent, they were given less food and more work; they were admonished to be virtuous and chaste, and were not allowed to leave the temple, until with their father's permission they went out from it to be married, or, in the case of a youth of strength and courage, to go to the wars; those who showed qualities fitted for a military life were exercised in gymnastics and trained to the use of weapons, to shoot with the bow, manage the shield, and to cast darts at a mark. Their courage, strength, and endurance underwent severe tests; they were early afforded opportunities of realizing the hardships of camp life, and, while boys, were sent to carry provisions to the soldiers, upon which occasions their behavior was closely watched, and a display of courage met with suitable promotion and reward.[175]



Annexed to the temples were large buildings used as seminaries for girls. The maidens who were educated in them were principally the daughters of lords and princes. They were presided over by matrons or vestal priestesses, brought up in the temple, who watched over those committed to their care with great vigilance. Day and night the exterior of the building was strictly guarded by old men, to prevent any intercourse between the sexes from taking place; the maidens could not even leave their apartments without a guard; if any one broke this rule and went out alone, her feet were pricked with thorns till the blood flowed. When they went out, it was together and accompanied by the matrons; upon such occasions they were not allowed to raise their eyes, or in any way take notice of anyone; any infringement of these rules was visited with severe punishment. The maidens had to sweep those precincts of the temple occupied by them, and attend to the sacred fire; they were taught the tenets of their religion and shown how to draw blood from their bodies when offering sacrifice to the gods. They also learned how to make feather-work, and to spin, and weave mantles; particular attention was given to their personal cleanliness; they were obliged to bathe frequently, and to be skilful and diligent in all household affairs. They were taught to speak with reverence, and to humble themselves in the presence of their elders, and to observe a modest and bashful demeanor at all times. They rose at day-break, and whenever they showed themselves idle or rude, punishment was inflicted. At night the pupils slept in large rooms in sight of the matrons, who watched them closely. The daughters of nobles, who entered the seminaries at an early age, remained there until taken away by their parents to be married.[176]


Children brought up in the house of their parents were taught the worship of the gods, and were frequently conducted to the temple in order that they might witness the religious performances. Military men instructed their sons in the use of weapons and the art of war, and lost no opportunity of inuring them to danger, always endeavoring to inspire courage and daring. Laborers and artisans usually taught their children their own trade. The sons of the nobles who were placed in the seminaries were never permitted to go out unless accompanied by one of the superiors of the temple; their food was brought to them by their parents. The punishments inflicted were excessively severe. Liars had thorns thrust into their lips; and sometimes, if the fault was frequent, their lips were slightly split. Those who were negligent or disobedient were bound hand and foot, and pricked with thorns or badly pinched. A girl who was detected looking at or speaking to a man was severely punished; and if addicted to walking the streets, her feet were tied together, and pricked with sharp thorns.[177]

There was in Tezcuco, during the reign of Nezahualcoyotl, a large seminary, built upon the west side of the temple, which consisted of several spacious halls and rooms, with a courtyard, and was called the tlacoteo. Here the king's sons were brought up and instructed. The guardians and tutors who had charge of them took much pains to instruct them in 247 everything becoming their high estate. Besides the use of arms, they were taught all the arts and sciences as far as then known, and were made fully acquainted with the practical working of precious metals and stones. Separate rooms were devoted to the use of the king's daughters, where they were given an education fitting their station. In accordance with a law of the realm, the king, his children and relatives, with their guardians and masters, and the grandees of the kingdom, came together every eighty days, in a large hall of the tlacoteo; all were seated according to rank; the males on one side, and the females on the other. All the men, even those of royal blood, were dressed in coarse garments of nequen, or maguey-fibre. An orator ascended a sort of pulpit and commenced a discourse, in which he censured those who had done badly during the last eighty days, and praised those who had done well; this he did without favor, not even hesitating to blame the king if he saw fit. The discourse was delivered with such eloquence and feeling as generally to move the audience to tears.[178]


Sahagun, Motolinia, Mendieta, and other early writers, who were well acquainted with the Mexican language, give us specimens of the exhortations delivered by parents to their children. I select one from the first-mentioned author, as an example: "Give ear unto me and hearken, O my sons," says the Mexican parent, "because I am your father; and I, though unworthy, am chosen by the gods to rule and govern this city. Thou who art my first-born and the eldest of thy brothers; and thou the second, and thou the third, and thou the last and least—know that I am anxious and concerned, lest some of you should prove worthless in after life; lest, peradventure, not one among you should prove worthy to bear my dignities and honors after me; perhaps it is the will of the gods that the house which I have with so great labor built 248 up, shall fall to the ground and remain a ruin and a dung-hill; that my name shall be no more remembered among men; that after my death no man shall speak well of me. Hear now the words that I shall speak unto you, that you may learn how to be of use in the world, and how to draw near unto the gods that they may show favor to you; for this I say unto you, that those who weep and are grieved; those who sigh, pray and ponder; those who are watchful at night, and wakeful in the morning; those who diligently keep the temples cleanly and in order; those who are reverent and prayerful—all these find favor with the gods; to all such the gods give riches, honor, and prosperity, even as they give them to those who are strong in battle. It is by such deeds the gods know their friends, and to such they give high rank and military distinctions; success in battle, and an honorable place in the hall of justice; making them parents of the sun, that they may give meat and drink not only to the gods of heaven, but also to the gods of hell; and such as are thus honored are revered by all brave men and warriors: all men look on them as their parents, because the gods have shown them favor; and have rendered them fit to hold high offices and dignities and to govern with justice; they are placed near the god of fire, the father of all the gods, whose dwelling is in the water surrounded by turreted walls of flowers, and who is called Ayamictlan and Xiuhtecutli; or they are made lords of the rank of Tlacatecutli or Tlacochtecutli, or they are given some lower post of honor. Perchance they are given some such office as I now hold, not through any merit of my own, but because the gods know not my unworthiness. I am not what I am by my own asking; never did I say, I wish to be so and so, I desire this or that honor; the gods have done me this honor of their own will, for surely all is theirs, and all that is given comes from their hand; nor shall any one say, I desire this or that honor, for the gods give as they please and to whom 249 they please, and stand in need of counsel from none. Harken, my sons, to another sorrow that afflicts me when I arise at midnight to pray and do penance. Then I ponder many things, and my heart rises and sinks even as one who goes up and down mountains, for I am satisfied with no one of you. Thou, my eldest son, dost not give any sign of improvement, I see in thee nothing manly, thou remainest ever a boy, thy conduct does not become an elder brother. And thou, my second son, and thou, my third, I see in you no discretion or manliness; peradventure it is because you are second and third that you have become careless. What will become of you in the world? Lo, now, are you not the children of noble parents? Your parents are not tillers of the soil or wood-cutters. What, I say again, will become of you? Do you wish to be nothing but merchants, to carry a staff in your hands and a load on your backs? Will you become laborers and work with your hands? Harken, my sons, and give heed unto my words, and I will point out to you those things which you shall do. See to the proper observance of the dances, and the music, and the singing, for thus will you please both the people and the gods; for with music and singing are favors and riches gained. Endeavor to learn some honorable trade or profession, such as working in feathers or precious metals; for by such means bread can be obtained in time of necessity. Pay attention to every branch of agriculture, for the earth desires not food or drink, but only to bring forth and produce. Your fathers sought to understand these things, for though they were gentlemen and nobles they took care that their estate should be properly cultivated. If you think only of your high rank and are unmindful of these things, how will you support your family, in no part of the world does anyone support himself by his gentility only. But above all study well to provide all those things which are necessary for the sustenance of the body, for these are the very foundation 250 of our being, and rightly are they called tonacaiutltomio, that is to say our flesh and bones, because it is by them that we work, live, and are strong. There is no man in the world but what eats, for each one has a stomach and intestines. The greatest lords need food, the most valiant warrior must carry a bag of victuals. By the sustenance of the body life is upheld, by it the world is peopled. See, therefore, my sons, that you be careful to plant the corn and the magueys, for do we not know that fruit is the delight of children; truly it cools and quenches the thirst of the little ones. And you, boys, do you not like fruit? But how will you get it if you do not plant and grow it. Give heed, my sons, to the conclusion of my discourse, and let it be written upon your hearts. Many more things could I say, but my task would never be ended. A few more words only will I add that have been handed down to us from our forefathers. Firstly, I counsel you to propitiate the gods, who are invisible and impalpable, giving them your whole soul and body. Look to it that you are not puffed up with pride, that you are neither obstinate, nor of a weak, vacillating mind, but take heed to be meek and humble and to put your trust in the gods, lest they visit your transgressions upon you, for from them nothing can be hidden, they punish how and whom they please. Secondly, my sons, endeavor to live at peace with your fellow-men. Treat all with deference and respect; if any speak ill of you answer them not again; be kind and affable to all, yet converse not too freely with any; slander no man; be patient, returning good for evil, and the gods will amply avenge your wrongs. Lastly, my children, be not wasteful of your goods nor of your time, for both are precious; at all seasons pray to the gods and take counsel with them; be diligent about those things which are useful. I have spoken enough, my duty is done. Peradventure you will forget or take no heed of my words. As 251 you will. I have done my duty, let him profit by my discourse who chooses."[179]


The customary marrying-age for young men was from twenty to twenty-two, and for girls from eleven to eighteen.[180] Marriages between blood relations or those descended from a common ancestor were not allowed. A brother could, and was enjoined to, marry his deceased brother's wife, but this was only considered a duty if the widow had offspring by the first marriage, in order that the children might not be fatherless.[181] When a youth reached a marriageable age, he or his parents asked permission of his teacher. He seldom was allowed any choice of his own, but was expected to abide by the selection of his parents. It rarely happened that a marriage took place without the sanction of parents or relatives, and he who presumed to choose his own wife, or married without such consent, had to undergo penance, and was looked upon as ungrateful, ill-bred, and apostate. In some parts the high priest commanded them to marry when they arrived at the proper age, and he who refused to comply was obliged to remain continent through life, and dedicate the remainder of his days to the service of the gods. Should he afterward repent and desire to marry, he was despised by all his friends and publicly denounced as infamous, inasmuch as he had shown himself to be devoid of firmness, and unable to keep the vow of chastity to which he had voluntarily bound himself; nor would any respectable woman afterward accept him as a husband. In Tlascala, if any one carelessly allowed the time to pass by without taking a wife, or deciding upon a life 252 of chastity, his hair was cut short and he was driven out from the company of the youths with whom he was educated.

Cutting the hair formed a part of the marriage ceremony, but the mode of cutting was different from that of the penalty.[182] When the time came for the parents to choose a wife for their son, all the relations were called together and informed by the father that the youth had now reached an age when he should be provided with a wife; for that he was now a man, and must learn how to perform the duties of a man, and refrain from boyish tricks and promiscuous intercourse with women. The youth was then summoned before his parents, and his father addressed him, saying: "My son, thou art now a man, and it seems to us proper to search among the maidens for a wife for thee. Ask thy tutors for permission to separate thyself from thy friends, the youths with whom thou hast been educated. Make known our wishes to those called Telpuchtlatoque, who have the charge of thee." The youth in answer expressed his willingness and desire to enter into their plans. The parents then set about preparing a quantity of food, such as tamales, chocolate, and other dishes; and also provided a small axe, which was to bear a part in the next proceeding. The repast being prepared, an invitation was sent to the priests who were instructors of the youth, accompanied with presents of food and pipes of tobacco; all the relations were also invited. When the meal was finished, the relations, and guardians of the ward in which the parents of the pair lived, seated themselves. Then one of the youth's relations, addressing the priestly instructors of the youth said: 253 "Here, in the presence of all, we beg of you not to be troubled because this lad, our son, desires to withdraw from your company, and to take a wife; behold this axe, it is a sign that he is anxious to separate from you; according to our Mexican custom, take it, and leave us the youth." Then the priest answered: "I, and the young men with whom your son has been educated have heard how that you have determined to marry him and that from henceforward, forever, he will be parted from us; let everything be done as you wish." The tutor of the youth next addressed him, entreating him to persevere in the paths of virtue, not to forget the teachings he has received, and to continue to be a zealous servant of the gods; he advised him that as he was now about to take a wife he must be careful to provide for her support, and to bring up and instruct his children in the same manner as he had been educated. He adjured him to be courageous in battle, to honor and obey his parents, to show respect to his seniors and all aged persons; and so the speaker ambled morally along at some length, but I spare the reader the remainder of the discourse.[183] The priests then took their leave, bearing the axe with them, and the young man remained in his father's house.


Soon after this the parents called the relations together once more to consult upon the selection of a maiden suitable to be the wife of their son. Their first act, and one that was of paramount importance, was to ascertain the day and sign of his birth. If they were unable to remember or calculate the sign they called in the aid of astrologers, or soothsayers, who by certain reckonings and ceremonies interpreted all they sought to know. The birthday and sign of the damsel were in like manner ascertained. If the horoscope of both was favorable, the astrologers predicted a happy union with prosperity and good fortune to both, but if the signs did not agree they foretold 254 adversity and evil fortune, and it became necessary to choose another maiden. Once assured of a favorable combination according to the auguries, steps were taken to obtain the consent of the girl's parents. For this purpose the parents and relatives of the youth commissioned two old women, chosen from among the most discreet and virtuous of the district, who were to act as negotiators in the affair; these were called cihuatlanque. They went on the part of the bridegroom and conveyed the message to the parents or nearest relatives of the young girl. Their first visit was made shortly after midnight or upon the following morning, upon which occasion they took with them some presents to offer to the girl's parents. Upon their arrival they commenced a suitable address, in which they formally solicited the hand of the girl in marriage. The first overture was invariably rejected and some frivolous excuse given, even though the girl's relatives might be more desirous of the match than those who solicited it. The embassy was told that the girl was not yet of an age to marry, or that she was not worthy of the honor offered her. After some few more such compliments had been paid, the matrons returned to those who had sent them. A few days having elapsed, the old women were sent back bearing more presents, and with instructions to again solicit the alliance, and to define clearly the position of the suitor, his qualifications and riches. Upon this second interview the negotiations assumed a more business-like aspect; the conversation turned upon the portion that each would bring to the other, and finally the relatives of the girl consented to consider the affair; yet they still maintained a semblance of reluctance, insisting that the girl was not worthy to become the wife of so estimable a young man; but adding that, as the matter was urged with so much importunity, they would on the morrow assemble all the relations of the young woman, that they might consult together about the affair; they then closed 255 the conference by inviting their visitors to be present on that occasion and receive their final decision.


The next day the parents of the girl called a meeting of all her relatives, at which the proposed alliance was discussed with due deliberation; and the girl being called before them, much good advice was given her; her duties as a wife were defined, she was charged to serve and please her husband, and not bring disgrace upon her parents. Information of their decision was then sent to the parents of the young man, and preparations for a fitting celebration of the wedding commenced. The augurs were consulted and requested to name a lucky day for the ceremony; the signs Acatl, Ozomatli, Cipactli, Quauhtli, or Calli, were deemed most favorable, and one or other of them was generally selected for the celebration of the nuptials. Several ensuing days were spent by both families in preparing for the marriage celebration, and in issuing invitations to friends and relations. The ceremony was always performed at the house of the bridegroom's parents, where the best room was put in order for the occasion; the roof and walls were festooned with green branches and garlands of flowers, disposed with great taste, and the floor was strewn with the same. In the centre stood a brazier containing fire. When all the arrangements were completed, certain of the bridegroom's friends and relatives went to the house of his intended to conduct her to the room. If the distance was great, or the bride the daughter of a lord or great personage, she was borne upon a litter, otherwise she was carried on the back of the bride's-woman, or sponsor, accompanied by a large concourse of people, disposed in two rows and bearing torches. The bride occupied the centre of the procession, and immediately about her walked her nearest relatives. As the procession passed, many of the lookers-on profited by the occasion, to point her out to their own daughters as an example worthy of emulation. 256



The bridegroom met his betrothed at the entrance of his house, preceded by four women bearing lighted torches; in his hands he carried a censer with burning incense, and another was given to the bride; with these they at once perfumed each other, and the groom, taking her by the hand, led her into the room prepared for the ceremony. They were then seated upon an ornamented and painted mat spread close to the fireplace, the woman being placed on the left of the man.[184] The bridegroom's mother then came forward with presents for her daughter-in-law, and dressed her in a huipil, or short chemise, at the same time laying at her feet a cuatli, or skirt, richly embroidered and worked. Next the bride's mother gave presents to the bridegroom; she covered him with a mantle, which she fastened at the shoulder, and placed a maxtli or breech-clout at his feet. The most important part in the ceremony was next performed by the priest, who made a long address to the betrothed couple, in which he defined the duties of the married state, and pointed out to them the obedience a wife should observe towards her husband, and the care and attention the latter should give to her, how that he was bound to maintain and support her, and the children they might have. He was enjoined to bring up and educate his children near him, teaching all according to their abilities, to make them useful members of society, and to instruct them in habits of industry. A wife's duties, he said, were to labor and aid her husband in obtaining sustenance for their family. 257 Both were exhorted to be faithful to one another, to maintain peace and harmony between themselves, to overlook each other's failings, and to help one another, ever bearing in mind that they were united for life by a tie which only death could sever. The rites of marriage were always conducted with much solemnity, and during the ceremony nothing was said or done contrary to the rules of modesty and decorum. At the conclusion of the address the couple stood up, and the priest tied the end of the man's mantle to the dress of the woman; they then walked seven times round the fire, casting therein copal and incense, and giving presents to each other, while their friends and relatives threw chains of flowers about their necks and crowned them with garlands.[185] The mother-in-law of the bride now brought some food, and gave four mouthfuls to the bride to eat and afterwards gave the same quantity to the bridegroom. They then received the congratulations of their friends, while at the same time a dance was performed to the sound of musical instruments. Accompanied by the dancers and musicians, the newly wedded pair was conducted to the temple, at the door of which the tlamacaxques, or priests, appeared to receive them. While the company remained below, the wedded couple with their sponsors and parents ascended the steps of the temple. The priest wore his robes of ceremony, and carried in his hand an incensory filled with incense, with which 258 he proceeded to perfume them. He then placed himself between the two, with the man on his right and the woman on his left, and taking them by the hands led them to the altar of the idol, muttering prayers as he went. The altar reached, he placed upon each of the parties a very fine and showy shawl woven and variegated with many colors, in the centre of which was painted a skeleton, as a symbol that death only could now separate them from each other. He then perfumed them again with the incensory, and led them back to the door of the temple, where they were received by the assemblage and accompanied to their home with dancing and music. The marriage ceremonies being finished, the relatives and friends partook of a banquet, and amidst much rejoicing congratulated each other on the new relations they had acquired. In the feasting, drinking, and dancing the bridal pair took no part; they had now to enter upon a season of fasting and penance, which lasted four days, in the strict retirement of their room, where they were closely guarded by old women; on no account were they permitted to leave their room except for the necessary calls of nature, or to offer sacrifice to the gods; the time was to be passed in prayer, and on no account were they to allow their passions to get the better of them or indulge in carnal intercourse. Such weakness on their part would, they believed, bring discord or death or some other dire misfortune between them. The close confinement, the watchful guard and imposed penances were intended to calm their passions and purify their minds, whereby they would be more fitted to undertake the duties before them, and not be led astray by unruly desires. What small supply of sustenance they received in the four days of their retirement was carried to them by the old women who had charge of them, and during this time they neither washed nor bathed themselves; they were dressed in new garments and wore certain charms and regalia pertaining to their patron idol. At midnight they 259 came forth to offer sacrifice and burn incense on the altar in their house, in front of which they also left food offerings for their god; this they did during the four days of abstinence, while their friends and relatives continued their rejoicings, festivities, and dancing.[186] Upon the fourth night, when the marriage was to be consummated, two priests of the temple prepared a couch of two mats, between which were placed some feathers and a stone somewhat the color of an emerald, called chalchiuite; underneath they put a piece of tiger-skin, and on top of all they spread some cotton cloths. At the four corners of the bed were placed green reeds perfumed, and thorns of the maguey with which the pair were to draw blood from their tongues and ears when they sacrificed to the gods.[187] The following morning the bridal pair took the bed on which they had lain, with the cloths, reeds, and food they had offered to their god during the four days of penance, to the temple and left them as a thanksgiving offering.[188] If any charcoal or ashes were found 260 in the bridal chamber they considered it an evil omen, but if, on the other hand, a grain of corn or other seed was found, they considered it a sign of a long and prosperous life and a happy union. A baptismal ceremony was next performed, the wedded pair being placed on green reed mats, while the priests poured water over them. Nobles received four ablutions with water in honor of Chalchihuitlicue, the goddess of waters, and four of wine, in reverence to Tezcatzoncatl, the god of wine. After the bath they were dressed in new vestments, the bride's head was adorned with white feathers and her hands and feet with red. To her husband was given a thurible, filled with incense wherewith to perfume his household gods. At the conclusion of these ceremonies a further distribution of dresses and presents was made, and the company partook of food and wine, while the scene was enlivened with songs and dances. Some more good advice, of which the Aztecs seem to have had a never-failing store, was then given to the wedded pair by the mothers-in-law or nearest relatives, and thus ended the nuptial ceremonies, which were conducted in accordance with the means of the principal parties concerned.[189] In some places, proof of the maiden's virginity was required on the morning following the consummation of the marriage. In such case the sponsors entered the room where the wedded pair had passed the night and demanded the bride's chemise; if they found it stained with blood they brought it out, placed it on a stick, and exhibited it to all present as an evidence that the bride was a virgin; then a dance was formed and the procession went through all the place, carrying the chemise on a stick, dancing and 261 expressing their joy, and this was called 'dancing the chemise.' If it happened that the chemise was unstained, tears and lamentations took the place of rejoicing, abuse and insults were heaped upon the bride, and her husband was at liberty to repudiate her.[190] In the kingdom of Miztecapan, before the ceremony of tying their mantles together was performed it was customary to cut a lock of hair from the bridegroom's head and from the bride's, after which they took each other by the hand and their dresses were tied by the ends. The man then took the girl on his back and carried her a short distance; which proceeding terminated the nuptials.

In Ixcatlan, he who desired to get married presented himself before the priests, and they took him to the temple, where in presence of the idols he worshiped they cut off some of his hair, and showing it to the people, shouted "This man wishes to get married." From thence he was obliged to descend and take the first unmarried woman he met, in the belief that she was especially destined for him by the gods. They were then married according to the customary Mexican rites. The Mazatec bridegroom abstained for the first fifteen days of his wedded life from carnal knowledge of his wife, and both spent the time in fasting and penance. Among the Otomís it was not considered an offence for an unmarried man to deflour a single woman. The husband was permitted to repudiate the woman the day following his marriage if she did not please him; but if he remained satisfied upon that occasion he was not afterwards allowed to send her away. They had then to undergo a period of penance and abstinence and remain secluded for twenty or thirty days, during which time they were to abstain from all sexual intercourse, to draw blood from themselves as a sacrifice, and to bathe frequently. The Chichimecs, although they contracted marriage at a very early age, could not have legitimate 262 connection with their wives until the woman was forty years old. After their intercourse with the Toltecs this custom began to be abolished, although the princes and nobles observed it rigorously for some time longer. Marriage with near relatives was never permitted among them, and polygamy was strictly prohibited.[191]


Among the Mexicans divorce was permitted, but as a general rule was discouraged. In the event of discord arising between man and wife so that they could not live together peacefully, or where one or other of the parties had just cause of complaint, they applied to a judge for permission to separate. Such permission was not granted unless good and sufficient cause was shown in support of the application. The judge investigated the case with much care and attention, closely examining the parties in reference to their marital relations; whether they had been married with the consent of their parents, and if all the ceremonies of marriage had been fully observed. If the answers proved that the parties had not been married according to the usual rites and ceremonies, or if they had been living together in a state of fornication, the judge refused to interfere between them; but if he found they had properly complied with the regulations governing marriage, he used his best efforts to reconcile them; he reminded them of the solemn obligations 263 appertaining to the marriage contract, and warned them not to bring disgrace upon themselves and their parents by breaking the bonds by which they were united, thereby creating a scandal in the community. If his endeavors to effect a reconciliation were of no avail, and he found that one or other of the parties had just cause of complaint, a license to separate could be issued, but more frequently the judge refused to interfere in the matter, and dismissed them with a stern reproval. Marriage was looked upon as a solemn and binding tie only to be dissolved by death, and any attempt or desire to annul the contract was deemed a disgrace and a bad example. Under these circumstances divorce was always discouraged both by the magistrates and the community. A judge was generally unwilling to sanction with the authority of the law the annulment of so binding an engagement; therefore only a tacit consent was given by the court, by which the whole onus of the disgrace attending a separation was thrown upon the parties themselves. When a dissolution took place between man and wife, they could not again under any circumstances be united; the divorce once effected, no subsequent condonation could authorize their living together.[192]

We have no information how or on what terms a division of property was made in the event of a dissolution of marriage, or to which of the parties the custody of the children belonged. The ancient historians throw no light upon the subject. As much 264 deference and respect was shown to old age, it is probable that the decision of such matters was left to the influence and wisdom of the friends and relatives, and that through their intervention equitable arrangements were made.


Concubinage, of which there were three classes, was permitted throughout the Mexican empire. The first class was the union of young men with unmarried women, before they arrived at the age when they were expected to marry. All young men, with the exception of those who were consecrated to a perpetual chastity, were allowed to have concubines. The youth usually asked his parents to select a girl for him, and the one upon whom their choice fell cohabited with him. Such women were called tlacacavili. No contract was made nor any ceremony performed; the connection was a simple private arrangement of the relatives on both sides. When a girl lived with an unmarried man as his concubine without the consent of her parents she was called temecauh, which had a more general signification. It does not appear, however, that concubinage among the unmarried men was common; on the contrary, the manner in which parents are reputed to have brought up their children, and the care taken by the priests in their education would seem to show that such a practice was discouraged, or rather tolerated than allowed, and it is probable the custom was chiefly confined to the sons of nobles and wealthy men. When a young man arrived at the age when he should marry, he was expected to dispense with his concubine that he might marry the girl selected by his parents to be his lawful wife. He could, however, legitimatize the connection between his concubine and himself by notifying his parents of his wishes and having the usual marriage ceremonies performed; she then became his lawful wife and was called ciuatlantli. If while they lived together in concubinage the woman had a child, her parents then required that he should at once restore her to them, 265 or make her his wife, as they considered it proper that having a child she should also have a husband as a legal protector. Young women were not dishonored by living in a state of concubinage, nor were their chances of contracting advantageous marriages in any degree lessened.

The second order of concubines might rather be termed, perhaps, the less legitimate wives of married men; with them the tying of garments constituted the entire marriage ceremony; the husband could not repudiate them without just cause and the sanction of the courts, but neither they nor their children could inherit property; in this respect they were treated as concubines, but nevertheless they were called Ciuatlantli, which corresponds with the latin word uxor, and was the title borne by the first and legitimate wife.

The third class of concubines were merely kept mistresses; with them no marriage rite of any kind was performed. They were kept usually by the nobles and chief men who could afford to maintain large establishments; they occupied a third rank in the domestic circle after the principal wife and less legitimate ones, and were called ciuanemactli, or tlaciuantli, if their master had obtained them from their parents; those whom he took without such permission were called tlaciuaantin.[193]

The Toltec kings could only marry one woman, and in case of her death could not marry again or live in concubinage with any woman; the same rule held 266 good with their queens in the event of the king dying first. Prostitution among the Mexicans was tolerated, but at the same time was restrained within certain bounds; that is, the law took cognizance of the practice as regarded the women engaged in such traffic. It was looked upon as a necessary evil, and the law did not interfere with men who consorted with prostitutes; but the latter, if they plied their traffic too openly, or with too great frequency, so as to create a public scandal and become a nuisance, were punished according to the extent of the offence.[194]

We may suppose that, the marriage ceremonies being concluded, the young couple were left in peace, and that for a time there was a truce to the speech-making and ever-ready advice of anxious parents and meddling relatives. But this respite was generally of brief duration. As soon as the woman found herself to be pregnant, all her friends and relations were immediately upon the tiptoe of expectation and interest again. The parents were at once informed of the interesting event, and a feast was prepared, of which all who had been present at the wedding partook. After the repast the inevitable speeches commenced. An old man, squatting on his hams, first spoke in behalf of the husband, referring to the precious burden carried by the pregnant woman and to the future prospects of the child; after a while another relieved the speaker and pursued the subject in the same strain; the man and his wife then responded, dwelling upon the pleasure in store for them, and expressing their hopes that, with the favor of the gods, it might be realized. The parents of the pair were next addressed directly by one of the guests upon the same theme and made a reply. Certain 267 elderly relatives then seized the opportunity to admonish and instruct the young woman, to which she made a suitable answer, thanking them for their solicitude on her behalf.[195]


During the months of her pregnancy the mother was very careful to insure the safety and health of the child, though many of the rules observed for this purpose were of a partly superstitious nature. Thus, sleeping in the day-time would contort the child's face; approaching too near the fire or standing in the hot sun would parch the fœtus; hard and continued work, lifting weights, running, mental excitement, such as grief, anger, or alarm, were particularly avoided; in case of an earthquake all the pots in the house were covered up or broken to stop the shaking; eating tzictli, or chicle, was thought to harden the palate of the unborn child, and to make its gums thick so that it would be unable to suck, and also to communicate to it a disease called netentzzoponiztli; neither must the edible earth, of which, as we shall see in a future chapter, the Mexicans were very fond, be eaten by the mother, lest the child should prove weak and sickly; but everything else the woman fancied was to be given her, because any interference with her caprices might be hurtful to her offspring.[196] Moderation in sexual connection with her husband was recommended to a woman from one to three months advanced in pregnancy, but total abstinence in this respect was thought to be injurious to the unborn child; during the later stages of the woman's pregnancy, however, the husband abstained entirely from having intercourse with her.[197] When the time for the confinement drew near 268 another feast was prepared and the usual invitations were issued. When all were gathered an old man was the first to speak, on behalf of the married couple. By virtue of his long experience in these matters he recommended that the pregnant woman be placed in the xuchicalli, or bath, under the protection of Xuchicaltzin, the god of the bath, and of Yoalticitl, goddess of the bath and of childbirth. He further advised the parents to select a competent ticitl, or midwife. This functionary having been named, a female relative of the husband addressed her, asking her to accept the trust, praising her qualifications, and exhorting her to exert her utmost skill and care. The mother and relatives of the wife also made brief speeches to the same purpose. The midwife-elect then expressed her wish and intention to do all in her power.[198] Wealthy people frequently employed several midwives, who for some days prior to the birth busied themselves in waiting on their patient and putting everything in readiness for the important hour. Zuazo states that some of these acted merely as witnesses to the fact of the birth.[199]

The 'hour of death,' as the time of confinement was named, having arrived, the patient was carried to a room previously set in order for the purpose; here her hair was soaped and she was placed in a bath to be washed. Care was taken that the water should not be too hot, lest the fœtus should be scalded; in some cases the woman was beaten on the back with maize leaves which had been boiled in the water used for the bath. The midwife next proceeded to rub and press the abdomen of the patient in order to set the child in place. If the pain grew worse, soothing remedies were administered. A decoction of cihoapatli 269 herbs was given to promote the delivery; should this not prove effective, however, a small piece, about an inch and a half long, of the tail of the tlaquatzin, or tlaquatl, was given, which is a very powerful emetic. If after all the woman got no ease, it was concluded that she would die. In cases of great danger prayers were addressed to Cioacoatl, Quilaztli, Yoalticitl, and other deities. Should the child die in the womb it was removed piecemeal, unless the parents objected, in which case the mother was left to die.


Mocioaquezqui, 'brave woman,' was the name given to her who died in childbed. After death the body was washed, dressed in good, new clothes, and buried with great ceremony in the courtyard of the temple dedicated to the 'celestial women.'[200] Talismanic virtues were supposed to reside in the corpse; thus, the middle fingers of the left hand, and the hair, were thought to make their possessor irresistible in battle; soldiers, therefore, sought by every means, fair or foul, to procure them. Thieves believed that the left hand and arm of the corpse would strike terror into their victims, and they therefore engaged sorcerers to procure it. The birth of twins was believed to foretell the death of one of the parents at the hands of their child; to prevent this, one of the infants was killed.[201] Abortion was not unusual, and was procured by taking a decoction of certain herbs; the crime was nevertheless punished with death.[202] If everything went well, and the woman was easily delivered, the midwife gave a loud cry of triumph. She next addressed some words of counsel to the child, and 270 then proceeded to wash it. Turning to the water, she addressed the goddess of waters, Chalchihuitlicue, asking her favor and protection for the child. Then taking some water, the midwife breathed upon it, gave some to the infant to taste, and then touched its head and chest therewith, saying: "Come, my son (or daughter) to Chalchihuitlicue; it is for her to bear you on the back and in her arms throughout this life!" Then, placing the infant in the water, she continued: Enter thou into the water called metlalac and tuspalac; may it wash thee, and may the Omnipotent cleanse from thee all ill that is inherent in thee from the beginning of the world and from before the beginning. Begone, all evil imparted to thee by thy father and thy mother.[203] Having washed the child, the midwife clothed it, addressing it meanwhile in whispers of welcome and admonition. Then, raising her voice, she complimented the mother on her bravery and endurance.[204] A female relative next praised the fortitude of the patient, who in her response dilated on the trouble and pain she had gone through, and expressed her joy at the treasure vouchsafed her by the gods. The midwife then closed the ceremony by congratulating the grandparents and assembled friends. A few days after the confinement the mother took a bath in the temazcalli, and indulged in rich food and wine; on this occasion a feast was also tendered to invited friends, who partook of it near the spot where the woman bathed.

All these elaborate preparations and midwife ceremonies at birth could, however, only have been in vogue among the well-to-do classes, for the Mexican women, were, as a rule, little affected by the troubles of child-bearing; their training and manner of life 271 were not calculated to make them delicate. Motolinia, and many with him, say, for instance, that the Tlascaltec women delivered themselves, the mother applying to a neighbor only at the birth of her first child.[205]


It was now time to cast the nativity of the infant. For this purpose the services of a tonalpouhqui, or horoscopist, were engaged. These tonalpouhquis were a highly respected class, and were therefore approached with much respect and liberally fed with mantles, food, and other articles. Having been told the hour of birth, the horoscoper consulted his book for the sign of the day on which the infant was born.[206] If the birth had taken place exactly at midnight, the signs for the closing and breaking day were combined. Comparing the birthday sign with the other twelve signs, as well as with the principal sign of the group, he deduced the required fortune, and, if the augury was favorable, dwelt on the honors and happiness in store for the infant. Should the augury prove unfavorable, as well as the sign for the fifth day after birth, which was the occasion of the second bath, or baptism, this ceremony was postponed to another day, generally the most favorable of the thirteen, in order 272 to moderate, if possible, the threatened misfortune. The fortune-teller dilated upon the troubles in store for the infant and the vices it would develop, but 'hedged' his oracle by adding that the adjoining signs contained certain redeeming features which might have power to counterbalance the evil import of the birthday sign.[207]


Preparations are now made for the baptism. The portals of the dwelling are decorated with green branches, flowers, and sweet-smelling herbs are scattered over the floors and courtyard, and the approaches to the house are carefully swept; tamales are cooked, maize and cacao ground, and delicacies of every description prepared for the table, not forgetting the liquors; for any shortcoming in this respect would reflect severely on the hospitality of the host.[208] The relatives of the family assemble before sunrise, and other friends drop in as the day advances; each, as he congratulates the host, presents a gift of clothing for the infant, and receives in his turn a present of mantles, flowers, and choice food.[209] In the course of the morning the midwife carries the infant to the courtyard, and places it upon a heap of leaves, beside which are set a new apaxtle, or earthenware vessel, filled with clear water, and several miniature implements, insignia of the father's trade or profession. If he is a noble or a warrior, the articles consist of a small shield, and a bow with arrows of a corresponding size, placed with their heads directed toward the four cardinal points. Another set of arms made from dough of amaranth-seed, and bound together with the dried navel-string of the child, is also prepared. If the child is a girl, there are placed beside it, instead of the 273 little weapons, a spindle and distaff, and some articles of girl's clothing. When the sun rises the midwife sets her face and the face of the child toward the west, and addressing the infant, says: "O eagle, O tiger, O brave little man and grandson of mine, thou hast been brought into the world by thy father and mother, the great lord and the great lady. Thou wast created in that house which is the abode of the supreme gods that are above the nine heavens. Thou art a gift from our son Quetzalcoatl, the omnipresent; be joined to thy mother, Chalchihuitlicue, the goddess of water." Then placing her dripping fingers on the lips of the child, she continues: "Take this, for upon it thou hast to live, to wax strong, and flourish; by it we obtain all necessary things; take it!" Then touching the child on the breast with her moistened fingers, she says: "Take this holy and pure water that thine heart may be cleansed." Then the midwife pours water on the child's head, saying: "Receive, O my son, the water of the Lord of the World, which is our life, with which we wash and are clean; may this celestial light-blue water enter into thy body, and there remain; may it destroy and remove from thee all evil and adverse things that were given thee before the beginning of the world; behold, all of us are in the hands of Chalchihuitlicue, our mother." She now washes the body of the child, exclaiming: "Evil, wheresoever thou art, begone, avaunt; for the child liveth anew and is born again; once more it is purified; a second time is it renewed of our mother, Chalchihuitlicue." Then lifting up the little one toward heaven, she addresses Ometochtli and Omecioatl:[210] "Behold, O Lord, the creature which thou hast sent to this place of sorrow, affliction, and anguish, to this world; give it, O Lord, of thy gifts and inspiration, for thou art the great god and the great goddess." Then stooping as if to set the child down, she raises it a second time, 274 crying upon the goddess of the waters:[211] "O lady goddess, mother of the gods, inspire this child with thy virtue." A third time she stoops and raising the child toward heaven, addresses the gods: "O lords celestial, and gods who dwell in heaven, behold this creature whom ye have sent among men, fill it with your spirit and mercy, that it may live." A fourth time she sets down and raises the babe, and calling now upon the sun and the earth she says:[212] "O our Lord, Sun, father of all, and thou, O Earth, our mother, take ye this child for your own, and, as it is born for war,[213] so let it die defending the cause of the gods, and be permitted to enjoy the delights prepared in heaven for the brave."

The midwife now takes the implements and prays to the patron deity of the trade or profession they represent on behalf of the child; then she places the mantle upon the shoulders of the infant, girds on the little maxtli, and asks the boys present to give the child a name. This was, however, merely a matter of form; the parents really had the choosing of the name and told it to the boys. It was usually taken either from the sign of the day, or from a bird or animal, in the case of a boy; the girls were named from flowers, and this rule was especially observed by the Toltecs and Miztecs. Sometimes a child took its name from some important event which occurred at the time of its birth; as when the Tlascaltec chief Citlalpopoca, 'smoking star,' was so named because at his birth a flaming comet was seen in the sky. Sometimes children were named after the feast held at the time of their nativity; thus, boys born during the festival of the renewal of the sacred fire, called toxilmolpilia, 275 were named molpilli, 'a tied object,' and girls xiuhnenetl, 'little doll of the year of fire.' Occasionally a child was named after some renowned ancestor. A second name could be acquired by valiant deeds in battle. Motolinia adds that sons of prominent men took a surname from the dignity or office held by the father, either in youth or manhood; or they inherited it with the estate at the death of the parent. Children born during the last five days of the year, called nemontemi, 'unlucky days,' were considered unfortunate; boys born under such circumstances were often named nemoquichtli, 'unlucky man,' and girls nencihuatl, 'unlucky woman.'[214]

The midwife, having baptized the child, now calls upon it three times by its new name; admonishing it to make good use of the implements or weapons placed in its hands.[215] It is thereupon carried into the house, preceded by torch-bearers, and placed in the cradle, before which the midwife offers prayers to Yoalticitl, 'goddess of the cradle,' commending the child to her care, and beseeching her to nourish and protect it; then, turning to the cradle, she adds: "O thou, the mother of the child, receive this babe with gentleness, taking heed not to injure it." Then she places the child in the cradle, the parents meanwhile calling upon Yoalticitl to protect it, and upon Yoaltecutli, 'the god of night,' to lull it to sleep. During this ceremony, 276 which is termed tlacoculaquilo, or 'the act of placing the child in the cradle,' the boys of the village, dressed to imitate soldiers, enter the house, seize certain food previously prepared for them, called the 'child's navel,' scatter the rest, and rush forth, munching and shouting the child's name and future destinies. The lights, called ocote, which have been used during the ceremonies, must be left to burn out, and the fire that was lighted on the birthday must be kept brightly burning until after the baptizing, nor is any one allowed to borrow from its flame, for that would injure the prospects of the child. The umbilical cord is buried with the mimic weapons in a place where a battle may be expected to take place on a future day. The girl's instruments and navel-string are buried under a metate. The afterbirth is interred in a corner of the house. After the cradling ceremony the guests proceed to the banqueting-room, where they seat themselves according to age and rank.

The festivities lasted twenty days,[216] or even longer, if the father was wealthy, during which time the house was kept open to all comers. Each visitor presented his gifts and made a speech to the infant on the duties, honors, and happiness in store for it, and adorning his discourse according to the rank of the parents, or his own courtesy. He next congratulated the mother, then the midwife, urging her further care of the infant, and lastly the father, referring to his character and services, and wishing him joy. If the father was a lord, the neighboring princes sent an embassy, preceded by numerous presents, and a chosen orator delivered a congratulatory address before the father and those present, to which an old man responded on behalf of all, commenting upon the good wishes of the neighboring nobles. The orator of the embassy then begged that the shortcomings of his former speech might be excused, and was answered by the oldest or most respected person present, on the parent's 277 behalf. The female friends who came to inspect the infant, rubbed the joints of the body, especially the knees, with ashes, thinking that this would strengthen them and prevent the bones from becoming loose. The same was done to the children who accompanied them.[217] In some parts the baptismal ceremony consisted in putting some quicklime upon the child's knee, and saying to it: "O thou little one, that hast come into the world to suffer, suffer and be silent. Thou livest, but thou shalt die; much pain and anguish shall come upon thee; thou shalt become dust, even as this lime, which was once stone."[218] If a boy, an arrow or dart was then placed in the child's left hand, to indicate that he must be brave and defend his country; if a girl, she was given a distaff, as a sign that she must become industrious in all womanly pursuits.[219] In Tlascala and Miztecapan the infant was bathed in a sacred spring, which, it was thought, would avert misfortune. Mendieta says that the midwife merely sprinkled the child a certain number of times, first with wine and then with water.[220] Among the Zapotecs both mother and child were washed in a river, and invocations were addressed to all land and aquatic animals, entreating their favor and deprecating their anger;[221] it was also customary to assign some animal or bird to a child, as its nagual, or tutelary genius, and with the fortune of such creature its fate was supposed to be so intimately connected, that the death of one involved the death of the other.[222] Burgoa adds further that this was assigned by lot, but it is stated elsewhere, and with greater probability if we may judge by similar superstitions in the old world, that the first bird or beast that appeared after 278 the birth of the child was appointed its spiritual protector.[223]


Whether the custom of circumcision, which has been the great prop of argument in favor of the Jewish origin of the Aztecs, really obtained among these people, has been doubted by numerous authors. Although circumcision was certainly not by any means general, yet sufficient proof exists to show that it was in use in some form among certain tribes. Las Casas and Mendieta state that the Aztecs and Totonacs practiced it, and Brasseur de Bourbourg has discovered traces of it among the Mijes. Las Casas affirms that the child was carried to the temple on the twenty-eighth or twenty-ninth day after birth; there the high-priest and his assistant placed it upon a stone, and cut off the prepuce at the root; the part amputated they afterward burned to ashes. Girls of the 279 same age were defloured by the finger of the priest, who ordered the mother to repeat the operation at the sixth year. Zuazo adds that these rites were only performed upon the children of great men, and that there was no compulsion in the matter, the parents having the option of having their children defloured or circumcised at any time within five years.[224]

In the fifth month, at Huitzilopochtli's festival, all children born during the year were scarified on the breast, stomach, or arms, and by this means received as followers of their god.[225] At the festival in honor of Teteionan or Toci, 'mother of the gods,' in the eleventh month, the women delivered during the year underwent purification and presented their children. In the evening a signal was sounded from the temple, and the mothers, dressed in their best, accompanied by friends, and preceded by torch-bearers and servants carrying the babes, made the tour of the town or quarter; a halt was made at every temple to leave an offering and a lighted torch for the presiding goddess. At the temple of Toci extra offerings were made, including tzocoyotl, cakes of flour and honey; and here the priest performed the ceremony of purification by pronouncing certain prayers over the women.[226] In 280 the eighteenth month of every fourth year, the children born since the last corresponding feast, were taken to the temple, where their ears were pierced with a sharp bone, and macaw-feathers, tlachcayotl, inserted; the god-father and god-mother, or, as they are termed, uncles and aunts, whose duty it was to initiate the children into the service of the gods, holding them during the operation.[227]

An offering of flour of the chian seed was made, and the god-father was presented with a red robe, the god-mother with a huipil. Each child was then passed through the flames of a fire prepared for the purpose; the priest next took its head between his hands, and in that manner lifted it bodily from the ground. Everyone thereupon went home to feast, but at noon the god-father and god-mother returned to the temple and executed a dance, holding the children on their backs, and giving them pulque to drink, in very small cups. This went on till dusk, when they retired to their houses to continue the dancing and drinking. This feast and month, Itzcalli, 'growth,' obtained its name from the ceremony of squeezing the heads of children, which, it was thought, would make them grow; but it was also called the 'feast of the intoxication of boys and girls.'[228]


Among the Miztecs, the mother took hot baths for twenty days after delivery, at the end of which time a feast was held in honor of the goddess of the bath, the child sharing in the honors of the occasion.[229] 281 They also gave the child a feast on its first birthday. Great care was exercised to make children hardy and strong, and no mother, however high in rank, allowed her child to be given to a nurse, unless her own health demanded such a step. The test of a wet nurse was to press out a drop of milk upon the nail, when if it did not run the milk was considered good.[230] No food was given to the child the first day, in order to create an appetite.[231] It was suckled for three years, in some places much longer;[232] and, during this time the mother adhered to a diet that would keep up the quality of the milk; many abstained from intercourse with their husbands for the same period, to prevent the possibility of another child interfering with the proper nurture of the first one. Another feast was given at the weaning of the child. Gomara mentions that a kind of head-flattening was practiced; he says that the infants were so placed in the cradle as not to allow the occiput to grow, for such a development was considered ugly.[233] Humboldt, however, says that the Aztecs never flattened the head. That it was practiced to a considerable extent in remote times by people inhabiting the country, seems to be shown by the deformed skulls found in their graves, and by the sculptured figures upon the ruins. Klemm states that the cradle consisted of a hard board to which the infant was bound in such a manner as to cause the malformation. The cradle among the poor Aztecs was generally of light cane, and could be tied to the back of the mother.[234]




Excessive Fondness for Feasts—Manner of Giving Feasts—Serving the Meal—Professional Jesters—Parting Presents to Guests—Royal Banquets—Tobacco Smoking—Public Dances—Manner of Singing and Dancing—The Neteteliztli—The Drama among the Nahuas—Music and Musical Instruments—Nahua Poetry—Acrobatic Feats—The Netololiztli, or 'Bird Dance'—Professional Runners—The Game of Tlactli—Games of Chance—The Patoliztli, or 'Bean Game'—Totoloque, Montezuma's Favorite Game.


The excessive fondness of the Aztecs for feasts and amusements of every kind seems to have extended through all ranks of society. Every man feasted his neighbor and was himself in turn feasted. Birthdays, victories, house-warmings, successful voyages or speculations, and other events too numerous to enumerate were celebrated with feasts. Every man, from king to peasant, considered it incumbent upon him to be second to none among his equals in the giving of banquets and entertainments, and as these involved the distribution of costly presents among his guests, it often happened that the host ruined himself by his hospitality; indeed, it is said that many sold themselves into slavery that they might be able to prepare at least one feast that would immortalize their memory.[235] Moreover 284 the priests, with the subtle policy characteristic of their class, took advantage of this disposition to ordain long and frequent celebrations in honor of innumerable gods; in short, it is difficult to conceive what part of the year could have been saved for business from what seems to have been a continual round of merry-making.

The grandeur of the feast depended, of course, upon the wealth of the host, the rank of the guests, and the importance of the event celebrated. For many days before a noble or wealthy man entertained his friends, an army of servants were employed in sweeping the approaches to the house, decorating the halls and courts with branches and garlands, erecting chinamas, or arbors, and strewing the floors with flowers and sweet herbs; others prepared the table service, killed and dressed dogs, plucked fowls, cooked tamales, baked bread, ground cacao, brewed drinks, and manufactured perfumed cigarettes. Invitations were in the meantime sent to the guests. These on their arrival were presented with flowers as a token of welcome. Those of a superior condition to the host were saluted after the Aztec fashion by touching the hand to the earth and then carrying it to the lips. On some occasions garlands were placed upon the heads of the guests and strings of roses about their necks, while copal was burnt before those whom the host delighted specially to honor. While waiting for the meal the guests employed their time in walking freely about the place, complimenting their host on the tasteful manner in which the house was decorated, or admiring the fine shrubbery, green grass plats, well-kept flower-beds, and sparkling fountains in the gardens.

Dinner being announced, all took their seats, according to rank and age, upon mats or icpalli, stools, ranged close along the walls.[236] Servants then entered 285 with water and towels, with which each guest washed his hands and mouth. Smoking-canes were next presented on molcaxetes, or plates, to stimulate the appetite. The viands, kept warm by chafing dishes, were then brought in upon artistically worked plates of gold, silver, tortoise-shell, or earthenware. Each person before beginning to eat threw a small piece of food into a lighted brazier, in honor of Xiuhtecutli, the god of fire,[237] probably by way of grace. The numerous highly seasoned dishes of meat and fish having been duly discussed, the servants cleared the tables and feasted upon the remains of the banquet in company with the attendants of the guests.[238] Vessels called teutecomatls, filled with chocolate, each provided with a spoon to stir the fluid with, were then brought on, together with water for washing the hands and rinsing the mouth. The women who were present on these occasions, although they sat apart from the men, received a kind of spiced gruel instead of cacao. The old people, however, were plied with octli, a very potent beverage, until they became drunk, and this was held to be an indispensable part of the ceremony.

The smoking-canes were now once more produced, and while the guests reclined luxuriously upon their mats enjoying the grateful influence of the fragrant leaf which we are told by Bernal Diaz they called 'tobacco,' and sipping their drinks, the music suddenly struck up, and the young folks, or perhaps some professionals, executed a dance, singing at the same time an ode prepared for the occasion, as well as other songs. Dwarfs, deformed beings, and curious objects were 286 also introduced to vary the entertainment; but the professional jesters were the favorites, and the jokes made by them raised many a laugh, though this was rather forced perhaps by those at whose expense said jokes were cracked, for these fools were fully as privileged as their contemporary European brothers of motley, and sometimes spoke very biting truths in the shape of a jest; in some cases they were disguised in the costume of a foreign nation, whose dialect and peculiarities they imitated; at other times they would mimic old women, well-known eccentric individuals, and so forth.

The nobles kept a number of these jesters for their own amusement, and often sent them to a neighboring brother-noble to propound riddles; taking care to provide them with means to pay forfeit should the riddle be solved.[239]

These private banquets generally lasted till midnight, when the party broke up. Each guest received at parting presents of dresses, gourds, cacao-beans, flowers, or articles of food. Should any accident or shortcoming have marred the pleasure of the party, the host would sooner repeat the entertainment than have any slur rest upon his great social venture. In any case it was doubtless difficult for the good man to escape censure either for extravagance or stinginess.

At the royal feasts given when the great vassals came to the capital to render homage to their sovereign, the people flocked in from the provinces in great numbers to see the sights, which consisted of theatrical representations, gladiatorial combats, fights between wild beasts, athletic sports, musical performances, and poetical recitations in honor of kings, gods, and heroes. The nobles, in addition to this, partook daily of banquets at the palace, and were presented by the monarch with costly gifts.[240]



To the tobacco-loving reader it will be interesting to learn how the weed was smoked in the New World before it was introduced into the Old by the immortal Jean Nicot, whose name be forever blessed. The habit of smoking did not possess among the Nahuas the peculiar character attached to it by the North American natives, as an indispensable accessory to treaties, the cementing of friendship, and so forth, but was indulged in chiefly by the sick, as a pastime and for its stimulating effect. The origin of the custom among the Nahuas may be traced to the use of reed-grass, filled with aromatic herbs, which was lighted and given to guests that they might diffuse the perfume about them; gradually they came to puff the reeds and swallow the smoke, pretending to find therein a remedy against headache, fatigue, phlegm, sleeplessness, etc. Three kinds of tobacco were used, the yetl, signifying tobacco in general, obtained from a large leaved plant, the picyetl, from a small but stronger species, and quauyetl, a less esteemed kind known later on as wild tobacco. Clavigero asserts that the picyetl and quauyetl were the only species known among the Mexicans. It was generally smoked after dinner in the form of paper, reed, or maize-leaf cigarettes, called pocyetl, 'smoking tobacco,' or acayetl, 'tobacco-reed,' the leaf being mixed in a paste, says Veytia, with xochiocotzotl, liquid amber, aromatic herbs, and pulverized charcoal, so as to keep smouldering when once lighted, and shed a perfume. The picyetl tobacco was smoked later in the day, without admixture, and somewhat in the shape of cigars. The smoke was inhaled, and the nose closed, in order that none of the grateful qualities should be lost. Wooden, metal, or bamboo tubes were sometimes used instead of cigarettes. Snuffing 288 the pulverized leaf is an ancient custom which we owe to them.[241]

Dancing was the favorite Aztec amusement, and the fanciful arrangement of their dances, as well as the peculiar grace of their motions, is highly praised by all the old chroniclers. Dancing, and especially religious dances, formed an important part of an Aztec youth's education, and much trouble was taken by the priests to instruct them in it.


The preparations for the great public dances, when the performers numbered thousands,[242] were on an immense scale. The choirs and bands attached to the service of the various temples were placed under the supervision of a leader, usually a priest, who composed the ode of the day, set it to music, instructed the musicians, appointed the leaders of the dance, perfected the arrangements generally, observed that all did their duty, and caused every fault or negligence to be severely punished.[243] The Neteteliztli dance took place either in the plaza or in the courtyard of the temple, in the centre of which mats were spread for the musicians. The nobles and aged men formed a circle nearest to the drums, the people of less importance formed another circle a little distance behind, and the young people composed the third ring. Two leading dancers directed the movements, and whatever steps they made were imitated by the performers. When all was ready, a whistle gave the signal and the drums were beaten lightly to a well-known tune started by the leaders and taken up by the dancers, who at the same time began to move their feet, arms, heads and bodies in perfect accord. Each verse or couplet was repeated 289 three or four times, the dancers keeping time with their ayacachtli, or rattles. Each must keep his relative position in the circle, and complete the circuit at the same time; the inner circle, therefore, moved at a slow, dignified pace, suited to the rank and age of the men composing it; the second proceeded somewhat faster, while the dancers in the outer circle approached a run as the dance became livelier. The motions were varied; at one time the dancers held one another by the hand, at another, round the waist; now they took the left hand neighbor for partner, now the right, sometimes facing one way, sometimes another. The first song ended, which referred to the event of the day, a popular ode, treating of their gods, kings, or heroes, was taken up and sung in a higher scale and to a livelier measure, the dance meanwhile constantly increasing in animation. This was the case with all the succeeding songs, each one becoming higher and shriller as it proceeded; flutes, trumpets, and sharp whistles were sometimes added to the band to increase the effect. When one set of dancers became tired, another took its place, and so the dance continued through the whole day, each song taking about an hour. Jesters and clowns in various disguises circulated between the lines, cutting capers, cracking jokes, and serving refreshments. Herrera states that the solemn mitote was danced by twos in the outer circle.[244] At private dances, two parallel lines were usually formed, the dancers turning in various directions, changing partners, and crossing from line to line.[245] Sometimes one stepped from each line, and performed a pas de deux while the others looked on. The 'ribbon dance,' resembled the English may-pole dance to a certain extent. A pole, fifteen to twenty feet high, was erected on a smooth piece of ground, and twenty or more persons, each seizing the end of a colored ribbon attached to its summit, began to dance about the 290 mast, crossing each other and winding in apparent confusion, until the pole was covered with a motley texture of a certain design. When the band became too short, the plaiting was unwound by reversing the order of the dance. They had a number of other mitotes, or dances, varying chiefly in the colors worn by the dancers, the finery, painting, and disguises, and conforming to the text of the songs, such as the huexotzincaiutl, anaoacaiutl, cuextecaiutl, tocotin, and others to be described under religious festivals.[246] Children from four to eight years of age, the sons of nobles, took part in some dances and sang the soprano, and the priests joined in the solemn performances. Certain dances, as the netecuitotoli,[247] could only be performed by the king and nobles,[248] a space being always set apart for the sovereign when he danced. Women joined the men in some dances, but generally danced apart. Certain dancing-houses of bad repute termed cuicoyan, 'great joy of women,' were open to females at night, and were then scenes of unmitigated debauch.[249] Great pains was taken to appear as fine as possible at the dances; noted warriors appeared magnificently dressed, and occasionally bearing shields set with feathers; nobles in court dress of rich mantles knotted at the shoulders, fanciful maxtlis round the loins, tassels of feathers and gold in the hair, lip-ornaments of gold and precious stones, gold rings in the ears, bracelets of the same metal set with plumes, or strings of chalchiuites and turquoises round the wrists and other parts of the arms, and some had gold bells attached to the ankles; the gaily colored dresses of the lower class were decorated with feathers and embroidery; garlands and flowers encircled the head, necklaces of shells and beans hung about the neck, 291 bracelets clasped the arms and legs, and all carried nosegays. The women also shone in huipiles, gaily colored, fancifully embroidered, and set with fringes.[250]


The drama scarcely equaled in excellence the choral dance, yet in this respect, as in others, the Nahuas showed considerable advancement. Thalia presided more frequently than Melpomene over the play, which generally took the character of a burlesque. The performers mostly wore masks of wood, or were disguised as animals. No special building was devoted to the drama, but the lower porch of a temple usually served as the stage; some large towns, however, boasted of a permanent stage, erected in the centre of the plaza. The principal of these was at Tlatelulco, and consisted of a terrace of stone and lime, thirteen feet high, by thirty in breadth. When in use it was decorated with foliage, and mats of various colors, whereon was emblazoned the coat of arms of the city, were hung all round it. At Cholula the porch of the temple of Quetzalcoatl served as a stage; this was whitewashed and adorned with arches of branches, feathers, and flowers, from which hung birds, rabbits, and other curious objects. Here the people congregated after dinner on gala-days to witness the performance, in which deaf, lame, blind, deformed, or sick people, or, sometimes, merchants, mechanics, or prominent citizens, were mimicked, burlesqued, and made fun of. Each actor endeavored to represent his rôle in the most grotesque manner possible. He who was for the moment deaf gave nonsensical 292 answers to questions put to him; the sick man depicted the effects of pain, and so forth. When these had exhausted their stock of jokes, others entered as beetles, frogs, or lizards, croaking, whistling, and skipping about the stage after the manner of the creatures they represented. The boys from the temples also appeared as birds and butterflies, and flocked into the trees in the courtyard. Each performer rehearsed his part before appearing in public, and great care was taken that no blunder should mar the beauty of the plot. The priests added to the fun by blowing mud-balls at the actors through wooden tubes, and praising or censuring the performance in a jocular manner. The entertainment concluded with a ball, which was attended by all the actors.[251]

Some authors have spoken very favorably of the dramatic skill of the Nahuas. Clavigero is not inclined to indorse this opinion, although he thinks a great advance would have been made in this direction had the Mexican Empire survived another century; a very natural conclusion, certainly. The ceremonies at the religious festivals often partook of a dramatic character, as will be seen presently.[252]

Music, a principal attraction at our theatrical entertainments, did not play an important part on the Nahua stage, and, though we hear of singers appearing, instrumental concert is not mentioned. Aside from this, the high importance attached to music is evident from the myth of its origin. According to this myth no less a personage than Tezcatlipoca[253] brought, or sent for, music from the sun, and constructed a bridge of whales and turtles, symbols of strength, by which to convey it to the earth.


Drums, horns, shells, trumpets, and shrill whistles 293 made from cleft bones were the instruments most used. The drum was the favorite, and the beating of several in nice accord sufficed alone for an accompaniment to the song and the dance. Two kinds of drum are mentioned; of these, the huehuetl[254] was a hollow cylinder of wood, about three feet high, and a foot and a half in diameter, curiously carved and painted, and having its upper end covered with a dressed deer-skin, tightened or loosened in tuning, and played upon with the hands. The other kind of drum was called the teponaztli, 'wing of the stone-vapor;' this was entirely of wood, and had no opening but two parallel slits in one side, the enclosed piece being divided in the centre so as to form two tongues, each of which increased in thickness towards its extremity; the drum was placed in a horizontal position and the sound was produced by beating the tongues with sticks tipped with rubber balls. This drum varied in length from a toy of a few inches to five feet. Sometimes it was carved in the shape of a man, woman, or animal, and lay lengthways on trestles. The huehuetl gave forth a dull sound resembling that of the East Indian tom-tom. These drums, when of the largest size, could be heard at a distance of two miles.[255] The teponaztli produced a melancholy sound, which is considered by Brasseur de Bourbourg to have been a symbol of the hollow warning noise preceding the annihilation of Earth, which was symbolized by the instrument itself.[256] The tetzilacatl was a kind of gong made of copper and struck with a hammer of the same material. The ayacachtli was a rattle of copper, perforated and filled with pebbles, used by dancers.

The ancient writers unite in praising the perfect unison and good time observed by the singers, both in solo and quartette, with chorus and responses, and they mention particularly the little boys of from four 294 to eight years of age, who rendered the soprano in a manner that reflected great credit on the training of their priestly tutors. Each temple, and many noblemen kept choirs and bands of professional musicians, usually led by a priest, who composed odes appropriate to every occasion, and set them to music. Bass singers were rare, and were prized in proportion to their rarity. They had a great number of popular songs or ballads, which were well known in all classes. Young people were obliged to learn by heart long epics, in which were recounted the glorious deeds of heroes in battle and the chase; or didactic pieces, pointing some moral and inculcating a useful lesson; or hymns of praise and appeal for sacred festivals. Clavigero, Pimentel, and other authors extol the aboriginal muse highly, and describe the language used as pure, brilliant, figurative, and interwoven with allusions to the beauties of nature; unmeaning interjections scattered here and there to assist the metre, evince a lack of finish, however, and the long, compound words, a single one of which often formed a whole verse, certainly did not add to the harmony, yet they observed good metre and cadence.[257]

The art of music was under royal protection, and singers as well as musicians were exempt from taxation. Nezahualcoyotl, the great Tezcucan patron of art, himself composed a number of odes and elegies, and founded an academy of sciences and music, where the allied kings of Mexico, Tezcuco, and Tlacopan presided, and distributed prizes to the successful competitors. Toltec songs are highly praised for their beauty and variety. The Totonacs and Tepanecs are said to have been as far advanced in music and singing as the Aztecs;[258] but concerning these arts I shall speak more at length in a future chapter.



The acrobatic feats performed by the Nahuas excited the surprise and admiration of the conquerors, and the court of Spain, before which some of these athletes were introduced, was no less astounded at the grace, daring, and strength displayed by them.

Some of these gymnastic performances have only of late become known to us; thus, the so-called Chinese foot-balancing trick, in which a man lying on his back spins a heavy pole on the soles of his raised feet, throws it up, catches it, and twirls it in every direction, was a common feat with the Nahua acrobat, who, indeed, excelled the circus-man of to-day, in that he twirled the pole while a man sat at each end of it. Another feat was performed by three. One having braced himself firmly, another mounted on his shoulders, while the third climbed up and stood upon the head of the second. In this position the human column moved slowly about, the man on the top performing a kind of dance at the same time. Again, a man would dance on the top of a beam, the lower end of which was forked and rested upon the shoulders of two other dancers. Some raised a stick from the ground while a man balanced at the end of it; others leaped upon a stick set upright in the ground, or danced upon the tight-rope. Another game involving an equal display of grace and daring was the netotoliztli, or 'bird dance,' known to the Spaniards as the 'flying-game,' and performed especially during the laymen's feast. In the centre of an open place, generally a public square, a lofty pole was erected. On the top of this pole was placed a wooden, moveable cap, resembling an inverted mortar; to this were fastened 296 four stout ropes which supported a wooden frame about twelve feet square. Four other, longer ropes were carefully wound thirteen times about the pole just below the cap, and were thence passed through holes made one in each of the four sides of the frame. The ends of these ropes, while wound about the pole, hung several feet below the frame. Four gymnasts, who had practiced some time previously, and were disguised as birds of different form, ascended by means of loops of cord tied about the pole, and each having fastened one of the ropes round his waist, they started on their circular flight with spread wings. The impulse of the start and the weight of the men set the frame in motion, and the rope unwound quicker and quicker, enabling the flyers to describe larger and larger circles. A number of other men, all richly dressed, sat perched upon the frame, whence they ascended in turn to the top of the revolving cap, and there danced and beat a drum, or waved a flag, each man endeavoring to surpass his predecessor in daring and skill.[259] As the flyers neared the ground, and the ropes were almost untwisted, the men on the frame glided down the ropes so as to gain the ground at the same time, sometimes passing from one rope to the other in their descent and performing other tricks. The thirteen turns of the rope, with the four flyers, represented the cycle with its four divisions of thirteen years.

Running was practiced, not only for exercise, but as a profession; as the government employed a large number of couriers to run with messages, who were trained for the purpose from early childhood. To these I shall have occasion to refer again. Races were held at the chief temple in Mexico under the auspices of the priests,[260] at which prizes were awarded 297 to the four competitors who succeeded in first gaining the topmost of the one hundred and twenty steps. The Nahuas must have been able swimmers, too, for it is said that travelers usually took to the water when crossing rivers, leaving the bridges to those who carried burdens. There were also sham fights and public reviews, both for the exercise of the army and the delectation of the masses. At these times the soldiers competed for prizes in shooting with the arrow or throwing the dart.[261] On grand occasions, such as the coronation of a king, soldiers fought with wild beasts, or wrestled with one another, and animals were pitted against each other in fenced enclosures.[262]


Letter H

The national game of the Nahuas was the tlachtli, which strongly resembled in many points our game of football, and was quite as lively and full of scuffle. It was common among all the nations whose cult was similar to the Toltec, and was under special divine protection, though what original religious significance it had is not clear. Indeed, for that matter, nearly every game enjoyed divine patronage, and Ometochtli, 'two rabbits,' the god of games, according to Duran, was generally invoked by athletes as well as gamblers, in conjunction with some special god. Instruments of play, and natural objects were also conjured to grant good luck to the applicant. As an instance of the popularity of the game of tlachtli,[263] it may be mentioned that a certain number of towns contributed annually sixteen thousand balls in taxes, that each town of any size had a special play-ground devoted to the game, and that kings kept professionals to play before them, occasionally challenging each other to a game besides. The ground in which it was played, called the tlachco,[264] was an alley whose shape is shown 298 in the cut; one hundred feet long[265] and half as wide, except at each end where there were rectangular nooks, which doubtless served as resting-places for the players. The whole was enclosed by smooth whitewashed walls, from nine to twelve feet high on the sides, and somewhat lower at the ends, with battlements and turrets, and decreasing in thickness toward the top.[266] At midnight, previous to the day fixed for the game, which was always fixed favorably by the augurs, the priests with much ceremony placed two idols—one representing the god of play, the other the god of the tlachtli[267]—upon the side walls, blessed the edifice, and consecrated the game by throwing the ball four times round the ground, muttering the while a formula. The owner of the tlachco, usually the lord of the place, also performed certain ceremonies and presented offerings, before opening the game. The balls, called ullamaloni, were of solid India-rubber, three to four inches in diameter. The players were simply attired in the maxtli, or breech-clout, and sometimes wore a skin to protect the parts coming in contact with the ball, and gloves; they played in parties, usually two or three on each side. The rule was to hit the ball only with knee, elbow, shoulder, or buttock, as agreed upon, the latter was however the favorite way, and to touch the wall of the opposite side with the ball, or to send it over, either of which counted a point. He who struck the ball with his hand or foot, or with any part of his body not previously agreed upon, lost a point; to settle such matters without dispute a priest acted as referee. On each side-wall, equidistant from the ends, 299 was a large stone, carved with images of idols, pierced through the centre with a hole large enough to just admit the passage of the ball;[268] the player who by chance or skill drove the ball through one of these openings not only won the game for his side, but was entitled to the cloaks of all present, and the haste with which the spectators scrambled off in order to save their garments is said to have been the most amusing part of the entertainment. A feat so difficult was, of course, rarely accomplished, save by chance, and the successful player was made as much of as a prize-winner at the Olympic games, nor did he omit to present thank offerings to the god of the game for the good fortune vouchsafed him.

The possession of much property depended upon the issue of the game; the rich staked their gold and jewels, the poor their dresses, their food, or even their liberty.[269]


Gambling, the lowest yet most infatuating of amusements, was a passion with the Nahuas, and property of all kinds, from ears of corn or cacao-beans, to costly jewelry and personal liberty, were betted upon the issue of the various games. Professional gamesters 300 went from house to house with dice and play-mats, seeking fresh victims. All gambling tools were formally charmed, and this charm was renewed and strengthened at intervals by presenting the instruments in the temple, with prayers that the blessing of the idol might descend upon them.


Patoliztli, which somewhat resembled our backgammon, appears to have been the most popular game of chance. Patolli, or large beans marked with dots, like dice, were shaken in the hand and thrown upon a mat, upon which was traced a square marked with certain transverse and diagonal lines. The thrower of the beans marked his points on these lines according to the number of spots which fell upward. He who first gained a certain score won the game. The players were usually surrounded by a crowd of interested spectators, who betted heavily on the result, and called loudly for the favor of Macuilxochitl, the patron deity of the game. Golden and jewelled dice were often used instead of beans by the rich.[270] They had another game in which reeds took the place of dice. Two players, each with ten pebbles by his side, shot split reeds in turn towards small holes made in the ground, by bending them between the fingers; if a reed fell over a hole a marker was placed on a square; this continued until the markers were all exhausted by the winner.[271] Montezuma's favorite game 301 was called totoloque, and consisted in throwing small golden balls at pieces of the same metal set up as targets at a certain distance. Five points won the stakes. Peter Martyr jumps at the conclusion that chess must have been known to the Nahuas, because they possessed checkered mats.[272]




Frequent Occurrence of Religious Feasts—Human Sacrifices—Feasts of the Fourth Year—Monthly Festivals—Sacrifice of Children—Feast of Xipe—Manner of Sacrifice—Feasts of Camaxtli, of the Flower-Dealers, of Centeotl, of Tezcatlipoca, and of Huitzilopochtli—Festival of the Salt-Makers—The Sacrifice by Fire—Feast of the Dead—The Coming of the Gods—The Footprints on the Mat—Hunting Feast—The Month of Love—Hard Times—Nahua Lupercalia—Feasts of the Sun, of the Winter Solstice—Harvest and Eight-Year Festivals—The Binding of the Sheaf.


The amusements described in the preceding chapter were chiefly indulged in during the great religious festivals, when the people flocked together from all quarters to propitiate or offer up thanks to some particular god.

These festivals were of very frequent occurrence. The Nahuas were close observers of nature; but like other nations in a similar or even more advanced stage of culture, the Greeks and Northmen for example, they entirely misunderstood the laws which govern the phenomena of nature, and looked upon every natural occurrence as the direct act of some particular divinity. The coming of the rains was held to be the coming of the rain-gods, with their heralds the thunder and lightning; the varying condition of the crops was ascribed to their Ceres; drought, storms, 303 eclipses, all were considered the acts of special deities.

The religious machinery required to propitiate the anger, humor the whims, and beseech the favor of such a vast number of capricious divinities, was as intricate as it was ponderous. Besides the daily services held in the various temples, prayers were offered several times during each day in that of the sun, special rites attended every undertaking, from the departure of a private traveler to the setting forth of an army for war, and fixed as well as movable feasts were held, the number of which was continually increased as opportunity offered. The priests observed fasts among themselves, attended with penance, scarifications, and mutilations sometimes so severe as to result fatally. Thus, at the festival in honor of Camaxtli, the priests fasted one hundred and sixty days, and passed several hundred sticks, varying in thickness from half an inch to an inch and a half through a hole freshly made in the tongue.[273] The people imitated these penances in a less degree, and scarified the members of their bodies that had been the means of committing a sin. Blood was drawn from the ears for inattention, or for conveying evil utterances to the mind; from the tongue for giving expression to bad words; the eyes, the arms, the legs, all suffered for any reprehensible act or neglect. The people of each province, says Las Casas, had a manner of drawing blood peculiar to themselves.[274]

At the public festivals each private person brought such offering to the god as his means allowed. The poor had often nothing to give but a flower, a cake, 304 or personal service, but the wealthy gave rich robes, jewels, gold, and slaves. But no great feast seems to have been complete without human sacrifice. This was always the great event of the day, to which the people looked eagerly forward, and for which victims were carefully preserved. Most of these miserable beings were captives taken in war, and it was rarely that the supply failed to be sufficient to the occasion, especially among the Mexicans, since, as I have before said, there was nearly always trouble in some part of the empire, if not, a lack of victims for sacrifice was held good cause for picking a quarrel with a neighboring nation; besides, if the number of war prisoners was not sufficient there were never wanting refractory slaves to swell the number. We have it upon good authority that upon almost every monthly feast, and upon numerous other grand celebrations, several hundred human hearts were torn hot from living breasts as an acceptable offering to the Nahua gods and a pleasant sight to the people.[275]

The grandest festivals were celebrated during the fourth year, called Teoxihuitl, or 'divine year,' and at the commencement of every thirteenth year. On these occasions a greater number of victims bled and the penances were more severe than at other times. The Nahuas also observed a grand festival every month in the year; but, as these feasts were closely connected with their religion, and therefore will be necessarily described at length in the next volume, I will confine myself here to such an outline description of them as will suffice to give the reader an idea of what they were.[276]



The Aztec feast that is mentioned first by the old writers, namely that of the month Atlcahualco, 'the diminishing of the waters,' or, as it was called in some parts, Quahuitlehua, 'burning of the trees or mountains,' was celebrated in honor of the Tlalocs, gods of rains and waters. At this feast a great number of sucking infants were sacrificed, some upon certain high mountains, others in a whirlpool in the lake of Mexico. The little ones were mostly bought from their mothers, though sometimes they were voluntarily presented by parents who wished to gain the particular favor of the god. Those only who had two curls on the head, and who had been born under a lucky sign were thought acceptable to the gods. The sacrifices were not all made in one place, but upon six several mountains and in the lake. These were visited one after another by a great procession of priests attended by the music of flutes and trumpets, and followed by a vast multitude of people thirsting for the sight of blood; nay, more, literally hungering for the flesh of the babes, if we may credit the assertion of some authors, that the bodies were actually brought back and the flesh eaten as a choice delicacy by the priests and chief men. But of cannibalism more anon.

The little ones were carried to their death upon gorgeous litters adorned with plumes and jewels, and were themselves dressed in a splendid manner in embroidered and jeweled mantles and sandals, and colored paper wings. Their faces were stained with oil of India-rubber, and upon each cheek was painted a round white spot. No wonder that, as the old chroniclers say, the people wept as the doomed babes passed by; surely there was good cause for weeping in such a sight. Gladiatorial combats and sacrifice of prisoners of war at the temple completed this feast.[277]


The next feast, that in the month of Tlacaxipehualiztli, 'the flaying of men,' was held in honor of Xipe, who was especially the patron deity of the goldsmiths.[278] This god was thought to inflict sore eyes, itch, and other diseases upon those who offended him, and they were therefore careful to observe his feast with all due regularity and honor. On this occasion thieves convicted for the second time of stealing gold or jewels[279] were sacrificed, besides the usual number of prisoners of war. The vigil of the feast, on the last day of the preceding month, began with solemn dances. At midnight the victims were taken from the chapel, where they had been compelled to watch, and brought before the sacred fire. Here the hair was shaven from the top of their heads, the captors at the same time drawing blood from their own ears in honor of the idol; the severed topknot of each war prisoner was afterwards hung up at the house of his captor as a token and memorial of the father's bravery. Towards daybreak some of the prisoners were taken up to the great temple to be sacrificed. But before we proceed farther it will be necessary to see how these human offerings were made.


Sacrifices varied in number, place, and manner, according to the circumstances of the festival. In general the victims suffered death by having the breast opened, and the heart torn out; but others were drowned, others were shut up in caves and starved to death, others fell in the gladiatorial sacrifice, which will be described elsewhere. The customary 307 place was the temple, on the topmost platform of which stood the altar used for ordinary sacrifices. The altar of the great temple at Mexico, says Clavigero, was a green stone, probably jasper, convex above, and about three feet high and as many broad, and more than five feet long. The usual ministers of the sacrifice were six priests, the chief of whom was the Topiltzin, whose dignity was preëminent and hereditary; but at every sacrifice he assumed the name of that god to whom it was made. When sacrificing he was clothed in a red habit, similar in shape to a modern scapulary, fringed with cotton; on his head he wore a crown of green and yellow feathers, from his ears hung golden ear-ornaments and green jewels, and from his under lip a pendant of turquoise. His five assistants were dressed in white habits of the same make, but embroidered with black; their hair was plaited and bound with leather thongs, upon their foreheads were little patches of various-colored paper; their entire bodies were dyed black. The victim was carried naked up to the temple, where the assisting priests seized him and threw him prostrate on his back upon the altar, two holding his legs, two his feet, and the fifth his head; the high-priest then approached, and with a heavy knife of obsidian cut open the miserable man's breast; then with a dexterity acquired by long practice the sacrificer tore forth the yet palpitating heart, which he first offered to the sun and then threw at the foot of the idol; taking it up he again offered it to the god and afterwards burned it, preserving the ashes with great care and veneration. Sometimes the heart was placed in the mouth of the idol with a golden spoon. It was customary also to anoint the lips of the image and the cornices of the door with the victim's blood. If he was a prisoner of war, as soon as he was sacrificed they cut off his head to preserve the skull, and threw the body down the temple steps, whence it was carried to the house of the warrior by whom the victim had been 308 taken captive, and cooked and eaten at a feast given by him to his friends; the body of a slave purchased for sacrifice was carried off by the former proprietor for the same purpose. This is Clavigero's account. The same writer asserts that the Otomís having killed the victim, tore the body in pieces, which they sold at market. The Zapotecs sacrificed men to their gods, women to their goddesses, and children to some other diminutive deities. At the festival of Teteionan the woman who represented this goddess was beheaded on the shoulders of another woman. At the feast celebrating the arrival of the gods, the victims were burned to death. We have seen that they drowned children at one feast in honor of Tlaloc; at another feast of the same god several little boys were shut up in a cavern, and left to die of fear and hunger.[280]


Let us now proceed with the feast of Xipe. We left a part of the doomed captives on their way to death. Arrived at the summit of the temple each one is led in turn to the altar of sacrifice seized by the grim, merciless priests, and thrown upon the stone; the high priest draws near, the knife is lifted, there is one great cry of agony, a shuffle of feet as the assistants are swayed to and fro by the death struggles of their victim, then all is silent save the 309 muttering of the high-priest as high in air he holds the smoking heart, while from far down beneath comes a low hum of admiration from the thousands of upturned faces.

The still quivering bodies were cast down the temple steps, as at other times, but on this occasion they were not taken away until they had been flayed, for which reason these victims were called xipeme, 'flayed,' or tototecti, 'one who dies in honor of Totec.' The remains were then delivered over to the captor by certain priests, at the chapel where he had made his vow of offering, a vow which involved a fast of twenty days previous to the festival. A thigh was sent to the king's table, and the remainder was cooked with maize and served up at the banquet given by the captors, to which their friends were invited. This dish was called tlacatlaolli; the giver of the feast, says Sahagun, did not taste the flesh of his own captive, who was held, in a manner, to be his son, but ate of others.



The next day another batch of prisoners, called oavanti, whose top hair had also been shaved, were brought out for sacrifice. In the meantime a number of young men also termed tototecti, began a gladiatorial game, a burlesque on the real combat to follow; dressing themselves in the skins of the flayed victims, they were teased to fight by a number of their comrades; these they pursued and put to flight, and thereupon turned against one another, dragging the vanquished to the guard-house, whence they were not discharged until a fine had been paid. A number of priests, each representing a god, now descended from the summit of the temple, and directed their steps to the stone of sacrifice, which stood below and must not be confounded with the altar, and seated themselves upon stools round about it, the high-priest taking the place of honor. After them came four braves, two disguised as eagles, and two as tigers, who performed fencing tactics as they advanced, and were 310 destined to fight the captives. A band of singers and musicians, who were seated behind the priests, and bore streamers of white feathers mounted on long poles which were strapped to their shoulders, now began to sound flutes, shells, and trumpets, to whistle and to sing, while others approached, each dragging his own captive along by the hair. A cup of pulque was given to each of these poor wretches, which he presented toward the four quarters of the earth, and then sucked up the fluid by means of a tube. A priest thereupon took a quail, cut off its head before the captive, and taking the shield which he carried from him he raised it upwards, at the same time throwing the quail behind him—a symbol, perhaps, of his fate. Another priest arrayed in a bear-skin, who stood as god-father to the doomed men, now proceeded to tie one of the captives to a ring fixed in the elevated flat stone upon which the combat took place; he then handed him a sword edged with feathers instead of flint, and four pine sticks wherewith to defend himself against the four braves who were appointed to fight with him, one by one. These advanced against him with shield and sword raised toward the sky, and executing all manner of capers; if the captive proved too strong for them, a fifth man who fought both with the right and left hand was called in.[281] Those who were too faint-hearted to attempt this hopeless combat, had their hearts torn out at once, whilst the others were sacrificed only after having been subdued by the braves. The bleeding and quivering heart was held up to the sun and then thrown into a bowl, prepared for its reception. An assistant priest sucked the blood from the gash in the chest through a hollow cane, the end of which he elevated towards the sun, and then discharged its contents into a plume-bordered cup held by the captor of the prisoner just slain. This cup was carried round to all the idols in the temples and 311 chapels, before whom another blood-filled tube was held up as if to give them a taste of the contents; this ceremony performed, the cup was left at the palace. The corpse was taken to the chapel where the captive had watched, and there flayed, the flesh being consumed at a banquet as before.[282] The skin was given to certain priests, or college youths, who went from house to house dressed in the ghastly garb, with the arms swinging, singing, dancing, and asking for contributions; those who refused to give anything received a stroke in the face from the dangling arm. The money collected was at the disposal of the captor, who gave it to the performers, and, no doubt, it eventually found its way to the temple or school treasury.[283] After the sacrifice, the priests, chiefs, and owners of the captives commenced to dance the motzontecomaitotia, circling round the stone of combat, weeping and lamenting as if going to their death, the captors holding the heads of the dead men by the hair in their right hands, and the priests swinging the cords which had held them toward the four quarters of the compass, amid many ceremonies. The next morning solemn dances were held everywhere, beginning at the royal palaces, at which everybody appeared in his best finery, holding tamales or cakes in his hands in lieu of flowers, and wearing dry maize, instead of garlands, as appropriate to the season. They also carried imitations of amaranths made of feathers and maize-stalks with the ears. At noon the priests retired from the dance, whereupon the lords and nobles 312 arranged themselves in front of the palace by threes, with the king at their head, holding the lord of Tezcuco by the right hand and the lord of Tlacopan by the left, and danced solemnly till sunset. Other dances by warriors, and women, chiefly prostitutes, followed at the temple and lasted till midnight, the motions consisting of swinging of arms and interwinding. The festivities were varied by military reviews, sports, and concerts, and extended over the whole month. It was held incumbent upon everyone at this time to eat a kind of uncooked cake called huilocpalli. The Tlascaltecs called this month Cohuailhuitl, 'feast of the snake,' a name which truly indicates rejoicings, such as carnivals, sports, and banquets, participated in by all classes. Celebrations in honor of Camaxtli were also held at this time here as well as in Huexotzinco and many other places, for which the priests prepared themselves by a severe fast. The ceremonies when they took place in the fourth year, called 'God's year,' were especially imposing. When the time came for the long fast which preceded the feast to begin, those of the priests who had sufficient courage to undergo the severe penance then exacted from the devout were called upon to assemble at the temple. Here the eldest arose and exhorted them to be faithful to their vows, giving notice to those who were faint-hearted to leave the company of penance-doers within five days, for, if they failed, after that time by the rules of the fast they would be disgraced and deprived of their estates. On the fifth day they again met to the number of two or three hundred, although many had already deserted, fearing the severity of the rules, and repaired to Mount Matlalcueje, stopping half-way up to pray, while the high-priest ascended alone to the top, where stood a temple devoted to the divinity of this name. Here he offered chalchiuite-stones and quetzal-feathers, paper and incense, praying to Matlalcueje and Camaxtli to give his servants strength and courage to 313 keep the fast. Other priests belonging to various temples in the meantime gathered loads of sticks, two feet long and as thick as the wrist, which they piled up in the chief temple of Camaxtli. These were fashioned to the required form and size and polished by carpenters who had undergone a five days' fast, and were, in return for their services, fed outside the temple. Flint-cutters, who had also undergone a fast to ensure the success of their work, were now summoned to prepare knives, which were placed upon clean cloths, exposed to the sun and perfumed; a broken blade was held as a sign of bad fasting, and the one who broke it was reprimanded. At sunset, on the day of the great penance, the achcauhtli, 'eldest brothers,' began chanting in a solemn tone and playing upon their drums.[284] On the termination of the last hymn, which was of a very lugubrious character and delivered without accompaniment, the self-torture commenced. Certain penance-doers seized each a knife and cut a hole in the tongue of each man, through which the prepared sticks were inserted, the smaller first and then the stouter, the number varying according to the piety and endurance of the penitent. The chief set the example by passing four hundred and fifty through his tongue,[285] singing a hymn at the same time in spite of all. This was repeated every twenty days during the fast, the sticks decreasing in size and number as the time for the feast drew near. The sticks which had been used were thrown as an offering to the idol within a circle formed in the courtyard of the temple with a number of poles, six fathoms in height, and were afterwards burnt. After the lapse of eighty days, a branch was placed in the temple-yard, as a sign that all the people had to join in the fast for the remaining eighty 314 days, during which nothing but maize-cakes, without chile—a severe infliction, indeed, for this people—were to be eaten, no baths taken and no communion with women indulged in.[286] Fires were to be kept alight the whole time, and so strict was this rule that the life of the slaves in great houses depended upon the proper attention paid to it. The chief achcauhtli went once more to the Matlalcueje mountain[287] escorted by four others, where, alone and at night, he offered copal, paper, and quails; he also made a tour round the province, carrying a green branch in his hand, and exhorting all to observe the fast. The devout seized this opportunity to make him presents of clothes and other valuables. Shortly before the end of the fast all the temples were repaired and adorned, and three days previous to the festival the achcauhtlis painted themselves with figures of animals in various colors, and danced solemnly the whole day in the temple-yard. Afterwards they adorned the image of Camaxtli, which stood about seventeen feet high, and dressed the small idol by his side in the raiments of the god Quetzalcoatl, who was held to be the son of Camaxtli. This idol was said to have been brought to the country by the first settlers. The raiment was borrowed from the Cholultecs, who asked the same favor when they celebrated Camaxtli's feast. Camaxtli was adorned with a mask of turquoise mosaic,[288] green and red plumes waved upon his head, a shield of gold and rich feathers was fastened to his left arm, and in his right hand he held a dart of fine workmanship pointed with flint. He was dressed in several 315 robes and a tecucxicolli, like a priest's vestment, open in front and finely bordered with cotton and rabbit-hair, which was spun and dyed like silk. A number of birds, reptiles, and insects were killed before him, and flowers offered. At midnight, a priest dressed in the vestments of the idol lighted a new fire, which was consecrated with the blood of the principal captive, called the Son of the Sun. All the other temples were supplied from this flame. A great number of captives were thereupon sacrificed to Camaxtli as well as to other gods, and the bodies consumed at the banquets that followed. The number killed in the various towns of the province amounted to over one thousand, a number greatly increased by the numerous sacrifices offered at the same time in other places where Camaxtli was worshiped.[289]


The next feast, which was that of the month called Tozoztontli, or 'short vigil,' was characterized by a constant night watch observed by the priests in the various temples, where they kept fires burning and sounded the gongs to prevent napping. More of the children bought in the first month were now sacrificed, and offerings of fruit and flowers were made to induce the Tlalocs to send rain.[290] The chief event, however, of this month, was a fast given in honor of Cohuatlicue, or Coatlantona, by the xochimanques, or flower-dealers, of Mexico. The celebration took place in the temple of Yopico, which was under the special care and protection of the people of Xochimilco and Quauhnahuac, whose lands were renowned for the beauty and abundance of their flowers. Here were offered the first flowers of the season, of which hitherto none might inhale the perfume, and here the people sat down and chanted hymns of praise to the goddess. Cakes made of wild 316 amaranth or savory, called tzatzapaltamale, were also offered. In this temple of Yopico was a grotto in which the skins of the victims sacrificed at the feast of the preceding month were now deposited by the priests who had worn them continuously until this time. These marched in solemn procession to the grotto, accompanied by a number of people whom the angered Xipe had smitten with itch, or eye diseases; this act of devotion would, it was thought, induce the god to relent and remove the curse. The owners of the captives to whom the skins had belonged, and their families, of whom none was permitted to wash his head during the month, in token of sorrow for the slain, followed the procession. The priests doffed their strange and filthy attire and deposited it in the grotto; they were then washed in water mixed with flour, their bodies at the same time being belabored and slapped with the moist hands of their assistants, to bring out the unhealthy matter left by the rotting skins. This was followed by a lustration in pure water. The diseased underwent the same washing and slapping. On returning home feasting and amusements broke out anew. Among other sports the owners of the late prisoners gave the paper ornaments which had been worn by them to certain young men, who, having put them on, took each a shield in one hand and a bludgeon in the other; thus armed they ran about threatening to maltreat those whom they met. Everybody fled before them, calling out "here comes the tetzonpac." Those who were caught forfeited their mantles, which were taken to the house of the warrior, to be redeemed, perhaps, after the conclusion of the game. The paper ornaments were afterwards wrapped in a mat and placed upon a tripod in front of the wearer's house. By the side of the tripod a wooden pillar was erected, to which the thigh-bone of a victim, adorned with gaudy papers, was attached amid many ceremonies, and in the presence of the captor's friends. Both these trophies commemorated 317 the bravery of the owner. This lasted six days. About this time, says Duran, certain old diviners went about provided with talismans, generally small idols, which they hung round the necks of boys by means of colored thread, as a security against evil, and for this service received presents from the parents.[291]


The following month, which was called Huey-Tozoztli, 'great vigil,'[292] a feast was celebrated in honor of Centeotl, the god of cereals, and Chicomecoatl, goddess of provisions. At this time both people and priest fasted four days. Offerings of various kinds were made to the gods of the feast, and afterwards a procession of virgins strangely and gaudily attired carried ears of corn to be used as seed, to the temple to be blessed.[293]

The first half of the succeeding month, called Toxcatl, was, among the Mexicans, taken up with a continuous series of festivals in honor of Tezcatlipoca; the latter half of the month was devoted to the worship of his brother-god Huitzilopochtli. Ten days before the feast began, a priest, arrayed in the vestments of Tezcatlipoca, and holding a nosegay in one hand and a clay flute in the other, came out from the temple, and turning first to the east and then to the other three quarters, blew a shrill note on his instrument; then, stooping, he gathered some dust on 318 his finger and swallowed it, in token of humility and submission. On hearing the whistle all the people knelt, ate dust, and implored the clemency and favor of the god. On the eve of the festival the nobles brought to the temple a present of a new set of robes, in which the priests clothed the idol, adorning it besides with its proper ornaments of gold and feathers; the old dress was deposited in the temple coffers as a relic. The sanctuary was then thrown open to the multitude. In the evening certain fancifully attired priests carried the idol on a litter round the courtyard of the temple, which was strewn with flowers for the occasion. Here the young men and maidens devoted to the service of the temple formed a circle round the procession, bearing between them a long string of withered maize as a symbol of drought. Some decked the idol with garlands, others strewed the ground with maguey-thorns, that the devout might step upon them and draw blood in honor of the god. The girls wore rich dresses, and their arms and cheeks were dyed; the boys were clothed in a kind of net-work, and all were adorned with strings of withered maize. Two priests marched beside the idol, swinging their lighted censers now towards the image, now towards the sun, and praying that their appeals might rise to heaven, even as the smoke of the burning copal; and as the people heard and saw they knelt and beat their backs with knotted cords.

As soon as the idol was replaced, offerings poured in of gold, jewels, flowers, and feathers, as well as toasted quails, corn, and other articles of food prepared by women who had solicited and obtained the privilege. This food was afterwards divided among the priests, who, in fact, seem to have really reaped the benefit on most religious occasions. It was carried to them by a procession of virgins who served in the temple. At the head of the procession marched a priest strangely attired in a white-bordered surplice, reaching to the knee, and a sleeveless jacket of red 319 skin, with a pair of wings attached, to which hung a number of ribbons, suspending a gourd filled with charms. The food was set down at the temple stairway, whence it was carried to the priests by attendant boys. After a fast of five days these divine viands were doubtless doubly welcome.


Among the captives brought out for sacrifice at the same festival a year before, the one who possessed the finest form, the most agreeable disposition, and the highest culture, had been selected to be the mortal representative of the god till this day. It was absolutely necessary, however, that he should be of spotless physique, and, to render him still more worthy of the divine one whom he personated, the calpixques, under whose care he was placed, taught him all the accomplishments that distinguished the higher class. He was regaled upon the fat of the land, but was obliged to take doses of salted water to counteract any tendency toward obesity; he was allowed to go out into the town day and night, escorted by eight pages of rank dressed in the royal livery, and received the adoration of the people as he passed along. His dress corresponded with his high position; a rich and curiously bordered mantle, like a fine net, and a maxtli with wide, embroidered margin, covered his body; white cock-feathers, fastened with gum, and a garland of izquixuchitl flowers, encircled the helmet of sea-shells which covered his head; strings of flowers crossed his breast; gold rings hung from his ears, and from a necklace of precious stones about his neck dangled a valuable stone; upon his shoulders were pouch-like ornaments of white linen with fringes and tassels; golden bracelets encircled the upper part of his arms, while the lower part was almost covered with others of precious stones, called macuextli; upon his ankles golden bells jingled as he walked, and prettily painted slippers covered his feet.

Twenty days before the feast he was bathed, and his dress changed; the hair being cut in the style used by 320 captains, and tied with a curious fringe which formed a tassel falling from the top of the head, from which two other tassels, made of feathers, gold, and tochomitl, and called aztaxelli, were suspended. He was then married to four accomplished damsels, to whom the names of four goddesses, Xochiquetzal, Xilonen, Atlatonan, and Huixtocioatl were given, and these remained with him until his death, endeavoring to render him as happy as possible. The last five days the divine honors paid to him became still more imposing, and celebrations were held in his honor, the first day in the Tecanman district, the second in the ward where the image of Tezcatlipoca stood, the third in the woods of the ward of Tepetzinco, and the fourth in the woods of Tepepulco; the lords and nobles gave, besides, solemn banquets followed by recreations of all kinds. At the end of the fourth feast, the victim was placed with his wives in one of the finest awning-covered canoes belonging to the king, and sent from Tepepulco to Tlapitzaoayan, where he was left alone with the eight pages who attended him during the year. These conducted him to the Tlacochcalco, a small and plain temple standing near the road, about a league from Mexico,[294] which he ascended, breaking a flute against every step of the staircase. At the summit he was received by the sacrificing ministers, who served him after their manner, and held up his heart exultingly to the sun; the body was carried down to the courtyard on the arms of priests, and the head having been cut off was spitted at the Tzompantli, or 'place of skulls;' the legs and arms were set apart as sacred food for the lords and people of the temple. This 321 end, so terrible, signified that riches and pleasures may turn into poverty and sorrow; a pretty moral, truly, to adorn so gentle a tale.

After the sacrifice, the college youths, nobles, and priests commenced a grand ball for which the older priests supplied the music; and at sunset the virgins brought another offering of bread made with honey. This was placed upon clay plates, covered with skulls and dead men's bones, carried in procession to the altar of Tezcatlipoca, and destined for the winners in the race up the temple steps, who were dressed in robes of honor, and, after undergoing a lustration, were invited to a banquet by the temple dignitaries. The feast was closed by giving an opportunity to boys and girls in the college, of a suitable age, to marry. Their remaining comrades took advantage of this to joke and make sport of them, pelting them with soft balls and reproving them for leaving the service of the god for the pleasures of matrimony.[295] Tezcatlipoca's representative was the only victim sacrificed at this festival, but every leap-year the blood flowed in torrents.



After this celebration commenced the festival in honor of the younger brother of Tezcatlipoca, Huitzilopochtli, the Mexican god of war. The priests of the god prepared a life-size statue like his original image, the bones of which were composed of mezquite-wood, the flesh of tzoalli, a dough made from amaranth and other seeds. This they dressed in the raiments of the idol, viz: a coat decorated with human bones, and a net-like mantle of cotton and nequen, covered by another mantle, the tlaquaquallo, adorned with feather-work, and bearing a gold plate upon its front; its wide folds were painted with the bones and members of a human being, and fell over a number of men's bones made of dough, which 322 represented his power over death. A paper crown, very wide at the top and set with plumes, covered this head, and attached to its feather-covered summit was a bloody flint-knife, signifying his fury in battle. The image was placed upon a stage of logs, formed to resemble four snakes whose heads and tails protruded at the four corners, and borne by four of the principal warriors[296] to the temple of Huitznahuac, attended by a vast number of people, who sang and danced along the road. A sheet of maguey-paper, twenty fathoms in length, one in breadth, and one finger in thickness, upon which were depicted the glorious deeds of the god, was carried before the procession on the points of darts ornamented with feathers, the bearers singing the praises of the deity to the sound of music.[297] At sunset the stage was raised to the summit of the temple by means of ropes attached to the four corners, and placed in position. The paper painting was then rolled up in front of it, and the darts made into a bundle. After a presentation of offerings consisting of tamales and other food, the idol was left in charge of its priests. At dawn the next morning similar offerings, accompanied with incense, were made to the family image of the god at every house. That day the king himself appeared in the sacerdotal character. Taking four quails, he wrenched their heads off one after another, and threw the quivering bodies before the idol; the priests did the same, and then the people. Some of the birds were prepared and eaten by the king, priest, and principal men at the feast, the rest were preserved for another occasion. Each minister then placed coals and chapopotli incense[298] in his 323 tlemaitl,[299] and wafted the disagreeable odor towards the idol. The ashes were then emptied from the censers into an immense brazier, called the tlexictli, or 'fire-navel.' This ceremony gave the name to the festival, which was known as the 'incensing of Huitzilopochtli.' The girls devoted to the service of the temple now appeared, having their arms and legs decorated with red feathers, their faces painted, and garlands of toasted maize on their heads; in their hands they held split canes, upon which were flags of paper or cloth painted with vertical black bars. Linking hands they joined the priests in the grand dance called toxcachocholoa. Upon the large brazier, round which the dancers whirled, stood two shield-bearers with blackened faces, who directed the motions. These men had cages of candlewood tied to their backs after the manner of women. The priests who joined in the dance wore paper rosettes upon their foreheads, yellow and white plumes on their heads, and had their lips and their blackened faces smeared with honey. They also wore undergarments of paper, called amasmaxtli, and each held a palm wand in his hand, the upper part of which was adorned with flowers, while the lower end was tipped with a ball, both balls and flowers being made of black feathers; the part of the wand grasped in the hand was rolled in strips of black-striped paper. When dancing, they touched the ground with their wands as if to support themselves. The musicians were hidden from view in the temple. The courtiers and warriors danced in another part of the courtyard, apart from the priests, with girls attired somewhat like those already described.

At the same time that the representative of Tezcatlipoca 324 was chosen, the year before, another youth was appointed to represent Huitzilopochtli, to whom was given the name of Ixteocale, that is, 'eyes of the lord of the divine house.'[300] He always associated with the other doomed one of Tezcatlipoca, and shared his enjoyments; but, as the representative of a less esteemed god, he was paid no divine honors. His dress was characteristic of the deity for whom he was fated to die. Papers painted with black circles covered his body, a mitre of eagle-feathers, with waving plumes and a flint knife in the centre adorned his head, and a fine piece of cloth, a hand square, with a bag called patoxin above it, was tied to his breast; on one of his arms he had an ornament made of the hair of wild beasts, like a maniple, called imatacax, and golden bells jingled about his ankles. Thus arrayed he led the dance of the plebeians,[301] like the god conducting his warriors to battle. This youth had the privilege of choosing the hour of his death, but any delay involved the loss to him of a proportionate amount of glory and happiness in the other world. When he delivered himself up to the sacrificers, they raised him on their arms, tore out his heart, beheaded him, and spitted the head at the place of skulls. After him several other captives were immolated, and then the priests started another dance, the atepocaxixilihua, which lasted the remainder of the day, certain intervals being devoted to incensing the idol. On this day the male and female children born during the year were taken to the temple and scarified on the chest, stomach, and arms, to mark them as followers of the god.

The feast in honor of Quetzalcoatl, as it was celebrated during this month in Cholula, and the feast of the following month, called Etzalqualiztli, dedicated 325 to the Tlalocs, or rain gods, the reader will find fully described in the next volume.[302]


The next month was one of general rejoicing among the Nahuas, and was for this reason called Tecuilhuitzintli, or Tecuilhuitontli, 'small feast of the lords.' The nobles and warriors exercised with arms to prepare for coming wars; hunting parties, open-air sports, and theatricals divided the time with banquets and indoor parties; and there was much interchanging of roses out of compliment. Yet the amusements this month were mostly confined to the lower classes, the more imposing celebrations of the nobility taking place in the following month. The religious celebrations were in honor of Huixtocihuatl, the goddess of salt, said to have been a sister to the rain gods, who quarreled with her, and drove her into the salt water, where she invented the art of making salt. Her chief devotees were, of course, the salt-makers, mostly females, who held a ten-days' festival in her temple, singing and dancing every evening from dusk till midnight in company with the doomed captives. They were all adorned with garlands of a sweet-smelling herb called iztauhiatl, and danced in a ring formed by cords of flowers, led by some of their own sex; the music was furnished by two old men. The female who represented the goddess and was to die in her honor danced with them, generally in the centre of the circle, and accompanied by an old man holding a beautiful plume, called huixtopetlacotl; if very nervous she was supported by old women.[303] She was dressed in the yellow robes of the goddess, and wore on her head a mitre surmounted by a number of green plumes; her huipil and skirt with net covering were worked in wavy outlines, and bordered with chalchiuites; ear-rings of gold in imitation of flowers hung from her ears; golden bells and white shells held by 326 straps of tiger-skin, jingled and clattered about her ankles; her sandals were fastened with buttons and cords of cotton. On her arm she bore a shield painted with broad leaves, from which hung bits of parrot-feathers, tipped with flowers formed of eagle-plumage; it was also fringed with bright quetzal-feathers. In her hand she held a round bludgeon, one or two hands broad at the end, adorned with rubber-stained paper, and three flowers, at equal distances apart, filled with incense and set with quetzal-feathers; this shield she flourished as she danced. The priests who performed the sacrifice were dressed in an appropriate costume; on the great day, the priests performed another and solemn dance, devoting intervals to the sacrifice of captives, who were called Huixtoti in honor of the deity. Finally, towards evening, the female victim was thrown upon the stone by five young men, who held her while the priests cut open her breast, pressing a stick or a swordfish-bone against her throat to prevent her from screaming. The heart was held up to the sun and then thrown into a bowl. The music struck up and the people went home to feast.[304]


The feast of the following month, Hueytecuilhuitl, or 'great feast of the lords,' occurred at the time of the year when food was most scarce, the grain from the preceding harvest being nearly exhausted and the new crop not yet ripe for cutting. The nobles at this time gave great and solemn banquets among themselves, and provided at their personal expense feasts for the poor and needy. On the eleventh day a religious celebration took place in honor of Centeotl, under the name of Xilonen, derived from xilotl, which means a tender maize-ear, for this goddess changed her name according to the state of the grain. On this occasion, a woman who represented the goddess 327 and was dressed in a similar manner, was sacrificed. The day before her death a number of women took her with them to offer incense in four places, which were sacred to the four characters of the divisions of the cycle, the reed, the flint, the house, and the rabbit. The night was spent in singing, dancing, and praying before the temple of the goddess.[305] On the day of sacrifice certain priestesses and lay women whirled in a ring about the victim, and a number of priests and principal men who danced before her. The priests blew their shells and horns, shook their rattles and scattered incense as they danced, the nobles held stalks of maize in their hands which they extended toward the woman. The priest who acted as executioner wore a bunch of feathers on his shoulders, held by the claws of an eagle inserted in an artificial leg. Towards the close of the dance this priest stopped at the foot of the temple, shook the rattle-board before the victim, scattered more incense, and turned to lead the way to the summit. This reached, another priest seized the woman, twisted her shoulders against his, and stooped over, so that her breast lay exposed. On this living altar she was beheaded and her heart torn out. After the sacrifice there was more dancing, in which the women, old and young, took part by themselves, their arms and legs decorated with red macaw-feathers, and their faces painted yellow and dusted with marcasite. The whole pleasantly finished with a feast. Offerings were also presented to the household gods. This festival inaugurated the eating of corn.[306]

During the next month, which was called Tlaxochimaco, 328 or 'the distribution of flowers,'[307] gifts of flowers were presented to the gods and mutually interchanged among friends. At noon on the day of the great feast, the signal sounded and a pompous dance was begun in the courtyard of the temple of Huitzilopochtli, to whom the honors of the day were paid, in which the performers consisted of various orders of warriors led by the bravest among them. Public women joined these dances, one woman going hand in hand with two men, and the contrary, or with their hands resting on each other's shoulders, or thrown round the waist.[308] The musicians were stationed at a round altar, called momuztli. The motions consisted of a mere interwinding walk, to the time of a slow song. At sunset, after the usual sacrifices, the people went home to perform the same dance before their household idol; the old indulging in liquor as usual. The festival in honor of Iyacacoliuhqui, the god of commerce, was, however, the event of the month, owing to the number and solemnity of the sacrifices of slaves, brought from all quarters by the wealthy merchants for the purpose, and the splendor of the attendant banquets. The Tlascaltecs called this month Miccailhuitzintli, 'the small festival of the dead,' and gathered in the temples to sing sorrowful odes to the dead, the priests, dressed in black mantles, making offerings of food to the spirit of the departed. This seems to have been a commemoration of the ordinary class only, for the departed heroes and great men were honored in the following month. Duran and others assert, however, that the festival was devoted to the memory of the little ones who had died, and adds that the mothers performed thousands of superstitious ceremonies with their children, placing talismans upon them and the like, to prevent their death.[309]



The feast of the next month, called Xocotlhuetzin, 'fall, or maturity of fruit,' was dedicated to Xiuhtecutli, the god of fire. At the beginning of the month certain priests went out into the mountains and selected the tallest and straightest tree they could find. This was cut down and trimmed of all except its top branches.[310] It was then moved carefully into the town upon rollers, and set up firmly in the courtyard of the temple, where it stood for twenty days. On the eve of the feast-day the tree was gently lowered to the ground; early the next morning carpenters dressed it perfectly smooth, and fastened a cross-yard five fathoms long, near the top, where the branches had been left. The priests now adorned the pole with colored papers, and placed upon the summit a statue of the god of fire, made of dough of amaranth-seeds, and curiously dressed in a maxtli, sashes, and strips of paper. Three rods were stuck into its head, upon each of which was spitted a tamale, or native pie. The pole was then again hoisted into an erect position.

Those who had captives to offer now appeared, dancing side by side with the victims, and most grotesquely dressed and painted. At sunset the dance ceased, and the doomed men were shut up in the temple, while their captors kept guard outside, and sang hymns to the god. About midnight every owner brought out his captive and shaved off his top hair, which he carefully kept as a token of his valor. At dawn the human offerings were taken to the Tzompantli, where the skulls of the sacrificed were spitted, and there stripped by the priests of their dress and ornaments. At a certain signal each owner seized his captive by the hair and dragged or led him to the 330 foot of the temple-steps. Thereupon those priests who were appointed to execute the fearful sacrifice descended from the temple, each bearing in his hand a bag filled with certain stupefying powder extracted from the yiauhtli plant, which they threw into the faces of the victims to deaden somewhat the agony before them. Each naked and bound captive was then borne upon the shoulders of a priest up to the summit of the temple, where smoldered a great heap of glowing coal. Into this the bearers cast their living burdens, and when the cloud of dust was blown off the dull red mass could be seen to heave, human forms could be seen writhing and twisting in agony, the crackling of flesh could be distinctly heard.[311] But the victims were not to die by fire; in a few moments, and before life was extinct, the blackened and blistered wretches were raked out by the watching priests, cast one after another upon the stone of sacrifice, and in a few moments all that remained upon the summit of the temple was a heap of human hearts smoking at the feet of the god of fire.

These bloody rites over, the people came together and danced and sang in the courtyard of the temple. Presently all adjourned to the place where the pole before mentioned stood. At a given signal the youths made a grand scramble for the pole, and he who first reached the summit and scattered the image and its accoutrements among the applauding crowd below, was reckoned the hero of the day. With this the festival ended, and the pole was dragged down by the multitude amid much rejoicing.


The Tepanecs, according to Duran, had a very similar ceremony. A huge tree was carried to the entrance of the town, and to it offerings and incense were presented every day during the month preceding the festival. Then it was raised with many ceremonies, and a bird of dough placed at the top. Food 331 and wine were offered, and then the warriors and women, dressed in the finest garments and holding small dough idols in their hands, danced round the pole, while the youths struggled wildly to reach and knock down the bird image. Lastly, the pole was overthrown.[312]

The Tlascaltecs called the same month Hueymiccailhuitl, 'the great festival of the dead,' and commemorated the event with much solemnity, painting their bodies black and making much lamentation. Both here and in other parts of Mexico the priests and nobles passed several days in the temple, weeping for their ancestors and singing their heroic deeds. The families of lately deceased persons assembled upon the terraces of their houses, and prayed with their faces turned towards the north, where the dead were supposed to sojourn. Heroes who had fallen in battle, or died in captivity, defunct princes, and other persons of merit were, in a manner, canonized, and their statues placed among the images of the gods, whom, it was believed, they had joined to live in eternal bliss.[313]

The festival of the next month, called Ochpaniztli, was held in honor of Centeotl, the mother-goddess. Fifteen days before the festival began those who were to take part in it commenced a dance, which they repeated every afternoon for eight days. At the expiration of this time the medical women and midwives brought forth the woman who was to die on this occasion, and dividing themselves into two parties, fought a sham battle by pelting each other with leaves. The doomed woman, who was called 'the image of the mother of the gods,' placed herself at the head of one party of the combatants, supported 332 by three old women who guarded and attended upon her continually. This was repeated during four successive days. On the fifth day the unfortunate creature was conducted by her guardians and the medical women through the market-place. As she walked she scattered maize, and at the end of her journey she was received by the priests, who delivered her again to the women that they might console her (for it was necessary that she should be in a good humor, say the old chroniclers) and adorn her with the ornaments of the mother-goddess. At midnight she was carried to the summit of the temple, caught up upon the shoulders of a priest, and in this position beheaded. The body while yet warm was flayed, and the skin used in certain religious ceremonies which will be described at length elsewhere.[314] In this month the temples and idols underwent a thorough cleansing and repairing, a sacred work in which everyone was eager to share according to his means and ability, believing that divine blessings would ensue. To this commendable custom is no doubt to be attributed the good condition in which the religious edifices were found by the Conquerors. Roads, public buildings, and private houses also shared in this renovation, and special prayers were offered up to the gods for the preservation of health and property.

The festival of the succeeding month, called Teotleco, 'coming of the gods,' was sacred to all the deities, though the principal honors were paid to Tezcatlipoca as the supreme head. Fifteen days of the month being passed, the college-boys prepared for the great event by decorating the altars in the temples, oratories, and public buildings, with green branches tied in bunches of three. In the same manner they decked the idols in private houses, receiving from the inmates, as their reward, baskets containing from two to four ears of maize; this gift was called cacalotl.



Tezcatlipoca, being younger and stronger than the other gods, and therefore able to travel faster, was expected to arrive during the night of the eighteenth. A mat, sprinkled with flour, was therefore placed on the threshold of his temple, and a priest set to watch for the footprints which would indicate the august arrival.[315] He did not, however, remain constantly close to the mat; had he done so he would probably never have seen the longed-for marks, but he approached the spot from time to time, and immediately on perceiving the tracks he shouted: "His majesty has arrived;" whereupon the other priests arose in haste, and soon their shells and trumpets resounded through all the temples, proclaiming the joyful tidings to the expectant people. These now flocked in with their offerings, each person bringing four balls made of roasted and ground amaranth-seed kneaded with water; they then returned to their homes to feast and drink pulque. Others beside the old people appear to have been permitted to indulge in libations on this occasion, which they euphoniously called 'washing the feet of the god' after his long journey. On the following day other deities arrived, and so they kept coming until the last divine laggard had left his footprints on the mat. Every evening the people danced, feasted, 'washed the feet of the gods,' and made a sacrifice of slaves, who were thrown alive upon a great bed of live coal which glowed on the tecalco.[316] At the head of the steps leading up to the place of sacrifice stood two young men, one of whom wore long, false hair, and a crown adorned with rich plumes; his face was painted black, with white curved stripes drawn from ear to forehead, and from the inner corner of the eye 334 to the cheek; down his back hung a long feather, with a dried rabbit attached to it. The other man was dressed to resemble an immense bat, and held rattles like poppy-heads in his hands. Whenever a victim was cast into the fire these weird figures danced and leaped, the one whistling with his fingers and mouth, the other shaking his rattles.[317]

After the sacrificing was ended, the priests placed themselves in order, dressed in paper stoles which crossed the chest from shoulder to armpit, and ascended the steps of the small edifice devoted to fire sacrifices; hand in hand they walked round, and then rushed suddenly down the steps, releasing each other in such a manner as to cause many to tumble. This game, which certainly was not very dignified for priests to play at, was called mamatlavicoa, and gave rise to much merriment, especially if any of the reverend players should lose his temper, or limp, or make a wry face after a fall. The festival closed with a general dance, which lasted from noon till night. At this season all males, young and old, wore feathers of various colors gummed to the arms and body, as talismans to avert evil.[318]

The festival of the next month, called Tepeilhuitl, was sacred to the Tlalocs, and is fully described elsewhere.[319] The Mexican Bacchus, Centzontotochtin, was also especially honored during this month, according to Torquemada, and slaves were sacrificed to him. A captive was also sacrificed by night to a deity named Nappatecutli.[320]


The festivals of the ensuing month, which was 335 called Quecholli,[321] were devoted to various deities, though Mixcoatl, god of the chase, seems to have carried the honors in most parts of Mexico. The first five days of the month were passed in repose, so far as religious celebrations were concerned, but on the sixth day the authorities of the city wards ordered canes to be gathered and carried to the temple of Huitzilopochtli; there young and old assembled during the four days following, to share in the sacred work of making arrows. The arrows, which were all of uniform length, were then formed into bundles of twenty, carried in procession to the temple of Huitzilopochtli, and piled up in front of the idol. The four days were, moreover, devoted to fasting and penance, involving abstinence from strong liquors, and separation of husbands from wives. On the second day of the fast, the boys were summoned to the temple, where, having first blown upon shells and trumpets, their faces were smeared with blood drawn from their ears. This sacrifice, called momacaico, was made to the deer which they proposed to hunt. The rest of the people drew blood from their own ears, and if any one omitted this act he was deprived of his mantle by the overseers.

On the second day following, darts were made to be used in games and exercises, and shooting matches were held at which maguey-leaves served for targets. The next day was devoted to ceremonies in honor of the dead by rich and poor. The day after, a great quantity of hay was brought from the hills to the temple of Mixcoatl. Upon this certain old priestesses seated themselves, while mothers brought their children before them, accompanied by five sweet tamales. On this day were also ceremonies in honor of the god of wine, to whom sacrifices of male and female slaves were made by the pulque-dealers.

On the tenth day of the month a number of hunters set out for mount Cacatepec, near Tacubaya, to 336 celebrate the hunting festival of Mixcoatl, god of the chase. On the first day they erected straw huts, in which they passed the night. The next morning, having broken their fast, they formed themselves into a great circle, and all advancing toward a common centre, the game was hemmed in and killed with ease. The spirits of the children sacrificed to the rain-gods, whose dwelling was upon the high mountains, were supposed to descend upon the hunters and make them strong and fortunate. Having secured their game, the hunters started for home in grand procession, singing songs of triumph, and hymns to the mighty Mixcoatl. After a solemn sacrifice of a portion of the game to the god, each took his share home and feasted upon it.[322] The Tlascaltecs sacrificed to the god at the place where the hunt took place, which was upon a neighboring hill. The way leading to the spot was strewn with leaves, over which the idol was carried with great pomp and ceremony.[323] Towards the close of the month male and female slaves were sacrificed before Mixcoatl.[324]

In Tlascala and the neighboring republics this was the 'month of love,' and great numbers of young girls were sacrificed to Xochiquetzal, Xochitecatl, and Tlazolteotl, goddesses of sensual delights. Among the victims were many courtesans, who voluntarily offered themselves, some to die in the temple, others on the battle-field, where they rushed in recklessly among the enemy. As no particular disgrace attended a life of prostitution, it seems improbable that remorse or repentance could have prompted this self-sacrifice; it must therefore be attributed to pure religious fervor. 337 As a recompense for their devotion, these women before they went to their death had the privilege of insulting with impunity their chaster sisters. It is further said that a certain class of young men addicted to unnatural lusts, were allowed at this period to solicit custom on the public streets. At Quauhtitlan, every fourth year, during this month, a festival was celebrated in honor of Mitl, when a slave was bound to a cross and shot to death with arrows.[325]

The feast of the next month, called Panquetzaliztli, was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, god of war; that of the following month, called Atemoztli, was sacred to the Tlalocs. Both these festivals will be described elsewhere.[326]


The ensuing month was named Tititl, or the month of 'hard times,' owing to the inclement weather. The celebrations of this period were chiefly in honor of an aged goddess, named Ilamatecutli, to whom a female slave was sacrificed. This woman represented the goddess and was dressed in white garments decorated with dangling shells and sandals of the same color; upon her head was a crown of feathers; the lower part of her face was painted black, the upper, yellow; in one hand she carried a white shield ornamented with feathers of the eagle and the night-heron, in the other she held a knitting stick. Before going to her death she performed a dance, and was permitted, contrary to usual custom, to express her grief and fear in loud lamentations. In the afternoon she was conducted to the temple of Huitzilopochtli, accompanied by a procession of priests, among whom was one dressed after the manner of the goddess Ilamatecutli. After the heart of the victim had been torn from her breast, her head was cut off and given to this personage, who immediately placed himself at the head of the other priests and led them in a dance round the 338 temple, brandishing the head by the hair the while. As soon as the performers of the vecula, as this dance was named, had left the summit of the temple, a priest curiously attired descended, and, proceeding to a spot where stood a cage made of candlewood adorned with papers, set fire to it. Immediately upon seeing the flames the other priests, who stood waiting, rushed one and all up again to the temple-top; here lay a flower, which was secured by the first who could put hands upon it, carried back to the fire, and there burned. On the following day a game was played which resembled in some respects the Roman Lupercalia. The players were armed with little bags filled with paper, leaves, or flour, and attached to cords three feet long. With these they struck each other, and any girl or woman who chanced to come in their way was attacked by the boys, who, approaching quietly with their bags hidden, fell suddenly upon her, crying out: "This is the sack of the game." It sometimes happened, however, that the woman had provided herself with a stick, and used it freely, to the great discomfiture and utter rout of the urchins.[327] A captive was sacrificed during this month to Mictlantecutli, the Mexican Pluto, and the traders celebrated a grand feast in honor of Yacatecutli.[328] During the last Aztec month, which was called Itzcalli, imposing rites were observed throughout Mexico in honor of Xiuhtecutli, god of fire;[329] in the surrounding states, such as Tlacopan, Coyuhuacan, Azcapuzalco,[330] Quauhtitlan,[331] and Tlascala,[332] ceremonies more or less similar 339 were gone through, accompanied by much roasting and flaying of men and women.


Besides these monthly festivals there were many others devoted to the patron deities of particular trades, to whom the priests and people interested in their worship made offerings, and, in some cases, human sacrifices. There were also many movable feasts, held in honor of the celestial bodies, at harvest time, and on other like occasions. These sometimes happened to fall on the same day as a fixed festival, in which case the less important was either set aside or postponed. It is related of the Culhuas that on one occasion when a movable feast in honor of Tezcatlipoca chanced to fall upon the day fixed for the celebration of Huitzilopochtli, they postponed the former, and thereby so offended the god that he predicted the destruction of the monarchy and the subjugation of the people by a strange nation who would introduce a monotheistic worship.[333]

One of the most solemn of the movable feasts was that given to the sun, which took place at intervals of two or three hundred days, and was called Netonatiuhqualo, or 'the sun eclipsed.' Another festival took place when the sun appeared in the sign called Nahui Ollin Tonatiuh,[334] a sign much respected by kings and princes, and regarded as concerning them especially.

At the great festival of the winter solstice, which took place either in the month of Atemoztli or in that of Tititl, all the people watched and fasted four days, and a number of captives were sacrificed, two of whom represented the sun and moon.[335] About the same 340 time a series of celebrations were held in honor of Iztacacenteotl, goddess of white maize; the victims sacrificed on this occasion were lepers and others suffering from contagious diseases.[336] Whenever the sign of Ce Miquiztli, or One Death, occurred, Mictlantecutli, god of hades, was fêted, and honors were paid to the dead.[337] Of the heavenly bodies, they esteemed next to the sun a certain star, into which Quetzalcoatl was supposed to have converted himself on leaving the earth. It was visible during about two hundred and sixty days of the year, and on the day of its first appearance above the horizon, the king gave a slave to be sacrificed, and many other ceremonies were performed. The priests, also, offered incense to this star every day, and drew blood from their bodies in its honor, acts which many of the devout imitated.[338]

At harvest-time the first-fruits of the season were offered to the sun. The sacrifice on this occasion was called Tetlimonamiquian, 'the meeting of the stones.' The victim, who was the most atrocious criminal to be found in the jails, was placed between two immense stones, balanced opposite each other; these were then allowed to fall together. After the remains had been buried, the principal men took part in a dance; the people also danced and feasted during the day and night.[339]

Every eight years a grand festival took place, called 341 Atamalqualiztli, 'the fast of bread and water,' the principal feature of which was a mask ball, at which people appeared disguised as various animals whose actions and cries they imitated with great skill.[340]


The most solemn of all the Mexican festivals was that called Xiuhmolpilli, that is to say, 'the binding-up of the years.' Every fifty-two years was called a 'sheaf of years,' and it was universally believed that at the end of some 'sheaf' the world would be destroyed. The renewal of the cycle was therefore hailed with great rejoicing and many ceremonies.[341]




Origin of Agriculture—Floating Gardens—Agricultural Products—Manner of Preparing the Soil—Description of Agricultural Implements—Irrigation—Granaries—Gardens—the Harvest Feast—Manner of Hunting—Fishing—Methods of Procuring Salt—Nahua Cookery—Various Kinds of Bread—Beans—Pepper—Fruit—Tamales—Miscellaneous Articles of Food—Eating of Human Flesh—Manufacture of Pulque—Preparation of Chocolatl—Other Beverages—Intoxicating Drinks—Drunkenness—Time and Manner of Taking Meals.


Hunting, fishing, and agriculture furnished the Nahua nations with means of subsistence, besides which they had, in common with their uncivilized brethren of the sierras and forests, the uncultivated edible products of the soil. Among the coast nations, the dwellers on the banks of large streams, and the inhabitants of the lake regions of Anáhuac and Michoacan, fish constituted an important article of food. But agriculture, here as elsewhere, distinguished savagism from civilization, and of the lands of the so-called civilized nations few fertile tracts were found uncultivated at the coming of the Spaniards. Cultivation of the soil was doubtless the first tangible step in the progressive development of these nations, and this is indicated in their traditionary annals, which point, more or less vaguely, to a remote period when 343 the Quinames, or giants, occupied the land as yet untilled; which means that the inhabitants were savages, whose progress had not yet exhibited any change sufficiently marked to leave its imprint on tradition. At a time still more remote, however, the invention of bows and arrows is traditionally referred to.[342]

The gradual discovery and introduction of agricultural arts according to the laws of development, were of course unintelligible to the aboriginal mind; consequently their traditions tell us wondrous tales of divine intervention and instruction. Nevertheless, the introduction of agriculture was doubtless of very ancient date. The Olmecs and Xicalancas, traditionally the oldest civilized peoples in Mexico, were farmers back to the limit of traditional history, as were the lineal ancestors of all the nations which form the subject of this volume. Indeed, as the Nahua nations were living when the Spaniards found them, so had they probably been living for at least ten centuries, and not improbably for a much longer period.

It was, however, according to tradition, during the Toltec period of Nahua culture that husbandry and all the arts pertaining to the production and preparation of food, were brought to the highest degree of perfection. Many traditions even attribute to the Toltecs the invention or first introduction of agriculture.[343]


But even during this Toltec period hunting tribes, both of Nahua and other blood, were pursuing their game in the forests and mountains, especially in the northern region. Despised by their more civilized, corn-eating brethren, they were known as barbarians, dogs, Chichimecs, 'suckers of blood,' from the custom attributed to them of drinking blood and eating raw flesh. Many tribes, indeed, although very far from being savages, were known to the aristocratic Toltecs as Chichimecs, by reason of some real or imaginary inferiority. By the revolutions of the tenth century, some of these Chichimec nations, probably of the Nahua blood and tillers of the soil, although at the same time bold hunters and valiant warriors, gained the ascendancy in Anáhuac. Hence the absurd versions of native traditions which represent the Valley of Mexico as occupied during the Chichimec period by a people who, until taught better by the Acolhuas, lived in caverns and subsisted on wild fruits and raw meat, while at the same time they were ruled by emperors, and possessed a most complicated and advanced system of government and laws. Their barbarism probably consisted for the most part in resisting for a time the enervating influences of Toltec luxury, especially in the pleasures of the table.[344]



The Aztecs were traditionally corn-eaters from the first, but while shut up for long years on an island in the lake, they had little opportunity for agricultural pursuits. During this period of their history, the fish, birds, insects, plants, and mud of the lake supplied them with food, until floating gardens were invented and subsequent conquests on the main land afforded them broad fields for tillage. As a rule no details are preserved concerning the pre-Aztec peoples; where such details are known they will be introduced in their proper place as illustrative of later Nahua food-customs.

The chinampas, or floating gardens, cultivated by the Aztecs on the surface of the lakes in Anáhuac, were a most extraordinary source of food. Driven in the days of their national weakness to the lake islands, too small for the tillage which on the main had supported them, these ingenious people devised the chinampa. They observed small portions of the shore, detached by the high water and held together by fibrous roots, floating about on the surface of the water. Acting on the suggestion, they constructed rafts of light wood, covered with smaller sticks, rushes, and reeds, bound together with fibrous aquatic plants, and on this foundation they heaped two or three feet of black mud from the bottom of the lake. Thus the broad surface around their island home was dotted with fertile gardens, self-irrigating and independent of rains, easily moved from place to place according to the fancy of the proprietor. They usually took the form of parallelograms and were often over a hundred feet long. All the agricultural products of the country, particularly maize, chile, and beans were soon produced in abundance on the chinampas, while the larger ones even bore fruit and shade trees of considerable size, and a hut for the convenience of the 346 owner, or gardener. The floating gardens have remained in use down to modern times, but since the waters of the lakes receded so much from their former limits, they have been generally attached to the shore, being separated by narrow canals navigated by the canoes which bear their produce to the markets. In later times, however, only flowers and garden vegetables have been raised in this manner.[345]

On the mainland throughout the Nahua territory few fertile spots were left uncultivated. The land was densely populated, and agriculture was an honorable profession in which all, except the king, the nobility, and soldiers in time of actual war, were more or less engaged.[346]


Agricultural products in the shape of food were not a prominent feature among articles of export and import, excepting, of course, luxuries for the tables of the kings and nobles. Each province, as a rule, raised only sufficient supplies for its own ordinary necessities; consequently, when by reason of drought or 347 other cause, a famine desolated one province, it was with the greatest difficulty that food could be obtained from abroad. The Mexicans were an improvident people, and want was no stranger to them.[347]

The chief products of Nahua tillage were maize, beans, magueyes, cacao, chian, chile, and various native fruits.[348] The maize, or Indian corn, the dried ears of which were called by the Aztecs centli, and the dried kernels separated from the cob, tlaolli,[349] was the standard and universal Nahua food. Indigenous to America, in the development of whose civilization, traditionally at least, it played an important part, it has since been introduced to the world. It is the subject of the New World traditions respecting the introduction of agriculture among men. Tortillas, of maize, accompanied by the inevitable frijoles, or beans, seasoned with chile, or pepper, and washed down with drinks prepared from the maguey and cacao, were then, as now, the all-sustaining diet, and we are told that corn grew so strong and high in the fields that 348 covered the surface of the country in some parts, as to seriously embarrass the conqueror Cortés in his movements against the natives hidden in these natural labyrinths.[350]


Respecting the particular methods of cultivation practiced by the Nahuas, except in the raising of corn, early observers have left no definite information.[351] The valleys were of course the favorite localities for cornfields, but the highlands were also cultivated. In the latter case the trees and bushes were cut down, the land burned over, and the seed put in among the ashes. Such lands were allowed to rest several years—Torquemada says five or six—after each crop, until the surface was covered with grass and bushes for a new burning. No other fertilizer than ashes, so far as known, was ever employed. Fields were enclosed by stone walls and hedges of maguey, which were carefully repaired each year in the month of Panquetzaliztli. They had no laboring animals, and their farming implements were exceedingly few and rude. Three of these only are mentioned. The huictli was a kind of oaken shovel or spade, in handling which both hands and feet were used. The coatl, or coa (serpent), so called probably from its shape, was a copper implement with a wooden handle, used somewhat as a hoe is used by modern farmers in breaking the surface of the soil. Another copper instrument, shaped like a sickle, with a wooden handle, was used for pruning fruit-trees. A simple sharp stick, the point of which was hardened in the fire, or more rarely tipped with copper, was the implement in most common use. To plant corn, the farmer dropped a few kernels into a hole made with this stick, and covered them with his foot, taking the 349 greatest pains to make the rows perfectly straight and parallel; the intervals between the hills were always uniform, though the space was regulated according to the nature and fertility of the soil. The field was kept carefully weeded, and at a certain age the stalks were supported by heaping up the soil round them. At maturity the stalks were often broken two thirds up, that the husks might protect the hanging ear from rain. During the growth and ripening of the maize, a watchman or boy was kept constantly on guard in a sheltered station commanding the field, whose duty it was to drive away, with stones and shouts, the flocks of feathered robbers which abounded in the country. Women and children aided the men in the lighter farm labors, such as dropping the seeds, weeding the plants, and husking and cleaning the grain. To irrigate the fields the water of rivers and of mountain streams was utilized by means of canals, dams, and ditches. The network of canals by which the cacao plantations of the tierra caliente in Tabasco were watered, offered to Cortés' army even more serious obstructions than the dense growth of the maizales, or cornfields.

Granaries for storing maize were built of oyametl, or oxametl, a tree whose long branches were regular, tough, and flexible. The sticks were laid in log-house fashion, one above another, and close together, so as to form a tight square room, which was covered with a water-tight roof, and had only two openings or windows, one at the top and another at the bottom. Many of these granaries had a capacity of several thousand bushels, and in them corn was preserved for several, or, as Brasseur says, for fifteen or twenty, years. Besides the regular and extensive plantations of staple products, gardens were common, tastefully laid out and devoted to the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, medicinal herbs, and particularly flowers, of which the Mexicans were very fond, and which were in demand for temple decorations and bouquets. The 350 gardens connected with the palaces of kings and nobles, particularly those of Tezcuco, Iztapalapan, and Huaxtepec, excited great wonder and admiration in the minds of the first European visitors, but these have been already mentioned in a preceding chapter.[352]

We shall find the planting and growth of maize not without influence in the development of the Nahua calendars, and that it was closely connected with the worship of the gods and with religious ideas and ceremonies. Father Burgoa relates that in Oajaca, the cultivation of this grain, the people's chief support, was attended by some peculiar ceremonies. At harvest-time the priests of the maize god in Quegolani, ceremonially visited the cornfields followed by a procession of the people, and sought diligently the fairest and best-filled ear. This they bore to the village, placed it on an altar decked for the occasion with flowers and precious chalchiuites, sang and danced before it, and wrapped it with care in a white cotton cloth, in which it was preserved until the next seed-time. Then with renewed processions and solemn rites the magic ear with its white covering was wrapped in a deer-skin and buried in the midst of the cornfields in a small hole lined with stones. When another harvest came, if it were a fruitful one, the precious offering to the earth was dug up and its decayed remains distributed in small parcels to the happy populace as talismans against all kinds of evil.[353]


The game most abundant was deer, hare, rabbits, wild hogs, wolves, foxes, jaguars, or tigers, Mexican lions, coyotes, pigeons, partridges, quails, and many aquatic birds. The usual weapon was the bow 351 and arrow, to the invention of which tradition ascribes the origin of the chase; but spears, snares, and nets were also employed, and the sarbacan, a tube through which pellets or darts were blown, was an effective bird-killer. Game in the royal forests was protected by law, and many hunters were employed in taking animals and birds alive for the king's collections. Among the peculiar devices employed for taking water-birds was that already mentioned in connection with the Wild Tribes; the hunter floating in the water, with only his head, covered with a gourd, above the surface, and thus approaching his prey unsuspected. Young monkeys were caught by putting in a concealed fire a peculiar black stone which exploded when heated. Corn was scattered about as a bait, and when the old monkeys brought their young to feed they were frightened by the explosion and ran away, leaving the young ones an easy prey. The native hunters are represented as particularly skillful in following an indistinct trail. According to Sahagun, a superstition prevailed that only four arrows might be shot at a tiger, but to secure success a leaf was attached to one of the arrows, which, making a peculiar whizzing sound, fell short and attracted the beast's attention while the hunter took deliberate aim. Crocodiles were taken with a noose round the neck and also, by the boldest hunters, by inserting a stick sharpened and barbed at both ends in the animal's open mouth. It is probable that, while a small portion of the common people in certain parts of the country sought game for food alone, the chase among the Nahuas was for the most part a diversion of the nobles and soldiers. There were also certain hunts established by law or custom at certain periods of the year, the products of which were devoted to sacrificial purposes, although most likely eaten eventually.

In the month Quecholli a day's hunt was celebrated by the warriors in honor of Mixcoatl. A large forest—that of Zacatepec, near Mexico, being a favorite 352 resort—was surrounded by a line of hunters many miles in extent. In the centre of the forest various snares and traps were set. When all was ready, the living circle began to contract, and the hunters with shouts pressed forward toward the centre. To aid in the work, the grass was sometimes fired. The various animals were driven from their retreats into the snares prepared for them, or fell victims to the huntsmen's arrows. Immense quantities of game were thus secured and borne to the city and to the neighboring towns, the inhabitants of which had assisted in the hunt, as an offering to the god. Each hunter carried to his own home the heads of such animals as he had killed, and a prize was awarded to the most successful. In the month Tecuilhuitontli also, while the warriors practiced in sham fights for actual war, the common people gave their attention to the chase. Large numbers of birds were taken in nets spread on poles like spear-shafts. In earlier times, when the chase was more depended on for food, the first game taken was offered to the gods; or, by the Chichimecs and Xochimilcas, to the sun, as Ixtlilxochitl informs us.[354]


Fish was much more universally used for food than game. Torquemada tells us that the Aztecs first invented the art of fishing prompted by the mother of invention when forced by their enemies to live on the lake islands; and it was the smell of roasted fish, wafted to the shore, that revealed their presence. This tradition is somewhat absurd, and it is difficult to believe that the art was entirely unknown during the preceding Toltec and Olmec periods of Nahua civilization. Besides the supply in lake and river, 353 artificial ponds in the royal gardens were also stocked with fish, and we have seen that fresh fish from the ocean were brought to Mexico for the king's table. Respecting the particular methods employed by the Nahua fishermen, save that they used both nets and hooks, the authorities say nothing. The Tarascos had such an abundance of food in their lakes that their country was named Michoacan, 'land of fish'; and the rivers of Huastecapan are also mentioned as richly stocked with finny food.[355]

The Nahuas had, as I have said, no herds or flocks, but besides the royal collections of animals, which included nearly every known variety of quadrupeds, birds, and reptiles, the common people kept and bred techichi (a native animal resembling a dog), turkeys, quails, geese, ducks, and many other birds. The nobles also kept deer, hares, and rabbits.[356]

Next to chile, salt, or iztatl, was the condiment most used, and most of the supply came from the Valley of Mexico. The best was made by boiling the water from the salt lake in large pots, and was preserved in white cakes or balls. It was oftener, however, led by trenches into shallow pools and evaporated 354 by the sun. The work would seem to have been done by women, since Sahagun speaks of the women and girls employed in this industry as dancing at the feast in honor of the goddess of salt in the month Tecuilhuitontli. A poor quality of salt, tequizquitl, brick-colored and strongly impregnated with saltpetre, was scraped up on the flats around the lakes, and largely used in salting meats. Las Casas mentions salt springs in the bed of fresh-water streams, the water of which was pumped out through hollow canes, and yielded on evaporation a fine white salt; but it is not certain what part of the country he refers to. The Aztec kings practically monopolized the salt market and refused to sell it to any except tributary nations. In consequence of this disposition, republican Tlascala, one of the few nations that maintained its independence, was forced for many years to eat its food unsalted; and so habituated did the people become to this diet, that in later times, if we may credit Camargo, very little salt was consumed.[357]


We now come to the methods adopted by the Nahuas in preparing and cooking food. Maize, when in the milk, was eaten boiled, and called elotl; when dry it was often prepared for food by simply parching or roasting, and then named mumuehitl. But it usually came to the Aztec table in the shape of tlaxcalli, the Spanish tortillas, the standard bread, then as now, in all Spanish America. It would be difficult to name a book in any way treating of Mexico in which tortillas are not fully described. The aborigines boiled the corn in water, to which lime, or sometimes nitre, was added. When sufficiently soft and free from hulls it was crushed on the metlatl, or metate, with a stone roller, and the dough, after being kneaded also 355 on the metate, was formed by the hands of the women into very thin round cakes which were quickly baked on earthen pans, or comalli, and piled up one on another that they might retain their warmth, for when cold they lost their savor. Peter Martyr speaks of these tortillas as "bread made of Maizium." They were sometimes, but rarely, flavored with different native plants and flowers. There was, however, some variety in their preparation, according to which they bore different names. For example totanquitlaxcallitlaquelpacholli were very white, being folded and covered with napkins; huietlaxcalli were large, thin, and soft; quauhtlaqualli were thick and rough; tlaxcalpacholli, grayish; and tlacepoallitlaxcalli presented a blistered surface. There were many other kinds. In addition to the tlaxcalli, thicker corn-bread in the form of long cakes and balls were made. Atolli varied in consistency from porridge, or gruel, to mush, and may consequently be classed either as a drink or as food. To make it, the hulled corn was mashed, mixed with water, and boiled down to the required consistency; it was variously sweetened and seasoned, and eaten both hot and cold. According to its condition and seasoning it received about seventeen names; thus totonquiatolli was eaten hot, nequatolli was sweetened with honey, chilnequatolli was seasoned with chile, and quauhnexatolli with saltpetre.

Beans, the etl of the Aztecs, the frijoles of the Spaniards, were while yet green boiled in the pod, and were then called exotl; when dry they were also generally boiled; but Ixtlilxochitl mentions flour made from beans.

Chilli, chile, or pepper, was eaten both green and dry, whole and ground. A sauce was also made from it into which hot tortillas were dipped, and which formed a part of the seasoning in nearly every Nahua dish. "It is the principal sauce and the only spice of the Indias," as Acosta tells us.

Flesh, fowl, and fish, both fresh and salted, were 356 stewed, boiled, and roasted, with the fat of the techichi, and seasoned with chile, tomatl (since called tomatoes), etc. The larger roasted game preserved for eating from the sacrifices in the month of Itzcalli is termed calpuleque by Sahagun. Pipian was a stew of fowl with chile, tomatoes, and ground pumpkin-seeds. Deer and rabbits were barbecued. Peter Martyr speaks of "rost and sodden meates of foule."

Fruits, for the most part, were eaten as with us, raw, but some, as the plantain and banana, were roasted and stewed.

So much for the plain Nahua cookery. Into the labyrinthine mysteries of the mixed dishes I shall not penetrate far. It is easier for the writer, and not less satisfactory to the reader, to dismiss the subject with the remark that all the articles of food that have been mentioned, fish, flesh, and fowl, were mixed and cooked in every conceivable proportion, the product taking a different name with each change in the ingredients. The two principal classes of these mixed dishes were the pot-stews, or cazuelas, of various meats with multitudinous seasonings; and the tamalli, or tamales, meat pies, to make which meats were boiled, chopped fine, and seasoned, then mixed with maize-dough, coated with the same, wrapped in a corn-husk, and boiled again. These also took different names according to the ingredients and seasoning. The tamale is still a favorite dish, like tortillas and frijoles.

Miscellaneous articles of food, not already spoken of, were axayacatl, flies of the Mexican lakes, dried, ground, boiled, and eaten in the form of cakes; ahuauhtli, the eggs of the same fly, a kind of native caviar; many kinds of insects, ants, maguey-worms, and even lice; tecuitlatl, 'excrement of stone,' a slime that was gathered on the surface of the lakes, and dried till it resembled cheese; eggs of turkeys, iguanas, and turtles, roasted, boiled, and in omelettes; various reptiles, frogs, and frog-spawn; shrimps, sardines, and crabs; corn-silk, wild-amaranth seeds, cherry-stones, 357 tule-roots, and very many other articles inexpressible; yucca flour, potoyucca, tunas; honey from maize, from bees, and from the maguey; and roasted portions of the maguey stalks and leaves.

The women did all the work in preparing and cooking food; in Tlascala, however, the men felt that an apology was due for allowing this work to be done by women, and claimed, as Sahagun says, that the smoke of cooking would impair their eye-sight and make them less successful in the hunt. All these articles of food, both cooked and uncooked, were offered for sale in the market-places of each large town, of which I shall speak further when I come to treat of commerce. Eating-houses were also generally found near the markets, where all the substantials and delicacies of the Nahua cuisine might be obtained.[358]


One article of Nahua food demands special mention—human flesh. That they ate the arms and legs of the victims sacrificed to their gods, there is no room for doubt. This religious cannibalism—perhaps human sacrifice itself—was probably not practiced before the cruel-minded Aztec devotees of Huitzilopochtli came into power, or at least was of rare occurrence; but during the Aztec dominion, the custom of eating the flesh of sacrificed enemies became almost universal. That cannibalism, as a source of food, unconnected with religious 358 rites, was ever practiced, there is little evidence. The Anonymous Conqueror tells us that they esteemed the flesh of men above all other food, and risked their lives in battle solely to obtain it. Bernal Diaz says that they sold it at retail in the markets; and Veytia also states that this was true of the Otomís. Father Gand assures us that there were many priests that ate and drank nothing but the flesh and blood of children. But these ogreish tales are probably exaggerations, since those who knew most of the natives, Sahagun, Motolinia, and Las Casas, regard the cannibalism of the Nahuas rather as an abhorrent feature of their religion than as the result of an unnatural appetite. That by long usage they became fond of this food, may well be believed; but that their prejudice was strong against eating the flesh of any but their sacrificed foes, is proven, as Gomara says, by the fact that multitudes died of starvation during the siege of Mexico by Cortés. Even the victims of sacrifice seem only to have been eaten in banquets, more or less public, accompanied with ceremonial rites. A number of infants sacrificed to the Tlalocs were eaten each year, and the blood of these and of other victims was employed in mixing certain cakes, some of which were at one time sent as a propitiatory offering to Cortés.[359]



The most popular Nahua beverages were those since known as pulque and chocolate. The former, called by the natives octli—pulque, or pulcre, being a South American aboriginal term applied to the liquor in some unaccountable way by the Spaniards—was the fermented juice of the maguey. One plant is said to yield about one hundred pounds in a month. A cavity is cut at the base of the larger leaves, and allowed to fill with juice, which is removed to a vessel of earthen ware or of skin, where it ferments rapidly and is ready for use. In a pure state it is of a light color, wholesome, and somewhat less intoxicating than grape wine; but the aborigines mixed with it various herbs, some to merely change its color or flavor, and others to increase its intoxicating properties. This national drink was honored with a special divinity, Ometochtli, one of the numerous Nahua gods of wine. According to some traditions the Quinames, or giants, knew how to prepare it, but its invention is oftener attributed to the Toltecs, its first recorded use having been to aid in the seduction of a mighty monarch from his royal duties.[360]

Chocolatl—the foundation of our chocolate—was made by pounding cacao to a powder, adding an equal quantity of a seed called pochotl, also powdered, and stirring or beating the mixture briskly in a dish of water. The oily foam which rose to the surface was 360 then separated, a small quantity of maize flour was added, and the liquid which was set before the fire. The oily portion was finally restored and the beverage was drunk lukewarm, sweetened with honey and often seasoned with vanilla. This drink was nutritious, refreshing, and cooling, and was especially a favorite with those called upon to perform fatiguing labor with scant food.[361]

Miscellaneous drinks were water, plantain-juice, the various kinds of porridge known as atolli, already mentioned, the juice of maize-stalks, those prepared from chian and other seeds by boiling, and fermented water in which corn had been boiled—a favorite Tarasco drink. Among the ingredients used to make their drinks more intoxicating the most powerful was the teonanacatl, 'flesh of god,' a kind of mushroom which excited the passions and caused the partaker to see snakes and divers other visions.[362]

The Aztec laws against drunkenness were very severe, yet nearly all the authors represent the people as delighting in all manner of intoxication, and as giving way on every opportunity to the vice when the power of their rulers over them was destroyed by the coming of the Spaniards. Drinking to excess 361 seems to have been with them a social vice, confined mostly to public feasts and private banquets. It may have been chiefly against intemperance among the working classes, and officials when on duty, that the stringent laws were directed. Mendieta speaks of the people as very temperate, using pulque only under the direction of the chiefs and judges for medicinal purposes chiefly. The nobles made it a point of honor not to drink to excess, and all feared punishment. But Motolinia and other good authorities take an opposite view of the native character in this respect.[363]


Concerning the manner of serving the king's meals, as well as the banquets and feasts of nobles and the richer classes, enough has been already said. Of the daily meals among the masses little is known. The Nahuas seem to have confined their indulgence in rich and varied viands to the oft-recurring feasts, while at their homes they were content with plain fare. This is a peculiarity that is still observable in the country, both among the descendants of the Nahuas and of their conquerors. The poorer people had in each house a metate for grinding maize, and a few earthen dishes for cooking tortillas and frijoles. They ate three meals a day, morning, noon, and night, using the ground for table, table-cloth, napkins, and chairs, conveying their tlaxcalli and chile to the mouth with the fingers, and washing down their simple food with water or atole. The richer Nahuas were served with a greater variety on palm-mats often richly decorated, 362 around which low seats were placed for their convenience; napkins were also furnished.[364]




Progress in Dress—Dress of the Pre-Aztec Nations—Garments of the Chichimecs and Toltecs—Introduction of Cotton—The Maxtli—The Tilmatli—Dress of the Acolhuas—Origin of the Tarascan Costume—Dress of the Zapotecs and Tabascans—Dress of Women—The Huipil and Cueitl—Sandals—Manner of Wearing the Hair—Painting and Tattooing—Ornaments Used by the Nahuas—Gorgeous Dress of the Nobles—Dress of the Royal Attendants—Names of the Various Mantles—The Royal Diadem—The Royal Wardrobe—Costly Decorations.

With but few exceptions the dress of all the civilized nations of Mexico appears to have been the same. The earliest people, the historians inform us, went entirely naked or covered only the lower portion of the body with the skins of wild animals. Afterwards, as by degrees civilization advanced, this scanty covering grew into a regular costume, though still, at first, made only of skins. From this we can note a farther advance to garments manufactured first out of tanned and prepared skins, later of maguey and palm-tree fibres, and lastly of cotton. From the latter no further progress was made, excepting in the various modes of ornamenting and enriching the garments with feather-work, painting, embroidery, gold-work, and jewelry. The common people were obliged to content themselves with plain clothing, but the dress of the richer 364 classes, nobles, princes, and sovereigns, was of finer texture and richer ornamentation.[365]

The descriptions of the dresses of the nations which occupied the Valley of Mexico before the Aztecs vary according to different authors. While some describe them as gorgeously decked out in painted and embroidered garments of cotton and nequen, others say, that they went either wholly naked or were only partially covered with skins. Thus Sahagun and Brasseur de Bourbourg describe the Toltecs as dressed in undergarments and mantles on which blue scorpions were painted,[366] while the latter author in another place says that they went entirely naked.[367] Veytia goes even farther than Sahagun, affirming that they knew well how to manufacture clothing of cotton, that a great difference existed between the dress of the nobles and that of the plebeians, and that they even varied their clothing with the seasons. He describes them as wearing in summer a kind of breech-cloth or drawers and a square mantle tied across the breast and descending to the ankles, while in winter in addition to the above they clothed themselves in a kind of sack, which reached down as far as the thighs, without sleeves but with a hole for the head and two others for the arms.[368]


The Chichimecs, generally mentioned as the successors of the Toltecs, are mostly described as going naked, or only partly dressed in skins.[369] This appears, 365 however, only to relate to the people spoken of as wild Chichimecs; those who inhabited Tezcuco and others in that neighborhood as civilized as the Aztecs, dressed probably in a similar fashion to theirs; at least, as we shall presently see, this was the case with their sovereigns and nobles. All the Nahuas, with the exception of the Tarascos and Huastecs, made use of the breech-cloth, or maxtli.[370] This with the Mexicans in very early times is said to have been a kind of mat, woven of the roots of a plant which grew in the Lake of Mexico, and was called amoxtli.[371] Later, the fibre of the palm-tree and the maguey furnished the material for their clothing, and it was only during the reign of King Huitzilihuitl that cotton was introduced.[372]


The maxtli was about twenty-four feet long and nine inches wide, and was generally more or less ornamented at the ends with colored fringes and tassels, the latter sometimes nine inches long. The manner of wearing it was to pass the middle between the legs and to wind it about the hips, leaving the ends hanging one in front and the other at the back, as is done at this day by the Malays and other East Indian natives. It was at the ends usually that the greatest display of embroidery, fancy fringes, and tassels was made.[373]


As a further covering the men wore the tilmatli, or ayatl, a mantle, which was nothing more than a square piece of cloth about four feet long. If worn over both shoulders, the two upper ends were tied in a knot across the breast, but more frequently it was only thrown over one shoulder and knotted under one of the arms. Sometimes two or three of these mantles were worn at one time. This, however, was only done by the better classes. The older Spanish writers generally compare this mantle to the Moorish albornoz. It was usually colored or painted, frequently richly embroidered or ornamented with feathers and furs. 367 The edges were scalloped or fringed with tufts of cotton and sometimes with gold. Rich people had, besides these, mantles made of rabbit or other skins, or of beautiful feathers, and others of fine cotton into which was woven rabbit-hair, which latter were used in cold weather.[374]

In only one instance garments with sleeves are mentioned. Ixtlilxochitl, in describing the dress of the Acolhuas, says that they wore a kind of long coat reaching to the heels with long sleeves.[375]

The dress of the Tarascos differed considerably from that of the other Nahua nations. This difference 368 is said to have originated in ancient times, when they together with other tribes, as the legend relates, immigrated into Mexico. While on their wanderings being obliged to cross a river, and having no ropes with which to construct rafts, they used for this purpose their maxtlis and mantles. Not being able to procure other clothing immediately, they were under the necessity of putting on the huipiles, or chemises, of the women, leaving to the latter only their naguas, or petticoats. In commemoration of this event, they later adopted this as their national costume, discarding the maxtli and wearing the huipil and a mantle.[376] The tilmatli, or ayatl, was by the Tarascos called tlanatzi. It was worn over one shoulder and was knotted under the other arm. They frequently trimmed it with hare-skins and painted it gaudily. The young wore it considerably shorter than old people. The manufacture of feather garments seems to have been a specialty of the Tarascos.[377]

The Zapotecs chiefly dressed in skins, while others in Oajaca are said to have worn small jackets, and Cortés reports these people to have been better dressed than any he had previously seen.[378] In Tabasco but little covering was used, the greater part of the population going almost naked.[379]


There was no difference in the dress of the women throughout Anáhuac. The huipil and cueitl were the chief articles, and were universally used. Besides these, mantles of various shapes and materials were worn. The huipil was a kind of chemise, with 369 either no sleeves at all or very short ones; it covered the upper part of the body to a little below the thighs. The lower part of the body was covered by the cueitl, a petticoat, reaching to about half-way between the knees and ankles, and often nicely embroidered and ornamented. Skins, ixcotl, or palm-fibre, nequen, and cotton were the materials used for these garments. Out of doors they frequently put on another over-dress similar to the huipil, only longer and with more ornamental fringes and tassels. Sometimes they wore two or three of these at the same time, one over the other, but in that case they were of different lengths, the longest one being worn underneath. A mantle similar in size and shape to that used by the men, white and painted in various designs on the outside, was also used by the females. To the upper edge of this, on that portion which was at the back of the neck, a capuchin, like that worn by the Dominican and other monks, was fastened, with which they covered their head.[380]

To protect their feet they used sandals, by the Aztecs called cactli, which were made of deer or other skins, and frequently also of nequen and cotton. The strings or straps used to fasten them were of the same material.[381] I do not find any description of the manner in which they were fastened, but in an old Mexican manuscript on maguey paper, in which some of the 370 natives are painted in various colors, I find that the sandals were fastened in three places; first by a strap running across the foot immediately behind the toes, then another over the instep and running toward the heel, and lastly by a strap from the heel round the ankle.


As a general thing Mexicans wore the hair long, and in many parts of the empire it was considered a disgrace to cut the hair of a free man or woman.[382] Unlike most of the American natives they wore moustaches, but in other parts of the body they eradicated all hair very carefully.[383] There were public barber-shops and baths in all the principal cities.[384] The Aztecs had various ways of dressing the hair, differing according to rank and office. Generally it was left hanging loose down the back. The women also frequently wore it in this way, but oftener had it done up or trimmed after various fashions; thus some wore it long on the temples and had the rest of the head shaved, others twisted it with dark cotton thread, others again had almost the whole head shaved. Among them it was also fashionable to dye the hair with a species of black clay, or with an herb called xiuhquilitl, the latter giving it a violet shade. Unmarried girls wore the hair always loose; they considered it as especially graceful to wear the hair low[385] 371 on the forehead. The virgins who served in the temples had their hair cut short.[386]

The Otomís shaved the fore part of the heads of children, leaving only a tuft behind, which they called piochtli, while the men wore the hair cut short as far as the middle of the back of the head, but left it to grow long behind; and these long locks they called piocheque. Girls did not have their hair cut until after marriage, when it was worn in the same style as by the men.[387] The Tarascos, or as they were also called Quaochpanme, derived this last name from an old fashion of having their heads shaved, both men and women.[388] Later they wore the hair long, the common people simply letting it hang down the back, while the rich braided it with cotton threads of various colors.[389] The Miztecs wore the hair braided, and ornamented with many feathers.[390]

The Nahua women used paint freely to beautify their person, and among some nations they also tattooed. Among the Aztecs they painted their faces with a red, yellow, or black color, made, as Sahagun tells us, of burnt incense mixed with dye. They also dyed their feet black with the same mixture. Their teeth they cleaned and painted with cochineal; hands, neck, and breast were also painted.[391] Among the Tlascaltecs the men painted their faces with a dye made of the xagua and bixa.[392] The Otomís tattooed their breasts and arms by making incisions with a knife and rubbing a blue powder therein. They also covered the body with a species 372 of pitch called teocahuitl, and over this again they applied some other color. Their teeth they dyed black.[393]

The Nahuas, like all semi-barbarous people, had a passion for loading themselves with ornaments. Those worn by the kings, nobles, and rich persons, were of gold or silver, set with precious stones; those of the poorer classes were of copper, stone, or bone, set with imitations in crystal of the rarer jewels. These ornaments took the shape of bracelets, armlets, anklets, and rings for the nose, ears, and fingers. The lower lip was also pierced, and precious stones, or crystals, inserted. The richer classes used principally for this purpose the chalchiuite, which is generally designated as an emerald. There existed very stringent laws regarding the class of ornaments which the different classes of people were allowed to wear, and it was prohibited, on pain of death, for a subject to use the same dress or ornaments as the king. Duran relates that to certain very brave but low-born warriors permission was accorded to wear a cheap garland or crown on the head, but on no account might it be made of gold.[394] Gomara tells us that the claws and beaks of the eagle and also fish-bones were worn as ornaments in the ears, nose, and lips.[395]

The Otomís used ear-ornaments made of burned clay, nicely browned, and others of cane.[396] The Tarascos chiefly relied on feathers for their personal adornment.[397] Of the natives encountered by Cortés 373 when he landed at Vera Cruz, Peter Martyr tells us that in the "hole of the lippes, they weare a broad plate within fastened to another on the outside of the lippe, and the iewell they hang thereat is as great as a siluer Caroline doller and as thicke as a mans finger."[398]

In Oajaca more ornaments were worn than in any other part of the country, owing, perhaps, as the Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg remarks, to the plentiful supply of precious metals in that state.[399]


The dress of the nobles and members of the royal household differed from that of the lower classes only in fineness of material and profusion of ornaments. The kings appear to have worn garments of the same shape as those of their subjects, but, in other respects, a particular style of dress was reserved for royalty, and he who presumed to imitate it was put to death. On occasions, however, when the monarch wished to bestow a special mark of favor upon a brave soldier or distinguished statesman, he would graciously bestow upon him one of his garments, which, even though the recipient were a great noble, was received with joy, and the wearer respected as a man whom the king delighted to honor.[400] In Tlascala differences of rank among the nobles were easily recognized by the style of dress. The common people were strictly forbidden to wear cotton clothes with fringes or other trimmings, unless with special permission, granted in consideration of services rendered.[401]

The court laws of etiquette prescribed the dress to be worn by the royal attendants, who could only appear without sandals, barefooted, and in coarse mantles 374 before the king, and even the apparel of the sovereign was in like manner fixed by custom, if not by law. The different kinds of tilmatlis, or mantles, had each its appropriate name, and varied in material as well as in ornament and color. The cotton mantles are described as being of exceeding fineness of texture, so much so that it required an expert to determine whether they were cotton or silk.[402] The mantle worn as every-day dress in the palace was white and blue and called the xiuhtilmatli.[403] There were many other kinds of mantles, of which the following are the principal: A yellowish, heavily fringed mantle, on which monstrous heads were painted, was called coazayacaiotilmatli; another, blue, ornamented with red shells, with three borders, one light, another dark blue, and a third of white feather-work, and fringed with the same kind of shells, was named tecuciciotilmatli; another, dark yellow, with alternate black and white circles painted on it, and a border representing eyes, was the temalcacaiotilmatlitenisio; a similar one, differing only in the figures and shape of the ornaments, was the itzcayotilmatli; a very gaudy one, worked in many colors, was the umetechtecomaiotilmatli; another, with a yellow ground, on which were butterflies made of feathers, and with scalloped edges, was called papaloiotilmatlitenisio; the xaoalquauhiotilmatlitenisio, was embroidered with designs representing the flower called ecacazcatl, and further ornamented with white feather-work and feather edges; the ocelotentlapalliyiticycacocelotl was an imitation of a tiger-skin, also ornamented with an edge of white feathers; the ixnextlacuilolli was worked in many colors, and had a sun painted on it.[404] Other mantles, differing mainly in their style of ornamentation, 375 were the coaxacayo and tlacalhuaztilmatli, the latter worn when the king went into his gardens or to the chase. In the same manner there are also various kinds of maxtlis mentioned, such as the ynyaomaxaliuhqui, ytzahuazalmaxtlatl and yacahualiuqui.[405] In fact there appears to have been a different dress for every occasion. We are told, for instance, that when going to the temple the king wore a white mantle, another when going to preside at the court of justice, and here he again changed his dress, according as the case before the court was a civil or criminal suit.[406] The sandals of the kings were always richly ornamented with precious stones, and had golden soles.[407]


Whenever the sovereign appeared in public he wore the royal crown, called copilli, which was of 376 solid gold, and is described by most writers as having been shaped like a bishop's mitre; but in the hieroglyphical paintings, in which the Mexican kings are represented, it is simply a golden band, wider in front than at the back, the front running up to a point; on some occasions it was ornamented with long feathers.[408] The following description of ornaments, worn by the Mexican kings and nobles, I extract from Sahagun:—


The quetzalalpitoai consisted of two tassels of fine feathers garnished with gold, which they wore bound to the hair on the crown of the head, and hanging down to the temples. The tlauhquecholtzontli was a handsome garment of feathers worn on the shoulders. On the arms they placed gold rings; on the wrists a thick black strap made soft with balsam, and upon it a large chalchiuite or other precious stone. They also had a barbote, or chin-piece, of chalchiuite or other precious stone, set in gold, inserted in the chin. These chin-ornaments were made long, of crystal, with some blue feathers in the centre, which made them look like sapphire. The lip had a hole bored in it, from which precious stones or gold crescents were suspended. The great lords likewise had holes in their nose, and placed therein very fine turquoises or other precious stones, one on each side of the nose. On their necks they wore strings of precious stones, or a medal suspended by a gold chain, with pearl pendants hanging from its edge, and a flat jewel in the centre of it. They used bracelets of mosaic work 377 made with turquoises. On their legs they wore, from the knee down, greaves of very thin gold. They carried in the right hand a little golden flag with a tuft of gaudy feathers on the top. Upon their heads they wore a bird made of rich feathers, with its head and beak resting on the forehead, its tail toward the back of the head, its wings falling over the temples.[409]




The Main Features of Nahua Commerce—Commerce in Pre-Aztec Times—Outrages Committed by Aztec Merchants—Privileges of the Merchants of Tlatelulco—Jealousy between Merchants and Nobles—Articles used as Currency—the Markets of Anáhuac—Arrangement and Regulations of the Market-Places—Number of Buyers and Sellers—Transportation of Wares—Traveling Merchants—Commercial Routes—Setting out on a Journey—Caravans of Traders—The Return—Customs and Feasts of the Merchants—Nahua Boats and Navigation.


Traditional history tells us but little respecting American commerce previous to the formation of the great Aztec alliance, or empire, but the faint light thrown on the subject would indicate little or no change in the system within the limits of Nahua history. The main features of the commercial system in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, were: markets in one or more of the public squares of every town, where eatables and other articles of immediate necessity were daily sold—shops proper being unknown; frequently recurring fairs in each of the large towns, where the products of agriculture, manufacture, and art in the surrounding country were displayed before consumers and merchants from home and from abroad; similar fairs but on a grander scale in the great commercial centres, where home products were exchanged 379 for foreign merchandise, or sold for export to merchants from distant nations who attended these fairs in large numbers; itinerant traders continually traversing the country in companies, or caravans; and the existence of a separate class exclusively devoted to commerce.

From the earliest times the two southern Anáhuacs of Ayotlan and Xicalanco, corresponding to what are now the southern coast of Oajaca and the tierra caliente of Tabasco and southern Vera Cruz, were inhabited by commercial peoples, and were noted for their fairs and the rich wares therein exposed for sale. These nations, the Xicalancas, Mijes, Huaves, and Zapotecs even engaged to some extent in a maritime coasting trade, mostly confined, however, as it would appear, to the coasts of their own territories and those immediately adjacent; and in this branch of commerce little or no advance had been made at the time when the Spaniards came.[410]

The Toltecs are reported to have excelled in commerce as in all other respects, and the markets of Tollan and Cholula are pictured in glowing colors; but all traditions on this subject are exceedingly vague.[411] In the new era of prosperity that followed the Toltec disasters Cholula seems to have held the first place as a commercial centre, her fairs were the most famous, and her merchants controlled the trade of the southern coasts on either ocean. After the coming of the Teo-Chichimec hordes to the eastern plateau, Tlascala became in her turn the commercial metropolis of the north, a position which she retained until forced to yield it to the merchants of the Mexican valley, who were supported by the warlike hordes of the Aztec confederacy. Before the Aztec supremacy, trade seems to have been conducted with some show of fairness, and commerce and politics were kept to a great 380 extent separate. But the Aztecs introduced a new order of things. Their merchants, instead of peaceful, industrious, unassuming travelers, became insolent and overbearing, meddling without scruple in the public affairs of the nations through whose territory they had to pass, and trusting to the dread of the armies of Mexico for their own safety; caravans became little less than armed bodies of robbers. The confederate kings were ever ready to extend by war the field of their commerce, and to avenge by the hands of their warriors any insult, real or imaginary, offered to their merchants. The traveling bands of traders were instructed to prepare maps of countries traversed, to observe carefully their condition for defence, and their resources. If any province was reported rich and desirable, its people were easily aggravated to commit some act of insolence which served as a pretext to lay waste their lands, and make them tributary to the kings of Anáhuac. Within the provinces that were permanently and submissively tributary to Mexico, Tezcuco, and Tlacopan, traffic may be supposed to have been as a rule fairly conducted. The merchants had in turn to pay into the royal treasury a large percentage of their gains, but this, under the circumstances, they could well afford.

Tlatelulco while an independent city was noted for her commerce, as was Tenochtitlan for the prowess of her warriors, and when mercantile enterprise was forced to yield to the power of arms, Tlatelulco, as a part of Mexico, retained her former preëminence in trade, and became the commercial centre of Anáhuac. Her merchants, who were a separate class of the population, were highly honored, and, so far as the higher grades were concerned, the merchant princes, the pochtecas, dwellers in the aristocratic quarter of Pochtlan, had privileges fully equal to those of the nobles. They had tribunals of their own, to which alone they were responsible, for the regulation of all matters of trade. They formed indeed, to all intents 381 and purposes, a commercial corporation controlling the whole trade of the country, of which all the leading merchants of other cities were in a sense subordinate members. Jealousy between this honored class of merchants and the nobility proper, brought about the many complications during the last years of the Aztec empire, to which I have referred in a preceding chapter. Throughout the Nahua dominion commerce was in the hands of a distinct class, educated for their calling, and everywhere honored both by people and by kings; in many regions the highest nobles thought it no disgrace to engage in commercial pursuits.


Besides the pochtecas, two other classes of merchants are mentioned in Tlatelulco, the nahualoztomecas, those who made a specialty of visiting the lands of enemies in disguise, and the teyaohualohuani or traders in slaves.[412] The merchants were exempt from military and other public service, and had the right not only to make laws for the regulation of trade, but to punish even those who were not of their class for offenses against such laws. Sahagun gives an account of the gradual development and history of the Tlatelulcan company, stating the names of the leading merchants under the successive kings, with details respecting the various articles dealt in at different periods, all of which is not deemed of sufficient interest to be reproduced in these pages.

Nahua trade was as a rule carried on by means of barter, one article of merchandise being exchanged for another of equivalent value. Still, regular purchase and sale were not uncommon, particularly in the business of retailing the various commodities to consumers. Although no regular coined money was used, yet several more or less convenient substitutes furnished a medium of circulation. Chief among these were nibs, or grains, of the cacao, of a species somewhat different from that employed in making the favorite drink, chocolate. This money, known as patlachté, 382 passed current anywhere, and payments of it were made by count up to eight thousand, which constituted a xiquipilli. In large transactions sacks containing three xiquipilli were used to save labor in counting. Patolquachtli were small pieces of cotton cloth used as money in the purchase of articles of immediate necessity or of little value. Another circulating medium was gold-dust kept in translucent quills, that the quantity might be readily seen. Copper was also cut into small pieces shaped like a T, which constituted perhaps the nearest approach to coined money. Cortés, in search of materials for the manufacture of artillery, found that in several provinces pieces of tin circulated as money, and that a mine of that metal was worked in Taxco. Sahagun says the Mexican king gave to the merchant-soldiers, dispatched on one of their politico-commercial expeditions, sixteen hundred quauhtli, or eagles, to trade with. Bustamante, Sahagun's editor, supposes these to have been the copper pieces already mentioned, but Brasseur believes, from the small value of the copper and the large amount of rich fabrics purchased with the eagles, that they were of gold. The same authority believes that the golden quoits with which Montezuma paid his losses at gambling also served as money.[413]


The Nahuas bought and sold their merchandise by count and by measures both of length and capacity, but not by weight; at least, such is the general opinion 383 of the authorities. Sahagun, however, says of the skillful merchant that he knows "the value of gold and silver, according to the weight and fineness, is diligent and solicitous in his duty, and defrauds not in weighing, but rather gives overweight," and this too in the "time of their infidelity." Native words also appear in several vocabularies for weights and scales. Brasseur de Bourbourg regards this as ample proof that scales were used. Clavigero thinks weights may have been employed and mention of the fact omitted in the narratives.[414] The market, tianquiztli, of Tlatelulco was the grandest in the country and may be taken as a representative of all. Its grandeur consisted, however, in the abundance and variety of the merchandise offered for sale and in the crowd of buyers and sellers, not in the magnificence of the buildings connected with it; for the market-place was simply an open plaza, surrounded as all the authorities say with 'porticoes' where merchandise was exhibited. What these porticoes were we are left to conjecture. Probably they were nothing more than simple booths arranged in streets and covering the whole plaza, where merchants and their wares were sheltered from the rays of a tropical sun. Whatever may have been the nature and arrangement of these shelters, we know that the space was systematically apportioned among the different industries represented. Fishermen, hunters, farmers, and artists, each had their allotted space for the transaction of business. Hither, as Torquemada tells us, came the potters and jewelers from Cholula, the workers in gold from Azcapuzalco, the painters from Tezcuco, the shoe-makers from Tenayocan, the huntsmen from Xilotepec, the fishermen from Cuitlahuac, the fruit-growers of the tierra caliente, the 384 mat-makers of Quauhtitlan, the flower-dealers of Xochimilco, and yet so great was the market that to each of these was afforded an opportunity to display his wares.

All kinds of food, animal and vegetable, cooked and uncooked, were arranged in the most attractive manner; eating-houses were also attached to the tianquiztli and much patronized by the poorer classes. Here were to be found all the native cloths and fabrics, in the piece and made up into garments coarse and fine, plain and elaborately embroidered, to suit the taste and means of purchasers; precious stones, and ornaments of metal, feathers, or shells; implements and weapons of metal, stone, and wood; building material, lime, stone, wood, and brick; articles of household furniture; matting of various degrees of fineness; medicinal herbs and prepared medicines; wood and coal; incense and censers; cotton and cochineal; tanned skins; numerous beverages; and an infinite variety of pottery; but to enumerate all the articles noticed in the market-place by the conquerors would make a very long list, and would involve, beside, the repetition of many names which have been or will be mentioned elsewhere.

Cortés speaks of this market as being twice as large as that of Salamanca, and all the conquistadores are enthusiastic in their expressions of wonder not only at the variety of products offered for sale, but at the perfect order and system which prevailed, notwithstanding the crowd of buyers and sellers. The judges of the commercial tribunal, twelve in number according to Torquemada, four, according to Zuazo, held their court in connection with the market buildings, where they regulated prices and measures, and settled disputes. Watchmen acting under their authority, constantly patrolled the tianquiztli to prevent disorder. Any attempt at extortionate charges, or at passing off injured or inferior goods, or any infringement on another's rights was immediately reported and severely punished. 385 The judges had even the right to enforce the death penalty. Other markets in the Nahua regions were on a similar plan, those of Tlascala and Tezcuco coming next to that of Tlatelulco in importance.[415]


Trade was carried on daily in the tianquiztli, chiefly for the convenience of the inhabitants of the city, but every fifth day was set apart as a special market-day, on which a fair was held, crowded not only by local customers, but by buyers and sellers from all the country round, and from foreign lands. In Tlatelulco these special market-days were those that fell under the signs calli, tochtli, acatl, and tecpatl. In other large cities, days with other signs were chosen, in order that the fairs might not occur on the same day in neighboring towns. Las Casas says that each of the two market-places in the city of Mexico would contain 200,000 persons, 100,000 being present each fifth day; and Cortés tells us that more than 60,000 persons assembled daily in the Tlatelulco market. According to the same authority 30,000 was the number of daily visitors to the market of Tlascala. Perhaps, however, he refers to the fair-days, on which occasion at Tlatelulco, the Anonymous Conqueror puts the number at 50,000, limiting the daily concourse to about 25,000.[416] Considering the population of the cities and surrounding country, together with the limited facilities for transportation, these accounts of the daily attendance at the markets, as also of the abundance and variety of the merchandise, need not be regarded as exaggerations.


On the lakes about the city of Mexico merchandise of all kinds was transported to and from the markets by boats, 50,000 of which, as Zuazo tells us, were employed daily in bringing provisions to the city.[417] The heavier or more bulky articles of trade, such as building material, were often offered for sale in the boats to save the labor of repeated handling. Boats were also used for transportation on the southern coasts, to some extent on navigable rivers, and also by traveling merchants in crossing such streams as could not conveniently be bridged. The only other means of transportation known in the country was that afforded by the carriers. Large numbers of these carriers, or porters, were in attendance at the markets to move goods to and from the boats, or to carry parcels to the houses of consumers. For transportation from town to town, or to distant lands, merchandise was packed in bales, wrapped in skins and mats, or in bamboo cases covered with skin, known as petlacalli. Cases, or cages, for the transportation of the more fragile wares were called cacaxtli. The tlamama, or regular carriers, were trained to their work of carrying burdens from childhood, seventy or eighty pounds was the usual burden carried, placed on the back and supported by the mecapalli, a strap passing round the forehead; twelve or fifteen miles was the ordinary day's journey. The tlamama, clad in a maxtli, carried on long trips, besides his bale of merchandise, a sort of palm-leaf umbrella, a bag of provisions, and a blanket.


Expeditions to distant provinces were undertaken by the company of Tlatelulco for purposes of commercial gain; or by order of the king, when political gains were the object in view, and the traders in reality armed soldiers; or more rarely by individual merchants on their own private account. For protection large numbers usually traveled in company, 387 choosing some one of the company to act as leader. Previous to departure they gave a banquet to the old merchants of the town, who by reason of their age had ceased to travel; at this feast they made known their plans, and spoke of the places they intended to visit and roads by which they would travel. The old merchants applauded the spirit and enterprise of those who were going on the expedition, and, if they were young and inexperienced, encouraged them and spoke of the fame they would gain for having left their homes to undertake a dangerous journey and suffer privations and hardships. They reminded them of the wealth and honored name acquired by their fathers in similar expeditions, and gave them advice as to the best manner of conducting themselves on the road.[418]

On the route the carriers marched in single file, and at every camping-place the strictest watch was kept against enemies, and especially against robbers, who then as now infested the dangerous passes to lie in wait for the richly laden caravans. Rulers of the different friendly provinces, mindful of the benefits resulting from such expeditions, constructed roads and kept them in repair; furnished bridges or boats for crossing unfordable streams; and at certain points, remote from towns, placed houses for the travelers' accommodation. Expeditions in hostile provinces were undertaken by the nahualoztomecas, who disguised themselves in the dress of the province visited, and endeavored to imitate the manners and to speak the language of its people, with which it was a qualification of their profession to make themselves acquainted. Extraordinary pains was taken to guard against robbers on the return to Mexico, and it is also said to have been customary for the merchants on nearing the city, to dress in rags, affecting poverty, 388 and an unsuccessful trip. The motive for this latter proceeding is not very apparent, nor for the invariable introduction of goods into the city by night; they had not even the hope of evading the payment of taxes which in later times prompts men to similar conduct, since merchandise could only be sold in the public market, where it could not be offered without paying the royal percentage of duties.

The usual route of commercial expeditions was south-eastward to Tochtepec near the banks of the Rio Alvarado, whence the caravans took separate roads according as their destination was the coast region of Goazacoalco, the Miztec and Zapotec towns on the Pacific, or the still more distant regions across the isthmus of Tehuantepec. The southern limit reached by the traders of the Aztec empire, it is impossible accurately to determine. The merchants of Xicalanco furnished Cortés, when about to undertake the conquest of Honduras, tolerably correct maps of the whole region as far south as the isthmus of Panamá;[419] the raiders from Anáhuac are known to have penetrated to Chiapa, Soconusco, and Guatemala; it is by no means improbable that her merchants reached on more than one occasion the Isthmus.[420]

The preceding pages contain all that has been preserved concerning Nahua trade and traders except what may be termed the mythology of commerce, a branch of the subject not without importance, embracing the ceremonies, sacrifices, and superstitions connected with the setting-out, journey, and return of the Tlatelulcan caravans. Commerce, like every other 389 feature of Nahua civilization, was under the care of a special deity, and no merchant dared to set out on an expedition in quest of gain, without fully complying with all the requirements of the god as interpreted by the priesthood. The particular divinity of the traders was Iyacatecutli, or Iyacacoliuhqui, 'lord with the aquiline nose'—that nasal type being, as the Abbé Brasseur thinks, symbolic of mercantile cunning and skill. Services in his honor were held regularly in the month of Tlaxochimaco; but the ceremonies performed by traveling merchants, seem to have been mostly devoted to the god of fire and the god of the roads.


First a day was selected for the start whose sign was deemed favorable—Ce Cohuatl, 'one serpent,' was a favorite. The day before they departed the hair was cropped close, and the head soaped; during all their absence, even should it last for years, these operations must not be repeated, nor might they wash more than the neck, face, and hands, bathing the body being strictly prohibited. At midnight they cut flag-shaped papers for Xiuhtecutli, the god of fire, fastened them to sticks painted with vermilion, and marked on them the face of the god with drops of melted ulli, or India-rubber. Other papers also marked with ulli, were cut in honor of Tlaltecutli, to be worn on the breast. Others, for the god of the merchants, were used to cover a bamboo stick, which they worshiped and carried with them. The gods of the roads, Zacatzontli and Tlacotzontli, also had their papers ornamented with ulli-drops and painted butterflies; while the papers for Cecoatlutlimelaoatl, one of the signs of the divining art, were decorated with snake-like figures. When all the papers were ready, those of the fire-god were placed before the fire in the house, the others being arranged in systematic order in the courtyard. Then the merchants, standing before the fire, offered to it some quails which they first beheaded, and forthwith, drawing blood from their own ears and tongue, they repeated some mystic word and sprinkled 390 the blood four times on the fire. Blood was then sprinkled in turn on the papers in the house, towards the heavens and cardinal points, and finally on the papers in the courtyard. The fire-god's papers, after a few appropriate words to the deity, were burned in a brazier with pure white copal. If they burned with a clear flame, it was a good omen; otherwise ill fortune and disaster were betokened. The papers left outside were burned together—save those of the merchants' god—in a fire which was kindled in the court, and the ashes were carefully buried there.

All this at midnight. At early dawn the principal merchants of the city or of the neighborhood, or simply friends and relatives of the party about to set out on the journey, according to the wealth of the party, with youths and old women, were invited to assemble and, after a washing of mouths and hands, to partake of food. After the repast, concluded by another washing and by smoking of pipes and drinking of chocolate, the host spoke a few words of welcome to the guests, and explained his plans. To this some one of the chief merchants briefly responded with wishes for the success of the expedition, advice respecting the route to be followed and behavior while abroad, applause for the spirit and enterprise shown, and words of encouragement to those about to undertake their first commercial journey, picturing to them in vivid colors both the hardships and the honors that were before them. Then the merchandise and provisions for the trip were made ready in bales and placed in the canoes, if the start was to be made by water, under the direction of the leader who, after attending to this matter, made a farewell address of thanks for advice and good wishes, recommending to the care of those that remained behind their wives and children. The friends again replied briefly and all was ready for the departure. A fire was built in the courtyard and a vase of copal was placed near it. As a final parting ceremony each of the departing 391 merchants took a portion of the copal and threw it on the fire, stepping at once toward his canoe. Not another word of farewell must be spoken, nor a parting glance be directed backward to friends behind. To look back or speak would be a most unpropitious augury.


Thus they set out, generally at night, as Sahagun implies. On the journey each merchant carried continually in his hand a smooth black stick representing his god Iyacatecutli—probably the same sticks that have been mentioned as being covered with papers in honor of this god the night before the departure from home. When they halted for the night the sticks of the company were bound together in a bundle, forming a kind of combination divinity to whose protecting care the encampment was piously entrusted. To this god offerings of ulli and paper were made by the leaders, and to the gods of the roads as well. Blood must also be drawn and mingled with the offering, else it were of no avail; and, a most inconvenient rule for poor weak humanity, the sacrificial offering had to be repeated twice again each night, so that one or another of the chiefs must be continually on the watch. The caravans, when their destination was a friendly province, usually bore some presents from the sovereigns of Mexico as tokens of their good will, and they were received by the authorities of such provinces with some public ceremonies not definitely described.

When the merchants returned home, after consultation with a tonalpouhqui, they awaited a favorable sign, such as Ce Calli, or Chicome Calli, 'one, or seven house,' and then entered the city under shade of night. They repaired immediately to the house of the leading merchant of the corporation, or to that of the merchant under whose direction their trip had been made, formally announcing their safe arrival, and also their intention to invite all the merchants on the following day to partake of "a little chocolate in their 392 poor house," that is, to be present at a most sumptuous banquet. Papers were then cut and at midnight offered with ulli, much after the manner already described, to the gods as a thank-offering for their protection. The feast that took place next day, when all the guests were assembled, was accompanied by additional offerings to the gods of fire and trade, and, of course, by speeches of the returned travelers and their guests, but presented no particularly noticeable contrasts with the many feasts that have been described.

Not only was the traveler obliged, according to the Nahua superstition, to abstain from baths during his absence, but even his family during the same period, while allowed to bathe the body, must not wash the head or face oftener than once in eighty days; thus were the gods propitiated to watch kindly over their absent relative wandering in distant lands. If a merchant died while on a journey, his body, at least if he belonged to the highest rank, was neither buried nor burned, but, clad in fine apparel, and decorated with certain mystical papers and painted devices, it was put in a wooden cage, or cacaxtli, and secured to a tree on the top of a high mountain. Advice of the death was forwarded to the old merchants, who in turn informed the family of the deceased, and regular funeral ceremonies were performed either immediately or on the return of the caravan. If the deceased met his death at the hands of an enemy, a wooden image was prepared, dressed in the clothing of the dead merchant, and made the subject of the usual funeral rites.


Besides the regular feasts attending the departure and return of caravans, many others took place under the auspices of the mercantile class. We have noticed the fondness of the Nahua people for entertainments of this kind, and it is natural that the merchants, as the richest class in the community, should have been foremost in contributing to this popular taste. Each merchant, when he had acquired great wealth by 393 good fortune in his trading ventures, deemed it, as Sahagun tells us, a most disgraceful thing "to die without having made some splendid expenditure" by entertaining his friends and fellow-merchants in a banquet, which should be remembered as the event of his career. A long time was devoted to making ready for the feast, to the purchase of provisions and decorations, and to engaging dancers and singers, that no item might be neglected, nor any oversight be allowed to mar the perfect enjoyment of the invited guests. All being ready, a propitious sign was selected, and invitations issued. The object of the display of hospitality being not only the entertainment of friends, but a thanksgiving to the gods for favors shown to the host, the first ceremonies were naturally in honor of the deities. These began in the night preceding the feast-day, with offerings of flowers in the shrine of Huitzilopochtli, in the chapels of other gods, and finally in the courtyard of the host, where were placed drums and two plates, on which perfumed canes were burning. Those officiating whistled in a peculiar manner, and all, stooping, put some earth in their mouth, crying "our lord has sounded." Then all burned perfumed copal, and a priest beheaded a quail before the drum, throwing it on the ground and watching in what direction it might flutter. If northward, it was a bad omen, foretelling sickness, or perhaps death. But the west and south were fortunate directions, indicating a peaceful and friendly disposition on the part of the gods. Incense was burned toward the cardinal points, the burning coals were thrown from the censer into the fire, and then the performers engaged for the areito, including, it would seem, soldiers of several classes, led by the tlacatecatl, began to dance and sing. Neither the host nor merchant guests joined in the dance, but remained in the house to receive the company and present them with bouquets of flowers. At midnight ulli-marked paper was offered to the gods, and its ashes buried to promote 394 the prosperity of future generations. Before the light of day chocolate was drunk and the nanacatl, or intoxicating mushroom, was eaten, which caused some to dance, others to sing, and yet others to sit pensive in their rooms dreaming dreams and seeing visions of horrid import, whose narration at a later hour, when the effects of the drug had passed away, formed a prominent feature of the entertainment. At the appearance of the morning star all the ashes of the sacrifices, the flowers, the burning canes, and all the implements used in the foregoing ceremonies, were buried, that they might not be seen by any visitor polluted by any kind of vice or uncleanness. The rising sun was greeted with songs, dancing, and beating of the teponaztli. The day was passed in feasting and music, and at the close of the day's banquet food was distributed to the common people. The banquet was often continued more than one day, and if after the first day's feast the provision of food was exhausted, it was regarded by the guests as a bad sign—a very sensible superstition truly.


There was another merchant's feast in the month of Panquetzaliztli, in which a number of slaves were killed and eaten. The victims were purchased sometime beforehand at the slave mart in Azcapuzalco, kept clean,—being therefore called tlaaltilzin, 'washed'—and fattened for the occasion. The male slaves meantime had no work but to dance daily on the housetop, but the women had to spin. The articles collected for this feast embraced large numbers of rich mantles, maxtlis, and huipiles, which were to be presented to guests. Not only the residents of Mexico were invited but members of the Tlatelulcan company who lived in other towns. The giver of the feast went personally to many towns, especially to Tochtepec, to issue invitations and distribute gifts. On his arrival he went first to the shrine of Iyacatecutli, before whose image he performed certain ceremonies and left some offerings. Then he went to the house of the Tlatelulcan 395 company, prepared a feast and summoned the rich traders, who came at midnight. Washing of the hands and mouth preceded and followed the eating, presents were made, chocolate drunk, pipes smoked, quails offered in the courtyard, and incense burned. One of the best speakers then announced the purpose of their visitor to kill a few slaves in honor of Huitzilopochtli, and in his name invited the company to be present at the pleasing spectacle, and partake of the human flesh and other choice viands. Another speaker responded in a speech of acceptance, and the feast-giver directed his steps homeward to Mexico. After resting awhile the merchant ceremonially invited those of his own city to be present at the feast, and the latter, after many precautions, including an inspection by the older merchants to satisfy themselves that food enough had been provided and that the affair could not be a failure, deigned to accept, although they warned the would-be host of the fearful responsibility he would incur should the feast be in any respect improperly managed, through his unwillingness to spend money enough. Ce Calli, Ome Xochitl, and Ome Ozomatli, were good signs for this feast.

On the first day the male slaves, richly attired and decorated, were made to dance and perform the areito, carrying garlands of flowers and also pipes from which they were continually puffing smoke. The females, in equally rich attire were stationed with plenty of food in one of the rooms where all could readily see them. The eating, drinking, and distribution of gifts were kept up all night. The following day's feast was a repetition of the first, and was called tlaixnexia; that of the third day was called tetevaltia, and on this day they made many changes in the dress of the slaves, putting on wigs of many-colored feathers, painted ear-flaps, stone nose-ornaments like butterflies, jackets with fringed borders and death's heads for decoration, hawks' wings, tlomaitl, on the shoulders, rings, matacaxtli, 396 on the arms, stained sandals, and girdles called xiuhtlalpilli. From this time forward strict guard was kept over them day and night until their death.

On yet a fourth occasion, apparently some days, or perhaps weeks, later, the merchant assembled his guests, and then just before sunset the victims were made drunk with teuvetli, and carried to Huitzilopochtli's temple, where they were made to dance and sing, and kept awake all night. At midnight they were placed on a mat before the fire, and the master of the banquet, dressed much like the slaves themselves, put out the fire, and in the darkness gave to each four mouthfuls of a dough moistened with honey, called tzoalli. Then a man dancing before them played upon an instrument called chichtli, hairs were pulled out of the top of each slave's head and put in a plate, quacaxitl, held by the dancer, and the master threw incense toward the east, west, north, and south. The slaves were offered food, but could not be induced to eat, expecting each moment the messenger of death. They were first taken to the ward of Coatlan, and in the courtyard of the temple of Huitzcalco were forced to fight against certain persons, the most valiant of whom were called tlaamaviques. If by force of arms these persons captured any of the slaves, they were entitled to receive their full value from the owner, or in default of such payment to take the bodies after the sacrifice and eat the same. After the contest the victims were sacrificed on the shrine of Huitzilopochtli, the complicated details of the ceremonies which followed differing only very slightly from those of similar sacrifices already several times described. The bodies were thrown down the steps as usual, carried home by the owner, cooked with maize, seasoned with salt without chile, and were finally eaten by the guests. With this horrible repast the great feast of the month of Panquetzaliztli ended; but he who had given it carefully preserved the clothing, and other relics of the slaughtered slaves, 397 guarding them in a basket as most precious and pleasant souvenirs all the days of his life; and after his death the basket and its contents were burned at his obsequies.

Acosta tells us that in Cholula the merchants, especially those that dealt in slaves, furnished each year a slave of fine physique to represent their god Quetzalcoatl, in whose honor he was sacrificed, with appropriate and complicated ceremonies, his flesh being afterwards eaten in a banquet.[421]


The little to be said of Nahua watercraft may be as appropriately inserted here as elsewhere. I have already referred to the important use made of canoes in the transportation of merchandise upon the lakes of Anáhuac. In the art of navigation, however, no progress was made by the Nahuas at all in proportion to their advancement in other respects. As navigators they were altogether inferior to their savage brethren of the Columbian and Hyperborean groups on the north-west coasts, whose skill in the manufacture and management of boats has been described in a preceding volume of this work. The reason is obvious: their progress in agriculture enabled them to obtain a food supply without risking their lives habitually on the sea; their sunny clime obviated the necessity of whale-blubber and seal-skins. In the earlier stages of civilization men make progress only when impelled by some actual necessity; consequently among the Nahuas, when means were supplied of crossing streams, and of transporting goods on the lakes and for short distances along the coast at the mouth of large rivers, progress in this direction ceased.

Clavigero's investigations led him to believe that the use of sails was unknown, and although Brasseur 398 de Bourbourg in one place speaks of such aids to navigation, yet he gives no authority for his statement.[422]

Rafts and 'dug-out' canoes were the vessels employed; the former were used for the most part in crossing streams and were of various material and construction. Those of the ruder kind were simply a number of poles tied together with strings.[423] Those called by the Spaniards balsas were of superior construction, made of otlatl reeds, or tules, and rushes of different kinds in bundles. The best balsas were about five feet square, made of bamboos and supported by hollow gourds closed by a water and air tight covering. The rafts were propelled by swimmers, one in front and another behind.[424]

The canoes—acalli, 'water-houses' among the Aztecs, called also tahucup in Tabasco—were hollowed out from the trunk of a single tree, were generally flat-bottomed and without keel, somewhat narrower at the bow than at the stern as Las Casas says, and would carry from two to sixty persons. As to the instruments employed in hollowing out and finishing the acalli we have no information, neither do we know whether fire was one of the agents made use of.[425]



The use of boats was not altogether confined to traffic, but extended to war and the transportation of troops. Fierce conflicts on the waters of the lakes are recorded in the ancient annals of Anáhuac; canoe fleets of armed natives came out to meet the Spaniards at various points along the coast; and we read of the vain efforts to defend the approaches to the Aztec capital, by thousands of boats which could offer little resistance to the advance of Cortés' brigantines.[426]

These fleets, so inefficient against Spanish vessels and arms, must have been of great service to the Aztecs in maintaining their domination over the many towns on the lake shores. To increase the efficiency of boats and boatmen, races and sham fights were established, which, besides affording useful training to paddlers and warriors, furnished an additional means of entertainment to the people who gathered in crowds to watch the struggles of the competitors, applaud the ducking of each vanquished boat's crew, and to reward the victors with honors and prizes.[427]




Importance of the Military Profession—Indications of Rank—Education of Warriors—Rewards for Valor—Military Orders and their Dress—Gorgeous War-Dresses of Montezuma and the Aztec Nobility—Dress of the Common Soldiers—Armor and Defensive Weapons—Offensive Weapons—Standards—Ambassadors and Couriers—Fortifications—The Military Council—Articles of War—Declaration of War—Spies—Order of March and Battle—War Customs of the Tlascaltecs and Tarascos—Return of the Conquering Army—Celebration of Feats of Arms.


As might be expected from a people so warlike and ambitious as the Nahuas, the profession of arms ranked high above all other callings, save that of the priests. This was especially the case in the later days, under the Aztec kings, whose unscrupulous ambition and passion for conquest could only be gratified by their warriors. Huitzilopochtli, god of war, protector of the empire, was glorified and honored above all other gods; his altars must be red with blood, for blood alone could extort his favor, and wars were frequently waged solely for his propitiation; valor was the loftiest virtue, the highest honors were paid to those who distinguished themselves in battle; no dignities, positions, or decorations, under the government, were given to any but approved soldiers. Children were taught by parent and priest the chivalrous 401 deeds of their ancestors, whom they were urged to emulate in daring; titles, rewards, and posts of honor were offered to stimulate the ambition of the young men. The king might not receive his crown until with his own hand he had taken captives to be sacrificed at the feast of his coronation. The priests were the foremost inciters to war and carnage. All wars were religious crusades. The highest earthly rewards were in store for the victor, while the soul of him that fell in battle took immediate flight to heaven. Only defeat and cowardice were to be dreaded.

The Nahua warrior's services were rewarded only by promotion, since no paid troops were employed. But promotion was sure to follow brilliant exploits performed by even the humblest soldier, while without such daring deeds the sons of the highest nobles could hope for no advancement. Dress and ornaments were the indications of rank, and were changed in some detail for every new achievement. To escape from the coarse nequen garments of the common soldier, and to put on successively the decorative mantles of the higher grades, was deemed a sufficient reward and incentive. The costume of each warrior indicated the exact number of prisoners captured by the wearer.

Especial care was taken, however, with the sons of lords intended for the profession of arms. At an early age their heads were shaved, except a tuft on the back of the head called mocuexpaltia, a designation changed to cuexpatchicuepul when the boy was fifteen years old. At this age he was sent to war in charge of veteran warriors, and if with their aid he took a prisoner, the tuft was cut off and another given to be worn over the ear with feather plumes; on his return he was addressed after the following manner by his grandparents or uncles: "My child, the Sun and the Earth have washed and renewed thy face, because thou didst dare to attempt the capture of an enemy in company with others. Lo, now it were better to 402 abandon thee to the mercies of the enemy than that thou shouldst again take a prisoner with the aid of others, because, should it so happen, they will place another tuft over thine other ear and thou wilt appear like a girl; truly, it were better thou shouldst die than that this should happen to thee." If after a fair trial the youth failed to take a captive, he was disgraced, and ceased to be a warrior in the eyes of his comrades: but if, unaided, he was successful, he was called a warlike youth, telpuchtlitaquitlamani, and was presented to the king, whose stewards dyed his face red, his temples and body yellow, and bestowed upon him mantles and maxtlis of the colors and designs which his achievements gave him the right to wear. If he took two captives, the honors were of course greater; three entitled him to a command over others; four made him a captain who might wear long lip-ornaments, leathern ear-rings, and gaudy tassels. With five prisoners the young man became a quauhiacatl, 'eagle that guides,' with corresponding insignia, a head-plume with silver threads, the mantle called cuechintli, another called chicoapalnacazminqui of two colors, and still another decorated with straps. The prisoners must, however, be from nations of acknowledged prowess, such as those of Atlixco, the Huexotzincas, or Tlascaltecs; double or triple the number of Cuextecas or Tenimes must be captured, and no number of these could entitle a youth to the highest honors.[428]

In the Mexican picture-writings are delineated the successive grades by which a graduate from the temple school advanced, with the costumes and defensive armor he was permitted to wear. First we see him leaving for the war, carrying the impedimenta of the chief priest, who goes into the field to embolden the troops, enforce orders, and perform other duties. The pictures that follow portray the devices on the shields, manner of painting, armor, head-dresses, and ornaments 403 they were allowed to assume, according to the number of captives each had taken. The warrior-priests were rewarded, in like manner, with accoutrements and insignia of peculiar designs, and with important commands in the army.[429]


Three military orders were established by the Aztec monarchs, the members of which were granted certain privileges, and entitled to wear badges of distinction; they also had apartments allotted to them in the royal palace and formed the royal guard. Promotion to the order was open to all, but could only be won by some notable feat of arms. The members of the first of these three orders were called Achcauhtin, or Princes, of the second, Quauhtin, or Eagles, of the third, Ocelome, or Tigers. The distinctive mark of the Princes was their manner of dressing the hair, which was tied on the crown of the head with a red thong, and worked into as many braids, each terminating in a cotton tassel, as were the deeds of valor performed by the wearer; the Eagles wore a kind of casque, in the form of an eagle's head; the Tigers wore a particular armor, spotted like the skin of the animal whose name they bore. These insignia were only used in war; at court all military officers wore the tlachquauhyo, a dress of many colors. The members of these three military orders had the privilege of wearing garments of much finer texture than the common people, as well as such feathers and jewels as they could afford to buy. An inferior order of knighthood appears also to have existed, the members of which had their hair cropped close about their ears, and wore skull-caps and split collars; these were only armed for defence from the girdle upwards, whereas their superiors fought in complete 404 armor. All these privileged warriors were permitted to use painted and gilt vessels, but the common soldiers might use none but plain earthen ones.[430]

Montezuma, who was a member of the order of Princes, when he went in person against the enemy, wore upon his legs greaves of gold, and upon his arms thin plates of the same metal, as well as bracelets; about his neck were a collar and chains of gold and precious stones; from his ears and lower lip hung ornaments of gold set with precious chalchiuites; and from the back of his head to his waist was suspended the glittering decoration of royalty, only worn by kings, the quachictli. This was an ornament of exquisite workmanship, wrought with great labor of costly feathers and jewels, and shaped somewhat like a butterfly. In addition to this he was distinguished from his retinue by a shield upon which was displayed the royal coat of arms in feather-work; and he carried also a small drum, upon which he beat the signal for battle.[431]


On the occasion when the sovereigns and nobility of Mexico, Tezcuco, and Tlacopan came out to receive Cortés, there was little, so far as dress was concerned, by which king might be distinguished from subject; the only difference was that the monarchs wore crowns 405 of gold and precious stones, bejeweled sandals with golden soles, and tassels at the end of the ribbon with which their hair was bound.[432] A prince of the blood-royal, on his début upon the battle-field, was clad in plain white; his behavior was closely watched, and after the action such insignia and colors as he had merited by his conduct were bestowed upon him.

Sahagun gives an extended description of the gorgeous war-costumes of the noble Aztec warriors, with the native name for each fraction of the equipments. Here are described head-dresses composed of rich feathers, prominent among which were the quetzal; corselets of red and green feathers, worked with gold thread; head-dresses of green feathers set in gold bands, or of tiger-skin; helmets of silver; a garment called tocivitl reaching to the knees, made of yellow macaw-feathers, embroidered with gold, and worn with a golden casque plumed with quetzal-feathers; and other equally gorgeous attire. As a means of directing their men some officers bore small drums, painted and ornamented with feathers so as to correspond with their dress, in a net at their backs; others carried little flags made of feathers held together with bands of gold or silver. Many noble warriors had their armorial bearings, devils, monsters, and what not, painted or embroidered upon their backs. Truly such spolia opima were worthy of a hero's toil.[433]

The rank and file of the Aztec army wore no clothing but the maxtli in battle, but by painting their faces and bodies in grotesque patterns with brilliant colors, and covering their heads with raw cotton, they presented a sufficiently fierce and gaudy appearance.[434]

The Tlascaltec leaders wore a quilted cotton tunic two fingers in thickness that fitted closely to the body 406 and also protected the shoulders and thighs; the wealthier class wore over the tunic a cuirass of thin gold or silver plates, and over all they threw a rich mantle of feather-work elegantly embroidered; to protect their legs they put on leathern boots or wooden greaves ornamented with gold. On their heads they wore a morion made of hide or wood representing the head of some animal, bird, or serpent. From the crown waved a magnificent tuft of richly variegated plumes, a conspicuous mark, that served to denote the warrior's rank.


The armor and defensive weapons of the Nahua knights, though of little service against the firearms and swordsmanship of the Spaniards, yet were admirably suited for protection from the weapons in use among themselves. The chimalli, or Mexican shield, was made of various materials and in divers forms; sometimes it was round, sometimes oval, sometimes rounded only on the lower side; it was commonly constructed of flexible bamboo canes, bound firmly together, and covered with hide. The face of the shield was ornamented according to the rank and taste of the bearer; that of a noble was generally covered with thin plates of gold, with a heavy boss in the centre. In Tabasco, and along the coast, tortoise-shells, inlaid with gold, silver, or copper, were commonly used as shields. Reed-grass, hides, or nequen-cloth, coated with India-rubber, served to protect an Aztec common soldier. Some shields were of an ordinary size, others were intended to cover the entire body, and were so constructed that when not in use they could be folded up and carried under the arm. The body-armor of the nobles and higher grades of warriors consisted of a breast-piece made of quilted cotton, one or two fingers in thickness, called ichcahuepilli; over this was a thick cotton coat, which covered part of the arms and thighs, made in one piece, fastened behind, and decorated with feathers of whatever colors the uniform of the company to which 407 the wearer belonged might be. This cotton armor was completely arrow-proof, and was of great service to the Spanish Conquerors, who lost no time in adopting it in place of their heavy steel armor. Arm and leg guards made of wood covered with leather or gold plates and trimmed with feathers, and morions of the same material shaped and painted to represent the head of a tiger, serpent, or monster, with mouth open and teeth bared, complete the defensive equipment. Over a cuirass of gold and silver plates some lords wore a garment of feathers which is said to have been proof against arrows and javelins. Nobles and officers also wore lofty plumes so as to present the appearance of increased stature.[435]

The shields used by the Toltecs were made of skins ornamented with feathers of various colors; on their heads they wore helmets of gold, silver, or skins. The body-armor worn by the principal warriors was made of double cloth padded with cotton; it differed from that of the Aztecs inasmuch as it reached down to the ankles and was worn over a thin white tunic. The private soldiers, like those of the Aztec army, also painted the upper part of the body to represent armor, but from the waist to the thighs they wore short drawers and over them, fastened round the waist, a kind of kilt that reached to the knees and availed them somewhat for defence. Across the body was a sash made of feathers that passed from the right shoulder to the left side of the waist. They wore sandals on their feet and had feather-ornaments upon their heads, more or less rich according to the quality of the warrior. When going to battle they adorned their necks, breasts, arms, and legs with their most valuable trinkets of gold or precious stones.[436] Tezozomoc mentions that the Tarascos wore steel helmets, but, as I have already stated, none of these nations 408 were acquainted with the use of iron in any shape.[437] Some of the armor in use among the Tabascans must have been exceedingly rich, judging by that which was presented to Juan de Grijalva by the cacique of that province. It consisted of greaves for the knees and legs made of wood and covered with sheets of gold, head-pieces covered with gold plates and precious stones, among which was a visor, of which the upper half was of jewels linked together, and the lower half of gold plates; then there were cuirasses of solid gold, besides a quantity of armor-plates sufficient to cover the whole body.[438]


The offensive weapons of the Aztecs consisted of bows and arrows, slings, clubs, spears, light javelins, and swords; and in the use of all of these the soldiers were well skilled. The bows were made of tough, elastic wood, and were about five feet in length; for strings they used the sinews of animals or stags' hair twisted. The arrows were light canes, with about six inches of oak or other hard wood inserted in the end; at the extremity a piece of iztli was fastened with twisted nequen-fibre, and further secured by a paste of resin or other adhesive substance. Sometimes instead of iztli they used the bones of animals or fish; the bone of a fish called libisa is said to have caused by its venomous properties[439] a wound very difficult to heal. It is well known that none of the Nahua nations used poisoned arrows; such weapons 409 would have defeated the object for which they often engaged in war, namely that of taking their enemies alive for the purpose of immolating them upon the altars of their gods. It is reasonable to believe that many of them attained to great accuracy in shooting with the bow, but there is room to doubt the assertion that some of them were able to shoot with three or four arrows at a time; or to throw an ear of corn into the air and pierce every kernel before it reached the ground; or to throw up a coin of the size of half a dollar, and keep it in the air as long as they pleased with their arrows.[440] The sling was a braid of pita-thread or other fibre, broader in the middle than at the ends, with which stones were thrown with much force and accuracy; the missiles were carried in a pouch filled with stones and suspended from the waist in front. The maza was a club similar to the Roman clava, tapering from the handle towards the end and terminating in a knotty head, filled with points of iztli or tempered copper.[441] The macana, or macuahuitl, called by the Spaniards espada, a sword, was made of tough wood, about three and a half feet long, with a flat blade four fingers in width armed upon both sides with sharp pieces of iztli about three fingers long by three wide, which were inserted into the grooved edge at intervals, and cemented with some adhesive compound.[442] This weapon, when not 410 in immediate use, was carried slung to the arm with a cord. Many of these swords were two-handed and very heavy, and it is asserted that with them the Aztec warrior could at one blow cut a man in two or sever a horse's head. The one with which the famous Tlascaltec commander Tlahuicol fought was so weighty that a man of ordinary strength could hardly raise it from the ground.[443] The Mexican spears were very strong, and were pointed with iztli or copper. Spears were the principal weapon used by the Zapotecs and other tribes of Oajaca. The tlacochtli, or Mexican javelin, was like a long arrow made of otlatl or bamboo; the point was usually hardened in the fire or armed with iztli, copper, or bone; many had three points, thus inflicting a very severe wound; they were hurled with great force, and had a cord attached, so that when thrown they could be recovered for another cast. Some writers mention a ballista as being used with which to launch the javelin, but I do not find any description of its form or of the manner of using it;[444] certainly the javelin was projected with great velocity, 411 if it be true, as asserted, that they would pass through a man's body; they were much dreaded by the Spanish Conquerors.


When the Chichimecs first settled in the valley of Anáhuac the only weapons were the bow and arrow and blow-pipe, in the use of which they were very expert. The blow-pipe was a long hollow tube through which clay pellets were projected, and it is affirmed that with them the Chichimecs could kill a man or wild beast at a moderate distance; afterwards this weapon came to be generally used by other nations, but was only employed for shooting small birds. Among other things, Cortés was presented by Montezuma with a dozen blow-pipes beautifully ornamented and painted with figures of birds and animals; the mouth-piece of each was made of gold, five or six inches long; they were also ornamented in the centre with gold, and accompanying them were gold net-work pouches to carry the pellets.[445] The Matlaltzincas and Tabascans used weapons similar to those of the nations of the Anáhuac valley; the former were especially dexterous in their practice with the sling, which, when not in actual use, was carried wound about the head.[446] The fighting men among the Jaliscans were similarly armed, but the lords and captains carried only long staves with which to urge their men to fight and punish any who were disorderly or showed symptoms of cowardice.[447]

Each nation had its own particular standard on which were painted or embroidered the armorial bearings of the state. That of the Mexican empire, as we have seen, bore an eagle in the act of seizing a tiger, or jaguar. That of the republic of Tlascala, a bird with its wings spread as in the act of flying, which some authors call an eagle, others a white bird or crane. Each of the four lordships of the republic 412 had also its appropriate ensign; Tizatlan had a crane upon a rock, Tepeticpac a wolf with a bunch of arrows in his paws, Ocotelulco a green bird upon a rock, and Quiahuiztlan a parasol made of green feathers.[448] Each company or command had also a distinct standard, the colors of which corresponded to that of the armor and plumes of the chief. The great standard of the Tlascaltec army was carried by the general commanding, and the smaller banners of the companies by their respective captains; they were carried on the back and were so firmly tied there that they could not be detached without great difficulty.[449] When upon a march and not in presence of the enemy the standard of the Tlascaltecs was carried in the van, but in action it was always placed in the rear. The Mexican standard was borne in the centre of the army. Instruments of music, consisting of drums, horns, and large sea-shells, were sounded while fighting to encourage and animate the men.


The office of ambassador was one of much consequence, and persons of the highest rank, selected for their courteous manners and oratorical powers, were appointed to the position. Their persons were held sacred and they were usually received by those to 413 whom they were sent with honor and respect, perfumed with incense, presented with flowers, and well lodged and entertained; in case any insult or indignity was offered them, it constituted a sufficient cause of war. Such an instance occurred when the Tepanecs, during the reign of their king Maxtlaton, invited the Mexican monarch Itzcoatl and his chiefs to visit their province and partake of their hospitality. Itzcoatl declined at the advice of his chiefs, but the latter went, carrying presents. They were accepted by the Tepanecs and the chiefs sent back in women's apparel, which they were compelled to wear; the indignity brought about a war between the two nations. The proper courtesy and protection due to their position was, however, only accorded them when on the high road that led to their destination; if they deviated from it they lost their rights and privileges as ambassadors. When on duty they wore a special garb that denoted their office; it consisted of a green habit resembling a scapulary, or small cloak; handsome feathers were twisted in the hair with tufts of divers colors; in the right hand they carried an arrow with the point towards the ground, and in the left a shield; a small net containing provisions hung from the left arm.

A complete courier-system was established throughout the empire; these couriers were employed to carry messages in peace and war, and fresh provisions for the king's table; as we have seen in a former chapter, it is asserted that Montezuma had fresh fish brought to his palace daily from the gulf coast. They were exceedingly swift runners, being exercised from childhood and encouraged by rewards to excel in speed. Stations were fixed at distances of about six miles apart, where small towers were built, in which dwelt one or more couriers ready at all times to set out with dispatches. As soon as a courier arrived at one of these towers, one of those waiting received from him the message he bore, usually expressed in paintings, and at once 414 started for the next stage, and thus the tidings were conveyed to the capital in an incredibly short time. When the dispatches were of an important nature, the courier wore some badge or was dressed in a manner indicative of the intelligence entrusted to him. For instance, if it related to a defeat in battle, he traveled with hair dishevelled, preserving a strict silence until the message was delivered to the person to whom it was directed; on the other hand, if he brought news of a victory, his hair was neatly tied with a colored string, about his body was wrapped a white cotton cloth, on his left arm he carried a shield and in his right hand a sword which he brandished as if in combat, singing at the same time the glorious deeds of the victors.[450]


The Mexicans and other Nahua nations, favored by the general features of the country, adopted a system of fortifications and entrenchments admirably adapted to secure them from the attacks of internal enemies, though insufficient as a defense against the superior tactics and indomitable perseverance of Cortés. The position of the city of Tenochtitlan, or Mexico, gave it all the advantages of a fortified town. There was no avenue of approach to it but the causeways, which were defended by towers and ditches spanned by draw-bridges; it was the untimely raising of one of these draw-bridges that caused such destruction to the Spaniards and their allies on the 'noche triste.' Besides this, the inhabitants prepared themselves to defend their city by means of boats, and were frequently exercised in sham naval engagements. The temples of Mexico served all the purposes of citadels, especially the great temple built by the Emperor Tizoc. It occupied the centre of the city and was 415 surrounded by a stone wall eight feet high and very thick, having turrets and stone figures upon it; the wall was pierced by four principal entrances, over each of which were fortified apartments, well stocked with weapons, offensive and defensive, ready for immediate service; here, in case of a revolt or sudden alarm, the garrison went and armed themselves.[451] One of the royal palaces also contained a large armory where great quantities of arms were kept and armorers employed in their manufacture. The peculiar architecture of the temple rendered the ascent to its top very slow and difficult; during the battles of the Mexicans with Cortés' troops after Montezuma's death, five hundred Mexican nobles took possession of this summit, whence they hurled darts, arrows, and stones against the Spaniards, many of whom lost their lives during the assault before the position was taken by Cortés in person. In his dispatch to the Emperor Charles the Fifth he says: "so arduous was the attempt to take this tower that if God had not broken their spirits, twenty of them would have been sufficient to resist the ascent of a thousand men, although they fought with the greatest valor even unto death."[452]

Besides the arsenal and general rendezvous there were many turreted towers and strong buildings throughout the city, from the top of which men could shoot their arrows and hurl darts and stones with great effect. The lofty teocalli served as watch-towers, whence the movements of the enemy could be observed. Naturally impregnable localities, such as the vicinity of impassable rivers or ravines were selected as sites for cities, which they further strengthened 416 with forts or surrounded with stone walls. The city of Guacachula, taken by Cortés shortly after his retreat from Mexico on the 'noche triste,' is thus described by him in his letter to Charles the Fifth: "This city of Guacachula is situated upon a plain bounded upon one side by some very lofty and craggy hills; encircling the plain, on the other sides, about two cross-bow shots apart, are two rivers that run through large and deep ravines. There are but few means of entrance to the city, and those extremely difficult both in the ascent and descent so that they can hardly be passed on horseback. The whole city is surrounded by a very strong wall of stone and lime about twenty-two feet high on the outside and almost level with the ground upon the inside. Around the whole wall runs a battlement, half the height of a man, as a protection when fighting; it has four entrances of sufficient width to admit a man on horseback, and in each entrance are three or four curves in the wall that lap one over the other and in the course of the curves, on the top of the wall are parapets for fighting. In the whole circuit of the wall is a large quantity of stones large and small and of different shapes for use in action." Four leagues distant from Guacachula was another city called Izucan, also strongly fortified with breastworks, towers, and a deep river that encircled a great part of the city.[453]

One of the most celebrated structures built for defence was the stone wall erected by the Tlascaltecs to secure themselves from the incursions of the Mexicans. This wall was six miles long, extending across a valley from one mountain to another; it was nearly nine feet high and twenty feet thick, surmounted along its whole length by a breastwork that enabled its defenders to fight in comparative security from the top. There was only one entrance, about ten paces wide, where one part of the wall overlapped the other in 417 curvilinear form in the manner of a ravelin for a distance of forty paces. Bernal Diaz and Cortés differ as to the materials of which the wall was built. The former affirms that it was built of stones cemented together with lime and a bitumen so strongly that it was necessary to use pick-axes to separate them, while the latter says it was built of dry stone.

Cortés, describing the residence of the cacique of Iztacmaxtitlan, a garrison of the Mexicans, says it was situated on a lofty eminence, with a better fortress than there was in half Spain, defended by a wall, barbican, and moats.[454] In many other parts of the country were stone fortifications, wooden stockades and intrenchments. A short distance from the village of Molcaxac stood a strong fortress built on the top of a mountain; it was surrounded by four walls, erected at certain intervals between the base of the mountain and the top. Twenty-five miles from Córdova was the fortress of Quauhtochco, now Guatusco, encircled by high stone walls in which were no entrance gates; the interior could only be gained by means of steep narrow steps, a method commonly adopted in the country.[455] The nations of Michoacan and Jalisco employed heavy tree-trunks in fortifying their positions against the Spanish invaders, or cut deep intrenchments in which they fixed sharpened stakes. Previous to an attack led by Pedro Alvarado against the inhabitants of Jalisco, the latter took up a strong position on a hill which they fortified by placing large stones in such a manner, that upon cutting the cords that held them they would be precipitated upon the assailants; in the assault many Spaniards were killed and Alvarado was thrown from his 418 horse with such violence that he died two days afterwards.[456]

Under the tripartite treaty made by the kingdoms of Mexico, Tezcuco, and Tlacopan, a military council was established consisting of a president and twenty-one members. During the reign of the emperor Nezahualcoyotl their deliberations were held in a hall of his palace in Tezcuco. The president belonged to the highest rank of the nobility and commanders of the army, the other members were composed of six of the principal men of Tezcuco, three nobles and three commoners, and fifteen selected from the other chief provinces. All were veteran officers of recognized courage and good conduct. To this court were referred all matters relating to war. The council assembled when required, to discuss and decide all affairs of the service, whether for the punishment of offenses subversive of military discipline, or to transact the business relative to a declaration of war against other powers. In the latter case the consultation always took place in presence of the sovereign, or of the three heads of the empire. All ambassadors and soldiers were subject to this tribunal, which meted out reward as well as punishment. The following were the articles of war:


First: any general or other military officer who, accompanying the king on a campaign, should forsake him, or leave him in the power of the enemy, thereby failing in his duty, which was to bring back his sovereign dead or alive, suffered death by decapitation.

Second: any officer who formed the prince's guard and deserted his trust, suffered death by decapitation.

Third: any soldier who disobeyed his superior officer, or abandoned his post, or turned his back upon the enemy, or showed them favor, suffered death by decapitation. 419

Fourth: any officer or soldier who usurped the captive or spoil of another, or who ceded to another the prisoner he himself had taken, suffered death by hanging.

Fifth: any soldier who in war caused injury to the enemy without permission of his officer, or who attacked before the signal was given, or who abandoned the standard or headquarters, or broke or violated any order issued by his captain, suffered death by decapitation.

Sixth: the traitor who revealed to the enemy the secrets of the army or orders communicated for the success thereof, suffered death by being torn to pieces; his property was forfeited to the crown and all his children and relations were made slaves in perpetuity.

Seventh: any person who protected or concealed an enemy in time of war, whether noble or plebeian, suffered death by being torn to pieces in the middle of the public square, and his limbs were given to the populace to be treated as objects of derision and contempt.

Eighth: any noble or person of distinction who, in action, or at any dance or festival, exhibited the insignia or badges of the kings of Mexico, Tezcuco, or Tlacopan, suffered death and forfeiture of property.

Ninth: any nobleman who, being captured by the enemy fled from prison and returned to his country suffered death by decapitation; but, if he fought and vanquished seven soldiers in gladiatorial combat previous to return, he was free and was rewarded as a brave man. The private soldier who fled from an enemy's prison and returned to his country was well received.

Tenth: any ambassador who failed to discharge his trust in accordance with the orders and instructions given to him or who returned without an answer, suffered death by decapitation.[457]


As I have already stated, the primary object of most wars was to procure victims for sacrifices to Huitzilopochtli and other gods, and the Mexicans were never at a loss for an excuse to pick a quarrel. The refusal of a neighboring power to receive in its temple one of the Mexican gods, neglect to pay tribute demanded, insults offered to ambassadors or traveling merchants, or symptoms of rebellion in a city or a province, furnished sufficient pretext to take up arms. The rulers of Mexico, however, always endeavored to justify their conduct before they made war, and never commenced hostilities without sending due notice of their intention to the adversary. Before an actual challenge was sent or war declared against any nation, the council met in presence of the three heads of the empire, and gravely discussed the equity of the case. If the difficulty lay with a province subject to the empire, secret emissaries were sent to inquire whether the fault originated solely with the governor or if he was sustained by his subjects. If it appeared that the whole blame rested with the governor, a force was sent to arrest him, and he was publicly punished, together with all others implicated; but if the rising was with the consent of the people, they were summoned to submit and place themselves in obedience to the king whose vassals they were, and a fine, proportionate to the magnitude of the case, was imposed. It was customary for the rulers of Mexico or Tezcuco to send messengers to distant provinces with a demand that they should receive one or more of their gods and worship them in their temples. If the messenger was killed or the proposed god rejected, a war ensued.


As I have said, it was a breach of international etiquette to proceed to war without giving due notice to the enemy, and military law prescribed that three embassies should be despatched before commencing 421 hostilities. The number of ambassadors varied according to the circumstances and rank of the princes against whom war was to be made, for the higher his rank the fewer in number were the envoys. If he was a great king only one was sent, and he was generally of the blood-royal or a famous general. Sometimes the ambassadors were instructed to deliver their message directly to the hostile prince, at other times to the people of the province. In the first case upon entering into the prince's presence they paid their respects with reverence, and having seated themselves in the centre of the audience-hall, waited till permission was given them to speak. The signal made, the principal among them delivered his message in a low tone of voice and with a studied address, the audience preserving a decorous silence, and listening attentively. As a general thing, in all embassies an interchange of presents was made, and if the message was from one friendly power to another, a refusal of such gifts was a serious affront. If, however, it was to an enemy, the ambassador could not receive a present without express orders from his master. When the three powers of Mexico, Tezcuco, and Tlacopan acted in unison, in the event of a difficulty with another nation, the first ambassadors sent were of the Mexican nation and were called quaquauhnochtzin. Upon arriving at the capital of the kingdom or province they proceeded at once to the public square and summoned before them the ministers and aged men, to whom they made known the several circumstances of the case, warning them that, in case their lord refused to accede to their propositions, upon them and their families would fall the evils and hardships produced by war, and exhorting them to counsel and persuade their lord to maintain the good will and protection of the empire; for this purpose they granted twenty days, within which time they would expect an answer, and in order that there might be no complaint of being surprised and taken unprepared they 422 left a supply of weapons and then retired outside the town to await the answer. If within the twenty days it was decided to accept the terms of the ambassadors, the ministers went to the place where they were in waiting and conducted them into the city, where they were received with every mark of respect, and in a short time were sent back to their own country, accompanied by other ambassadors, bearing costly presents in token of friendship and esteem. If, however, twenty days passed without a satisfactory adjustment of the difficulty, a second set of ambassadors, held in readiness for the occasion, who had to be of the kingdom of Tezcuco and were called achcacauhtzin, were sent into the city. These carried with them a quantity of arms, some feathers of a bird called tecpilotl, and a small earthenware jar containing a certain balsamic and aromatic ointment, compounded of various herbs and gums. They went directly to the palace of the prince and in presence of the gentlemen of his court delivered their message. They then represented to him the miseries of war, and warned him, that if within the space of twenty days he did not agree to their terms, in the event of his being taken captive during the war which would ensue he would be put to death under the penalty of the law, which sentenced him to have his head smashed with a club, and that his vassals would be chastised in proportion to the offence each had committed. If the refractory prince or noble refused immediate compliance, the ambassadors anointed his right arm and his head with the ointment brought with them, telling him to be strong and of good courage and to fight bravely against the troops of the empire, whose valor in war they greatly extolled. They then tied the tecpilotl-plumes at the back of his head with red strings, handed him the weapons they had brought with them, and retired to the place where the first ambassadors were, to await the expiration of the twenty days. If he surrendered 423 within the time, he was required to pay a stipulated annual tribute of small amount, but if he refused to surrender, there came a third set of ambassadors, who were of the kingdom of Tlacopan; they appeared before the lord in the presence of his ministers and court, and delivered their message with stronger threats and warnings, to the effect that if he did not surrender at the expiration of a further twenty days, the army of the empire would march against his territory and punish the inhabitants regardless of age or sex, and that although they might implore its clemency they would not be heard; they then gave them a larger supply of arms than on the preceding occasions, telling them to avail themselves of them and not to say at a future time that they had been assailed unprepared. If the lord of the province surrendered within the last twenty days, he was punished according to the pleasure of the three powers, but not with death nor with the confiscation of his rank or property; he was usually condemned to pay an extraordinary tribute out of his own revenues; should he continue rebellious, war broke out, and the army of the empire, already prepared on the frontiers, commenced its operations.[458]

It was usual to send a formal challenge or declaration of war, accompanied by some presents, either of arms, clothing, or food, as it was held to be a discreditable act to attack any unarmed or defenseless people. A notable instance of this spirit was shown by the Tlascaltecs when they confronted the army of Cortés; 424 their general is reported to have exclaimed: "Who are these presumptuous men, so few in number that they attempt to enter our country in spite of us? Lest they think we want to take them by hunger rather than by force of arms, let us send them food, that we may find them savory after the sacrifice, for they come starved and worn out." Before the battle they sent three hundred turkeys and two hundred baskets of centli or tamales, each basket weighing about twenty-five pounds, a gift most acceptable to the Castilians.[459]

When war against another nation was decided upon, the first care of the Mexicans was to investigate the character and resources of the region they were about to invade. Certain spies called quimichtin, who were selected for their knowledge of the language and customs of the enemy's country, were sent thither, dressed after the manner of the inhabitants. These spies were directed to prepare maps of the districts they passed through, showing the plains, rivers, mountains, and dangerous passes as well as the most practicable routes, and were to take notice of all means of defense possessed by the enemy. The sketches and information thus obtained were given to the chiefs of the army to guide them in their march and enable them to make the best disposition of their forces. Such spies as brought valuable news were rewarded with the grant of a piece of land, and if one came over from the enemy's side and gave advice of their preparations and force, he was well paid and given presents of mantles.[460] When a war was to be conducted jointly by the three allied powers, proclamation was made by heralds in the public thoroughfares of the capital cities. Commissariat officers called calpixques collected the necessary stores and provisions for the campaign, and distributed weapons 425 and coarse mantles of nequen to the army. The troops then went to the temple and performed the ceremony of scarifying their bodies, while the customary sacrifices were offered by the priests to Huitzilopochtli.


If the expedition was an important one and the army large, it was composed of several divisions, called xiquipilli, each consisting of eight thousand men under their respective commanders. When all was in readiness the order of march was thus formed: the priests with their idols started one day's march in advance; next came the captains and flower of the army, followed by the soldiers of Mexico; after them the Tezcucans, and then those of Tlacopan, the rear being closed by the troops of other provinces; one day's march separated each division. Perfect order was maintained on the route, and when near the enemy's country the chiefs traced out the camping-ground each division should occupy, and directed all to entrench and fortify their positions.[461]

The battle was sometimes fought on a piece of neutral ground lying between the confines of two territories. Such a place was known by the name yauhtlalli, and was especially reserved for the purpose, and always left uncultivated.[462] Before the action commenced each soldier received from the royal magazine a handful of pinole and a kind of cake called tlaxcaltotopochtli; afterwards the high-priest or chief addressed the troops, reminding them of the glory to be gained by victory, and the eternal bliss in store for those who fell, and concluded by counseling them to place their trust in Huitzilopochtli and fight valiantly. If the king was present on the field the signal for 426 attack was given by him. The Mexican monarch issued his orders to commence the action by sounding on a large shell making a noise like a trumpet; the lords of Tezcuco beat upon a small drum, and lords of other provinces struck two bones together. The signals for retreat were given upon similar instruments. When the battle commenced, the shrieking of musical instruments, the clashing of swords against bucklers, and shouting of the combatants made a noise so great as to strike terror into those unused to it. While fighting the warriors shouted the names of their respective towns or districts to enable them to recognize each other and prevent confusion.[463]

In fighting there appears to have been no special tactics; the commanders of divisions and the captains used every effort to keep their men together, and were very careful to protect the standard, as, if that was taken, the battle was considered lost and all fled. They observed the wise policy of keeping a number of men in reserve to replace any who were wearied or had exhausted their weapons. The archers, slingers, and javelin men commenced the action at a distance and gradually drew nearer, until they came to close quarters, when they took to their swords and spears. All movements, both in advance and retreat, were rapidly executed; sometimes a retreat was feigned in order to draw the enemy into an ambuscade which had been prepared beforehand. The chief object was to take prisoners and not to slay; when an enemy refused to surrender, they endeavored to wound them in the foot or leg so as to prevent escape, but they never accepted a ransom for a prisoner. Certain men were attached to the army whose duty it was to remove the killed and wounded during the action, so that the enemy might not know the losses and take fresh heart.[464]



The Tlascaltecs formed their army into battalions, each having its appointed chief, the whole being under the command of a general-in-chief, who was elected from among those of the four seigniories into which the republic was divided. Their mode of fighting differed little from that of the Mexicans, with the exception of a certain practice which they observed upon first coming in contact with the enemy. This consisted in carrying with them two darts which they believed would presage victory or defeat according to the result of their delivery into the hostile ranks. According to Motolinia the tradition among them in regard to this belief was, that their ancestors came from the north-west, and that in order to reach the land they navigated eight or ten days; from the oldest among them they then received two darts which they guarded as precious relics, and regarded as an infallible augury by which to know whether they would gain a victory or ought to retreat in time.[465] When a victory was won the great standard was brought to the front and placed upon a rising ground or in some conspicuous position, and all were obliged to assemble around it; he who neglected to do so was punished.

The Tarascos fought with great courage to the sound of numerous horns and sea-shells, and carried to battle banners made of feathers of many colors. Their skill and valor is best proven by the fact that the Mexicans were never able to subdue them. They showed especial strategy in luring the foe into ambush. Like the Mexicans their chief object in battle was to take prisoners to sacrifice to their gods.[466]


Among the Mexicans, when the battle was over, the first prisoners taken were given to the priests to be sacrificed before the idols they carried with them. An account was taken of the losses sustained and of the number of prisoners and other booty gained. Rewards were distributed to all who had distinguished themselves and punishment inflicted on any who had misbehaved. All disputes relative to the capture of prisoners were inquired into and adjusted. If a case arose where neither of the disputants could prove their title, the prisoner was taken from them and given to the priests to be sacrificed. Those inhabitants of the conquered province who could prove that they had taken no active part in the war were punished at the discretion of their conqueror; usually they were condemned to pay a certain annual tribute, or to construct public works; meantime, the vanquished province was supplied with a governor and officers, appointed from among the conquerors.[467]

When the king or a feudatory lord captured a prisoner for the first time, his success was made the occasion of much rejoicing. The captive, dressed in showy apparel and mounted on a litter, was borne to the town in great triumph, accompanied by a host of warriors shouting and singing; at the outskirts of the city the procession was met by the inhabitants, some playing on musical instruments, others dancing and singing songs composed for the occasion. The prisoner was saluted with mimic honors, and his captor greatly extolled and congratulated. Numbers of people arrived from the adjoining towns and villages to assist in the general hilarity, bringing with them presents of gold, jewels, and rich dresses. Upon the day appointed for the sacrifice a grand festival was held, previous to and after which the lord fasted and performed certain prescribed ceremonies. The victim was usually dressed for the occasion in the robes of 429 the god of the sun, and sacrificed in the usual manner. With some of the blood that flowed, the priest sprinkled the four sides of the temple; the remainder was collected in a vessel and sent to the noble captor, who with it sprinkled all the gods in the court yard of the temple as a thank-offering for the victory he had gained. After the heart was taken out the body was rolled down the steps and received below; the head was then cut off and placed upon a high pole, afterwards the body was flayed, and the skin stuffed with cotton and hung up in the captor's house as a memento of his prowess.[468]


When a renowned captain or noble was made prisoner, the right of fighting for his liberty was granted him—an honor not permitted to warriors of an inferior rank. Near the temple was an open space capable of containing a large multitude; in the middle was a circular mound built of stone and mortar, about eight feet high, with steps leading to the top, where was fixed a large round stone, three feet high, smooth, and adorned with figures. This stone was called the temalacatl; upon it the prisoner was placed, tied at the ankle with a cord, which passed through a hole in the centre of the stone. His weapons consisted of a shield and macana.[469] He who had taken him prisoner then mounted the stone, better armed, to combat with him. Both the combatants were animated with the strongest motives to fight desperately. The prisoner fought for his life and liberty, and his adversary to sustain his reputation. If the former was conquered, 430 a priest, called chalchiuhtepehua, immediately seized him, hurried him dead or alive to the sacrificial stone and tore out his heart. The victor was then publicly congratulated and rewarded with military honors. If, however, the prisoner vanquished his first opponent and six others, by whom, in succession, he was attacked, he was granted his freedom, all spoil taken from him in battle was restored to him, and he returned to his country covered with glory. A notable violation of this law is recorded of the Huexotzincas. In a battle between them and the Cholultecs, the leader of the latter nation became separated from his own people during the heat of battle, and was, after a gallant resistance, made prisoner and conducted to the capital. Being placed on the gladiatorial stone he conquered the seven adversaries that were brought against him, but the Huexotzincas, dreading to liberate so famous a warrior, contrary to their universal law, put him to death, and thereby covered themselves with ignominy.[470]


If the prisoner was a person of very high rank, he was taken before the king, who ordered that he should be sumptuously fed and lodged for forty days. At the end of that time he was accorded the right of combat, and if conquered, after the usual sacrificial ceremonies the body was cut into small pieces; these were sent to the relations and friends of the deceased, who received them as relics of great value and acknowledged the favor by returning gold, jewels, and rich plumes.[471] If we are to believe Gomara and others, the number of victims, chiefly prisoners of war, sacrificed at some of the festivals, was enormous. The historians relate that in front of the principal gate of the temple there was a mound built of stone and lime with innumerable skulls of prisoners inserted between the stones. At the 431 head and foot of the mound were two towers built entirely of skulls and lime; on the top of the mound were seventy or more upright poles, each with many other sticks fastened crossways to it, at intervals, from top to bottom; on the points of each cross stick were five skulls. They go on to say that two soldiers of Cortés counted these skulls and found them to amount to one hundred and thirty-six thousand. Those that composed the towers they could not count.[472]

The nations contiguous to the Mexicans imitated to a great extent their manner of disposing of prisoners of war, and kept them to be sacrificed at their festivals. The first prisoner taken in battle by the Tlascaltecs was flayed alive and he who captured him dressed himself in the horrid trophy, and so covered served the god of battles during a certain number of days. He paraded from one temple to another followed by a crowd that shrieked for joy; but had, however, to run from his pursuers, for if they caught him they beat him till he was nearly dead. This ceremony was called exquinan, and was sometimes observed by two or three at the same time.[473] At one of their festivals they bound their prisoners to high crosses and shot them to death with arrows; at other times they killed them with the bastinado. They had also solemn banquets, at which they ate the flesh of their prisoners. At the taking of Mexico, the Tlascaltec soldiery feasted upon the bodies of the slain Mexicans, and Cortés, although shocked at the revolting practice, was unable to prevent it.[474]

The Mexicans, Tlascaltecs, and neighboring nations 432 always made the return of a successful army the occasion of great festivity and rejoicing; the loud sound of drums and musical instruments greeted the entry of the victorious troops into the capital; triumphal arches were erected in the streets and the houses decorated with flowers; an abundance of copal was burned and sumptuous banquets were prepared; all were dressed in their gayest attire, and the warriors put on all the insignia of their rank; gifts were distributed to those who had performed any deed of gallantry, and minstrels sung or recited poems in their praise. Many went to the temples to observe especial acts of devotion to the gods, and numbers of the prisoners were then sacrificed. All these ceremonies tended to inspire the youths with courage and make them ambitious to gain distinction in war.[475]




General Remarks—the Cihuacoatl, or Supreme Judge—the Court of the Tlacatecatl—Jurisdiction of the Tecuhtlis—the Centectlapixques and Topillis—Law Courts and Judges of Tezcuco—Eighty-Day Council—Tribunal of the King—Court Proceedings—Lawyers—Witnesses—Remuneration of Judges—Justice of King Nezahualpilli—He orders his Son's Execution—Montezuma and the Farmer—Jails—Laws against Theft, Murder, Treason, Kidnapping, Drunkenness, Witchcraft, Adultery, Incest, Sodomy, Fornication, and other Crimes—Story of Nezahualcoyotl and the Boy.

It has already been stated that among the Nahuas the supreme legislative power belonged to the king; the lawful share that he took in the administration of justice we shall see as we examine the system of jurisprudence adopted by them.

When treating of the Nahua judiciary the majority of historians have preferred to discuss almost exclusively the system in vogue at Tezcuco, partly, perhaps, because it presents a nicer gradation of legal tribunals, and consequently a closer resemblance to European institutions than did the more simple routine of the Mexicans, but mainly because the materials of information were more accessible and abundant. Many writers, however, have not followed this rule, but throwing all the information they could obtain into a general fund, they have applied the whole indiscriminately 434 to the 'Mexicans,' by which term they mean all the inhabitants of the regions conquered by Cortés. Las Casas, speaking of the allied kingdoms of Mexico, Tezcuco, and Tlacopan, says that "their government and laws scarcely differed, so that whatever may be said of those parts concerning which the most information can be obtained, may be understood, and perhaps it is best to say it, as applying to all."[476] Although the number and jurisdiction of the law-courts of Mexico and Tezcuco differed, there is reason to believe that the laws themselves and the penalties inflicted were the same, or nearly so.


In Mexico, and in each of the principal cities of the empire, there was a supreme judge, called cihuacoatl,[477] who was considered second only to the king in rank and authority. He heard appeals in criminal cases from the court immediately below him, and from his decision no appeal was allowed, not even to the king.[478] 435 Whether or not the cihuacoatl pronounced judgment in civil cases is uncertain. According to Clavigero he did;[479] Prescott,[480] Brasseur de Bourbourg,[481] and Carbajal Espinosa[482] agree with Clavigero, and Leon Carbajal[483] cites Torquemada as an authority for this statement, but the fact is Torquemada distinctly affirms the contrary,[484] as does Las Casas,[485] from whom Torquemada takes his information. It appears, however, reasonable to suppose that in some exceptional cases, as, for instance, where the title to large possessions was involved, or when the litigants were powerful nobles, the supreme judge may have taken cognizance of civil affairs. Whether the jurisdiction of the cihuacoatl was ever original, as well as final, as Prescott[486] asserts it to have been, I do not find stated by the earlier authorities, although this may have happened exceptionally, but in that case there could have been but one hearing, for the king, who was the only superior of the supreme judge, had no authority to reverse the decisions of the latter. The cihuacoatl was appointed by the king, and he in turn appointed 436 the inferior judges. He held his office for life, and in addition to his regular judicial duties had charge of the most important affairs of government, and of the royal revenues. He was without a colleague, and must administer justice in person. Such was the respect paid to this exalted personage, that whoever had the audacity to usurp his power or insignia suffered death, his property was confiscated and his family enslaved.[487]

The next court was supreme in civil matters and could only be appealed from to the cihuacoatl in cases of a criminal nature. It was presided over by three judges, the chief of whom was styled tlacatecatl, and from him the court took its name; his colleagues were called quauhnochtli and tlanotlac.[488] Each of these had his deputies and assistants. Affairs of importance were laid in the first instance before this tribunal, but appeals from the inferior courts were also heard. Sentence was pronounced by a crier entitled tecpoyotl in the name of the tlacatecatl, and was carried into execution by the quauhnochtli with his own hands. The office of tecpoyotl was considered 437 one of high honor because he declared the will of the king as represented by his judges.


In each ward of the city there was a magistrate called tecuhtli who was annually elected by the inhabitants of his district; he judged minor cases in the first instance only, and probably the office somewhat resembled that of our police judge. Appeal lay from him to the tlacatecatl.[489] It was the duty of the tecuhtlis to give a daily report of affairs that had been submitted to them, and of the judgments they had rendered thereon, to the tlacatecatl, who reviewed their proceedings. Whether the tlacatecatl could reverse the decision of a tecuhtli when no appeal had been made, is uncertain, but it appears improbable, inasmuch as a failure to exercise the right of appeal would imply recognition of justice in the judgment passed by the lower tribunal. In each ward, and elected in the same manner as the tecuhtlis, were officers whose title was centectlapixque, whose province it was to watch over the behavior and welfare of a certain number of families committed to their charge, and to acquaint the magistrates with everything that passed. Although the centectlapixques could not exercise judicial authority, yet it is probable that petty disputes were often submitted to them for arbitration, and that their arbitrament was abided by. In case the parties could not be brought to any friendly settlement, however, the centectlapixque immediately reported the matter to the tecuhtli of his district, and a regular trial ensued.

The tecuhtlis had their bailiffs, who carried their messages and served summonses. In addition to these there were constables styled topilli, who arrested prisoners and enforced order.[490]



In Tezcuco, although the kingdom was divided into many provinces,[491] the higher courts of justice were placed in six of the principal cities only.[492] Each of these tribunals was presided over by two judges, who were very high magnates and usually relatives of the king, and from these an appeal lay to two supreme judges who resided at the capital.[493] These twelve judges were assisted by twelve sheriffs,[494] whose duty it was to arrest prisoners of exalted rank in their own district, or to go in search of offenders in other provinces. The peculiar badge of these officers was a certain ornamented mantle; wherever they went they were held in great awe and respect, as representatives of the king, and seldom encountered resistance in the exercise of their functions. There were also constables in attendance on the courts, who acted with great diligence in carrying messages or making arrests. Every ten or twelve days all the judges met in council with the king,[495] 439 when cases of importance were discussed, and either finally settled, or laid over for decision at a grand council which convened every four Mexican months, making in all eighty days. On these occasions all the judges, without exception, met together, the king presiding in person. All being seated according to their order of precedence, an orator opened the proceedings with a speech, in which he praised virtue and severely reprimanded vice; he reviewed all the events of the past eighty days, and commented very severely even upon the acts of the king himself. In this council all suits were terminated, the sentences being carried out on the spot,[496] and affairs of state and policy were discussed and transacted; it generally sat during eight or ten days.[497] In addition to these judges there were magistrates of a lower order in all the provinces, who took cognizance of cases of minor importance, and who also heard and considered those of greater consequence preparatory to laying them before the Eighty-Day Council.[498] The historian Ixtlilxochitl 440 gives a somewhat different account of the Tezcucan tribunals, which, as it contains the only description given by the ancient writers of the halls in which the judges sat, I translate in full.

In the palace were two principal courtyards, the larger of which served as the market-place. The second courtyard was smaller than the first, and was situated more in the interior of the palace; in the centre of it a fire was kept continually burning. Here were the two most important tribunals in the kingdom. To the right of this courtyard, writes Ixtlilxochitl, was the supreme tribunal, which was called teohicpalpan, meaning, Tribunal of God. Here was a throne of gold, set with turquoises and other precious stones; before the throne stood a stool, upon which were a shield, a macana, and a bow with its quiver of arrows; upon these was placed a skull, surmounted by an emerald of a pyramidal shape, in the apex of which was fixed a plume of feathers and precious stones; at the sides, serving as carpets, were the skins of tigers and lions (tigres y leones), and mats (mantas) made of the feathers of the royal eagle, where a quantity of bracelets and anklets (grevas) of gold were likewise placed in regular order.[499] The walls were tapestried with cloth of all colors, made of rabbits' hair, adorned with figures of divers birds, animals, and flowers.[500] Attached to the throne was 441 a canopy of rich plumage, in the centre of which was a glittering ornament of gold and precious stones.


The other tribunal was called that of the king; it also had a throne, which was lower than that of the Tribunal of God, and a canopy adorned with the royal coat of arms. Here the kings transacted ordinary business and gave public audience; but when they rendered decisions upon grave and important cases, or pronounced sentence of death, they removed to the Tribunal of God, placing the right hand upon the skull, and holding in the left the golden arrow which served as a sceptre, and on these occasions they put on the tiara (tiara) which they used, which resembled a half mitre. There were on the same stool three of these tiaras; one was of precious stones set in gold, another of feathers, and the third woven of cotton and rabbit-hair, of a blue color. This tribunal was composed of fourteen grandees of the kingdom, who sat in three divisions of the hall, according to their rank and seniority. In the first division was the king; in the second division were seated six grandees; the first of these six, on the right hand, was the lord of Teotihuacan, the second the lord of Acolman, the third the lord of Tepetlaoztoc; on the left side sat, first, the lord of Huexotla, second, the lord of Coatlichan, third, he of Chimalhuacan. In the third division of the hall, which was the exterior one, sat eight other lords, according to their rank and seniority; on the right side the first was the lord of Otompan, the second was the lord of Tollantzinco, the third the lord of Quauhchinanco, the fourth the lord of Xicotepec, and on the left side were, first, the lord of Tepechpan, second, the lord of Chiauhtla, third, the lord of Chiuhnauhtla, and fourth, he of Teiotocan. 442

There followed, also, another hall, which adjoined this on the eastern side, and was divided into two parts; in the inner and principal division, were eight judges, who were nobles and gentlemen, and four others who were of the citizen class;[501] these were followed by fifteen provincial judges, natives of all the cities and chief towns of Tezcuco; the latter took cognizance of all suits, civil or criminal, which were embraced in the eighty laws that Nezahualcoyotl established; the duration of the most important of these cases was never more than eighty days. In the other, or exterior, division of the hall, was a tribunal composed of four supreme judges, who were presidents of the councils; and there was a wicket, through which they entered and went out to communicate with the king.[502]


Besides these various tribunals for the general administration of justice, there were others that had jurisdiction in cases of a peculiar nature only. There was a court of divorce, and another which dealt only with military matters; by it military men were tried and punished, and it had also the power to confer rewards and honors upon the deserving; the especial jurisdiction of another tribunal extended over matters pertaining to art and science, while a fourth court had charge of the royal exchequer, of taxes and tributes, and of those employed in collecting them. Of some of these institutions I have already had occasion to speak. The mode of procedure, or daily routine, in the law courts of Mexico and Tezcuco was strict and formal. At sunrise, or as some say, 443 at daybreak, the judges took their places in court, squatting upon mats spread for the purpose, usually upon an elevated platform. Here they administered justice until noon, when they partook of a meal supplied from the royal kitchen. When this was over and they had rested for a short space, business was resumed, and carried on during the greater part of the afternoon. Punctuality on the part of the judges was strictly enforced, and he who absented himself from court without good cause, such as illness, or royal permission, was severely punished. This order was observed every day, except when the presence of the judges was required at the public sacrifices or solemn festivities, at which time the courts of justice remained closed.[503]


Minor cases were conducted verbally, the parties producing their witnesses, who testified under oath for the complaint or the defence. The testimony, under oath, of the principals was also admitted as evidence; and one writer even asserts that the defendant could clear himself by his oath;[504] but it is plain that if such were the case conviction would be very rare. In cases of greater importance, especially in civil suits where the possession of real estate was involved, paintings, in which the property in dispute was represented, were produced as authentic documents, and the whole of the proceedings, such as the object of the claim, the evidence, the names of the parties and their respective witnesses, as well as the decision or sentence, were recorded in court by notaries, or clerks, appointed for that purpose.[505] A 444 witness in an Aztec court of law occupied a serious position. In the first place the judges are by all writers said to have been particularly skillful in cross-examination. They seem to have made it an especial study to harass witnesses with pertinent questions and minute details; in the next place the punishment for perjury was death, and perjury among these people consisted in making a false statement when under oath, without the possibility of being saved by a legal quibble; in addition to this, superstition attached great weight to the oath which every witness was obliged to take, and which consisted in touching the forefinger to the earth and then to the tongue, as if to say, as Las Casas expresses it: By the goddess Earth, who supports and affords me sustenance, I swear to speak truth. This oath was considered to be very sacred and binding, and is said to have been rarely violated. Whether counsel or advocates were employed is a disputed point, some writers asserting distinctly that they were, and others that they were not.[506] Veytia states that the complainant and defendant 445 were sometimes confronted with each other, and compelled to argue the case before the court, no other person being allowed to speak the while. The judges heard and passed sentence by a majority of votes,[507] each giving his decision aloud. If the trial took place in an inferior court, a disagreement sent the matter on appeal to a higher court; if it took place in the first instance before a superior tribunal, it was appealed to the great council of the emperor. The same writer also says that where a serious public offense had been committed, the witnesses were examined, and sentence was immediately passed without giving the accused time to defend himself.[508] We have already seen that the duration of suits was limited to eighty days, and generally they terminated much sooner than this, all possible expedition being always used. The better to avoid bribery and corruption, it was expressly forbidden for a judge to receive presents, no matter how trifling, and he who violated this rule was deposed from office, and otherwise punished with exceeding rigor.

The way in which the judges were paid for their services was peculiar. A certain portion of land was set apart for their exclusive benefit, which was cultivated and harvested by tenants, who doubtless were allowed to retain a part of the produce in return for their labor. These lands were not inherited by the son on the death of the father, but passed to the judge appointed 446 in the place of the latter.[509] Veytia does not mention these lands; he says that the judges had no fixed salary, but were paid according to the king's pleasure, more or less, in proportion to the size of their families, besides which the king made valuable presents when the Eighty-Day Council met, to those who had performed their duty to his satisfaction.[510] The allowance was in all cases made amply sufficient, that there might be no excuse on the ground of poverty for a judge receiving presents or bribes. They held their office for life, and were selected from the higher classes, especially the superior judges, who were generally relatives of the king, or even members of the royal family. None were eligible for the office who were not sober, upright men, brought up in the temples, and who were well acquainted with court life and manners. A judge who became drunk, or received a bribe, was three times severely reprimanded by his fellow-judges; if the offense was repeated, his head was shaved publicly, a great disgrace among the Aztecs, and he was deprived of his office with ignominy. A judge making a false report to the king, or convicted of receiving a large bribe, or of rendering a manifestly unjust decision, was punished with death.[511] All this machinery of the law was dispensed with in Tlascala, where all disputes and difficulties were promptly settled by certain old men appointed for that purpose.[512]


A love of impartial justice seems to have characterized all the Aztec monarchs, and, as we have seen, the laws they enacted to ensure this to their subjects 447 were severe in the extreme. No favoritism was allowed; all, from the highest to the lowest were held amenable to the law. A story, illustrating this, is repeated by nearly all the old writers. In the reign of Nezahualpilli, the son of Nezahualcoyotl, who were accounted the two wisest kings of Tezcuco, a suit sprang up between a rich and powerful noble and a poor man of the people. The judge decided against the poor man, who thereby lost what little he had, and was in danger of having to sell himself as a slave to procure subsistence for his family. But suspicion of foul play having been aroused, the king ordered the matter to be thoroughly investigated, when it transpired that the judge had been guilty of collusion with the rich man; so the king commanded that the unjust judge should be hanged at once, and that the poor man's property should be restored to him.

Neither were the rulers themselves, nor their families, exempt from observance of the law, and instances are not wanting where fathers have, Brutus-like, condemned their children to death, rather than allow the law to be violated, and the offender to go unpunished. Nezahualcoyotl caused four of his own sons to be publicly executed because they had sinned with their step-mothers, the wives of their father.[513] A very touching incident is narrated by Torquemada, showing to what an extent this love of impartial justice was carried by a Tezcucan sovereign.

Nezahualpilli, king of Tezcuco, had married two sisters, whom he dearly loved, and especially did he dote upon the younger, whose name was Xocotzincatzin. By her he had several children, the eldest being a son, named Huexotzincatzin, who was beloved by all who knew him, on account of his amiable disposition and noble qualities, and who was besides a very valiant young man and a great warrior. No wonder that he was the king's pride, and beloved even more 448 than his brothers and sisters, for his own and his mother's sake. So much had Huexotzincatzin distinguished himself, that, although he was but a young man, his father determined to bestow upon him the office and title of tlacatecatl, which was a post of the highest honor and importance.[514] For this purpose the king one day ordered that the prince be sent for and brought into his presence. With a light heart, and much elated, Huexotzincatzin, accompanied by his suite, and the nobles who were his tutors, set out for the royal palace. As he was about to enter, the prince met one of his father's concubines, attended by her ladies. This concubine was a very beautiful and proud woman, yet withal of a free and easy carriage, that encouraged Huexotzincatzin, who perhaps did not know who she was, to address her in a familiar and disrespectful manner. The woman, who, the historian remarks, could not have been possessed of much sense, either because she felt offended at his conduct towards her, or because she dreaded the consequence if the king should discover what had happened, turned from the prince without a word, and entered the palace. The king's concubines, as we have seen in a former chapter, were always accompanied by certain elderly women, whose duty it was to instruct them in discreet behavior and to watch continually over their actions. One of these women, who had been with the concubine at the time of her meeting with Huexotzincatzin, and had overheard the prince's remarks, went straightway to the king, and informed him of all that had happened. The king immediately sent for his concubine, and inquired of her if the prince had spoken lewdly to her publicly and in the presence of the ladies and courtiers, or if he had intended his 449 words to reach her ear alone; for Nezahualpilli would fain have discovered some excuse for his son, the punishment for speaking lewdly in public to the king's concubines being, according to law, death; but the frightened woman replied that Huexotzincatzin had spoken openly to her, before all that were present. Then the king dismissed the concubine, and retired, mourning, into certain apartments which were called the 'rooms of sorrow.'


When these things came to the ears of the friends and tutors of the prince, they were much troubled on his account, because the severity of the king, and his strict adherence to the law were as a proverb among the people, and their apprehensions increased when, upon arriving at the royal apartments, the prince was denied admission, although his attendants were ordered to appear at once before the king. There they were closely questioned by him, and although they would willingly have saved the prince from the consequences of his folly, yet they dared not speak anything but truth, for he who was convicted of wilfully deceiving the king, suffered death. All they could do was to make excuses for the prince, and ask pardon for his crime, and this they did with many prayers and entreaties, advancing, as extenuating circumstances, his youth, his previous good conduct, and his possible ignorance of the fact that the lady was his father's concubine. The king listened patiently to the end, answering nothing, and then he commanded that Huexotzincatzin be forthwith arrested and placed in confinement. Later in that same day he pronounced sentence of death against his son. When it became known that Huexotzincatzin was to die, all the powerful nobles who were at court went in a body to the king and earnestly conjured him not to insist upon carrying out his sentence, telling him that it was barbarous and unnatural, and that future generations would hold in horror and hatred the memory of the man who had condemned his own son to death. Their 450 prayers and arguments seemed, however, to render the old king only the more implacable, and he dismissed them, saying that if the law forbade such things, and if that law was inviolably observed throughout the kingdom, how could he justify his conduct to his subjects, were he to allow the same to be infringed upon in his own palace, and the offender to remain unpunished merely because he was his son; that it should never be said of him that he made laws for his subjects which did not apply to his own family.

When Xocotzincatzin, the prince's mother, heard that he was condemned to death, she gathered the rest of her sons about her, and coming suddenly before her husband, she fell on her knees and besought him with many tears, to spare the life of her darling son, the first pledge of love that she, his favorite wife had given him. Finding all her entreaties fruitless, she then implored him for the sake of the love he had once borne her, to slay her and her other sons with Huexotzincatzin, since life without her first-born was unbearable. But the stern old king still sat to all appearance unmoved and immovable, and coldly directed the attendant ladies to convey the wretched mother to her apartments.

The execution of the prince was delayed in every possible manner by those who had charge of it, in the hope that the king might even yet relent; but Nezahualpilli having been informed of this, immediately ordered that the sentence should be carried out without further delay. So Huexotzincatzin died. As soon as the news of his son's death was carried to the king, he shut himself up in certain apartments called the 'rooms of sorrow,' and there remained forty days, mourning for his first-born and seeing no one. The house of the late prince was then walled up, and none were allowed to enter it, and so all tokens of the unhappy young man were destroyed.[515]



Another anecdote, which is written in execrable Spanish by the native historian, Tezozomoc, may not be out of place here. It is told of the emperor Montezuma of Mexico, and the reader will at once recognize a resemblance between this and many other anecdotes with which he is familiar, where a bold and merited rebuke from a subject to his sovereign is received with respect and even favor.

It happened one summer, that the king, being wearied with the cares of government, went for rest and recreation to his country palace at Tacubaya. One day, when out shooting birds, he came to an orchard, and having told his attendants to remain outside, he entered alone. He succeeded in killing a bird, and as he was returning, bearing his game in his hand, he turned aside into a field where a remarkably fine crop of corn was growing. Having plucked a few ears, he went towards the house of the owner of the field, which stood hard by, for the purpose of showing him the ears that he had plucked, and of praising his crop, but as by law it was death to look upon the king's face, the occupants of the house had fled, and there was no one therein. Now the owner of the field had seen the king pluck the corn from afar off, and, notwithstanding it was against the law, he ventured to approach the monarch in such a way as to make the meeting appear accidental. Making a deep obeisance, he thus addressed the king: "How is it, most high and mighty prince, that thou hast thus stolen my corn? Didst thou not thyself establish a law that he who should steal one ear of corn, or its value, should suffer death?" And Montezuma answered: "Truly I did make such a law." Then said the farmer: "How is it then, that thou breakest thine own law?" And the king replied: "Here is thy corn, take back that which I have stolen from thee." But the owner of the field began to be alarmed at his own boldness, and tried to excuse himself, saying that he had spoken merely in jest, for, said he: "Are not my 452 fields, and myself, and my wife, and my children, all thine, to do with as thou wilt;" and he refused to take back the ears of corn. Then the king took off his mantle of net-work and precious stones, which was called xiuhayatl and was worth a whole city, and offered it to the farmer, who at first was afraid to accept so precious a gift, but Montezuma insisted, so he took the mantle, promising to preserve it with great care as a remembrance of the king. When Montezuma returned to his attendants, the precious mantle was at once missed, and they began to inquire what had become of it; which the king perceiving, he told them that he had been set upon by robbers, when alone, who had robbed him of his mantle, at the same time he ordered them, upon pain of death, to say nothing more about the matter. The next day, having arrived at his royal palace in Mexico, when all his great nobles were about him, he ordered one of his captains to repair to Tacubaya, and inquire for a certain Xochitlacotzin, whom they should at once bring to his presence, but under penalty of death they should not injure or abuse him in any way. When the king's messengers told Xochitlacotzin their errand, he was greatly alarmed, and tried to escape, but they caught him, and telling him to fear nothing, for that the king was kindly disposed towards him, they brought him before Montezuma. The king, having bidden him welcome, asked him what had become of his mantle. At this the nobles who were present became much excited, but Montezuma quieted them, saying: "This poor man has more courage and boldness than any of you who are here, for he dared to speak the truth and tell me that I had broken my laws. Of such men have I greater need, than of those who speak only with honeyed words to me." Then having inquired what principal offices were vacant, he ordered his attendant lords to shelter and take care of Xochitlacotzin, who was henceforth his relative and one of the chief men of the realm. Afterwards he who had so 453 lately been a poor farmer was given a principal house of Olac for his own, and it was long the boast of his descendants that they were relatives of Montezuma.[516]


The Aztecs adopted numerous ways of punishing offenders against the law, as we shall see presently, but I do not think that imprisonment was largely resorted to. They had prisons, it is true, and very cruel ones, according to all accounts, but it appears that they were more for the purpose of confining prisoners previous to their trial, or between their condemnation and execution, than permanently, for punishment. These jails were of two classes, one called teilpiloyan for those imprisoned on a civil charge, another called quauhcalco,[517] for prisoners condemned to death. The cells were made like cages, and the prison was so constructed as to admit very little light or air;[518] the food was scanty and of a bad quality, so that, as Las Casas expresses it, the prisoners soon became thin and yellow, and commenced at the prison to suffer the death that was afterwards adjudged them. Clavigero, however, asserts that those condemned to the sacrificial stone were well fed in order that they might appear in good flesh at the sacrifice.[519] A very close watch was kept upon the captives, so much so, indeed, that if through the negligence of the guard a prisoner of war escaped from the cage, the community of the district, whose duty it was to supply the prisoners with guards, was obliged to pay to the owner of the fugitive, a female slave, a load of cotton garments, and a shield.[520] Mendieta says that these prisons were only used for persons awaiting trial on very grave 454 charges; for, he writes, in the case of one held to answer on an ordinary charge, "it was sufficient for the minister of justice to place the prisoner in a corner with a few light sticks before him; indeed, I believe that to have merely drawn a line and told him not to pass it would have sufficed, even though he might have reason to believe that there was a heavy punishment in store for him, because to flee from justice, and escape, was an impossibility. At all events, I with my own eyes have seen a prisoner standing entirely unguarded save for the before-mentioned sticks."[521]

Like most semi-barbarous nations, the Aztecs were more prone to punish crime than to recompense virtue, and even when merit was rewarded, it was of the coarser and more material kind, such as valor in war or successful statesmanship. The greater part of their code might, like Dracon's, have been written in blood—so severe were the penalties inflicted for crimes that were comparatively slight, and so brutal and bloody were the ways of carrying those punishments into execution. In the strongest sense of the phrase the Aztecs were ruled with a rod of iron; but that such severity was necessary I have no doubt, inasmuch as whatever form of government exists, be it good or bad, that form of government is the necessary one, or it could have no existence. All young states must adopt harsh laws to secure the peace and well-being of the community, while as yet the laws of habit and usage are unestablished; and as that community progresses and improves, it will of itself mold its system of government to fit itself. The code of Dracon was superseded by that of Solon when the improved state of the Athenian community warranted a mitigation of the severity of the former, and in like manner the laws of Montezuma and Nezahualcoyotl would have given place to others less harsh had Aztec civilization been allowed to progress. 455


The laws of the several Aztec kingdoms were essentially the same; some slight differences existed, however, and in these instances the code of Tezcuco proves the most rigid and severe, while more of lenience is exhibited in that of Mexico. I have before remarked that the majority of writers treat of the legislation of Tezcuco, but, as in other matters, many authorities who should be reliable surmount the difficulty of distinguishing that which belongs to one system of jurisprudence from that which belongs to another, by speaking generally of the code that existed in Nueva España, or among 'these people.' Most of the subjected provinces adopted the laws of the state to which they became subject. But this was by no means obligatory, because as conquered nations were not compelled to speak the language of their conquerors, neither were they forced to make use of their laws.[522] Let us now see what these laws were.


Theft was punished in various ways, and, it appears, not at all in proportion to the magnitude of the crime. Thus he who stole a certain number of ears of corn,[523] suffered death, while he who broke into the temples and stole therefrom, was enslaved for the first offence and hanged for the second, and it is distinctly stated[524] that in order to merit either of these punishments the theft must be an extensive 456 one. In cases not specially provided for, it appears that a petty thief became the slave of the person from whom he had stolen; according to Ortega, however, the injured party had the privilege of refusing to accept the thief as a slave, in which case the latter was sold by the judges, and with the proceeds of the sale the complainant was reimbursed. The same writer states that in some cases a compromise could be effected by the offended party agreeing to be indemnified by the thief, in which case the latter paid into the treasury a sum equal to the amount stolen. This statement is somewhat obscure, inasmuch as it would be but poor satisfaction to the party robbed to see the equivalent of that robbery paid into the public treasury; but I understand the writer to mean that the loser had his loss made good, and that for the satisfaction of justice an equal amount was imposed as a fine upon the prisoner.[525] Theft of a large amount was almost invariably punished with death, which was inflicted in various ways. Usually the culprit was dragged ignominiously through the streets and then hanged;[526] sometimes he was stoned to death.[527] He who robbed on the highway was killed by having his head smashed with a club;[528] he who was caught in the act of pilfering in the market-place, no matter how trivial the theft, was beaten to death with sticks on the spot by the assembled multitude, for this was considered a most heinous sin; but notwithstanding the fearful risk incurred, it is asserted that many were so light-fingered that it was only necessary for a market woman to turn her head away, and her stall would be robbed in a trice. There was 457 a regular judicial tribunal established for the settling of disputes in the general government of the market-place, of which I have had occasion to speak before; but this tribunal does not appear to have troubled itself much with persons who were caught in the act of stealing, as it seems to have been tacitly allowed to the people assembled in the market-place to exercise lynch law upon the culprit.[529]

Besides these general laws for the prevention of theft, there were others which prescribed special penalties for those who stole certain particular articles. For instance, Ortega tells us that the thief of silver or gold was skinned alive and sacrificed to Xipe, the tutelary divinity of the workers in precious metals, such a theft being considered a direct insult to the god.[530] In some of these cases fines were imposed. Among a collection of laws given by Las Casas, for the authenticity of which he does not vouch, "because," he says, "they were taken out of a little Indian book of no authority," we find the following relating to theft: If any one stole the plants, called maguey, from which they manufactured more than twenty articles, and which were used for making syrup, he was compelled to pay as a fine as many cotton cloths as the judges might decree, and if he was unable to pay the fine imposed, or if he had stolen more than twenty plants, he was enslaved. Whoever stole a fishing-net or a canoe was punished in the same manner. Whoever stole corn to the amount of twenty ears or upward, died for it, and if he took a less quantity, he paid that which he was sentenced to pay. He that plucked the corn before it had formed seed, 458 suffered death. Whoever stole a tecomatl, "which is a little gourd tied at the top with strips of red hide, and having feather tassels at the end, used by the lords for carrying a green powder, from which they take in smoke through the mouth, the powder being called in the island of Española 'tabacos'—whoever stole one of these died for it." He that stole precious stones, and more especially the stone called chalchiuite, no matter from whence he took it, was stoned to death in the market-place, because no man of the lower orders was allowed to possess this stone.[531]

In Mexico, a distinction seems to have been made between the thief who reaped the benefit of his crime and him who did not; in other words, if the stolen property was recovered intact from the thief he was only enslaved, but if he had already disposed of his plunder he suffered death.[532] Whether the ultimate recovery of the property after it had passed from the thief's hands, would answer the same end, we are not told, but if not, then it would appear that according to Aztec jurisprudence the culprit was punished not so much in proportion to the actual injury he inflicted upon others, as in accordance with the actual extent of the crime he committed. In Michoacan, the first theft was not severely punished, but for the second offence the thief was thrown down a precipice and his carcass left to the birds of prey.[533]

The murderer suffered death even though he should be a noble and his victim but a slave.[534] In Michoacan, 459 we are told by Herrera,[535] that there was no punishment for murder, since, through fear, the crime was never committed. Beaumont allows that for a time there were no murders, but says that afterwards they became frequent, and then the criminal was dragged along the ground until he died.[536] He who administered poison to another, thereby causing death, died for it, and the same punishment was awarded to him who furnished the poison.[537]


Traitors, conspirators, and those who stirred up sedition among the people or created ill feeling between nations, were broken to pieces at the joints, their houses razed to the ground, their property confiscated, and their children and relations made slaves to the fourth generation. The lord of vassals who rebelled, unless taken captive in battle, was killed by having his head smashed with a club; the common rebel was tied to an oaken spit and roasted alive.[538]

In Tezcuco, he who kidnapped a child and sold it into slavery, was hanged; in Mexico, the kidnapper was himself sold as a slave, and of the price he brought one half was given to the stolen child, or its parents, 460 and the other half became the property of the purchaser; if several persons were implicated in the crime, they were all sold as slaves.[539]


Drunkenness was punished with excessive rigor; indeed, intoxicating liquor was not allowed to be drunk, except by express permission from the judges, and this license was only granted to invalids and persons over fifty years of age, who, it was considered, needed strong drink in order to warm their blood; and even they were only permitted to partake of a limited quantity, at each meal,[540] though according to the explanation of Mendoza's collection old men of seventy years were allowed to drink as much as they pleased.[541] Moderate conviviality at weddings and public feasts, was not forbidden, and upon these occasions the young people were allowed to partake of the wine-cup sparingly;[542] the same license was granted to those whose daily occupation necessitated great bodily exertion, such as masons, carpenters, and the like.[543] Women in childbed were allowed to use strong drink as a 461 stimulant, but only during the first days of their confinement. With these exceptions, the law against drinking was strictly enforced. The young man who became drunk was conveyed to the jail, and there beaten to death with clubs; the young woman was stoned to death. In some parts, if the drunkard was a plebeian, he was sold for a slave for the first offence, and suffered death for the second; at other times the offender's hair was cut off in the public market-place, he was then lashed through the principal streets, and finally his house was razed to the ground, because, they said, one who would give up his reason to the influence of strong drink, was unworthy to possess a house, and be numbered among respectable citizens. Cutting off the hair was, as we shall see, a mode of punishment frequently resorted to by these people, and so deep was the degradation supposed to be attached to it, that it was dreaded almost equally with death itself. Should a military man, who had gained distinction in the wars, become drunk, he was deprived of his rank and honors, and considered thenceforth as infamous. Conviction of this crime rendered the culprit ineligible for all future emoluments, and especially was he debarred from holding any public office. A noble was invariably hanged for the first offence, his body being afterwards dragged without the limits of the town and cast into a stream used for that purpose only. But a mightier influence than mere fear of the penal law restrained the Aztec nobility and gentry from drinking to excess; this influence was social law. It was considered degrading for a person of quality to touch wine at all, even in seasons of festivity when, as I have said, it was customary and lawful for the lower classes to indulge to a certain extent. Wine-bibbing was looked upon as a coarse pleasure, peculiar exclusively to the common people, and a member of the higher orders, who was suspected of practicing the habit, would have forfeited his social position, even though the law had suffered him to remain unpunished.[544] 462 These heathens, however, seem to have recognized the natural incongruity existing between precept and practice, fully as much as the most advanced Christian.[545]

He who employed witchcraft, charms, or incantations for the purpose of doing injury to the community or to individuals, was sacrificed to the gods, by having his breast opened and his heart torn out.[546]


Whoever made use of the royal insignia or ensigns, suffered death, and his property was confiscated.[547] The reader will recollect that the same penalty was inflicted upon him who should usurp the insignia or office of the Mexican cihuacoatl, or supreme judge. Whoever maltreated an ambassador, minister, or courier, belonging to the king, suffered death; but ambassadors and couriers were on their part forbidden to leave the high road, under pain of losing their privileges.[548] He who by force took possession of land not belonging to him, suffered death.[549] He who sold the land of another, or that which he held in trust, without judicial authority, or permission from such as had power to grant it to him, was enslaved.[550] If a piece of land was fraudulently sold twice over, the first purchaser held it, and the vendor was punished.[551] He who squandered his patrimony suffered death.[552] The 463 son that raised his hand against his father or mother, suffered death, and his children were prevented from inheriting the property of their grand-parents. In the same manner a father could disinherit a son who was cowardly or cruel.[553] He who removed boundary-marks, died for it.[554] Those who disturbed the peace by engaging in petty fights and squabbles, without using weapons, were confined in jail for a few days, and obliged to make good whatever damage they had done; for, says Las Casas, they generally revenged themselves by breaking something. If any one was wounded in a brawl, he who made the assault had to defray all the expenses of curing the injured party. But those who fought in the market-place, were dealt with far more severely.[555] Slanderers were treated with great severity. In Mexico, he who wilfully calumniated another, thereby seriously injuring his reputation, was condemned to have his lips cut off, and sometimes his ears also. In Tezcuco, the slanderer suffered death. The false witness had the same penalty adjudged to him that would have been awarded to the accused, if convicted. So great a lover of truth was king Nezahualcoyotl, that he is said to have made a law prescribing the death penalty to historians who should record fictitious events.[556] Whoever obtained 464 goods on credit and did not pay for them, was enslaved, and the delinquent taxpayer met with the same punishment.[557]


Concerning the way in which adulterers were treated scarcely two of the ancient writers agree,[558] and it is probable that the law on this point differed more or less in various parts of the Aztec kingdoms; indeed, we have Clavigero's testimony that in some parts of the Mexican empire the crime of adultery was punished with greater severity than in others, and Las Casas and Mendieta both speak of several penalties attaching to the offence in different localities. According to what can be gathered on this point, it appears that adulterers taken in flagrante delicto, or under circumstances which made their guilt a moral certainty, were stoned to death. A species of trial was granted to the culprits, but if, as some writers assert, confession of guilt was extorted by torture,[559] this trial must have been as much a mockery of justice as were the proceedings of most European courts of law at that period. The amount of evidence necessary to convict is uncertain. Veytia says that accusation by the husband was in itself sufficient proof.[560] Las Casas and Torquemada, however, who are both far older authorities, tell us that no man or woman was punished for adultery upon 465 the unsupported testimony of the husband, but that other witnesses, and the confession of the defendants were necessary to procure their conviction.[561] Usually if the condemned adulterers were of the lower orders, they were taken out into a public place and there stoned to death by the assembled multitude, and few of the old writers omit to remark that this manner of death was almost painless, since no sooner was the first stone thrown than the poor wretch was immediately covered with a pile of missiles, so great was the number of his executioners, and so eager was each to take a hand in the killing. Another common mode of execution consisted in placing the head of the condemned upon a stone, and smashing his skull by letting another stone fall upon it.[562] The noble convicted of the same crime was not killed in this public manner, but was strangled in jail; and as a mark of respect to his rank, his head, after death, was adorned with plumes of green feathers, and the body was then burned. Adulterers who were found guilty merely upon circumstantial evidence also suffered death by strangulation. It was strictly forbidden for a husband to take the law into his own hands, and he who should seek to avenge his honor by slaying his wife or her paramour, even though he took them in the act of adultery, suffered death; in the same manner should the criminal endeavor to save himself by killing the injured husband, his fate was to be roasted alive before a slow fire, his body being basted with salt and water that death might not come to his relief too soon.[563] An adulterer could not escape the law on the plea of drunkenness,[564] and, indeed, had such an excuse been 466 held admissible, little would have been gained by exchanging the fate of the adulterer for that of the drunkard. The trespass of a married man with a free unmarried woman was not considered to constitute adultery, nor punished as such, so that the husband was not bound to so much fidelity as was exacted from the wife. I have before remarked that although the crime of adultery was punished in all parts of the Aztec empire, yet the penalty inflicted differed in point of severity and in manner of execution. Thus, in the province of Ixcatlan, if we may believe Clavigero, a woman accused of this crime was summoned before the judges, and if the proofs of her guilt were satisfactory, she was there and then torn to pieces, and her limbs were divided among the witnesses, while in Itztepec the guilty woman's husband cut off her ears and nose, thus branding her as infamous for life.[565] In some parts of the empire the husband who cohabited with his wife after it had been proved that she had violated her fidelity, was severely punished.[566]


Carnal connection with mother, sister, step-mother or step-sister, was punished by hanging; Torquemada says the same penalty was incurred by him who had connection with his mother-in-law, because they considered it a sin for a man to have access to both mother and daughter. Intercourse between brother-in-law and sister-in-law was, however, not criminal, and, indeed, it was customary for a man to raise up seed to his deceased brother by marrying his widow.[567] He who attempted to ravish a maiden, whether in the field, or in her father's house, suffered death.[568] In Michoacan, the ravisher's mouth was split from ear 467 to ear with a flint knife, and he was afterwards impaled.[569] In Mexico, those who committed sodomy were hanged; in Tezcuco, the punishment for unnatural crime was characteristically brutal. The active agent was bound to a stake, completely covered with ashes and so left to die; the entrails of the passive agent were drawn out through his anus, he also was then covered with ashes, and, wood being added, the pile was ignited.[570] In Tlascala, the sodomite was not punished by law, but was scouted by society, and treated with scorn and contempt by all who knew him.[571] From the extreme severity of the laws enacted by the later sovereigns for the suppression of this revolting vice, and from the fact that persons were especially appointed by the judicial authorities to search the provinces for offenders of this class, it is evident that unnatural love had attained a frightful popularity among the Aztecs. Father Pierre de Gand, or, as he is sometimes known, de Mura, bears terrible testimony to this; he writes: "Un certain nombre de prêtres n'avaient point de femmes, sed eorum loco pueros quibus abutebantur. Ce péché était si commun dans ce pays, que, jeunes ou vieux, tous en étaient infectés; ils y étaient si adonnés, que mêmes des enfants de six ans s'y livraient."[572]

Las Casas relates that in several of the more remote provinces of Mexico unnatural vice was tolerated, if not actually permitted,[573] and it is not improbable that 468 in earlier times this was the case in the entire empire. Inexpressibly revolting as the sin must appear to a modern mind, yet we know that pederasty has obtained among peoples possessed of a more advanced civilization than the Aztecs. In ancient Greece this unnatural passion prevailed to such an extent that it was regarded as heroic to resist it. Plutarch, in his Life of Agesilaus, cannot praise too highly the self-control manifested by that great man in refraining from gratifying a passion he had conceived for a boy named Megabates, which Maximus Tyrius says deserves greater praise than the heroism of Leonidas; Diogenes Laertius, in his Life of Zeno, the founder of stoicism, the most austere of all ancient sects, praises that philosopher for being but little addicted to this vice; Sophocles, the Tragic Homer, and the Attic Bee, is said by Athenæus to have been especially addicted to it. Moralists were known to praise it as the bond of friendship, and it was spoken of as inspiring the enthusiasm of the heroic legion of Epaminondas. The defeat of the Romans by Hannibal at Cannæ was said to be caused by the jealousy of Juno, because a beautiful boy had been introduced into the temple of Jupiter. Las Casas tells us that pederasty was tolerated because they believed that their gods practiced it.[574] In precisely the same manner 469 did the ancient Greeks make the popular religion bend to the new vice, and, by substituting Ganymede for Hebe as heavenly cup-bearer, make the head of all Olympus set an example of unnatural love.


The priest who violated his vow of chastity was banished; his house was demolished and his property confiscated.[575] Pimps were publicly disgraced in the market-place, by having their hair burnt off so close to the head that the drops of resin falling from the burning pitch-pine chips fell upon and seared the scalp; if the persons for whom the panderage was committed were of high rank, a greater penalty was inflicted upon the pander.[576] This was the law in Mexico; in Tezcuco, according to the historian of the Chichimecs, the pimp suffered death in all cases.[577]

Simple fornication was not punished, unless it was committed by a noble lady, or with a maiden consecrated to the service of the gods, in which cases it was death. Fornication with the concubine of another also went unpunished, unless they had been living a long time together, and were in consequence, according to custom, considered man and wife. If any one had connection with a slave, and the woman died during her pregnancy, or in giving birth to the child, then the offender became a slave; but if she was safely delivered, the child was free and was taken care of by the father.[578] The woman who took any drug to procure an abortion, and she who furnished 470 the drug, both suffered death.[579] If one woman sinned carnally with another, both died for it.[580] The man who went about the streets dressed as a woman, or the woman who dressed as a man, was slain.[581]

In this account are comprised nearly all the special laws of the Aztecs which have been preserved, with the exception of those relating to military matters, marriage, divorce, and slavery, all of which I have already had occasion to consider.

That the Aztec code was a severe and brutal one there can be no denial, but that it was more severe and brutal than was necessary, is, as I have before remarked, doubtful. We have already seen that a horrible death was the inevitable fate of those detected stealing in the market-place, yet we are told that did the owner of a stall but turn away his head for a moment, his wares would be pilfered. A people accustomed almost daily to see human blood poured out like water in sacrifice to their gods, must of necessity have been hardened to the sight of suffering, and upon such none but an execution of the most revolting description could create an impression of awe or fear. It appears remarkable that punishments involving only disgrace should have been adopted by such a people, yet it is doubtful whether slavery was not considered a lighter punishment than having the hair burned off in the public market. Some of the Aztec monarchs evinced a desire to be as lenient as the stubborn nature of their subjects would allow, but the yoke upon the people, if it were in any degree to control them, must at best be a heavy one; in short, despotism of the harshest was necessary and indispensable to them in their stage of civilization. 471


Nezahualcoyotl, king of Tezcuco, was especially merciful and considerate towards his subjects. For instance, he ordered that corn should be planted, at the expense of government, by the roadside, in order that none who were guilty of stealing from the fields, might excuse themselves on the ground of hunger.[582] It is related that this monarch went frequently among his people in disguise, for the purpose of discovering their grievances and general condition, and some of the adventures he met with on these occasions are as entertaining as any told by Sheherezade of the Good Caliph. I select one, not because it is the best, but because it points more particularly to Nezahualcoyotl's benevolence and love of justice. During the reign of this monarch, owing to the immense consumption of wood, the use of oil and tallow being then unknown, the forests began to grow thin, and the king foreseeing that unless some precautions were taken, there would soon be a scarcity of wood in the kingdom, ordered that within certain limits no wood should be touched. Now it happened one day, when the king was abroad in disguise, and accompanied only by his brother Quauhtlehuanitzin, that they passed by the skirts of a forest wherein it was prohibited to cut or gather wood. Here they found a boy who was engaged in picking up the light chips and twigs that had been carried by the wind outside of the enclosure, because in this locality the inhabitants were very numerous, and had exhausted all the timber that was not reserved by law. Nezahualcoyotl, seeing that under the trees of the forest there lay a great quantity of fallen wood, asked the boy why he contented himself with dry leaves and scattered twigs when so great an abundance of fuel lay close at hand. The boy answered that the king had forbidden the people to gather wood in the forest, and 472 therefore he was obliged to take whatever he could get. The king told him to go, nevertheless, into the forest and help himself to fuel, and none would be the wiser, for that he and his companion would say nothing of the matter. But the boy rebuked them, saying that they must be traitors to the king who would persuade him to do this thing, or that they sought to avenge themselves upon his parents by bringing misfortune upon their son, and he refused to enter the forbidden ground. Then was the king much pleased with the boy's loyalty, and seeing the distress to which the people were reduced by the severity of the forest laws, he afterwards had them altered.[583]




Metals Used and Manner of Obtaining Them—Working of Gold and Silver—Wonderful Skill in Imitating—Gilding and Plating—Working in Stone—Lapidary Work—Wood Carving—Manufacture of Pottery—Various Kinds of Cloth—Manufacture of Paper and Leather—Preparation of Dyes and Paints—The Art of Painting—Feather Mosaic Work—Leaf-Mats—Manner of Kindling Fire—Torches—Soap—Council of Arts in Tezcuco—Oratory and Poetry—Nezahualcoyotl's Odes on the Mutability of Life and the Tyrant Tezozomoc—Aztec Arithmetical System.

Gold, silver, copper, tin, and lead were the metals known to and used by the Nahuas. The latter, however, is merely mentioned, and nothing is known about where it was obtained or for what purposes it was employed. We have only very slight information respecting the processes by which any of the metals were obtained. Gold came to the cities of Anáhuac chiefly from the southern Nahua provinces, through the agency of traders and tax-gatherers; silver and tin were taken from the mines of Taxco and Tzompanco; copper was obtained from the mountains of Zacatollan, the province of the Cohuixcas, and from Michoacan. Nuggets of gold and masses of native copper were found on the surface of the ground in certain regions; gold was chiefly obtained, however, from the sand in the bed of rivers by divers. It was kept, in 474 the form of dust, in small tubes or quills, or was melted in small pots, by the aid of hollow bamboo blow-pipes used instead of bellows, and cast in small bars. Prescott tells us that these metals were also mined from veins in the solid rock, extensive galleries being opened for the purpose. Quicksilver, sulphur, alum, ochre, and other minerals were collected to a certain extent and employed by the natives in the preparation of colors and for other purposes.[584] The use of iron, though that metal was abundant in the country, was unknown. Such metals as they had they were most skillful in working, chiefly by melting and casting, and by carving, but also to some extent by the use of the hammer. We have no details of the means employed to melt the harder metals, besides the rude blow-pipe and furnace mentioned in connection with gold.

For cutting implements copper was the only metal used, but it was hardened with an alloy of tin until it sufficed to cut the hardest substances nearly as well as steel.[585] The pure and softer metal was used to make kettles and other vessels. Copper tools were, however, rare compared with those of stone, and seem to have been used chiefly in working wood where a sharp and enduring edge was required. Such tools usually took the form of axes and chisels. 475 Sticks for working the ground, the nearest Nahua approach to the plow, were also often tipped with copper, as we have seen. Metal was not much used in making weapons, not being found in swords or arrow-heads, but employed with obsidian in spearheads and on the maza, or club. Both copper and tin dishes and plates are mentioned but were not in common use. In the manufacture of implements of copper and tin these metals were wrought by means of stone hammers and not cast.[586]


No branch of Nahua art was carried to a higher degree of perfection than the ornamental working of gold and silver. The conquerors were struck with admiration on beholding the work of the native goldsmiths; they even in some cases frankly acknowledge that they admired the work more than the material, and saved the most beautiful specimens from the melting furnace, the greatest compliment these gold-greedy adventurers could pay to native art. Many of the finer articles were sent as presents and curiosities to European princes, who added their testimony to that of the conquerors, pronouncing the jewelry in many instances superior to the work of old-world artists. Azcapuzalco was the headquarters of the workers in gold and silver.[587] The imitation of natural objects, 476 particularly animals, birds, and fishes, was a favorite field for the display of this branch of Nahua talent. The conqueror Cortés tells us that Montezuma had in his collection a counterfeit in gold, silver, stones, or feathers, of every object under heaven in his dominions, so skillfully made, so far as the work in metal was concerned, that no smith in the world could excel them. This statement is repeated by every writer on the subject. Dr Hernandez, the naturalist, in preparing a treatise on Mexican zoology for Philip II., is said to have supplied his want of real specimens of certain rare species by a resort to these imitations.[588] The native artists are said to have fashioned animals and birds with movable heads, legs, wings, and tongues, an ape with a spindle in its hands in the act of spinning and in certain comic attitudes; and what particularly interested and surprised the Spaniards was the art—spoken of by them as a lost art—of casting the parts of an object of different metals each distinct from the rest but all forming a complete whole, and this, as the authorities say, without soldering. Thus a fish was molded with alternate scales of gold and silver, plates were cast in sections of the same metal, and loose handles were attached to different vessels.[589]



After the Spaniards came, the native artisans had a new and wide field for the display of their skill, in imitating the numerous products of European art. A slight examination, often obtained by stealthily looking into the shop windows, enabled them to reproduce and not unfrequently to improve upon the finest articles of jewelry and plate.[590]

Clavigero says that vessels of copper or other inferior metal were gilded, by employing an unknown process in which certain herbs were used, and which would have made the fortune of a goldsmith in Spain and Italy. Oviedo also tells us that various ornamental articles were covered with thin gold plate.[591] To enumerate the articles manufactured by the Nahua gold and silver smiths, and included in the long lists of presents made by Montezuma and other chieftains to their conquerors is impracticable; they included finely modeled goblets, pitchers, and other vessels for the tables of the kings and nobility; frames for stone mirrors and rich settings for various precious stones; personal ornaments for the wealthy, and especially for warriors, including rings, bracelets, eardrops, beads, helmets and various other portions of armor; small figures in human form worn as charms or venerated as idols; and finally the most gorgeous and complicated decorations for the larger idols, and their temples and altars.[592]


Little is known of the methods or implements by which the workers in gold accomplished such marvelous results. The authors tell us that they excelled particularly in working the precious metals by means of fire; and the furnaces already mentioned are pictured in several of the Aztec picture-writings as simple vessels, perhaps of earthen ware, various in form, heaped with lumps of metal, and possibly with wood and coal, from which the tongues of flame protrude, as the workman sits by his furnace with his bamboo blow-pipe. How they cast or molded the molten gold into numerous graceful and ornamental forms is absolutely unknown. The process by which these patient workers carved or engraved ornamental figures on gold and silver vessels by means of their implements of stone and hardened copper, although not explained, may in a general way be easily imagined. They worked also to some extent with the hammer, but as gold-beaters they were regarded as inferior workmen, using only stone implements. The art of working in the precious metals was derived traditionally from the Toltecs, and the gold and silversmiths formed in Mexico a kind of corporation under the divine guidance of the god Xipe.[593]



Stone was the material of most Nahua implements. For this purpose all the harder kinds found in the country were worked, flint, porphyry, basalt, but especially obsidian, the native iztli. Of this hard material, extensively quarried some distance north of Mexico, nearly all the sharp-edged tools were made. These tools, such as knives, razors, lancets, spear and arrow heads, were simply flakes from an obsidian block. The knives were double-edged and the best of them slightly curved at the point. The maker held a round block of iztli between his bare feet, pressed with his chest and hands on a long wooden instrument, one end of which was applied near the edge of the block, and thus split off knife after knife with great rapidity, which required only to be fitted to a wooden handle to be ready for use. The edge thus produced was at first as sharp as one of steel, but became blunted by slight use, when the instrument must be thrown away. Thus Las Casas tells us that ten or fifteen obsidian razors were required to shave one man's beard. Stone knives seem rarely if ever to have been sharpened by grinding.[594] Of obsidian were made the knives used in the sacrifice of human victims, and the lancets used in bleeding for medicinal purposes and in drawing blood in the service of the gods. For bleeding, similar 480 knives are said to be still used in Mexico.[595] The use of stone in the manufacture of weapons has been mentioned in another chapter. Masks and even rings and cups were sometimes worked from obsidian and other kinds of stone. Axes were of flint, jade, or basalt, and were bound with cords to a handle of hard wood, the end of which was split to receive it.[596] Torquemada says that agricultural implements were made of stone.[597] Mirrors were of obsidian, or of margajita,—spoken of by some as a metal, by others as a stone,—often double-faced, and richly set in gold.[598]

The quarrying of stone for building and sculpture was done by means of wooden and stone implements, by methods unknown but adequate to the working of the hardest material. Stone implements alone seem to have been used for the sculpture of idols, statues, and architectural decorations. A better idea of the excellence of the Nahuas in the art of stone-carving may be formed from the consideration of antiquarian relics in another volume than from the remarks of the early chroniclers. Most of the sculptured designs were executed in soft material, in working which flint instruments would be almost as effective as those of steel; but some of the preserved specimens are carved in the hardest stone, and must have taxed the sculptor's patience to the utmost even with hard copper chisels. The idols and hieroglyphics on which the native art was chiefly exercised, present purposely distorted 481 figures and are a poor test of the artists' skill; according to traditional history portrait-statues of the kings were made, and although none of these are known to have survived, yet a few specimens in the various collections indicate that the human face and form in true proportions were not beyond the scope of American art; and the native sculptors were, moreover, extremely successful in the modeling of animals in stone.[599]


The Nahuas were no less skillful in working precious stones than gold and silver. Their Toltec ancestors possessed the same skill and used to search for the stones at sunrise, being directed to the hidden treasure by the vapor which rose from the place that concealed it. All the stones found in the country were used for ornamental purposes, but emeralds, amethysts, and turquoises were most abundant. The jewels were cut with copper tools with the aid of a silicious sand. Single stones were carved in various forms, often those of animals, and set in gold, or sometimes formed into small cups or boxes. Pearls, mother of pearl, and bright-colored shells were used with the precious stones in the formation of necklaces, bracelets, ear-rings, and other decorations for the nobles or for the idols. Various articles of dress or armor were completely studded with gems tastefully 482 arranged, and a kind of mosaic, with which wooden masks for the idols were often covered, attracted much attention among the Spaniards. Mirrors of rock crystal, obsidian, and other stones, brightly polished and encased in rich frames, were said to reflect the human face as clearly as the best of European manufacture.[600]

Trees were felled with copper hatchets, hewn with the same instruments into beams, and dragged by slaves over rollers to the place where they were needed for building. Some of the chief idols, as for instance that of Huitzilopochtli, according to Acosta, were of wood, but wood-carving was not apparently carried to a high degree of perfection. Some boxes, furnished with lids and hinges, also tables and chairs, were made of wood, which was the chief material of weapons and agricultural implements. The authorities devote but few words to the workers in wood, who, however, after the conquest seem to have become quite skillful under Spanish instruction, and with the aid of European tools. Fire-wood was sold 483 in the markets; and Las Casas also tells us that charcoal was burned.[601]


At Cholula the best pottery was made, but throughout the whole country nearly all the dishes used were of clay. Pots, kettles, vases, plates for domestic use, as well as censers and other utensils for the temple service, also idols, beads, and various ornaments were modeled from this material. The early Spaniards were enthusiastic in praising the native potters' skill, but beyond the statement that vessels of earthen ware were glazed and often tastefully decorated, they give no definite information respecting this branch of manufactures. Many small earthen trumpets, or flageolets, capable of producing various sounds, and of imitating the cries of different birds, have been found in different parts of the Mexican Republic. Fortunately relics of pottery in every form are of frequent occurrence in the museums, and from the description of such relics in another volume the excellence of Aztec pottery may be estimated. Besides the earthen dishes, and vessels of metal and carved wood, some baskets were made, and drinking-cups or bowls of different sizes and shapes were 484 formed from the hollow shells of gourds. These were known as xicalli, later jicaras, and tecomatl.[602] Seashells were also used as dishes to some extent.[603]

The finer kinds of cloth were made of cotton, of rabbit-hair, of the two mixed, or of cotton mixed with feathers. The rabbit-hair fabrics were pronounced equal in finish and texture to silk, and cotton cloths were also fine and white. Fabrics of this better class were used for articles of dress by the rich, nobles, and priests; they were both woven and dyed in variegated colors. The cloths in the manufacture of which feathers were employed often served for carpets, tapestry, and bed-coverings. Maguey-fibre, and that of the palm-leaves icxotl and izhuatl were woven into coarse cloths, the maguey-cloth being known as nequen. This nequen and the coarser kinds of cotton were the materials with which the poorer classes clothed themselves. The palm and maguey fibres were prepared for use in the same manner as flax in other countries, being soaked in water, pounded, and dried. The same material served also for cords, ropes, and mats. A coarser kind of matting was, however, made of different varieties of reeds. All the work of spinning and weaving was performed by the women, 485 forming indeed their chief employment. The spindle used in spinning, shown in many of the Aztec manuscripts, was like a top, which was set whirling in a shallow dish, the fibre being applied to its pointed upper extremity until the impetus was exhausted. All we know of the native process of weaving is derived from the native paintings, a sample of which from the Mendoza Collection, showing a woman engaged in weaving, may be seen in chapter xvii. of this volume.[604]


Paper, in Aztec amatl, used chiefly as a material on which to paint the hieroglyphic records to be described in a future chapter, was made for the most part of maguey-fibre, although the other fibres used in the manufacture of cloth were occasionally mixed with those of this plant. The material must have been pressed together when wet, and the product was generally very thick, more like a soft paste-board than our paper. The surface was smooth and well adapted to the painting which it was to bear. Certain gums are said to have been used for the more perfect coherence of the fibre, and the amatl was made in long narrow sheets suitable for rolling or folding. Humboldt describes certain bags of oval form, the work of a species of caterpillars, on the trees in Michoacan. They are white and may be separated into thin layers, which, as the author states, were used by the ancient 486 inhabitants in the manufacture of a superior kind of paper.[605]

The skins of animals killed by the Nahua hunters were tanned both with and without the hair, by a process of which the authorities say nothing, although universally praising its results. The leather was used in some cases as a sort of parchment for hieroglyphic writings, but oftener for articles of dress, ornament, or armor.[606]


In the preparation of dyes and paints, both mineral, animal, and vegetable colors were employed, the latter extracted from woods, barks, leaves, flowers, and fruits. In the art of dyeing they probably excelled the Europeans, and many of their dyes have since the conquest been introduced throughout the world. Chief among these was the cochineal, nochiztli, an insect fed by the Nahuas on the leaves of the nopal, from which they obtained beautiful and permanent red and purple colors for their cotton fabrics. The flower of the matlalxihuitl supplied blue shades; indigo was the sediment of water in which branches of the xiuhquilipitzahuac had been soaked; seeds of the achiotl boiled in water yielded a red, the French 487 roucou; ochre, or tecozahuitl, furnished yellow, as did also the plant xochipalli, the latter being changed to orange by the use of nitre; other shades were produced by the use of alum; the stones chimaltizatl and tizatlalli being calcined, produced something like Spanish white; black was obtained from a stinking mineral, tlaliac, or from the soot of a pine called ocotl. In mixing paints they used chian-oil, or sometimes the glutinous juice of the tzauhtli. The numerous dye-woods of the tierra caliente, now the chief exports from that region, were all employed by the native dyers. It is probable that many of the secrets of this branch of Nahua art were never learned by the Spaniards.[607]

The Nahua paintings showed no great artistic merit, being chiefly noticeable for the excellence of the colors. Very few specimens have been preserved for modern examination, except the hieroglyphic paintings in which most of the figures are hideously and, as it is supposed, purposely distorted, and consequently no criterion of the artist's skill. It is not known that the Nahuas ever attempted to paint natural scenery, except that they prepared maps of sections of their territory on which they rudely represented the mountains, rivers, and forests, indicating the lands of different owners or lords by the use of different colors. They sometimes made portraits of the kings and nobles, but the Spanish chroniclers admit that they exhibited much less skill in picturing the human form and face than in drawing animals, birds, trees, and flowers. Some modern critics of lively imagination have, however, detected indications of great artistic genius in the awkward figures of the 488 picture-writings. Native painters, when Cortés arrived on the coast, painted his ships, men, horses, cannon, in fact everything new and strange in the white men's equipment, and hurried with the canvas to Montezuma at the capital. Very little is known of ornamental painting on the walls of private dwellings, but that on the temples naturally partook to a great extent of a hieroglyphic character. The durability of the paintings on cloth and paper, especially when rubbed occasionally with oil, was remarked by many observers, as was also the skill displayed by the natives later under Spanish instruction.[608]


The mixture of feathers with cotton and other fibres in the manufacture of clothing, tapestry, carpets, and bed-coverings has already been mentioned. For such fabrics plain colors from ducks and other aquatic birds were generally employed, brighter hues being occasionally introduced for ornamental purposes. Feathers also played an important part in the decoration of warriors' armor, the tail-feathers of the bright-hued quetzal being the favorites. These were formed into brilliant plumes, often tipped with gold and set in precious stones. Beautiful fans were made of the same material. But the art which of all those practiced by the Nahuas most delighted and astonished the Europeans, was the use of feathers in the making of what has been called feather-mosaic. The myriads 489 of tropical birds in which the forests of the tierra caliente abounded, chief among which were the quetzal, many varieties of the parrot kind, and the huitzilin, or humming-bird, supplied feathers, fine and coarse, of every desired color and shade. It was for this use chiefly that the royal and other collections of birds, already described, were so carefully kept. These captive birds were plucked each year at the proper season, and their plumage sorted according to color and quality. Some shades only to be obtained from the rarest birds, were for ordinary feather-work artificially produced by dyeing the white plumage of more common birds.

To prepare for work the amanteca, or artist, arranged his colors in small earthen dishes within easy reach of his hand, stretched a piece of cloth on a board before him, and provided himself with a pot of glue—called by Clavigero tzauhtli,—and a pair of very delicate pincers. The design he wished to execute was first sketched roughly on the cloth, and then with the aid of the pincers feather after feather was taken from its dish and glued to the canvas. The Spanish writers marvel at the care with which this work was done; sometimes, they say, a whole day was consumed in properly choosing and adjusting one delicate feather, the artist patiently experimenting until the hue and position of the feather, viewed from different points and under different lights, became satisfactory to his eye. When a large piece was to be done, many workmen assembled, a part of the work was given to each, and so skillfully was the task performed that the parts rarely failed at the end to blend into an harmonious whole; but if the effect of any part was unsatisfactory it must be commenced anew. By this method a great variety of graceful patterns were wrought, either fanciful, or taken from natural objects, flowers, animals, and even the human face, which latter the native artists are said to have successfully portrayed. Las Casas tells us they made these feather-fabrics so 490 skillfully that they appeared of different colors according to the direction from which they were viewed. The Spaniards declare that the feather-pictures were fully equal to the best works of European painters, and are at a loss for words to express their admiration of this wonderful Nahua invention; specimens of great beauty have also been preserved and are to be seen in the museums. Besides mantles and other garments, tapestry, bed-coverings, and other ornamental fabrics for the use of the noble and wealthy classes, to which this art was applied, the feather-mosaic was a favorite covering for the shields and armor of noted warriors. By the same process masks were made representing in a manner true to nature the faces of fierce animals; and even the whole bodies of such animals were sometimes counterfeited, as Zuazo says, so faithfully as to deceive the ignorant observer. The Tarascos of Michoacan were reputed to be the most skillful in feather-work.[609]

The feather-workers were called amantecas from Amantla, the name of the ward of Mexico in which 491 they chiefly lived. This ward adjoined that of Pochtlan, where lived the chief merchants called pochtecas, and the shrine of the amantecas' god Ciotliahuatl, was also joined to that of the merchants' god Iyacatecutli. The feather-workers and merchants were closely united, there was great similarity in all their idolatrous rites, and they often sat together at the same banquet.[610]

Another art, similar in its nature to that of the feather-mosaics, was that of pasting leaves and flowers upon mats so as to form attractive designs for temporary use on the occasion of special festivals. The natives made great use of these flower-pictures after the conquest in the decoration of the churches for Catholic holidays.[611]

The Nahuas kindled a fire like their more savage brethren by friction between two pieces of wood, achiotl being the kind of wood preferred for this purpose. Boturini, followed by later writers, states that the use of the flint was also known. Once kindled, the flames were fanned by the use of a blow-pipe. For lights, torches of resinous wood were employed, especially the ocotl, which emitted a pleasing odor. The use of wicks with oil or wax was apparently unknown until after the coming of Europeans. Substitutes for soap were found in the fruit of the copalxocotl and root of the amolli.


All the branches of art among the Nahuas were placed under the control of a council or academy which was instituted to favor the development of poetry, oratory, history, painting, and also to some extent of sculpture and work in gold, precious stones, and feathers. Tezcuco was the centre of all high art and refinement during the palmy days of the Chichimec empire, and retained its preëminence to a great extent down to the coming of the Spaniards; consequently 492 its school of arts is better known than others that probably existed in other cities. It was called the Council of Music, although taking cognizance of other arts and sciences, chiefly by controlling the education of the young, since no teacher of arts could exercise his profession without a certificate of his qualifications from the council. Before the same body all pupils must be brought for examination. The greatest care was taken that no defective work of lapidary, goldsmith, or worker in feathers should be exposed for sale in the markets, and that no imperfectly instructed artists should be allowed to vitiate the public taste. But it was above all with literary arts, poetry, oratory, and historical paintings, that this tribunal, composed of the best talent and culture of the kingdom, had to do, and every literary work was subject to its revision. The members, nominated by the emperor of Tezcuco, held daily meetings, and seats of honor were reserved for the kings of the three allied kingdoms, although a presiding officer was elected from the nobility with reference to his literary acquirements. At certain sessions of the council, poems and historical essays were read by their authors, and new inventions were exhibited for inspection, rich prizes being awarded for excellence in any branch of learning.[612]


Speech-making is a prominent feature in the life of most aboriginal tribes, and in their fondness for oratory the Nahuas were no exceptions to the rule. Many and long addresses accompanied the installation of kings and all public officers; all diplomatic correspondence between different nations was carried on by orators; prayers to the gods were in aboriginal as in modern times elaborate elocutionary efforts; the departing and returning traveler was dismissed and welcomed with a speech; condolence for misfortune and congratulation for success were expressed in public 493 and private by the friends most skillful in the art of speaking; social intercourse in feasts and banquets was but a succession of speeches; and parents even employed long discourses to impart to their children instruction and advice. Consequently children were instructed at an early age in the art of public speaking; some were even specially educated as orators. They were obliged to commit to memory, and taught to repeat as declamations, the speeches of their most famous ancestors, handed down from father to son for many generations. Specimens of the orations delivered by Nahua speakers on different occasions are so numerous in this and the following volume, that the reader may judge for himself respecting their merit. It is impossible, however, to decide how far these compositions have been modified in passing through Spanish hands, although it is probable, according to the judgment of the best critics, that they retain much of the original spirit of their reputed authors.[613]

Poets, if somewhat less numerous, were no less honored than orators. Their compositions were also recited, or sung, before the Council of Music in Tezcuco, and the most talented bards were honored with prizes. The heroic deeds of warlike ancestors, national annals and traditions, praise of the gods, moral lessons drawn from actual events, allegorical productions with illustrations drawn from the beauties of nature, and even love and the charms of woman were the common themes. The emperor Nezahualcoyotl, the protector and promoter of all the arts and sciences, was himself a poet of great renown. Several 494 of his compositions, or fragments of such, have been preserved; that is, the poems were written from memory in Aztec with Roman letters after the conquest, and translated into Spanish by Ixtlilxochitl, a lineal descendant of the royal poet. They have also been translated into other languages by various authors. The following will serve as specimens.[614]



Now will I sing for a moment,

Since time and occasion offer,

And I trust to be heard with favor

If my effort proveth deserving;

Wherefore thus I begin my singing,

Or rather my lamentation.

O thou, my friend, and beloved,

Enjoy the sweet flowers I bring thee;

Let us be joyful together

And banish each care and each sorrow;

For although life's pleasures are fleeting,

Life's bitterness also must leave us.

I will strike, to help me in singing,

The instrument deep and sonorous;

Dance thou, while enjoying these flowers,

Before the great Lord who is mighty;

Let us grasp the sweet things of the present,

For the life of a man is soon over.

Fair Acolhuacán thou hast chosen

As thy dwelling-place and thy palace;

Thou hast set up thy royal throne there,

With thine own hand hast thou enriched it;

Wherefore it seems to be certain

That thy kingdom shall prosper and flourish.


And thou, O wise Prince Oyoyotzin,

Mighty monarch, and King without equal,

Rejoice in the beauty of spring-time,

Be happy while spring abides with thee,

For the day creepeth nearer and nearer

When thou shalt seek joy and not find it.

A day when dark Fate, the destroyer,

Shall tear from thine hand the proud sceptre,

When the moon of thy glory shall lessen,

Thy pride and thy strength be diminished,

The spoil from thy servants be taken,

Thy kingdom and honor go from thee.

Ah, then in this day of great sorrow

The lords of thy line will be mournful,

The princes of might will be downcast,

The pride of high birth will avail not;

When thou, their great Head, hast been smitten

The pains of grim Want will assail them.

Then with bitterness will they remember

The glory and fame of thy greatness,

Thy triumphs so worthy of envy,

Until, while comparing the present

With years that are gone now forever,

Their tears shall be more than the ocean.

The vassals that cluster about thee

And are as a crown to thy kingdom,

When thine arm doth no longer uphold them,

Will suffer the fate of the exile;

In strange lands their pride will be humbled,

Their rank and their name be forgotten.

The fame of the race that is mighty,

And worthy a thousand fair kingdoms,

Will not in the future be heeded;

The nations will only remember

The justice with which they were governed

In the years when the kingdom was threefold.

In Mexico, proudest of cities,

Reigned the mighty and brave Montezuma,

Nezahualcoyotl, the just one

Of blest Culhuacán was the monarch,

To strong Totoquíl fell the portion

Of Acatlapán, the third kingdom.

But yet thou shalt not be forgotten,

Nor the good thou hast ever accomplished;

For, is not the throne that thou fillest

The gift of the god without equal,

The mighty Creator of all things,

The maker of Kings and of Princes!


Nezahualcoyotl, be happy

With the pleasant things that thou knowest,

Rejoice in the beautiful garden,

Wreathe thy front with a garland of flowers,

Give heed to my song and my music,

For I care but to pleasure thy fancy.

The sweet things of life are but shadows;

The triumphs, the honors, what are they

But dreams that are idle and last not

Though clothed in a semblance of being?

And so great is the truth that I utter,

I pray thee to answer this question.

Cihuapán, the valiant, where is he,

And Quauhtzintecomtzin, the mighty,

The great Cohuahuatzin, where are they?

They are dead, and have left us no token,

Save their names, and the fame of their valor;

They are gone from this world to another.

I would that those living in friendship,

Whom the thread of strong love doth encircle,

Could see the sharp sword of the Death-god.

For, verily, pleasure is fleeting,

All sweetness must change in the future,

The good things of life are inconstant.


Give ear unto the lamentation which I, Nezahualcoyotl the King, make within myself for the fate of the Empire, and set forth for an example unto others.

O King, unstable and restless, when thou art dead then shall thy people be overthrown and confounded; thy place shall be no more; the Creator, the All-powerful shall reign.

Who could have thought, having seen the palaces and the court, the glory and the power of the old King Tezozomoc, that these things could have an end? Yet have they withered and perished. Verily, life giveth naught but disappointment and vexation; all that is, weareth out and passeth away.

Who will not be sorrowful at the remembrance of the ancient splendor of this tyrant, this withered old man; who, like a thirsty willow, nourished by the moisture of his ambition and avarice, lorded it over the lowly meadows and flowery fields while spring-time lasted, but at length, dried up and decayed, the storms of winter tore him up by the roots and scattered him in pieces upon the ground.

But now, with this mournful song, I bring to mind the things that flourish for an hour, and present, in the fate of Tezozomoc, an example of the brevity of human greatness. Who, that listens to me, can refrain from weeping? Verily, the enjoyments and pleasures of life are as a bouquet of flowers, that is passed from hand to hand until it fades, withers, and is dead.

Hearken unto me, ye sons of kings and of princes, take good heed and ponder the theme of my mournful song, the things that flourish for an hour, and the end of the King Tezozomoc. Who is he, I say again, that can hear me and not weep? Verily, the enjoyments and pleasures of life are as a handful of flowers, blooming for a space, but soon withered and dead. 497

Let the joyous birds sing on and rejoice in the beauty of spring, and the butterflies enjoy the honey and perfume of the flowers, for life is as a tender plant that is plucked and withereth away.

Granados tells us that Nezahualcoyotl's poems were all in iambic verse, resembling in style the works of Manilius, Seneca, Pomponius, Euripides, and Lilius. In one of his songs he compared the shortness of life and of its pleasures with the fleeting bloom of a flower, so pathetically as to draw tears from the audience, as Clavigero relates. Ixtlilxochitl narrates that a prisoner condemned to death obtained pardon by reciting a poem before the king. There is not much evidence that verses were ever written in rhyme, but the authors say that due attention was paid to cadence and metre, and that some unmeaning syllables were added to certain lines to accommodate the measure. By their system of combination a single word often sufficed for a line in the longest measure. Many of their poetical compositions were intended for the dramatic representations which have been spoken of elsewhere.[615]


The Nahua system of numeration was very simple and comprehensive, there being no limit to the numbers that could be expressed by it. The following table will give a clear idea of the method as employed by the Aztecs:

One, ce, or cen.

Two, ome.

Three, yey, or ei.

Four, nahui.

Five, macuilli,—signifying the 'clenched hand,' one finger having been originally doubled, as is supposed, for each unit in counting from one to five. 498

Six, chico a ce.

Seven, chic ome.

Eight, chico ey.

Nine, chico nahui,—These names from six to nine are simply those from one to four, with a prefix whose meaning is not altogether clear, but which is said to be composed of chico, 'at one side,' and ihuan or huan, meaning 'near another,' 'with,' or simply 'and.' These names may consequently be interpreted perhaps, 'one side (or hand) with one,' 'one hand with two,' etc., or one two, etc., 'with the other side.'

Ten, matlactli—that is the upper part of the body, or all the fingers of the hands.

Eleven, matlactli oc ce, ten and one.

Twelve, matlactli om ome, ten and two.

Thirteen, matlactli om ey, ten and three.

Fourteen, matlactli o nahui, ten and four. In these names oc, om, o, or on as Molina gives it, seems to be used as a connective particle, equivalent to 'and,' but I am not acquainted with its derivation.

Fifteen, caxtolli, a word to which the authorities give no derivative meaning.

Sixteen, caxtolli oc ce, fifteen and one, etc.

Twenty, cem pohualli, once twenty. The word pohualli means 'a count,' the number twenty being in a sense the foundation of the whole numerical system.

Twenty-one, cem pohualli oc ce, once twenty and one, etc.

Thirty, cem pohualli, ihuan (or om as Molina has it) matlactli, once twenty and ten.

Thirty-five, cem pohualli ihuan (or on) caxtolli, once twenty and fifteen, etc.

Forty, ome pohualli, twice twenty, etc.

One hundred, macuil pohualli, five times twenty.

Two hundred, matlactli pohualli, ten times twenty.

Four hundred, cen tzontli, once four hundred, 'the hair of the head.'

Eight hundred, ome tzontli, twice four hundred.

One thousand, ome tzontli ihuan matlactli pohualli, twice four hundred and ten times twenty.

Eight thousand, xiquipilli, a purse or sack, already mentioned as containing eight thousand cacao-nibs.

Sixteen thousand, ome xiquipilli, twice eight thousand.

It will be seen from the table that the only numbers having simple names are one, two, three, four, five, ten, fifteen, twenty, four hundred, and eight thousand; all the rest are compounds of these constructed on the principle that when the smaller number follows the larger the sum of the two is expressed, but when the smaller precedes the larger, their product is indicated. Molina and Leon y Gama are the chief authorities on the Nahua arithmetical system. All the writers agree perfectly respecting its details, but differ considerably in orthography. Molina writes 499 each compound name together as a single word, while Gama often separates a word into its parts as I have done in every case, following his spelling.


The manner in which the numbers were written was as simple as the system itself. A point or small circle indicated a unit, and these points sufficed for the numbers from one to nineteen. Twenty was indicated by a flag, four hundred by a feather, and eight thousand by a purse. One character placed above another indicated that the product was to be taken; for instance, 160,000 might be expressed either by twenty purses, or by a flag over a purse. To avoid the excessive use of the unit points in writing large and fractional numbers, each flag, feather, and purse was divided into four quarters, and only those quarters which were colored were to be counted. Thus five might be expressed by five points or by a flag with but one quarter colored; three hundred and fifty-six would be indicated by a feather with three quarters colored, two complete flags, three quarters of another flag, and one point.

We have seen that twenties were used, much as dozens are by us, as the foundation of all numeration, but strangely enough these twenties took different names in counting different classes of articles. The regular name, as given in the table, is pohualli; in counting sheets of paper, tortillas, small skins, and other thin objects capable of being packed one above another in small parcels, each twenty was called pilli; in counting cloths and other articles usually formed into large rolls, quimilli was the name applied to twenty; and in counting persons, lines, walls, and other things ranged in order, the term tecpantli was sometimes employed. In reckoning birds, eggs, fruits, seeds, and round or plump objects, generally tetl, 'a stone,' was affixed to each one of the numerals in the table; pantli was in the same way added for objects arranged in regular order, and also for surface measurements; tlamantli likewise was joined to the numerals 500 for articles sold in pairs or sets, as shoes, dishes, etc.; while ears of corn, cacao in bunches, and other bulky articles required the termination olotl.

Among all the Nahua nations, so far as known, the arithmetical system was practically the same, and was essentially decimal. Nearly all gave great prominence to the number twenty; the Huastec language had simple names for the numbers from one to ten, twenty, and one thousand; the Otomí approached still nearer our modern system by making one hundred also one of its fundamental numbers with an uncompounded name as well as a compounded one.[616]

Astrology, soothsaying, the interpretation of dreams, and of auguries such as the flight or song of birds, the sudden meeting of wild animals, or the occurrence of other unlooked-for events, were regarded by the Nahuas as of the greatest importance, and the practice of such arts was entrusted to the tonalpouhqui, 'those who count by the sun,' a class of men held in high esteem, to whom was attributed a perfect knowledge of future events. We have seen that no undertaking, public or private, of any importance, could be engaged in except under a suitable and propitious sign, and to determine this sign the tonalpouhqui was appealed to. The science of astrology was written down in books kept with great secrecy and mystery, altogether unintelligible to the common crowd, whose good or bad fortune was therein supposed to be painted. The details of the methods employed in the mysterious rites of divination are nowhere recorded, and the continual mention of the seer's services throughout the chapters of this and the following volume render this paragraph on the subject sufficient here.


In addition to the miscellaneous arts described in the preceding pages, separate chapters will be devoted 501 to the Nahua calendar, hieroglyphics, architecture, and medicine.[617]




Astronomical Knowledge of the Aztecs—Contradictions of Authors respecting the Calendar—Value of the Researches of Various Writers—The First Regular Calendar—The Mexican Cycle—The Civil Year—The Aztec Months—Names of the Days and their Signification—The Commencement of the Aztec Year—The Ritual Calendar—Gama's Arrangement of the Months—The Calendar-Stone—The Four Destructions of the World—The Calendar of Michoacan—Reckoning of the Zapotecs.

Perhaps the strongest proof of the advanced civilization of the Nahuas was their method of computing time, which, for ingenuity and correctness, equaled, if it did not surpass, the systems adopted by contemporaneous European and Asiatic nations.

The Nahuas were well acquainted with the movements of the sun and moon, and even of some of the planets, while celestial phenomena, such as eclipses, although attributed to unnatural causes, were nevertheless carefully observed and recorded. They had, moreover, an accurate system of dividing the day into fixed periods, corresponding somewhat to our hours; indeed, as the learned Sr Leon y Gama has shown, the Aztec calendar-stone which was found in the plaza of the city of Mexico, was used not only as a durable register, but also as a sun-dial. 503


Although the system of the Aztec calendar as a whole is clear and easily understood, yet it is extremely difficult to describe with certainty many of its details, owing to the contradictory statements of nearly all the earlier writers, who visited Mexico and there in different localities picked up scraps of what they afterwards described as being the 'calendar of the Mexicans,' not taking into consideration that the many and distinct kingdoms surrounding the Aztec territory, although using essentially the same system, differed on many important points, such as the names of years, months, days, the season of beginning the year, etc. This difficulty increases when we attempt to make Mexican dates agree with our own. Even Boturini, who gathered his information in Mexico, makes many mistakes; and Veytia, although we must accord him the credit of having thoroughly studied the subject, and of having reduced it to a clear system, is at fault in many points. Of the older writers, such as Sahagun, Las Casas, Duran, Motolinia, and others, no one is explicit enough on all points to enable us to follow him; and such details as they unite in giving are mostly contradictory. Torquemada, who draws a great portion of his material from Motolinia, contradicts himself too frequently to be reliable. Leon y Gama, although he spent much labor in trying to clearly expound the system, has also fallen into some errors, attributable, perhaps, to his not having the valuable aid of Sahagun's writings, and to his having placed too much trust in the writings of Torquemada and the manuscript of the Indian Cristóbal del Castillo, as is shown in the review of Gama's work by Sr José Antonio Alzate in the Gacetas de Literatura. Baron von Humboldt's description, valuable as it is on account of the extended comparisons which he draws between the Mexican, Asiatic and Egyptian calendars, is on that account too intricate to be easily understood. From all these descriptions Gallatin, McCulloh, and Müller, 504 with perhaps a few others, have each given us a very good résumé, but without attempting to reconcile all the contradictions.

The first notice we have of any regular calendar is given by Ixtlilxochitl, who states that in the year 5097 from the creation of the world, an assembly of learned men met at the city of Huehuetlapallan, and determined the reckoning of the years, days, and months, leap years and intercalary days, in the order in which they were found at the time of the conquest.[618] Previous to this time it is said that the only reckoning kept was regulated by the yearly growth of the fresh grass and herbs from which the name of the Mexican year xihuitl, 'new grass,' is derived. It is also said that a rough computation of time was made by the moon, from its appearance to its disappearance, and that this period called metztli, 'the moon,' was divided into two equal parts, named respectively mextozolitzli, the time when the moon was awake or visible, and mecochiliztli, the sleep of the moon, or the time when it was invisible.[619] Of the larger divisions of time, accounts are very conflicting. Two, three, four, and five ages are said by various writers to have existed, at the end of each of which the world was said to have been destroyed, and recreated at the beginning of the age next following. The common aboriginal belief was, however, that at the time of the conquest, the world had passed through three ages, and was then in the fourth. The first age, or 'sun,' as it is also called, was the Sun of Water, atonatiuh; the second, the Sun of Earth, tlalchitonatiuh; the third, the Sun of Air, ehecatonatiuh.[620] 505 This is about all we know of any division of time, before the assembly at Huehuetlapallan which is said to have introduced the regular calendar.

The Aztec Cycle.


The Mexican calendar contains the following divisions of time: The 'age,' consisting of two periods of fifty-two years each, was called huehuetiliztli; the 'cycle,' consisting of four periods of thirteen years each, was named xiuhmolpilli, xiuhmolpia or xiuhtlalpilli, meaning the 'binding up of the years.' Each period of thirteen years or, as it was called by the Spanish historians, 'indiccion,' was known as a tlalpilli, or 'knot,' and, as stated above, each single year was named xihuitl, or 'new grass,' The age was not used in the regular reckoning, and is only rarely mentioned to designate a long space of time. The numeral prefixed to the name of any year in the cycle, or xiuhmolpilli, never exceeded four, and to carry out this plan, four signs, respectively named tochtli, 'rabbit,' calli, 'house,' tecpatl, 'flint,' and acatl, 'cane,' were used. Thus the Aztecs commenced to count the first year of their first cycle with the name or hieroglyphic Ce Tochtli, meaning 'one (with the sign of) rabbit;' and the second year was Ome Acatl, 'two, cane;' the third, Yey Tecpatl, 'three, flint;' the fourth, Nahui Calli, 'four, house;' the fifth, Macuilli Tochtli, 'five, rabbit;' the sixth, Chicoace Acatl, 'six, cane;' 506 the seventh, Chicome Tecpatl, 'seven, flint;' the eighth, Chico ey Calli, 'eight, house;' the ninth, Chico nahui Tochtli, 'nine, rabbit;' the tenth, Matlactli Acatl, 'ten, cane;' the eleventh, Matlactli occe Tecpatl, 'eleven, flint;' the twelfth, Matlactli omome Calli, 'twelve, house;' and the thirteenth, Matlactli omey Tochtli, 'thirteen, rabbit.' This numeration continued in the same manner, the second tlalpilli commencing again with 'one, cane,' the third tlalpilli with 'one, flint,' the fourth with 'one, house,' and so on to the end of the cycle of fifty-two years. It will easily be seen that during the fifty-two years none of these four signs could be accompanied by the same number twice, and therefore no confusion could arise. Instead, therefore, of saying an event happened in the year 1850, as we do in our reckoning, they spoke of it as happening, for instance, in the year of 'three, rabbit' in the twelfth cycle.[621] Still, some confusion has been caused among different writers by the fact that the different nations of Anáhuac did not all commence their cycles with the same hieroglyphic sign. Thus the Toltecs commenced with the sign tecpatl, 'flint;' and the Mexicans, or Aztecs, with tochtli, 'rabbit;' while some again used acatl, 'cane;' and others calli, 'house,' as their first name.[622] A cycle was represented in their paintings by the figures of tochtli, acatl, tecpatl, and calli, repeated each thirteen times and placed in a circle, round which was painted a snake holding its tail in its mouth, and making at each of the four cardinal points a kink with its own body, as shown in the plate on the opposite page, which served to divide 507 the cycle into four tlalpillis.[623] These four signs, rabbit, cane, flint, and house were also, according to Boturini, used to designate the four seasons of the year, the four cardinal points, and lastly, the four elements. Thus, for instance, tecpatl also signified south; calli, east; tochtli, north; and acatl, west. In the same 508 manner tecpatl was used to designate fire; calli, earth; tochtli, air; and acatl, water.[624]

The civil year was again divided into eighteen months and five days. Each month had its particular name, but the five extra days were only designated as nemontemi or 'unlucky days,' and children born at this time, or enterprises undertaken, were considered unlucky. In hieroglyphical paintings these months were also placed in a circle, in the middle of which a face, representing either the sun or moon, was painted. This circle was called a xiuhtlapohualli, or 'count of the year.' Concerning the order in which these months followed one another, and the name of the first month, hardly two authors agree; in the same manner we find three or four various names given to many of the months. It would appear reasonable to suppose that the month immediately following the nemontemi, which were always added at the end of the year, would be the first, and the only difficulty here is to know which way the Aztecs wrote; whether from right to left or from left to right. On the circle of the month given by Veytia, and supposed to have been copied from an original, these five days are inserted between the months Panquetzaliztli and Atemoztli, and counting from left to right, this would make Atemoztli the first month, which would agree with Veytia's statement. But Gama and others decidedly dissent from this opinion, and name other months as the first. I reserve further consideration of this subject for another place in this chapter, where in connection with other matters it can be more clearly discussed, and content myself with simply inserting here a table of the names of the months as enumerated by the principal authors, in order to show at a glance the many variations. I also append to it the different dates given for the first day of the year, in which there are as many contradictions as in the names and position of the months.


AUTHORS. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
Sahagun. Atlacahualco, or Quavitleloa. Tlacaxipeoaliztli. Tozoztontli. Veytocoztli. Toxcatl.
Gomara. Tlacaxipeualiztli. Tozçuztli. Hueitozçuztli. Toxcatl, or Tepupochuiliztli Eçalcoaliztli.
Martin de Leon.[625] Atlcahualo. Tlacaxipehualiztli. Toçoztontli. Hueitoçoztontli. Tochcatl.
Duran. Xuchitzitzquilo, or Quauitlehua, or Atlmotzacuaga, or Xilomaniztly. Tlacaxipehualiztli. Tozoztontly. Ochpaniztly, or Cueytozoztly. Toxcatl.
Codex Vaticanus. Atlcaualo. Tlacaxipeualiztli. Tocozintli. Veitozcoztli. Toxcatl.
Torquemada. Atlacahualco, or Quahuitlehua. Tlacaxipehualiztli. Toçoztontli. Hueytoçoztli. Toxcatl.
Vetancvrt. Atlachualco, or Quahuilchua. Tlacaxipehualiztli. Tocoztontli. Hueytocoztli. Teoxcalt.
Vetancvrt (Tlascaltec names). Xilomatihuitztli. Coylhuitl.      
Gemelli Carreri. Tlacaxipehualitztli. Tozoztli. Hueytozoztli. Toxcatl. Etzalcualiztli.
Laet. Tlacaxipenaliztli. Toxcactli. Hueitozcuztli. Toxcatl, or Tepupochuiliztli. Ezalioalixtli.
Veytia. Atemoztli. Tititl. Itzcalli. Xilomaniztli. Cohuailhuitl.
Lorenzana. Atemoztli. Tititl. Yzcalli. Xilomanizte. Cohuailhuitl.
Clavigero. Atlacahualco. Tlacaxipehualiztli. Tozoztontli. Hueitozoztli. Toxcatl.
Gama.[626] Tititl, or Itzcalli. Itzcalli, or Xochilhuitl. Xilomanalixtli, or Atlcahualco, or Quahuitlehua, or Cihuailhuitl. Tlacaxipehualiztli, or Cohuailhuitl. Tozoztontli.
Klemm. Acahualco. Tlacaxipehualitztli. Tozozontli. Hueitozoptli. Texcatl.
Mueller. Tlacaxipehualiztli, or Cohuailhuitl. Tozoztontli. Huey Tozoztli. Toxcatl, or Tepopochuiliztli. Etzalqualiztli.
Brasseur de Bourbourg. Atlacahualco. Tlacaxipehualiztli. Tozoztontli. Huey-Tozoztli. Toxcatl.
Carbajal Espinosa. Atlacahualco. Tlacaxipehualiztli. Tozoztontli. Hueitozoztli. Toxcatl, or Coxcatl.
Codex Telleriano-Remensis.          
AUTHORS. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.
Sahagun. Etzacualiztli. Tecuilhuitontli. Veytecuilhuitl. Tlaxochimaco. Xocohuetzl.
Gomara. Tecuilhuicintli. Hueitecuilhuitl. Miccailhuicintli. Veymiccailhuitl. Vchpaniztli, or Tenauatiliztli.
Martin de Leon.[625] Etzalcualiztli. Tecuilhuitontli. Hueiteucyilhuitl. Tlaxochimanco. Xocotlhuetzi.
Duran. Etzalcualiztly. Tecuiluitontly, or Tlaxochimaco. Hueytecuilhuitl. Miccailhuitontly. Tocotluetz.
Codex Vaticanus. Hetzalqualiztl. Tecuilvitontl. Veitecuiluitl. Miccailhuitl. Veymiccailhuitl.
Torquemada. Etzalqualiztli. Tecuhilhuitontli. Hueytecuhilhuitl. Tlaxuchimaco, or Hueymiccaylhuitl. Xocotlhuetzi.
Vetancvrt. Etzaqualiztli. Tecuylhuitontli. Hueytecuyilhuitl. Tlaxochimaco. Xocotlhuetzi.
Vetancvrt (Tlascaltec names).       Micaylhuitzintli. Hueymicaylhuitl.
Gemelli Carreri. Ticuyilhuitl. Hueytecuilhuitl. Micaylhuitl. Hueymicailhuitl. Ochpaniztli.
Laet. Tecuilhuicintli. Huehtecuilhuitl. Miccathuicintli. Veimiccailhuitl. Vchpaniztli, or Tenavatiliztli.
Veytia. Tozcotzintli. Hueytozcoztli. Toxcatl. Exolqualiztli. Tecuilhuitzintli.
Lorenzana. Tozcotzintli. Huey Tozcoztli. Toxcatl. Ezalqualliztli. Tecuilhuitzintli.
Clavigero. Etzalcualiztli. Tecuilhuitontli. Hueitecuilhuitl. Tlaxochimaco. Xocohuetzi.
Gama. Huey Tozoztli. Toxcatl, or Tepopochuiliztli. Etzalqualiztli. Tecuilhuitzintli. Hueytecuilhuitl.
Klemm. Etzalqualitztli.        
Mueller. Tecuilhuitzintli. Hueytecuilhuitl. Miccailhuitzintly, or Tlalxochimaco. Hueymiccailhuitl, or Xolotlhuetzin. Ochpaniztli, or Tenahuatiliztli.
Brasseur de Bourbourg. Etzacualiztli. Tecuilhuitontli. Huey Tecuilhuitl. Tlaxochimaco. Xocohuetzi.
Carbajal Espinosa. Etzalcualiztli. Teucuilhuitontli. Hueituecuilhuitl. Tlaxochimaco. Xocotlhuetzi.
Codex Telleriano-Remensis.   Tecuiluitontl. Veytecuiluitl. Michaylhuitl. Hueymiccaylhuitl.
AUTHORS. 11. 12. 13. 14.
Sahagun. Ochpaniztli. Teotleco. Tepeilhuitl. Quecholli.
Motolinea.       Panquetzaliztli.
Gomara. Pachtli, or Heçoztli. Hueipachtli, or Pachtli. Quecholli. Panqueçaliztli.
Martin de Leon.[625] Ochpaniztli. Teotlèco. Tepeilhuitl. Quechulli.
Duran. Ochpaniztly. Pachtontly. Veypachtly, or Coailhuitl. Quecholli.
Codex Vaticanus. Ochpaniztl. Pachtontl. Veipachtli. Quecholi.
Torquemada. Uchpaniztli. Teutleco. Tepeilhuitl. Quecholli.
Vetancvrt. Ochpaniztli. Teotleco. Tepeylhuitl. Quecholli.
Vetancvrt (Tlascaltec names).     Pachtzintli.  
Gemelli Carreri. Pachtli. Hueypachtli. Checiogli. Panchetzaliztli.
Laet. Pachtli, or Hecoztli. Hueipachtli. Quecholli. Panquecaliztli.
Veytia. Hueytecuilhuitl. Micailhuitzintli. Hueymicailhuitl. Huepaniztli.
Lorenzana. Huey Tecuilhuitl. Mictailhutlzintli. Hueymictailhuitl. Ochpaniztli.
Clavigero. Ochpaniztli. Teotleco. Tepeilhuitl. Quecholli.
Gama. Miccailhuitzintli, or Tlaxochimaco. Hueymiccailhuitl, or Xocotlhuetzi. Ochpaniztli, or Tenahuatiliztli. Pachtli, or Ezoztli, or Teotleco.
Klemm. Ochpanitztli. Pachtli.   Tepeilhuitl.
Mueller. Pachtli, or Ezoztli, or Teotleco. Hueypachtli, or Pachtli, or Tepeilhuitl. Quecholli. Panquetzaliztli.
Brasseur de Bourbourg. Ochpaniztli. Teotleco. Tepeilhuitl. Quecholli.
Carbajal Espinosa. Tlachpanaliztli. Teotleco. Tepeilhuitl. Quecholli.
Codex Telleriano-Remensis. Ochpaniztli. Pactontly. Veypactli. Quecholi.
AUTHORS. 15. 16. 17. 18. Commencement of the Mexican year, according to our reckoning.
Sahagun. Panquetzaliztli. Atemoztli. Tititl. Yzcalli. 2d February.
Motolinia.         Commencement of March.
Acosta.         26th February.
Gomara. Hatemuztli. Tititlh. Izcalli. Coauitleuac, or Ciuailhuilt.  
Martin de Leon.[625] Panquetzaliztli. Atemuztli. Tititl. Ytzcali. 2d February.
Duran. Panquetzaliztly. Atemoztli. Tititl. Yzcalli, or Xilomaniztly, or Queuitleua. 1st March.
Codex Vaticanus. Panquetzaliztli. Atemoztli. Tititl. Yzcalli. 24th February.
Torquemada. Panquetzaliztli. Atemuztli. Tititl. Izcalli. 1st February.
Vetancvrt. Panquetzaliztli. Atemoztlique. Titzotl. Izcalli. February.
Vetancvrt (Tlascaltec names).          
Gemelli Carreri. Atemoztli. Tititl. Izcagli. Atlacoalo. First year of century, 10th April.
Laet. Hatemuztli. Tititl. Izcalli. Coavitlevac. March, or 26th of February.
Veytia. Pachtzintli. Hueypachtli. Quecholli. Panquetzaliztli. 2d February.
Lorenzana. Pachtlizintli. Hueypachtli. Quecholli. Panquetzalliztli.  
Clavigero. Panquetzaliztli. Atemoztli. Tititl. Izcalli. First year of century, 26th February.
Gama. Hueypachtli, or Pachtli, or Tepeilhuitl. Quecholli. Panquetzaliztli. Atemoztli. 9th January.
Klemm.     Tititl. Izcalli. 26th February.
Mueller. Atemoztli. Tititl, or Itzcalli. Itzcalli, or Xochilhuitl. Xilomanaliztli, or Atlcahualco, or Quahuitlehua, or Cihuailhuitl. 20th March.
Brasseur de Bourbourg. Panquetzaliztli. Atemoztli. Tititl. Izcalli.  
Carbajal Espinosa. Panquetzaliztli. Atemoztli. Tititl. Izcalli. First year of century, 26th February.
Codex Telleriano-Remensis. Panquetzaliztli. Atemoztli. Tititl. Yzcatli. 24th February.



Each month, as before stated, was represented by its proper hieroglyph, having a certain meaning, and generally referring to some feast or natural event, such as the ripening of fruit, or falling of rain, happening during the month, although in this case also there are many differences between authors regarding the meaning of the names.

The Aztec Year.

Tititl, which according to Gama was the first month, is translated by Boturini as 'our mother,' or 'mother of the gods,' while Cabrera calls it 'fire.'[627] Itzcalli, according to Boturini, means 'regeneration;' the Codex Vaticanus translates it 'skill;' and Veytia, 'the sprouting of the grass.'[628] Atlcahualco means the 'abating of the waters.' The Tlascaltec name of this month, Xilomanaliztli, signifies the 'offering of green maize.' In other localities this month was also known by the name of Quahuitlehua, the 'burning of the mountains,' or rather of the trees on the mountains, previous to sowing.[629] Tlacaxipehualiztli means the 'flaying of the people;' the other name of this month, Cohuailhuitl, is the 'feast of the snake.' Tozoztontli, Tozcotzintli, and Hueytozoztli are respectively the small and great fast or vigil; while some translate these words by 'pricking of veins,' 'shedding of blood,' or 'great and small penance.'[630] Toxcatl is a 'collar' or 'necklace.'[631] Etzalqualiztli is translated by Boturini 'bean stew,' or 'the eating of beans,' while Veytia calls it 'the eating of maize gruel.' Tecuilhuitzintli 510 and Hueytecuilhuitl mean respectively the small and great 'feast of the Lord.' Miccailhuitzintli is explained both as 'the feast of dead children,' and 'the small feast of the dead;' another name for this month is Tlaxochimaco, meaning 'distribution of flowers.' Hueymiccailhuitl is either 'the feast of dead adults,' or 'the great feast of the dead.' Xocotlhuetzin, another name for this month, means 'the ripening of the fruit.' Ochpaniztli is 'the cleaning of streets.' Teotleco, or 'the arrival of the gods,' was the next 511 month, and was also named Pachtli, or Pachtontli, the latter being translated by 'humiliation,' and the former by 'moss hanging from trees.' Hueypachtli was 'the great feast of humiliation,' also called Tepeilhuitl, or 'feast of the mountains.' Quecholli means '