Posts Tagged: Mexico

Army with no Beasts of Burden

29 August 2017 Comments (0)

It is well known that Tenochtitlan’s influence, not to say outright domination, encompassed Central Mexico and after the time of its eight Tlatoani Ahuitzotl reached almost from coast to coast. However, in order to carve out such an empire one must have substantial warriors’ forces available and ready, easy to gather, to move around and send marching considerable distances, supplied with provisions and other necessities to arrive at their destination coordinated, well fed and ready to fight.

Not an easy feat at the times when no radio communication was available, and no vehicles to supplies food and other war necessities of the marching forces. In fact, even the customary beasts of burden that ancient armies of other continents used to enjoy were not available to the expanding Mesoamericans. And yet, the Mexicas and their allies did not seem to complain or feel disadvantaged. Anything but!

To organize armies of many thousands one needed a meticulous coordination, strict hierarchy of leadership and well maintained line of supplies. Not a challenge when it came to Tenochtitlan armies.

The largest unit in the Mexica and its allies’ forces was called xiquipilli, an eight thousand strong division that could move and operate independently or in coordination with another such unit. Composed from twenty smaller units of four hundred warriors each, it was an impressive force when on the march or in battle.

In Tenochtitlan, each such smaller unit of four hundred was said to be recruited from a different city district – twenty districts, twenty units of four hundred, one xiquipilli of eight thousand. However, Tenochtitlan districts’ ability to yield four hundred readily available warriors upon a request may be questioned. Let alone twice or trice this amount, because in later times, the Mexica armies were reported to move in forces that exceeded twenty thousand warriors. In this case, we may be excused for assuming that other altepetl/city-states, members of The Triple Alliance for one, contributed an additional unit of eight thousand each, with the provinces adding more warriors to the marching out forces.

And yet, even if only one xiquipilli was enlisted for each new campaign out of Tenochtitlan itself, eight thousand warriors was a large amount of people to move out without paralyzing the city’s regular life and activities. To avoid that, each campaign was organized meticulously and ahead of time, gathering, supplying and moving each unit of four hundred out of its original place of recruitment in their own districts at different times and throughout more than one day. This way, no large altepetl’s traffic and regular life got disrupted, no avenues or canals jammed, no regular activities interrupted; not to a damaging degree.

Once outside, those same smaller units could be reassembled back into their original formations. Or, in some cases, they could be ordered to move on separately upon the decision of the higher leaders – tlatoani, the ruler himself or his warlords, tlacochcalcatl and tlacateccatl – depending on different factors, from projected strategy to something as simple as distance toward the site of the prospected battle, or the location of supplies and the towns who were expected to provide those.

In every province, permanent stores for the army on the move were required to be maintained as a part of the tribute system. Which enabled the Triple Alliance’s armies enjoy supplies without dragging hundreds or even thousands porters along. Such lands were called milchimalli or cacalomilli, and they were set aside especially for war related production, usually close to Tenochtitlan but not always.

However, the first most immediate food-kits for the warriors to carry along were prepared in advance by their own neighborhoods-calpulli the moment the official recruitment was heralded from every plaza and square. Maize cakes, maize flour, toasted maize, beans, salt, chilli, pumpkin seeds and pinolli – everything that could be carried easily and eaten with no need to cook was tucked inside warriors’ bags. In Tenochtitlan itself the obligation to supply such parcels fell on the marketplace vendors as a part of their own private tax payment.

From the moment the ruler declared war preparations to be on, repeated by special heralds on every plaza or square of each district, the army was out of the city and ready to march in approximately five days if the prospected campaign was to be conducted relatively nearby; eight days for more distant, less familiar sites. The allies were called to arms or invited to join by special runners carrying appropriate documentation on behalf of Tenochtitlan Tlatoani.

When the ruler left on campaigns – a customary occurrence – his right hand and head adviser cihuacoatl would stay and govern the city in his absence. Out of the highest governmental body consisted of Council of Four – two highest military leaders and two secondary advisers – both warlords, tlacochcalcatl and tlacateccatl would join the ruler on the projected war expedition, taking responsibility or simply assisting with the organization of supplies, picking marching roads, devising battlefield strategy and taking care of other details connected to the initiated attack. Tlatoani was the supreme leader on the battlefield as much as in the city he ruled.

Re-training, preparations of supplies, distribution of arms and relevant items of wear before every campaign was placed on cuauhhuehuetqueh, old veteran leaders. The smallest divisions of twenty warriors, the most basic units reported in the Mexica forces, were incorporated or dispersed among larger units of four hundred once outside the city; however as whole, none of those were divided, keeping their structure and their low-rank leaders in the march as much as upon the battlefield. And so was the case with the reinforcements arriving from other cities and towns. Each marched with its own town’s unit, under its own banner and in the command of their immediate leaders that were accountable to higher leaders of the entire campaign.

In each unit veterans were spread evenly, placed between younger, less experienced warriors – a veteran per about five novices – expected to keep an eye on them and their learning. This way, the casualties expected among ‘green’ recruitments were lessened, to a degree.

On average, marching warriors were expected to move ten to twenty miles a day. Allied troops might be conducted separately toward the same destination. The assumption was that each unit of four hundred, let alone xiquipilli of eight thousand, was strong and organized enough to defend itself if surprised until other units could be alerted by professional runner-messengers.

Each xiquipilli has a standard – cuachpantli – to carry on the road and into the battle. Codex Mendoza lists four types of standards, even though there were probably additional banners for lesser divisions that were worn by the leaders of those smaller units. Such leaders were called yaotequihuaque, and they wore extra layer of colorful insignia over the customary cotton shirt armor in addition to ornaments constructed from bark paper, feathers and cloths attached to their backs by leather straps in the manner that would not interfere with their ability to war and maneuver. Those cuachpantli banners or standards served to indicate the position of each unit while helping coordinate its movements on the battlefield.

Like in any organized army, the hierarchy was the one to dictate each warrior’s clothing and decorations, or rather his right to wear such. The most basic cotton armor was called ichcahuipilli. Made of unspun cotton soaked in salt water and sewed between two layers of cloth or stitched to a leather border, it created material thick enough no prevent most arrows or darts from penetrating through such quilted barrier. The armor was sleeveless and either tied in the back or the front, or worn in a sort of a pullover that hugged the body and covered it all the way to the thigh.

Almost every warrior could afford such basic means of protection, some of which might have been supplied by their local caplullis together with customary weaponry of a simpler sort. A club or a simple spear completed by undecorated wooden shield seemed to be the most affordable weaponry among regular warriors. Those were stored in special armories – tlacochcalco – that were spread throughout the city. According to the account of one of the conquistadors (Andres de Tapia) each armory held up to 500 cartloads of weaponry each.

Two armories in the royal precinct located in the palace itself hosted permanent workshops of most skillful craftsmen, producing intricate new weaponry in considerable amounts. Those catered to the elite military orders such as Jaguar and Eagle Warriors. The various districts’ armories supplied the rest, often filled from the tribute payments brought from various provinces (according to Codex Mendoza).

Elite warriors, in addition to the basic protection the sleeveless ichcahuipilli provided, wore tlahuiztli, a war costume consisted of long sleeves and leggings to be worn over the cotton shirt armor. It was closed in the back and often decorated with animal skins and feathers sewn to the material. Besides decorative purposes, cloth with feathers was reported to provide additional means of protection.

Another decorated tunic called ehuatl was used by the warriors of the highest leading rank. Made of cloth with feathers set in rows that resembled a skirt, it also assisted in deflecting lances, arrows and even swords. It has no sleeves and no leggings, and therefore seemed to be slightly inferior to tlahuiztli.

To earn the right of wearing necklace-cozcapetlatl, armbands matemecatl and calf-bands cotzehuatl made from very thin gold, copper or bark, both covered with leather and feathers, and wristlets called matzopetztli one has to capture several enemies and distinguish himself in plenty of battles.

Helmets were also worn by elite warriors and leaders alone. Made of wood and bone and decorated with feathers, those served a purpose of additional protection as much as means to proclaim one’s rank. Some were made in a shape of a wild animal’s head – jaguar, wolf or puma – stretched over a frame of wood or quilted cotton. Its owner would gaze out from the animal’s open jaw.

Never being a symbolic figure but a true leading warrior and usually in the thickest of it, tlatoani wore customary ichcahuipilli with decorated ehuatl thrown over it, his loincloth adorned with quetzal feathers in a sort of a skirt – an additional protection in deflecting certain blows – with bracelets and anklets made of gold and a spectacular headdress called copilli encrusted with turquoise.

Tlacateccatl, his chief warlord and second-in-command, typically wore a banner – the insignia of the highest war leader – on his back, with his face and shield painted in pronounced deadly patterns. A long-sleeved ehuatl would usually complete the picture, decorated with a painted leather skirt and quetzalteopamitl made of gold and quetzal feathers, a national Mexica standard.

Elite units and warriors were easy to recognize by their special attire and insignia. Ocelopilli or Jaguar Warriors, who must have captured at least four warriors, wore tlahuiztli over ichcahuipilli with the knot of the loincloth-maxtlatl coming in a certain way out of the front opening. Helmets with jaguar markings, obsidian swords-maquahuitl and shields-yaochimalli decorated with feathers and gold completed their outfit. In similar fashion, Eagle Warriors wore a helmet made of bark and inlaid with feathers.

In addition to these two, another elite combat unit called cuauhchicque was used in order to provoke attacks, complete difficult missions and provide strategic assistance during battles. There was no hierarchy in such unit as its members were honored as front-line combatants each and every one of them. Their heads were typically shaved aside from the crest down the middle and two side tufts. They wore glaringly yellow tlahuiztli and a paper emblem attached to their backs, carrying special shields and of course, customary obsidian swords.

Not to leave warriors and leaders without moral or rather spiritual support, tlamacaztequihua or warrior-priests were present on every battlefield or campaign. Their duties varied between conduct of proper ceremonies prior to each battle and after it ended, responsibility of seeing fallen warriors into their new beginnings and attendance to other spiritual matters. Such servants of gods wore tlahuiztli colored in black and white in imitation of the night sky with stars, and conical hat of design that may appear somewhat foreign to the region of Central Mexico. Often they fought alongside other leaders as full-pledged warriors, sometimes capturing an occasional enemy.

The bulk of the army, of course, was comprised of simple warriors, novices and veterans who didn’t distinguished themselves into special promotions. Urban commoners and farmers from the countryside, those warriors wore ichcahuipilli and maxtlatl and were reportedly permitted to carry obsidian swords if they could afford such expense. Typically they used clubs and other sorts of simpler offensive weaponry, besides shooting devices such as atlatls and slings.

The next article on the subject of organized warfare, will address customs and rules concerning military career and promotions.

An excerpt from “Morning Star”, The Aztec Chronicles, book #5.

The imperial voice rolled pleasantly, making Elotl wish to hear more. Not enough to tempt him into slowing his step of course once they were in the relative safety of the outside. It was his companion who did this, clearly wishing to listen, undeterred by their dubious right to be here at all.

“He is going to tell them to start the recruiting, I’m telling you. You just wait and see.”

Elotl rolled his eyes, trying to lead them down the stairs as directed. Or better yet, somewhere out and away from here. “What does that mean? Weren’t you all preparing for war anyway?”

“Yes, we were.” The youth waved his hand impatiently, leaning toward the carved opening they had just managed to leave as though intending to try and sneak back in against every logic or reason. “We were preparing for war, yes. Making arrangements. You don’t go to war just like that, do you?” His words poured out absently, in a quiet flow, his attention clearly still on the happenings inside the luxurious hall. “But when the Emperor declares an actual recruitment, then it’s official and in less than five dawns we are all out and on our way. Eight dawns, if it’s a far away campaign,” he added as though after a thought. “But no more than that, never more than that.”

Who cares? wondered Elotl, but was wiser than to say it aloud this time, wishing to hear their emperor as well. Eight dawns to organize all those hundreds upon hundreds of warriors, then move them out, all the way to the south? No, the west. Tollocan and that other enemy altepetl of the valley spread to the west of the mighty island-capital, weren’t they? Eight dawns to do the impossible, but these islanders were not to be measured by regular standards, that much he had learn with certainty so far.

“How many warriors will they lead out?” he asked, unable to hear the orating ruler properly, bored and afraid that his companion will try to mount the stairs once again. He certainly looked this way.

“At least two xiquipilli,” was the off-handed answer. “Three or more, if Texcoco and Tlacopan are interested to participate for real.” A shrug. “Texcoco certainly is.”

“What’s xiquipilli?”

This time the youth’s gaze deigned to leave the desired doorway. “You don’t know that?” The widening eyes made Elotl’s embarrassment soar.

“Why should I know that?”

“If you want to be a warrior like your brother…” The twist of his companion’s lips held unmistakable contempt now.

“My brother is not a warrior. He is spying for your emperor. It’s a different thing.”

“He will be warring for our Emperor sooner than you think.” This time the eyes flashed in familiar fashion. “While you will be carrying food provisions in the best of cases, unless you learn like he does and not just go around talking stupid and picking fights.”

Elotl clenched his fists and said nothing, the effort of controlling his anger making his hands tremble like back in the walled gardens. What an arrogant filthy piece of rotten meat this Miztli’s friend was!

Historical fiction and the war on Tlatelolco, part 1

27 December 2016 Comments (0)

By the second part of the 15th century, Tenochtitlan was already an important, dominant altepetl with quite a few provinces to rule. A member of the Triple Alliance, situated between its powerful allies and so probably playing a central role, the great island-city was thriving, growing in proportions and might. The provinces it ruled on the mainland were many, already more numerous than those controlled by its allies, yet Tlatelolco, a fairly large city, located practically in Tenochtitlan’s backyard, remained untouched until 1473, when unexpected trouble broke.

Situated on the nearby island, or maybe on the side of the same island Tenochtitlan occupied, Tlatelolco was inhabited by the people of the same Mexica-Aztec origins, the only two settlements in the entire Mexican Valley to claim that.

Both altpetls were founded not so far apart from each other, in the first part of the 14th century, and both suffered a fair share of contempt and oppression from the surrounding regional powers, mainly from the all-powerful Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco.

When in 1428 the tides have changed, with Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan turning against their oppressor, conquering its capital and thus inheriting the riches of the former Tepanec provinces as well, Tlatelolco remained neutral, enjoying the sudden freedom of the tribute-free life, but not benefiting from the lavish conquests its sister-city had set upon. The Triple Alliance that the conquering altepetls formed had a huge impact on the history of the Mexican Valley and those who did not take an active part could not complete with the expanding giants.

Still until 1473, no major conflicts troubled the neighboring sister-cities. Until two younger rulers succeeded the thrones of their older predecessors. Axayacatl, Tenochtitlan’s new tlatoani was vigorous, warlike, with mounting marital achievements behind him despite his unimpressive count of years. On the other hand, Moquihuixtli, the new Tlatelolco ruler, was of a more refined type, a good looking man and an eloquent orator, but seemingly given to other people’s influences, especially this of his adviser, dominant, militantly vigorous Teconal.

According to both 16th century annalists Diego Duran and Chimalpahin, Teconal was the one who desired to explore the warring course, even though Moquihuixtli did not oppose. His chief wife, Axayacatl’s full sister, did not please him anymore, and so did Tenochtitlan’s dominating, overpowering presence.The existence under the shadow of the glorious, more powerful neighbor began wearing on Tlatelolcan royal house’s nerves.

The problem the Tlatelolcan ruler solved by replacing his Tenochtitlan chief wife with the daughter of the same notorious Teconal, then by proceeding to hold warring competitions and conducting military exercises with considerable amount of warriors while making plenty of militant speeches. According to Duran, Moquihuixtli’s words indicated not only his willingness to break free from the overpowering influence, but also a clear wish to switch places, setting the tone to Tenochtitlan instead of the other way around; and maybe also collecting nicely rich tribute along the way. Or so both Duran and Chimalpahin report to us. To what degree of accuracy, we’ll probably never know.

Little did Miztli’s father know when he decided to send his promising youngest son to the Great Capital of the Aztecs in hopes of a better future. A miner from a small village, he believed that, in the big city, the boy might have a chance at developing his talents, becoming a metalworker and not just a simple miner or a peasant like the rest of the family. A glorious future for a simple villager, as shiny as the golden-copper jewelry his son would be producing after learning the intricate trade.

However, the great island capital with its towering pyramids and gushing industrial life was busy with its internal politics, disdainful of foreigners, especially barefoot villagers among those, indifferent to their small aspirations. A civil war was brewing, preying on everyone’s minds, and when the actual trouble erupted Miztli found himself in the heart of it, swept by the powerful surge that cared nothing for his private frustrations with the big city, thrown in with the most unexpected company: from pretty Chantli, the workshop owner’s daughter, to a pair of adventure-seeking noble school pupils Necalli and Axolin, to the wildest kid of them all, Ahuitzotl, the youngest brother of none other than the Emperor himself.

A fun escapade of sneaking into the underground tunnel full of hidden weaponry and other anticipated treasures turned out to be not as harmless as they expected, pitting them against ruthless smugglers and worse, unleashing a series of events none of them could have foreseen or foretold.

An excerpt from “Obsidian Puma

She grinned with one side of her mouth. “That would be nice.” Then the smile widened, evened out. “You can repay me now. Tell me what your story is. Why were you running all over as though all the worst spirits of the Underworld were after you?”

“It’s a long story,” he said, feeling surprisingly at ease, not threatened or even troubled for a moment. But it was good to be here in this hideaway, to relax for a little while, not to think of all the terrible things, from the games of Tenochtitlan or Tlatelolco nobility, to the kidnappers who were after him, to the troubles that awaited him back in the workshop. His mood began to plummet once again. “What are they going to do now, these people out there on the plaza?” he asked, thinking about his possibilities. “Go home?”

She made a face at him, opening her huge eyes too widely, her eyebrows arching in different ways. A funny mask.

“You wish!” Her thin arms flew up, outlining wild pictures. “I told you it was just the beginning. Now as we speak, or so I’d say, they are cleaning the pieces of the stone statue, rewarding the best shooters and all that.”

Pursing her lips, she fell silent, leaning toward the opening once again, the image of attentive listening, an exaggerated one. “Yes,” she confirmed, nodding in confirmation to her own words. “He is speaking now. Can’t you hear? Rewarding the winner or winners, I bet.”

“And then?” he prompted. “What will he do afterwards?”

“Oh, then they’ll put up a wooden statue to replace the stone one. And they’ll make the other young warriors, those who brought along spears and bows and atlatls, to show their skills, against a wooden enemy this time. But it’ll be as huge and as heavily armed, I can promise you that. To represent all sorts of enemies, you know.” Her grin again turned uneven, one corner of her mouth climbing up, the other down. “Like presumptuous Tenochtitlan brutes, eh?”

“Tenochtitlan?” he asked, frowning. “But your islands are not at war!”

Her eyebrows lifted high again. “Maybe not now, but that may change. They do presume to tell us what to do. All the time they do that. And they are violating our rights, and sometimes even our citizens. Think about it.”

One of the narrow palms came up, extending a long slender finger. “They violated those girls on the marketplace not so long ago. Then, only a market interval later, they filled up our canal one night.” Another finger thrust forward. “And they have been full of all sorts of demands, all because our ruler put that fat whiny fowl aside, preferring my sister in her stead.” She nodded sagely. “And my sister is so much prettier than the complaining turkey, so much more fitting to be the Emperor’s Chief Wife.”

His head reeled from so much information, delivered again in a breathless rush. But what was she talking about, this strange, curiously chatty girl?

“Also, our altepetl is not a tributary of Tenochtitlan. They can’t lord it over us as though we were nothing but a tiny village. They can’t tell us what to do!”

He watched her eyebrows knitting, creating a single line below her high forehead, her expressions changing as rapidly as her spilling words, too rapid to follow.

“Will you slow down?” he asked, when she paused for a heartbeat, probably in order to draw a quick breath. If she dove under water, she would be able to stay there for a long time, he decided, longer than many boys he knew. It would be funny to see her taking part in such a competition. “Tell me how to get away from this plaza without drawing all these thousands of warriors’ and onlookers’ attention. There must be a way to do that.”

Sold into slavery? Not the end of the world

21 July 2013 Comments (1)

Living in a beautiful, rich and well regulated altepetl (city-sate) of the Mexican Valley might have been a pleasant experience unless you and your family were extremely poor.

To be a pipiltin, a noble, was good. Whether residing next to the imposing cultural center, among the magnificent temples, palaces and ceremonial enclosures with a full size ball court and a beautiful plaza, or living in the colorful neighborhoods consisted of two-storey stone houses, you would have nothing to complain about. Wealthy citizens, traders, artisans and minor nobility lived well.

But closer to the marketplace and the harbor areas, the dwellings turned into lower, simpler looking constructions, sporting logs or cane-and-reed houses and much less wealth and color.

So if you were macehuatlin, a commoner, you would live around those areas, enjoying less luxury and more of a hard work. Each morning you would wake up with dawn, ready to go to work, whether to row out in order to farm your chinampa (floating man-made farms that covered considerable parts of the Lake Texcoco), or heading for your workshop to do various urban crafts. You would be expected to serve in the army too, but usually as a simple warrior, unless you managed to distinguish yourself and so start climbing the ranks.

If it happened, you would be better and better off, accumulating wealth and influence, eventually moving into a better neighborhood and acquiring slaves to make your life easier. You would be even allowed to wear jewelry like noble people, because the commoners were forbidden certain costly adornments and cotton clothes. They were not to drink octli in public and to be idle about their duties, expected to lead righteous, generally humble lives. Organized into calpulli, districts, they got by, working together, answerable to the elected head of their district, who was in his turn reporting to the representatives of the city administration.

So, just in case your prospective career as a brave, fearless warrior didn’t work, you would have to accept your lot and work diligently and with no complains, because if you succumbed to crime or gambling you may end up in a worse position, selling yourself into slavery, or sentenced to it by a court.

Tlacotin, slave, was the next lower step in the Mexican Valley societies. But as opposed to some other ancient cultures, slaves composed relatively small percentage of the general population, maybe because the slavery was almost never for life.

Slaves could be either captives taken from the conquered lands (opposed to the general belief, only the captive warriors were qualified to be sacrificial victims; no commoners or women and children faced that fate), or they were commoners who sold themselves into slavery to pay debts, survive poverty or serve their time if convicted by a court.

The crimes sentenced to slavery varied from failure to pay tribute to theft, but even a murderer could end up turning into a slave. Convicted of murder person would usually be executed, but if the family of the victim wanted him to serve as their slave, the judge might be forthcoming. Also if a man murdered a slave, the owner of the destroyed property could demand this person to serve as a slave instead.

Theft and rape often resulted in slavery, as well. And so was the crime of selling free people (like selling slaves’ children, who were legally free; in this case both the seller and buyer would be enslaved). A slave who had sold himself voluntarily might have saved money and paid the same price to gain his freedom back.

So basically the slaves were not outside the law, relatively protected from mistreatment, allowed to have families, possessions and even slaves of their own, entitled to appeal to courts in the case of mistreatment. There were even some legal benefits, like an exemption from paying a tribute and serving in the army. It was not illegal for the slaves to marry a free person and there was no social stigma attached to such unions and their fruits. The children of the slaves were born free people.

Many slaves were brought in from foreign lands, to be sold in the central markets of the large altepetls. Like with any other state activity, the government regulated this trade and it was illegal to sell an obedient slave against his or her wishes. In his turn, if the slave disobeyed his master, he was the one to be dragged into court, with the charges brought against him, backed by witnesses. A public warning would be ensued for the first time offender, but a few more of such warnings would see a slave chained with a wooden collar and sold for good. If this happened more than three time, a slave would be branded as troublesome, handed to the government for public works or sacrifice, creating the ultimate three strikes rule.

In Tenochtitlan there was another interesting law about slavery. On the way to the slave market, when the slave was about to be sold or resold, if he managed to get away and make his way to the palace without being stopped, he would be considered as free man. The only person allowed to chase that slave was the owner, or the owner’s son. No one else was to interfere, under the pain of becoming a slave himself.

An excerpt from “The Warrior’s Way

As the grayish mist spread, Mino could make out the colorful walls behind their back and to their left. They seemed to be placed in the corner of the alley, between two marble columns. Ahead, there was a small pool and a few stone benches. Her eyes could make out a large tented podium, a dark threatening shape in the semidarkness.

The air was brightening rapidly. Hurriedly, she doubled her efforts to cut her ties against the crude pole.

“Would you stop doing that!” cried out someone behind her back.

She gasped, startled. Turning her head as far as she could, she met a pair of glaring eyes.

“Stop rocking this thing. It’s annoying,” said the man, now more calmly.

“I want to get out of here. Don’t you?”

“Where to, silly girl?” The man snorted and pushed the pole toward her, hitting her back.

“I don’t care. I’ll stop when my ties come off.”

A woman to her left laughed. “The ties are not your problem, girl. You have nowhere to go.”

“I can go home,” said Mino, resuming her rubbing.

“Where to?”

“The Smocking Mountain, around altepetl of Texcoco. The Highlands.”

“A long way!”

“I don’t care.”

“It’s the girl that was caught tonight, on our way here, isn’t it?” called another voice, its accent heavy. “You didn’t get very far the first time, little one, did you?”

Mino ignored them, working on.

“She can do that sanctuary thing,” said the woman to her left.

“What sanctuary thing?” The man with the accent snorted.

“They say if a slave manages to break free and run all the way to the Palace, he is a free man.” The woman paused, trying to turn her head and observe her audience – an impossible feat when one is tied to the pole and can only turn one’s neck.

“None of us would make it,” said another woman. “The whole market would be after such a slave.”

“But there is another rule,” said the first woman. She paused again, savoring the moment. “Only the owner of that slave or his sons is allowed to participate in the chase. None of the others. Not even the warriors.”

“Are you sure about this custom?” asked the man with the accent. “How do you know about it?”

“I know. Trust me to know,” said the woman importantly.

Mino felt the string loosening. “We don’t know the way to the Palace,” she said, her eyes on two men appearing from around the podium. She stopped moving and clasped her sweaty palms behind her back.

The other slaves fell silent as the two men approached, eyeing the tied people. One leaned forward, studying every face, one by one, carefully and thoughtfully.

Invited to the royal feast in the Mexica Palace?

12 June 2013 Comments (1)

A guest post from , an artist, painter, and web designer, a man who knows way too much about anything Mexica-Aztec related, a man who would not miss a single archaeological conference in the Temple Mayor museum.

Enrique is also one of the founders of In Tlilli In Tlapalli – pre-hispanic blog where you can read many more fascinating articles by him, and other knowledgeable, well-versed in history people.

Prehispanic Mexican Food

This article is published because of the great interest that aroused around this data on pre-hispanic food on Twitter some time ago. Many were surprised to discover what our ancestors were feeding on in the Mexican Valley. One or two even mentioned the magic words “It seemed to me ..”. Well, after this brief but fanciful explanation, we can begin with the article.

The four main crops in the valley of Mexico were always of an equal importance: maize (centli), amaranth (huauhtli), beans (etl) and finally the chia. It is noteworthy to mention that the Spanish, due to the religious importance amaranth held – Amaranth statues were being made for the main deities, some mixed with blood, others with honey – tried to prevent its cultivation and use, lest this food would stimulate the original Mexican religions. The amaranth that was particularly appreciated by our grandparents was called wild amaranth (quilitl). Even the mother of the forth Mexica tlatoani Itzcoatl (who was not a woman of noble birth) was selling amaranth-quilitl on Azcapotzalco market.

An important aspect related to the Mexican food were the times when one had one’s breakfast, lunch or dinner. Having no clocks, people were helped to determined the meal-time with the assistance of conch-shells or drums, which were played from the top of the different teocalli (temples), as also by the position of the sun.

The time of any Mexican breakfast was around 10 in the morning. For ordinary people, this was a frugal meal, consisted of a couple of tortillas with beans and salsa, although on one’s way to work or back home one could buy himself a tamalli. In some families after the end of the day, around the 6-8, a light supper was served, usually a gruel accompanied by lake fish or poultry and tortillas.

But the well-invested, royal dinners in the Palace could have started at midnight and lasted until dawn, taking many courses of food and dessert. Such evening would usually end with an invigorating chocolate drink xocolatl (for the journey back home) and a clay pipe filled with vanilla flavored snuff or scented woods. In some banquet, the dessert consisted of the digestives, including peyote, hallucinogenic mushrooms as teonanacatl (mushroom gods) or covered nanacatl miel.

A banquet like that would demand a huge amount of supplies, plenty of beans, corn, 80 to 100 turkeys, a dozen dogs and about 20 loads of cocoa. Only a few rich nobles or unusually rich merchants of pochteca-traders guild could afford such expense.

The only two domesticated animals found in these lands were dark hairless dogs called acutalmente xoloitscuintli and turkeys (uexolotl). The fowl’s meat was usually more appreciated that that of a dog, due to its taste and smoothness. So much so that, when a host had to put up the dish, the parts of turkey were laid prettily above the main bulk of a dog meat. Or so claimed Sahagun.

Some anthropologists have sought the origin of the alleged Aztec cannibalism in the lack of protein in their diet. Nothing of the sort! Prehispanic Mexican food was the most diverse in the world, and filled with all variety of proteins. Our ancestors ate frogs, reptiles such as iguanas, ants and their eggs (escamoles), maguey worms that even today are considered a delicacy. A water shrimp, salamanders, flies and aquatic larvae (aneneztli) added to that diet.

Poor people and peasants were gathering a substance floating in the lake, known tecuitlatl, which were told by the chronicles to be cheesy. This was pressed between the mass of the tortillas to give a bitter and stronger taste. Many interesting foods roamed the swamps of Lake Texcoco at pre-hispanic times.

Among the most appreciated delicacies, the nobility most appreciated tamales stuffed with meat, snails and fruit (the latter served with poultry broth); frogs with chili sauce, white fish from the west of the country with chilli and tomato. Also the axolotl seasoned with ground pepper and yellow nugget was a treat for those times. The old recipe of maguey worms was savored by everyone, from leaders to high priests and common people of the whole Mexican Valley.

Back in pre-hispanic days the lands of central Mexico were very rich in hunting. Deer, rabbits, hares, wild pigs or peccaries, birds like pheasants, doves and various waterfowl species abounded everywhere. But people inclined to favor vegetarian food did not suffer, either. Tlacoyo, green mass, and the traditional red for these foods, accompanied with beans, insects, and the typical cactus salsa provided rich diversion to meat. Just as tamales, atole and pozole those were enjoyed by Chichimeca, Mexica, Acolhuas, Tepaneca matlazincas, Otomi, Nahua and many other nations of ancient Mexico.

In pre-Hispanic times, like in our days, the months of June and July were the period of anxiety and scarcity: “So there was a hunger, when grain of maize was very expensive and had great need of sources, they tell us.” The Mexican government tried to remedy this situation by distributing seeds and foods from the royal granaries, which Tlatoani administered directly with the dignitaries. “The emperor showed his goodwill towards the poor, making tamales and they were given gruel.”

I hope you have enjoyed this brief overview of Hispanic food. In many remote villages in the mountains you can taste these dishes, or even in the heart of the city on Saturdays. This is just one of the great legacies of civilizations that inhabited the territory we now call Mexico. Let’s not forget them or their heirs who still live in our times.

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Thanks you

Enrique Ortiz Garcia

Take a stroll on the marketplace

4 March 2013 Comments (0)

If you happened to miss a large scale ceremony while touring prominent cities of the 14th-15th centuries Central Mexico, don’t think your trip was ruined. Stay for some time and wait for the arrival of the market day.

Such day would be well spent and, anyway, you won’t be forced to wait too long as the market interval, the equivalent to our way of counting the weeks, would usually last for no longer that 5 days, unless you got stuck in a small town or village, which, as a tourist, you would be careful to avoid, anyway. So, just tour the beautiful pyramids and plazas until the dawn of the market day arrived, then stay for a treat.

The marketplace in the large altepetl, city-state, was a colorful affair of bubbling activity and clamor, a swirl of sights and smells. Before the dawn-break the traders would already be there, spreading their mats, erecting their stalls, ready for a busy profitable day.

Coming from all over the valley and having started their journey with the nightfall of the previous day, some traders might had been quite tired, but this was the custom, to embark upon the journey at dusk, whether for a purpose of a short trip to the neighboring town or for a moon-long trading expedition to the other side of the valley or the continent.

Yet, no matter how much time a trader would spend on the road, he would never dream to start selling his goods before reaching his destination. To do so was to show disrespect to the gods who were watching over the market business. It was also in violation of the pochteca, the trader guild’s laws, and no merchant in his right mind would risk angering the powerful guild, who were extremely influential and whose watchful eyes and the punishing arm would reach everywhere.

In the all encompassing legal system of courts and laws (and the Aztecs were very law-abiding society) the trading guild was one of the few independent bodies, functioning outside the intricate legal system.

It all happened in 1473, according to quite a few accounts, when Tlatelolco, Tenochtitlan’s sister-city, revolted against the growing dominance of their pushy neighbors, the leaders of the Triple Alliance, who only half a century earlier had conquered the Tepanec Empire, and had grown too powerful ever since. The revolt was crushed easily, some say with the active help of the leading merchants from the rebellious city, who struck a deal with Tenochtitlan’s emperor, Axayacatl, accepting his patronage and offering to act as his spies and the independent merchants of his ever-growing empire.

Thus the symbolic relationship of the Aztec royal house and the Pochteca traders was defined. It helped to strengthen the economy of the developing empire and added the much needed spying services of the long-distance traders gathering information as they traveled far and wide. With the passing of time Tlatelolco was turned into a huge marketplace, functioning on almost a daily basis, able to accommodate up to 60,000 people on the major market days.

The Pochteca were responsible for the foreign and local trade and had twelve powerful guilds located in major cities-states. They had their own rituals, ceremonies and patron deities and, more importantly, their own legal system.

Very rich and powerful, the leading merchants were nevertheless careful to conceal their riches. Being the typical middle class, they did wise by not flaunting their fortunes before the arrogant, fierce, dangerous nobles. In exchange for taxation, the traders’ guilds were granted the power to regulate the economy, represent themselves before the emperor, judge all law suits relating to the merchant class and ensue their sentences to those who were found guilty of violating the commercial laws.

Each village or town had at least one marketplace, with larger cities having multiple markets. Large markets would meet every 5 days, while the smaller ones would meet less frequently. People would travel far and wide to reach a market where they could buy and sell, hear the local news and socialize with friends.

Much of the selling-buying activity was based on barter, but there was an agreed upon currency too, with the main one being cocoa beans or a certain length of cotton cloths called quachtli. The exchange rates varied at times, from 100 cocoa beans to 300 being worth of a full length cotton cloak. Copper ax blades and quills filled with gold dust were used to determine the pricing for various items too.

All this and more was regulated most scrupulously by inspectors, who were always there, mixing with the crowds, making sure the items were sold at appropriate exchange rates, checking the quality of the products as well. Certain goods could be sold in certain areas, designated by the market judge who required every vendor to a pay a tax in cloaks or cocoa beans.

Everything was sold by number and measure instead of by weight, and the inspectors made sure to check the measures, destroying the false ones if such were discovered. The offender then would be dragged to a market court, to be judged and sentenced by a panel of judges.

Such courts governed all disputes between the traders, required to deal with any issues related to the marketing. In a case of false measures the offender would be fined, with his goods confiscated, sent to bring the rest of the fine from his family to pay up. Other crimes, dealing with stolen goods or with counterfeiting, was sentenced more harshly, with the most serious of the offenders being beaten to death in the center of the marketplace, for everyone to see and learn the lesson.

Still, there were many ways to cheat the system, and undeterred some traders kept mixing in poor quality products. Cocoa beans were easily susceptible to counterfeiting as vendors could remove the outer shell and fill it with dirt, or heat shriveled beans to make them look larger, or create entirely false beans out of wax or amaranth dough. These beans would then be mixed with real beans for sale in the marketplace. (The Florentine Codex includes a description of a bad cacao seller: "... he counterfeits cacao... by making the fresh cacao beans whitish... stirs them into the ashes... with amaranth seed dough, wax, avocado pits… he counterfeits cacao.... Indeed he casts, he throws in with them wild cacao beans to deceive the people...)

So, as we can see, the pochteca courts were never out of job and the marketplace was anything but a boring place to spend one’s time at, either buying or selling good or just hanging out with friends.

An excerpt from “The Emperor's Second Wife

Her anger rose once again, here in the crowded marketplace as intense as it had back there, in the dimly lit warriors’ hall.

Clenching her teeth tight, she pushed herself away from the safety of the wall, stepping back toward the road. Oh, she was not a burden, not a ‘girl that is making no trouble’. She was a person, and she could take care of herself. And when he found that she was gone, he would be sorry.

Picking her way carefully between the multitude of mats and stalls, jostled every now and then, she went on stubbornly, not bothering to mark her surroundings. In her entire life she had never lost her way, always remembering the places she had passed, being those forest’s paths or town’s alleys.

Her fear began calming down, and, looking around, she noticed that not only people were plentiful in this place. Food, clothes, and jewelry piled all over the alley, crammed upon the mats or arranged prettily, sparkling in the midmorning sun. Eyes wide, she began stealing glances, and then, giving in, she gaped openly, amazed at those unbelievable riches. So much of everything!

Still not sure enough of herself to stop and peer closely, she turned into a smaller alley in an attempt to escape the crowds. Here, the aroma of cooked food enveloped her, making her stomach churn. People squatted or sprawled on mats, in the shade of the high wall, talking idly or throwing beans while eating and drinking. No one paid her any attention. Reassured, she slowed her steps and watched the sweating old man toiling above a steaming pot.

Neatly, the man fished out small bundles of something wrapped in maize husks, placing them on a wooden plate, oblivious to the scorching heat.

Fascinated, Dehe watched him working as the man from the nearby mat got up.

“Let us see what you’ve got here, old man.”

“The best tamales you ever tasted,” grinned the stall owner, interrupting his activity to unwrap one of the bundles. His nimble fingers picked the steaming tamale, dropping it neatly onto a smaller plate.

“I’ll have another one for my companion,” said the other man.

“Next time wait patiently until I’m done,” the cooking man grunted, complying with the request. “I’ll have the rest of my tamales burned because of you.”

“Oh, I bet a cocoa bean you’ll find a way to force those burned tamales on your other customers,” laughed the man, heading back to his mat.

The old man cursed, returning back to his steaming pot. “Those will cost you more,” he called out more loudly.

“It’ll round your whole meal to a whole cocoa bean, so don’t bet any of it before you pay me.”

“What a thief!” The man with the plate dropped beside his companion, grinning broadly. “You can go on dreaming about those cocoa beans, old man. I don’t see any warriors or other nobility around your stall.” He caught Dehe’s gaze. “Here, maybe this little slave came here with a bag full of beans. Didn’t you, girl?”

Frightened, Dehe took a step back, but the man’s attention shifted back to his plate and the bowl of thick sauce upon another tray.

Breathing with relief, she turned to go, glancing again at the steaming pot. The spicy aroma tickled her nostrils. Having been too angry to eat on the previous evening, she had slipped away well before dawn, before any chance of getting her morning meal. She wanted him to wake up and find her gone. He may have not paid her any attention on the previous day, but he did come to cover her with a blanket before going to sleep. She pretended to be fast asleep too, hoping he would recline beside her and try to wake her up, but he just caressed her hair fleetingly and went back to his mat, leaving her with her eyes shut, and her heart thundering in her ears. He did care for her, he did, even if just a little!

Another man neared the stall, picking a tortilla from the side tray. Leaning against the wooden pole, he consumed it unhurriedly, deep in thought. Dehe hesitated. Could she just pick one for herself too, the way this man did? The grumpy old man seemed to take this sampling of his goods kindly.

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