Mayans, Toltecs, Aztecs, and Incas
by Sanderson Beck
Part 2 The Toltecs
Toltecs and Anasazi
In the central highlands of Mexico the Toltecs were dominant from the 10th to the 12th century with their major city at Tollan (Tula). Itzas arrived at Chichén about 918, and Toltec Chichén was not destroyed until about 1250. A Mixtec legend tells of a ruler named Eight-Deer Ocelot-Claw, who succeeded his father as king of Tilantongo at age 19 in 1030, won several battles, married many wives and sired numerous children, went to Tollan, and tried to set up a bureaucratic empire at Tutupec by uniting it with Mixteca Alta and Baja. Eight-Deer had the men of the royal families he conquered sacrificed, and he or his sons married their widows and daughters. When the ruler of Xipe-Bundle died in 1047, Eight-Deer was concerned that some of his relatives would try to rule the city. So he allied himself with the Toltec Four-Tiger and sacrificed his half-brother Twelve-Earthquake. However, his little empire soon failed, and in 1063 Eight-Deer was defeated, captured and sacrificed.
Toltec legends tell of Quetzalcoatl incarnating as Ce Acatl Topiltzin, son of the Chichimec leader Ce Tecpatl Mixcoatl, who ruled Culhuacan 1122-50. Three years after his father died, Topiltzin went to Tollan and claimed the title of Quetzalcoatl as a divine king. Art, metalwork, and crafts thrived, and everyone prospered. According to Mendieta, Quetzalcoatl did not sacrifice men or animals, and he prohibited war and violence. Tollan had a population of about 120,000. The Annals of Cuauhtitlan told how the wizards tried to trick Quetzalcoatl into offering human sacrifices; but he never did it because he loved the Toltec people. This angered the magicians, and they began to mock him. By tricks and evil deeds (inspired by the evil god Tezcatlipoca) Huemac humiliated Quetzalcoatl, who fled Tollan and set himself on fire to become the morning star (Venus). Huemac was also forced to flee and died in Chapoltepec. Though several versions varied, these legends probably commemorated the fall of Tollan in about 1168. In most accounts Huemac fled to Cincalco, where he committed suicide. The Aztecs used the word toltec to refer to a skilled artisan, and Aztec pottery was found in the ceremonial centers destroyed at Tollan; but who actually destroyed Tollan is unknown.
After the fall of Tollan, the Toltec decline was gradual. For two centuries the basin of Mexico was ruled by various Mexica groups and Chichimecs (Dog People), who invaded the Toltecs from the northwest after their defenses were removed. Chichimec leader Xolotl settled at Tenayuca about 1201 and then made Texcoco a capital. Xolotl’s son Nopaltzin killed Topiltzin’s grandson Nauhyotl, the ruler of Culhuacan, possibly in 1248. Tochintecuhtli and Huetzin seem to have established a kingdom, and the latter was succeeded by Nonoalcatl in 1272.
To the northwest (in New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona) the Mogollon and Hohokam cultures were influenced by the Anasazi from the north. In the 12th century the Anasazi suffered a half century of droughts, and by the 13th century they had abandoned Chaco Canyon. They moved into the Moteuczoma Valley, which had 30,000 inhabitants while about three thousand lived in the cliffs of the Mesa Verde mountains. About 1400 CE the Hohokam, who had been influenced by Mexican culture through trade, migrated out of the area probably to the south. The Anasazi developed into the Pueblo culture and lived in large communal houses, moving south as the more war-like Navaho and Apaches raided their towns from the north. Then the Pueblos moved east to the Rio Grande Valley. The Navahos took over what had been Anasazi territory, and the Apaches replaced the Mogollons and Hohokams. The Hopi and Zuni had large communities and used rock shelters to defend themselves against the more aggressive Apaches. They also used irrigation canals and hillside terracing for their farming; another withdrawal occurred after the middle of the 15th century. Hopi means peaceful, and they lived communally, emphasizing spiritual principles and the social group rather than individual prominence. Councils of priests made decisions, and warriors acted as police and only for defense.