1902 Encyclopedia > Mexico > Ancient Mexico

(Part 1)


The name Mexico is connected with the name of the group of American tribes calling themselves Mexica (sing. Mexicatl), or Azteca. The word is related to or derived from the name of the Mexican national wax-god Mexitl, better known as Huitzilopochtli. The Aztecs from the 12th century appear to have migrated from place to place over the mountain-walled plateau of Anahuac, the country "by the water," so called from its salt lagoons, and which is now known as the valley of Mexico. About 1325 they founded on the lake of Tezcuco the permanent settle-ment of Mexico Tenochtitlan, which is still represented by the capital city Mexico. The name Mexico was given by the Spanish conquerors to the group, of countries over which the Aztec power more or less prevailed at the time of the European invasion. Clavigero (Storia Antica del Messico, vol. i.) gives a map of the so-called "Mexican empire," which may be roughly described as reaching from the present Zacatecas to beyond Guatemala; it is noticeable that both these names are of Mexican origin, derived respectively from words for "straw" and "wood." Eventually Mexico and New Mexico came to designate the still vaster region of Spanish North America, which (till cut down by changes which have limited the modern republic of Mexico) reached as far as the Isthmus of Panama on the south and took in California and Texas on the north. Mexico in this wide sense is of high interest to the anthropologist, from the several native American civilizations which appear within its limits, and which conveniently if loosely group themselves round two centres, the Mexican proper and the Central American.

When early in the 16th century the Spaniards found their way from the West India Islands to this part of the mainland of America, they came in view of nations cultured high above the level they had hitherto met with in the New World. Here were not rude and simple tribes like the islanders of the Antilles, but nations with organized armies, official administrators, courts of justice, high agriculture and mechanical arts, and, what struck the white men especially, stone buildings whose architecture and sculpture were often of dimensions and elaborateness to astonish the builders and sculptors of Europe. How a population of millions could inhabit a world whose very existence had been till then unknown to geographers and historians, and how its nations could have reached so high a grade of barbaric industry and grandeur, was a problem which naturally excited the liveliest curiosity of scholars, and gave rise to a whole literature. Hernandez and Acosta shared the opinion of their time that the great fossil bones found in Mexico were remains of giants, and it was argued that, as before the deluge there were giants on the earth, therefore Mexico was peopled from tke Old World in ante-diluvian times. On the other hand the multitude of native American languages suggested that the migration to America took place after the building of the tower of Babel, and Siguenza arrived at the curiously definite result that the Mexicans were descended from Naphtuhim, son of Mizraim and grandson of Noah, who left Egypt for Mexico shortly after the confusion of tongues. Although such speculations have fallen out of date, it is to be remembered in their favour that they were stepping-stones to more valid argument; especially they induced the collection of native traditions and invaluable records of races, languages, and customs, which otherwise would have been lost for ever. Even in the present century Lord Kingsborough was led to spend a fortune in printing a magnificent compilation of Mexican picture-writings and documents in his Antiquities of Mexico by his zeal to prove the theory advocated by Garcia a century earlier, that the Mexicans were the lost tribes of Israel.

Real information as to the nations of Mexico before Spanish times is very imperfect, but not altogether want-ing. It is derived partly from inspection of the natives themselves, their languages and customs, which may be now briefly considered, before going on to the recollections handed down in the native picture-writings and oral tradi-tions. The remarks made by the accurate and experienced observer Alexander von Humboldt, who had seen more American tribes than almost any traveller, are still entitled to the greatest weight. He considered the native Americans of both continents to be substantially similar in race-characters. Such a generalization will become sounder if, as is now generally done by anthropolo-gists, the Eskimo with their' pyramidal skulls, dull complexion, and flat noses are removed info a division by themselves. Apart from these polar nomads, the American indigenes group roughly into a single race or division of mankind, of course with local variations. If our attention is turned to the natives of Mexico especi-ally, the unity of type will be found particularly close. The native population of the plateau of Mexico, mainly Aztecs, may still be seen by thousands without any trace of mixture of European blood; and the following description may give a fair idea of their appearance.1 Their stature is somewhat low, estimated about 5 feet 3 inches, but they are of muscular and sturdy build. Measurements of their skulls show them mesocephalic (index about 78), or intermediate between the dolichocephalic and brachycephalic (narrow and wide skulled) types of mankind. The face is oval, with low forehead, high cheek-bones, long eyes sloping outward towards the temples, fleshy lips, nose wide and in some cases flattish but in others aquiline, coarsely moulded features, with a somewhat stolid and gloomy expression. Thickness of skin, masking the muscles, has been thought the cause of a peculiar heaviness in the outlines of body and face; the complexion varies from yellow--brown to chocolate (about 40 to 43 in the anthropological scale); eyes black; straight coarse glossy black hair; beard and moustache scanty. Among variations from this type may be mentioned higher stature in some districts, and lighter complexion in Tehuantepec and elsewhere. If now the native Americans be compared with the races of the regions across the oceans to their east and west, it will be seen that their unlikeness is extreme to the races east-ward of them, whether white Europeans or black Africans. On the other hand they are considerably like the Mongoloid peoples of North and East Asia (less so to the Polynesians); so that the tendency among anthropologists is now generally to admit a common origin, however remote, between the tribes of Tartary and of America. This original connexion, if it may be accepted, would seem to belong to a long-past period, to judge from the failure of all attempts to discover an affinity between the languages of America and Asia. At whatever date the Americans began to people America, they must have had time to import or develop the numerous families of languages actually found there, in none of which has community of origin been satisfactorily proved with any other language-group, at home or abroad. In Mexico itself the languages of the Nahua nations, of which the Aztec is the best-known dialect, show no connexion of origin with the language of the Otomi tribes, nor either of these with the languages of the regions of the ruined cities of Central America, the Quiché of Guatemala and the Maya of Yucatan. Indeed, within the Mexican limits, there are various other languages which, so far as philological research can at present decide, are independent of one another. The remarkable phenomenon of nations so similar in bodily make but so distinct in language can hardly be met except by supposing a long period to have elapsed since the country was first inhabited by the ancestors of peoples whose language has since passed into so different forms. The original peopling of America may well date from the time when there was continuous land between it and Asia.

It would not follow, however, that between these remote ages and the time of the discovery of the New World by Columbus no fresh immigrants can have reached America. We may put out of the question the Scandinavian sea--rovers who sailed to Greenland about the 10th century, and appear afterwards to have coasted New England (see America, vol. i. p. 706), but do not seem to have found their way far enongh southward for their visit to have any effect on Mexico. But at all times communication has been open from East Asia and even the South Sea islands to the west coast of America. The importance of this is evident when we consider that Japanese junks now drift over by the ocean current to California at the rate of about one a year, often with some of the crew still alive (see C. W. Brooks in Bancroft, vol. v. p. 51 ; Overland Monthly, San Francisco, 1872, p. 353). Further north, the Aleutian islands offer a line of easy sea passage, while in north-east Asia, near Behring’s Strait, live Chukchi tribes who carry on inter-course with the American side; the presence of Eskimo in this part of Asia (see Nordenskiöld, Voy. of Vega, vol. ii. pp. 13, 81) is so plainly due to local migration that it is neglected in comparing the languages of the two continents. Asiatics such as Japanese or Kurile Islanders, if they found their way in small numbers to America and merged into native tribes, might hardly leave descendants distinguishable from the rest of the population even in the first genera-tion, nor introduce their own language. Such assertions as that the Guatusos of Costa Rica are a tribe with fair skin and flaxen hair, and that Japanese words may be detected among the Indians of British Columbia, are examples of evidence which may be worth further sifting; but in an account like the present no proofs can be admitted unless far better authenticated than these. Whit gives a more solid interest to the question of Asiatic influence in America, is that, though neither the evidence of features nor of language has substantiated it, there are details of Mexican civilization which are most easily accounted for on the supposition that they were borrowed from Asia. They do not seem ancient enough to have to do with a remote Asiatic origin of the nations of America, but rather to be results of comparatively modern intercourse between Asia and America, probably since the Christian era. Humboldt (Vues des Cordillères, pl. xxiii.) compared the Mexican calendar with that in use in eastern Asia. The Mongols, Tibetans, Chinese, and other neighbouring nations have a cycle or series of twelve animals, viz., rat, bull, tiger, hare, dragon, serpent, horse, goat, ape, cock, dog, pig, which may possibly be an imitation of the ordinary Babylonian-Greek zodiac familiar to ourselves. The Mongolian peoples not only count their lunar months by these signs, but they reckon the successive days by them, rat-day, bull-day, tiger-day, &c., and also, by combining the twelve signs in rotation with the ele-ments, they obtain a means of marking each year in the sixty-year cycle, as the wood-rat year, the fire-tiger year, &c. This method is highly artificial, consisting, not in mere numbering, but in combining series of different terms so that the same combination does not recur till the end of the period. Thus the reappearance of its principle in the Mexican and Central-American calendar (see p. 212) is suggestive of importation from Asia. Humboldt also discussed the Mexican doctrine, represented in the native pictures, of four ages of the world belonging to water, earth, air, and fire, and ending respectively by deluge, earthquake, tempest, and conflagration. The resemblance of this to some versions of the Hindu doctrine of the four ages or yuga is of so remarkable a closeness.as hardly to be accounted for except on the hypothesis that the Mexican theology con-tains ideas learnt from Asiatics. Among Asiatic points of resemblance to which attention has since been called is the Mexican belief in the nine stages of heaven and hell, an idea which nothing in nature would suggest directly to a barbaric people, but which corresponds to the idea of successive heavens and hells among Brahmans and Buddhists, who apparently learnt it (in common with our own ancestors) from the Babylonian-Greek astronomical theory of successive stages or concentric planetary spheres belonging to the planets, &c. The Spanish chronicles also give accounts of a Mexican game called patolli, played at the time of the conquest with coloured stones moved on the squares of a cross-shaped figure, according to the throws of beans marked on one side; the descriptions of this rather complicated game correspond closely with the Hindu backgammon called pachisi (see Tylor in Jour. Anthrop. Inst., vol. viii. p. 116).1

The native history of Mexico and Central America is entitled to more respect than the mere recollections of savage tribes, inasmuch as here memory was aided by something like written record. The Mexican pictures so far approached writing proper as to set down legibly the names of persons and places and the dates of events, while the rude drawings which accompanied these at least helped the professional historians to remember the tradi-tions repeated orally from generation to generation. Thus actual documents of native Aztec history, or copies of them, are still open to the study of scholars, while after the conquest interpretations of these were drawn up in writing by Spanish-educated Mexicans, and histories founded on them with the aid of traditional memory were written by Ixthlxochitl and Tezozomoc; the most important of these picture-writings, interpretations, and histories may be found in Kingsborough’s Antiquities of Mexico. In Central America the rows of complex hieroglyphs to be seen sculptured on the ruined temples probably served a similar purpose up to the time of the Spanish invasion. The documents purporting to be histories, written clown by natives in later times, thus more or less represent real records of the past, but the task of separating the preponder-ant mythical part from what is real history is of the utmost difficulty. Among the most curious documents of early America is the Popol-Vuh or national book of the Quiché kingdom of Guatemala, a compilation of traditions written down by native scribes, found and translated by Father Ximenez about 1700, and published by Scherzer (Vienna, 1857) and Brasseur de Bourbourg (Paris, 1861). This book, composed in a picturesque barbaric style, begins with the time when there was only the heaven with its boundaries towards the four winds, but as yet there was no body, nothing that clung to anything else, nothing that balanced itself or rubbed together or made a sound; there was nought below but the calm sea alone in the silent darkness. Alone were the Creator, the Former, the Ruler, the Feathered Serpent, they who give being and whose name is Gucumatz. Then follows the creation, when the creators said "Earth," and the earth was formed like a cloud or a fog, and the mountains appeared like lobsters from the water, cypress and pine covered the hills and valleys, and their forests were peopled with beasts and birds, but these could not speak the name of their creators, but could only chatter and croak. So man was made first of clay, but he was strengthless and senseless and melted in the water; then they made a race of wooden mannikins, but these were useless creatures without heart or mind, and they were destroyed by a great flood, and pitch poured down on them from heaven, those who were left of them being turned into the apes still to be seen in the woods. After this comes the creation of the four men and their wives who are the ancestors of the Quichés, and the tradition records the migrations of the nation to Tulan, otherwise called the Seven Caves, and thence across the sea, whose waters were divided for their passage. It is worth while to mention these few early incidents of the national legend of Guatemala, because their Biblical incidents show how native tradition incorporated matter learnt from the white men. Moreover, this Central-American document, mythical as it is, has an historical importance from its bringing in names belonging also to the traditions of Mexico proper. Thus Gucumatz, "Feathered Serpent," corresponds in name to the Mexican deity Quetzalcoatl; Tulan and the Seven Caves are familiar words in the Aztec migration-traditions, and there is even mention of a chief of Toltecat, a name plainly referring to the famed Toltecs, of whom further account will be given in their place in Mexican history. Thus the legends of the Popol-Vuh confirm. what is learnt from comparing the culture of Central America and Mexico proper, that, though the nations of these districts were not connected by language, the intercourse and mixture between them had been sufficient to implant in them much common civilization, and to justify the anthropologist in including both districts in one region. Historical value of the ordinary kind may be found in the latter part of the Popol-Vuh, which gives names of chiefs down to the time when they began to bear Spanish names, and the great city of Quiché became the deserted ruin of Santa Cruz. The Maya district of Yucatan has also some vestiges of native traditions in the manuscript translated by D. Pio Perez (in Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan) and in the remarkable 16th century Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan by Diego de Landa, published by Brasseur de Bourbourg (Paris, 1864). As in the Guatemala traditions, we hear of ancient migration from the Mexican legendary region of Tula; and here the leaders are four famous chiefs or ancestors who bear the Aztec name of the Tutul-Xiu, which interpreted means "Bird-Tree." Unfortunately for the historical standing of these four ancestors, there are in the Aztec picture-writings representations of four trees each with a bird perched on it, and placed facing the four quarters, which make it probable that the four Tutul-Xiu of tradition, in spite of the circumstantial detail of their wars and migrations, may be only mythic personifications of the four cardinal points (see Schultz-Sellack in Zeitsch.f. Ethn., 1879, p. 209). Nevertheless, part of the later Maya records may be genuine,—for instance, when they relate the war about three centuries before the Spanish conquest, when the king of Chichen-Itza destroyed the great city of Mayapan. Though the names and dates of Central-American native kings have too little interest to general readers for traditions of them to be dwelt on here, they bring into view one im-portant historical point, that the wondrous ruined cities of this region are not to be thought monuments of a perished race in a forgotten past, but that at least some of them belong to history, having been inhabited up to the conquest, apparently by the very nations who built them.

Turning now to the native chronicles of the Mexican nations, these are found to be substantial dated records going back to the 12th or 13th century, with some vague but not worthless recollections of national events from times some centuries earlier. These last-mentioned traditions, in some measure borne out by linguistic evidence of names of places, tribes, and persons, point to the immigration of detachments or branches of a widespread race speaking a common language, which is represented to us by the Aztec, still a spoken language in Mexico. This language was called nahuatl, and one who spoke it as his native tongue was called nahuatlacatl, so that modern anthro-pologists are following native precedent when they use the term Nahua for the whole series of peoples now under consideration.1 Earliest of the Nahua nations, the Toltecs are traditionally related to have left their northern home of Huehuetlapallan in the 6th century; and, though this remote date cannot be treated as belonging to genuine history, there is other evidence of the real existence of the nation. Their name Toltecatl signifies an inhabitant of Tollan, "land of reeds," a place which, as has been already pointed out, appears elsewhere in the national traditions of this region, and has a definite geographical site in the present Tulan or Tula, north of the valley of Anahuac, where a Toltec kingdom of some extent seems to have had its centre. To this nation is ascribed not only the oldest but the highest culture of the Nahua nations; to them was due the introduction of maize and cotton into Mexico, the skilful workmanship in gold and silver, the art of build-ing on a scale of vastness still witnessed to by the mound of Cholula, said to be Toltec work; the Mexican hieroglyphic writing and calendar are also declared to have been of Toltec origin. With the Toltecs is associated the mysterious tradition of Quetzalcoatl, a name which presents itself in Mexican religion as that of a great deity, god of the air, and in legend as that of a saintly ruler and civilizer. His brown and beardless worshippers describe him as of another race, a white man with noble features, long black hair and full beard, dressed in flowing robes. He came from Tullan or from Yucatan (for the stories differ widely), and dwelt twenty years among them, teaching men to follow his austere and virtuous life, to hate all violence and war, to sacrifice no men or beasts on the altars, but to give mild offerings of bread and flowers and perfumes, and to do penance by the votaries drawing blood with thorns from their own bodies. Legend tells stories of his teaching men picture-writing and the calendar, and also the artistic work of the silversmith, for which Cholala was long famed; but at last he departed, some say towards the unknown land of Tlapallan, but others to Coatzacualco on the Atlantic coast on the confines of Central America, where native tradition still keeps up the divine names of Gucumatz among the Quichés (see p. 208) and Cukulcan among the Mayas, these names having the same meaning as Quetzalcoatl in Aztec, viz., "Feathered Serpent." Native tradition held that when Quetzalcoatl reached the Atlantic he sent back his companions to tell the Cholulans that in a future age his brethren, white men and bearded like himself, should land there from the sea where the sun rises, and come to rule the country. That there is a basis of reality in the Toltec traditions is shown by the word toltecatl having become among the later Aztecs a substantive signifying an artist or skilled craftsman. It is further related by the Mexican historians that the Toltec nation all but perished in the 11th century by years of drought, famine, and pestilence, a few only of the survivors remaining in the land, while the rest migrated into Yucatan and Guatemala, where, as has been already pointed out, their name is commemorated in local records. After the Toltecs came the Chichimecs, whose name, derived from chichi, "dog," is applied to many rude tribes; the Chichimecs here in question are said to have come from Amaquemecan under a king named Xolotl, names which being Aztec imply that the nation was Nahua; at any rate they appear afterwards as fusing with more cultured Nahua nations in the neighbourhood of Tezcuco. Lastly is recorded the Mexican immigration of the seven nations, Xochimilca, Chalca, Tepaneca, Acolhua, Tlahuica, Tlascalteca, Azteca. This classification of the Nahuatlac tribes has a meaning and value. It is true that Aztlan, the land whence the Aztecs traced their name and source, cannot be identified by geographers, while the story of the separation of the seven nations at the place called Chicomoztoc or Seven Caves looks like national legend rather than real history. But the later stages of the long Aztec migration seem historical, and the map of Mexico still shows the names of several settlements recorded in the curious migration-map published by Gemelli Careri (Giro del Mondo, Venice, 1728) and commented on by Humboldt; among these local names are Tzompanco, "place of skulls," now Zumpango in the north of the Mexican valley, and Chapultepec, "grasshopper hill," now a suburb of the city of Mexico itself, where the Aztecs are recorded to have celebrated in 1195 the festival of tying up the "bundle of years" and beginning a new cycle. The Aztecs moving from place to place in Anahuac found little welcome from the Nahua peoples already settled there, whose own history was indeed one of incessant jealousy and quarrel. One of the first clear events of the Aztec arrival is their being made tributary by the Tepanecs, in whose service or alliance they began to manifest their warlike prowess in the fight near Tepeyacac, where now stands the famous shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Thus they overcame in arms the Acolhuas, their superiors in civilization, who had made Tezeuco a centre of prosperity and improvement. By the 13th century the Aztecs by their ferocity had banded their neighbours together against them ; some were driven to take refuge on the reedy lake shore at Acoculco, while others were taken as captives into Culhuacan. The king of this district was Coxcoxtli, whose name has gained an undeserved reputation even in Europe as "Coxcox, the Mexican Noah," from a scene in the native picture-writing where his name appears together with the figure of a man floating in a dug-out tree, which has been mistaken even by Humboldt for a represen-tation of the Mexican deluge-myth. Coxcoxtli used the help of the Aztecs against the Xochimilco people, but his own nation, horrified at their bloodthirsty sac-rifice of prisoners, drove them out to live for years in want and misery on the islands and swamps of the great salt lagoon, where they are said to have taken to making their chinampas or floating gardens of mud heaped on rafts of reeds and brush, which in later times were so remarkable a feature of Mexico. As one of the Aztec chiefs at the time of the founding of their city was called Tenoch, i.e., "Stone-cactus," it is likely that from him was derived the name Tenochtitlan or "Stone-cactus place." Written as this name is in pictures or rebus, it probably suggested the invention of the well-known legend of a prophecy that the war-god’s temple should be built where a prickly pear was found growing on a rock, and perched on it an eagle holding a serpent; this legend is still commemorated on the coins of Mexico. Mexico.Tenochtitlan, founded about 1325, for many years after-wards probably remained a cluster of huts, and the higher civilization of the country was still to be found among the other nations, especially among the Acolhuas in Tezcuco. The wars of this nation with the Tepanecs, which went on into the 15th century, were merely destructive, but larger effects arose from the expeditions under the Culhua king Acamapichtli, where the Aztec warriors were prominent, and which extended far outside the valley of Anahuac. Especially a foray southward to Quauhnahuac,, now Cuer-navaca, on the watershed between the Atlantic and Pacific, caused the bringing of goldsmiths and other craftsmen home to Tenochtitlan, which now began to rise in arts, the Aztecs laying aside their rude garments of aloe-fibre for more costly clothing, and going out as traders for foreign merchandise. In the 14th century the last great national struggle took place. The Acolhuas had at first the advantage, but Ixtlilxochitl did not follow up the beaten Aztecs but allowed them to make peace, whereupon, under professions of submission, they fell upon and sacked the city of Tezcuco. The next king of Tezcuco, Nezahualcoyotl, turned the course of war, when Azcapuzalco, the Tepanec stronghold, was taken and the inhabitants sold as slaves by the conquering Acolhuas and Aztecs; the place thus de-graded became afterwards the great slave-market of Mexico. In this war we first meet with the Aztec name Moteuezoma, afterwards so famous in its Spanish form Montezuma. About 1430 took place the triple alliance of the Acolhua, Aztec, and Tepanec kings, whose capitals were Tezcuco, Mexico, and Tlacopan, the latter standing much below the other two. In fact the Aztecs now became so predominant that the rest of native history may be fairly called the Aztec period, notwithstanding the picturesque magnificence and intellectual culture which made Tezcuco celebrated under Nezahualcoyotl and his son Nezahualpilli. When the first Moteuczoma was crowned king of the Aztecs, the Mexican sway extended far beyond the valley plateau of its origin, and the gods of conquered nations around had their shrines set up in Tenochtitlan in manifest inferiority to the temple of Huitzilopochtli, the war-god of the Aztec conquerors. T'he rich region of Quauhnahuac became tributary; the Miztec country was invaded southward to the Pacific, and the Xicalanca, region to what is now Vera Cruz. It wo not merely for conquest and tribute that the fierce Mexicans ravaged the neighboar-lands, but they bad a stronger motive than either in the desire to obtain multitudes of prisoners whose hearts were to be torn out by the sacrificing priests to propitiate a pantheon of gods who well personified their bloodthirsty worshippers. The desire for war-captives as acceptable victims is related to have brought about an almost incredible agreement among nations of the Mexican alliance, that they should from time to time fight battles among themselves in order to provide prisoners for the altars. Thus there was something of the character of a religious war in the expedition made in 1469 under Axayacatl as far down the isthmus as Tehuantepec, whence the Mexican-army came back with loads of rich plunder and thousands of captives, and the later ravaging of the Totonac region as far as the Atlantic, when the inhabitants were taken for sacrifice and their land recolonized by Aztecs. Ahuitzotl left the Aztec empire (as it is often somewhat ambitiously called) at the height of apparent power, but the cruel oppression of the subject regions had made their life almost unbearable, and the second Moteuczoma, coming to a rule already liable to break up from within, weakened it still more by upholding the class of chiefs or nobles against the common people who as warriors and traders had in great measure made the prosperity of the allied nations. The Mexicans had long tried to subjugate the stubborn little nation of Tlax-callan (Tlascala), which had obstinately held out, though so hemmed in that for years the people lived without salt, this being no longer to be had from the sea-coast. Moteuczoma made a last effort to crush them, but in vain, and when the Spaniards came they were there as ready-made allies planted on the high road to Mexico. From the date when the festival of the new cycle was first celebrated in Chapultepec six 52-year periods had passed when in 1507 the new fire symbolizing the beginning of a new cycle was kindled for the last time on the breast of a human victim. Rumours of the coming of the Europeans may have before this date spread from Cuba, but in 1517 Cordova touched in Yucatan, and in 1518 Grijalva was on the east coast of Mexico, and the Aztecs first met the white men, in whom they saw, partly with hope and partly with fear, the fulfilment of the prophecy that Quetzalcoatl should one day return. With the Spanish conquest under Hernando Cortes (See CORTES) the native history of Mexico comes to an end.


While the prairie tribes of America lived under the loose sway of chiefs and councils of old men, the settled nations of Mexico had attained to a somewhat highly organized government. This may be seen by the elaborate balance of power maintained in the federation of Mexico, Tezcuco, and Tlacopan, where each king was absolute in his own country, but in war or other public interests they acted jointly, with powers in something like the proportion in which they divided conquered lands and spoil, which was two-fifths each to Mexico and Tezcuco and one-fifth to Tlacopan. The successor of the Aztec king was customarily a chosen brother or nephew, the eldest having the first claim unless set aside as incompetent, and having to be a tried warrior; this mode of succession, which has been looked on as an elaborate practical device for securing practical advantages, seems rather to have arisen out of the law of choice among the descendants of the female line, found in American tribesof much lower culture. Something like this appears in the succes-sion of kings of Tezcuco and Tlacopan, which went to sons by the principal wife, who was usually of the Aztec royal family. The Mexican chronicles, however, show instances of the king’s son succeeding, or of powerful chiefs being elected to the kingship. The term republic is sometimes used to describe the little state of Tlascala, but this was in fact a federation of four chiefs, with an assembly of nobles. In the Zapotec district the Wiyatao or high priest of Zopaa was a divine ruler before whom all prostrated them-sleves with faces to the ground; he was even too sacred to allow his foot to touch the earth, and was only seen carried in a litter.

The accounts given by the Spanish and native Mexican writers of the courts and palaces of the native kings must be taken with some reserve, from the tendency to use descriptive terms not actually untrue, but which convey erroneous ideas taken from European architecture; thus what are called columns of porphyry and jasper supporting marble balconies might perhaps be better described as piers carrying slabs, while the apartments and terraces must have been more remarkable for number and extent than architectural grandeur, being but low one-storied buildings. The principal palace of Mexico consisted of hundreds of rooms and halls ranged round three open squares, with women’s apartments, granaries, storehouses, menageries, aviaries, of such extent that one of the companions of Cortes records having four times wandered about till he was tired, without seeing the whole. Not less remark-able was the palace of Tezcuco, surrounded with its groves and pleasure-gardens; and, though now hardly anything remains of the buildings above ground, the neighbouring hill of Tezcotzinco still has its stone steps and terraces ; and the iminense embankment carrying the aqueduct-channel of hewn stone which supplied water to basins cut in the solid rock still remains to prove that the chron-iclers’ descriptions, if highly-coloured, were at any rate genuine. Till the last century the gigantic figures of Axayacatl and his son Monte-zuma were to be seen carved in the porphyry hill of Chapultepec, but these as well as the hanging gardens have been destroyed, and only the groves of ahuehuete (cypress) remain of the ancient beauties of the place. That in the palace gardens flowers from the tierra caliente were transplanted, and water-fowl bred near fresh and salt pools fit for each kind, that all kinds of birds and beasts were kept in well-appointed zoological gardens where there were homes even for alligators and snakes,—all this testifies, not merely to barbaric ostentation, but to a cultivation of natural history which was really beyond the European level of the time. From the palaces and re-tinues of thousands of servants attached to the royal service may be inferred at once the despotic power of the Mexican rulers and the heavy taxation of the people ; in fact some of the most remarkable of the picture-writings are tribute-rolls enumerating by hundreds and thousands the mantles, ocelot-skins, bags of gold-dust, bronze hatchets, loads of chocolate, &c., furnished periodically by the towns. Below the king was a numerous and powerful class of nobles, the highest of whom (tlatoani) were great vassals owing little more than homage and tribute to their feudal lord, while the natural result of the unruliness of the noble class was that the king to keep them in check increased their numbers, brought them to the capital as councillors, and balanced their influence by military and household officers, and by a rich and powerful merchant class. The nobles not only had privileges of rank and dignity, but substantial power over the plebeian or peasant class (macehualli), who submitted to much the same oppression and extortion at their hands as was customary in the Old World. The tenures of land in Mexico were those generally appearing in barbaric countries where invasion and military despotism have encroached on but not totally superseded the earlier tribal laws. The greatest estates belonged to the king, or had been granted to military chiefs whose sons succeeded them, or were the endowments of temples, but the calpulli or village community still survived, and each freeman of the tribe held and tilled his portion of the common lands. Below the freemen were the slaves, who were war-captives, persons enslaved for punishment, or children sold by their parents. Prisoners of war were mostly doomed to sacrifice, but other classes of slaves were mildly treated, retaining civil rights, and their children were born free.

The superior courts of law formed part of the palace, and there were tribunals in the principal cities, over each of which presided a supreme judge or cihuacoatl, who was irremovable, and whose criminal decisions not even the king might reverse ; he appointed the lower judges and heard appeals from them ; it is doubtful whether he judged in civil cases, but both kinds of suits were heard in the court below, by the tlacatecatl and his two associates, below whom were the ward-magistrates. Lands were set apart for the maintenance of the judges, and indeed nothing gives a higher idea of the elaborate civilization of Mexico than this judicial system, which culminated in a general court and council of state presided over by the king. The laws and records of suits were set down in picture-writings, of which some are still to be seen ; sentence of death was recorded by drawing a line with an arrow across the portrait of the condemned, and the chroniclers describe the barbaric solemnity with which the king passed sentence sitting on a golden and jewelled throne in the divine tribunal, with one hand on an ornamented skull and the golden arrow in the other. Among the resemblances to Old-World law was the use of a judicial oath, the witness touching the ground with his finger and putting it to his lips, thus swearing by Mother Earth. Ae criminal laws were of extreme severity, even petty theft being punished by the thief being enslaved to the person he had robbed, while to steal a tobacco pouch or twenty ears of corn was death; he who pilfered in the market was then and there beaten to death, and he who insulted Xipe, the god of the gold- and silver-smiths, by stealing his precious metal, was skinned alive and sacrificed to the offended deity. Though aloe-beer or "pulque" was allowed for feasts and to invalids in moderation, and old people over seventy seem to be represented in one of the picture-writhigs as having liberty of drunkenness, young men found drunk were clubbed to death and young women stoned. Such a Draconian standard prevailing, it is hardly needful to enumerate the special penalties of such offences as witchcraft, fraud, removing landmarks, adultery, &c., which differed as to whether the criminal had his heart cut out on the altar, his head crushed between two stones, &c. ; while even lesser punishments were harsh, such as that of slanderers, whose hair was singed with a pine-torch to the scalp.

Based on conquest as the Aztec kingdom was, and with the craving for warlike glory fostered by the most bloodthirsty religion the world ever saw, it follows that the nation was above all other pursuits organized as a fighting community. To be a tried soldier was the road to honour and office, and the king could not be en-throned till he had with his own hand taken captives to be butchered on the war-god’s altar at his coronation. The common soldiers were promoted for acts of daring, and the children of chiefs were regularly trained to war, and initiated by being sent into battle with veterans, with whose aid the youth took his first prisoner, but his future rise depended on how many captives he took un-aided in fight with warlike enemies ; by such feats he gained the dignity of wearing coloured blankets, tassels, and lip-jewels, and reached such military titles as that of "guiding eagle." The Mexican military costumes are to be seen in the picture-writings, where the military orders of princes, eagles, and tigers are known by their braided hair, eagles’ beaks, and spotted armour. The common soldiers went into battle brilliant in savage war-paint, but those of higher rank had helmets like birds and beasts of prey, armour of gold and silver, wooden greaves, and especially the ichcapilli, the quilted cotton tunic two fingers thick, so serviceable as a protection from arrows that the Spanish invaders were glad to adopt it. The archers shot well and with strong bows, though their arrows were generally tipped only with stone or bone ; their shields or targets, mostly round, were of ordinary barbaric forms ; the spears or javelins had heads of obsidian or bronze, and were some-times hurled with a spear-thrower or atlatl, of which pictures and specimens still exist, showing it to be similar in principle to those used by the Australians and Eskimo. The most characteristic weapon of the Mexicans was the maquahuitl or "hand-wood," a club set with two rows of large sharp obsidian flakes, a well-directed blow with which would cut down man or horse. These two last-mentioned weapons have the look of highly-developed savage forms, while on the other hand the military organization was in some respects equal to that of an Asiatic nation, with its regular companies commanded each by its captain and provided with its standard. The armies were very large, an expedition often consisting of several divisions each numbering eight thousand men, but the tactics of the commanders were quite rudimentary, consist-ing merely of attack by arrows and javelins at a distance, gradu-ally closing into a hand-to-hand fight with clubs and spears, with in occasional feigned retreat to draw the enemy into an ambuscade. Fortification was well understood, as may still be seen in the remains of walled and escarped strongholds on hills and in steep ravines, while lagoon-cities like Mexico had the water approaches defended by fleets of boats, and the causeways protected by towers and ditches ; even after the town was entered, the pyramid -temples with their surrounding walls were forts capable of stubborn resistance. It was held unrighteous to invade another nation with-out a solemn embassy to warn their chiefs of the miseries to which they exposed themselves by refusing the submission demanded, and this again was followed by a declaration of war, but in Mexico as in other more cultured countries this act of national morality degene-rated into a ceremonial farce, where tribute was claimed from some neighbouring nation, or an Aztec god was offered to be worshipped in their temples, in order to pick a quarrel as a pretext for an invasion already planned to satisfy the soldiers with lands and plunder, and to meet the priests’ incessant demands for more human sacrifices,

Among the accounts of the Mexican religion are some passages referring to the belief in a supreme deity. The word teotl, god, has been thought in some cases to bear this signification, but its meaning is that of deity in general, and it is applied not only to the sun-god but to very inferior gods. It is related that Nezahualcoyotl, the poet-king of Tezcuco, built a nine-storied temple with a starry roof above, in honour of the invisible deity called Tloquenahuaque, "he who is all in himself," or lpalnemoan, "he by whom we live," who had no image, and was propitiated, not by bloody sacrifices, but by incense and flowers. Those who adopt the opinion of Asiatic admixture in Mexican culture will use it to account for this remark-able religious phenomenon, less easily accounted for by native development, while also the appearance of a rival deity of evil, bearing the name of Tlacatecolotl, or "man-owl," is mysterious, These divinities, however, seem to have had little or no place in the popular faith, which was occupied by polytheistic gods of more ordinary barbaric type. Tezeatlipoca was held to be the highest of these, and at the festival of all the gods his footsteps were expected to appear in the flour strewn to receive this sign of their coming. He was plainly an ancient deity of the race, for attributes of many kinds are crowded together in him, and be was prayed to in inter-minable formulas for help in war and for health and fortune, to deliver the nation from a wicked king, or to grive pardon and strength to the penitent who had confessed his sins and been purified by washing. Between him and Quetzalcoatl, the ancient deity of Cholula, there had been old rivalry, as is related in legends of Quetzalcoatl coming into the land to teach men to till the soil, to work metals, and to rule a well-ordered state; the two.gods played their famous match at the ball-game, and Tezcatlipoca in the guise of a hoary-headed sorcerer, persuaded the sick and weary Quetzalcoatl to drink the magic pulque that sent him roaming to the distant ocean, where he embarked in his boat and disappeared from among men. These deities are not easily analysed, but on the other hand Tonatiuh and Metztli,.the sun and moon, stand out in the distinctest personality as nature gods, and the traveller still sees in the huge adobe pyramids of Teotihuacan, with their sides oriented to the four quarters, an evidence of the importance of their worship. The war-god, Huitzilopochtli, of whom one legend relates a supernatural conception in the the ancient Tullan, while another story declares him to have been (like the Chinese war-god) a deified warrior-ebief, was the real head of the Aztec pantheon ; his idol remains in Mexico, a huge block of basalt on which is sculptured on the one side his hideous personage, adorned with the humming-bird feathers on the left hand which signify his name, while the not less frightful war-goddess Teoyao-miqui, or "divine-war-death," occupies the other side. Centeotl, the goddess of the all-nourishing maize, was patroness of the earth and mother of the gods, while Mictlanteactli, lord of dead-land, ruled over the departed in the dim under-world. Numbers of lesser deities presided over classes of society, events, and occupations of life, such as Tlazolteotl, goddess of pleasure, worshipped by courtesans, Tezcatzoncatl, god of strong drink, whose garment in grim irony clothed the drunkard’s corpse, and Xipe, patron of the gold-smiths. Below these were the usual crowd of nature-spirits of hills and groves, whose shrines were built by the roadside to receive offer-ings from passers-by. The temples were called teocalli or "god’s house," and the teocallis of the greater deities rivalled in size as they resembled in form the temples of ancient Babylon. They were pyramids on a square or oblong base, rising in successive terraces to a small summit-platform. The great teocalli of Huitzilopochtli in the city of Mexico stood in an immense square, whence radiated the four principal thoroughfares, its courtyard being enclosed by a square, of which the stone wall, called the coatepantli or serpent-wall from its sculptured serpents, measured nearly a quarter of a mile on each side. In the centre, the oblong pyramid of rubble cased with hewn stone and cemented, 375 x 300 feet at the base, and rising steeply in five terraces to the height of 86 feet, showed conspicuously to the city the long processions of priests and victims winding along the terraces and up the corner flights of steps. On the paved platform were three-story tower temples in whose ground-floor stood the stone images and altars, and before that of the war-god the green stone of sacrifice, humped so as to bend upward the body of the victim that the priest might more easily slash open the breast with his obsidian knife, tear out the heart and hold it up before the god, while the captor and his friends were waiting below for the carcase to be tumbled down the steps for them to carry home to be cooked for the feast of victory. Before the shrines reeking with the stench of slaughter, the eternal fires were kept burning, and on the platform stood the huge drum covered with snakes’ skin, whose fearful sound was heard for miles. From the terrace could be seen seventy or more other temples within the enclosure, with their images and blazing fires, and the tzompantli or "skull-place," where the skulls of vctims by tens of thousands were skewered on cross-sticks or built into towers. There also might be seen the flat circular temalacatl or "spindle-stone," where captives armed with wooden weapons were allowed the mockery of a gladiatorial fight against well-armed champions. The great pyramid of Cholula with its hemispherical temple of Quetzalcoatl at the top, now an almost shapeless hill surmounted by a church, was about thrice as long and twice as high as the teocalli of Mexico. A large fraction of the Mexican population were set apart as priests or attendants to the services of the gods. The rites performed were such as are found elsewhere, prayer, sacrifice, processions, dances, chants, fasting and other austerities, but there are some peculiari-ties of detail. Prayers and other formulas have been copied down by Sahagun and other chroniclers, of endless prolixity, but not without occasional touches of pathos. The following are a few sentences from a prayer to Tezcatlipoca, interceding for the poor: " O our lord, protector most strong and compassionate, invisible and impalpable, thou art the giver of life ; lord of all, and lord of battles, I present myself here before thee to say some few words concerning the need of the poor people, the people of none estate or intelligence. . . . Know, O Lord, that thy subjects and servants suffer a sore poverty, that cannot be told of more than that it is a sore poverty and desolateness. The men have no garments nor the women to cover themselves with, but only rags rent in every part that let the wind and cold in. . . . If they be mer-chants, they now sell only cakes of salt and broken pepper ; the people that have something despise their wares, sothat they go out to sell from door to door and from house to house ; and when they sell nothing they sit down sadly by some fence or wall. or in some corner, licking their lips and gnawing their nails for the hunger that is in them, they look on one side and the other at the mouths of those who pass by, hoping peradventure that one may speak some word to them. O compassionate God, the bed on which they lie is not a thing to rest upon, but to endure torment in ; they draw a rag over them at night and so sleep. . . . O our Lord, in whose power it is to give all content, consolation, sweetness, softness, prosperity, and riches, for thou alone art lord of all good, have mercy upon them, for they are thy servants. . .. I supplicate thee that thou wilt lift up their heads with thy favour and aid, that thou wilt see good that they enjoy some days of prosperity and tranquillity, so that they may sleep and know repose, having prosperous and peaceable days of life. . . . Should this nation, for whom I pray and entreat thee to do them good, not understand what thou hast given, thou canst take away the good and pour out cursing, so that all evil may come upon them, and they become poor, in need, maimed, lame, blind, and deaf ; then indeed they shall waken and know the good that they had and have not, and they shall call upon thee and lean toward thee; but thou will not listen, for in the day of abundance they would not understand thy goodness towards them." These prayers seem essentially genuine; indeed there was no European model from which they could have been imitated; but at the same time it must be remembered that they come down in Spanish writ-ing, and not untouched by Spanish influence, as in one passage where there is a mention of sheep, an animal of course unknown to the native Mexicans. As to sacrifice, maize and other vegetables were offered, and occasionally rabbits, quails, &c.; but, in the absence of cattle, human sacrifice was the chief rite, and cannibalism prevailed at the feasts. Incense was constantly used, especially the copalli (copal) well known to us for varnish; little terra-cotta censers are among the commonest of Mexican antiquities. Long and severe religious fasts were customary at special seasons, and drawing blood from the arms, legs, and body, by thrusting in aloe-thorns, and passing sharp sticks through the tongue, was an habitual act of devotion recalling the similar practices of devotees in India. The calendar of religious festivals for the whole course of the Mexican year has been preserved. Each 20-day period had one or more such celebrations. In the month of the "diminishing of waters" the rain-gods or Tlalocs were propitiated by a procession of priests with music of flutes and trumpets carrying on plumed litters infants with painted faces, in gay clothing with coloured paper wings, to be sacrificed on the mountains or in a whirlpool in the lake. It is said that the people wept as they passed by; but if so this may have been a customary formality, for the religion of these nations must have quenched all human sympathy. In the next month the god Xipe-totec, already mentioned, had his festival called the "flaying of men" from the human victims being flayed, after their hearts were torn out, for young men to dress in their skins and perform dances and sham fights. The succeeding festival of Camaxtli was marked by a severe fast of the priests, after which stone knives were prepared with which a hole was cut through the tongue of each, and numbers of sticks passed through. For the great festival of Tez-catlipoca, the handsomest and noblest of the captives of the year had been chosen as the incarnate representative of the god, and paraded the streets for public adoration dressed in an embroidered mantle with feathers and garlands on his head and a retinue like a king; for the last month they married him to four girls representing four goddesses ; on the last day wives and pages escorted him to the little temple of Tlacochcalco, where he mounted the stairs, breaking an earthenware flute against each step; this was a symbolic fare-well to the joys of the world, for as he reached the top he was seized by the priests, his heart torn out and held up to the sun, his head spitted on the tzompantli, and his body eaten as sacred food, the people drawing from his fate the moral lesson that riches and pleasure may turn into poverty and sorrow. The manner of the victim’s death in these festivals afforded scope for variety; they dressed them and made them dance in character, threw them into the fire for the fire-god, or crtished them between two balanced stones at the harvest-festival. The ordinary pleasures of festivals were mingled with all this, such as dances in beast-masks, sham fights, and children’s games, but the type of a religious function was a sickening butchery followed by a cannibal feast.

The Mexican priesthood, being the educated class, were much concerned with the art of picture-writing, which they had developed to a stage quite above the rude figures of the American hunting- tribes, and used systematically as a means of recording religious festivals and legends, as well as keeping calendars of years and recording the historical events which occurred in them. Facsimiles of several of these interesting documents, with their translations, may be seen in Kingsborough. On inspecting these it will be seen that their main principle is pictorial. Gods are represented with their appropriate attributes,—the fire-god hurling his spear, the moon--goddess with a shell, &c.; the scenes of human life are pictures of warriors fighting with club and spear, men paddling in canoes, women spinning and weaving, &c. An important step towards phonetic writing appears, however, in the picture-names of places and persons. The simplest forms of these depict the objects signified by the name, as where Chapultepec or "grasshopper-hill" is represented by a grass-hopper on a hill, or a stone with a cactus on it stands for Tenoch or "stone-cactus," the founder of Tenochtitlan. The system had, however, risen a stage beyond this when objects were drawn to represent, not themselves, but the syllables forming their names, as where a trap, an eagle, a pricker, and a hand are put to-gether not to represent these objects, but in order that the syllables of their names mo-quauh-zo-ma should spell the word Moquauh-zoma (see Aubin’s introduction to Brasseur, Hist. du Mexique, vol. i. p. 1xviii.). The analogy of this to the manner in which the Egyptian hieroglyphs passed into phonetic signs is remarkable, and writing might have been invented anew in Mexico had it not been for the Spanish conquest. The Aztec numerals, which were vigesimal or reckoned by scores, were depicted by dots or circles up to 20, which was represented by a flag, 400 (a score of scores) by a feather, and 8000 (a score of scores of scores) by a purse; but for convenience these symbols might be halved and quartered, so that 534 might be shown by one feather, one quarter of a feather, one flag, one-half of a flag, and four dots. The Mexican calendar depended on the combination of numbers with picture-signs, of which the four principal were the rabbit, reed, flint, house—-tochtli, acatl, tecpatl, calli. The cycle of 62 years was reckoned by combining these signs in rotation with numbers up to 13, thus:—1 rabbit, 2 reed, 3 flint, 4 house, 5 rabbit, 6 reed, &c. By accident this calendar may be exactly illustrated with a modern pack of cards laid out in rotation of the four suits, as, ace of hearts, 2 of spades, 3 of diamonds, 4 of clubs, 5 of hearts, 6 of spades, &c. In the Mexican ritual calendar of the days of the year, the same method is carried further, the series of twenty day-signs being combined in rotation with numbers up to 13 ; as this cycle of days only reaches 260, a series of nine other signs are affixed in addition, to make up the 365-day year. It is plain that this rotation of signs served no useful purpose whatever, being less convenient than ordinary counting such as the Mexicans employed in their other calendar already mentioned, where the 20-day periods had each a name like our months, and their days had signs in regular order. Its historical interest depends on its resemblance to the calendar-system of central and eastern Asia, where among Mongols, Tibetans, Chinese, &c., series of signs are thus combined to reckon years, months, and days; for instance, the Mongol cycle of 60 years is recorded by the zodiac or series of 12 signs—mouse, bull, tiger, &c., combined in rotation with the five male and female elements—fire, earth, iron, water, wood ; as "male-fire-bull" year, &c. This comparison is worked out in Humboldt’s Vues des Cordillères, as evidence of Mexican civilization being borrowed from Asia. Naturally the Mexican calendar-system lent itself to magic in the same way as the similar zodiac-signs of the Old World, each person’s fate being affected by the qualities of the signs he was born under, and the astrologer-priests being called in to advise on every event of life. Of all Mexican festivals the most solemn was that of the xiuhmolpilli, or "year-binding," when the 52--year cycle or bundle of years came to an end. It was believed that the destruction of the world, which after the Hindu manner the Mexicans held to have already taken place three or four times, would happen again at the end of a cycle. As the time drew near, the anxious population cleansed their houses and put out all fire, and on the last day after sunset the priests, dressed in the garb of gods, set out in procession for the bill of Huixachtla, there to watch for the approach of the Pleiades to the zenith, which gave the auspicious signal for the lighting of the new fire. The finest of the captives was thrown down and fire kindled on his breast by the wooden drill of the priest; then the victim’s heart was torn out, and his body flung on the pile kindled with the new flame. The people watching from their flat housetops all the country round saw with joy the flame on the sacred hill, and hailed it with a thank-offering of drops of blood drawn from their ears with sharp stone-flakes. Swift runners carried burning brands to rekindle the fires of the land, the sacred fire on the teocalli of the war-god blazed up again, and the people began with feasting and rejoicing the new cycle.

Mexican education, at any rate that of the upper class, was a systematic discipline much under the control of religion, which here presents itself under a more favourable light. After the birth of a child, the tonalpouhqui or "sun-calculator" drew its horoscope from the signs it was born under, and fixed the time for its solemn lustration or baptism, performed by the nurse with appropriate prayers to the gods, when a toy shield and bow were provided if if was a boy, or a toy spindle and distaff if it was a girl, and the child received its name. An interesting picture-writing, to be seen in Kingsborough, shows the details of the boy’s and girl’s education, from the early time when three small circles over the child show it to be three years old, and a drawing of half a tortilla or corn-cake shows its allowance for each meal; as they grow older the lads are seen beginning to carry burdens, paddle the canoe, and fish, while the girls learn to spin and weave, grind maize, and cook,—good conduct being enforced by punishments of increasing severity, up to pricking their bodies with aloe-thorns and holding their faces over burning chillis. The schools were extensive build-ings attached to the temples, where from an early age boys and girls were taught by the priests to sweep the sanctuaries and keep up the sacred fires, to fast at proper seasons and draw blood for penance, and where they received moral teaching in long and verbose formulas. Those fit for a soldier’s life were trained to the use of weapons and sent early to learn the hardships of war; children of craftsmen were usually taught by their fathers to follow their trade; and for the children of nobles there was elaborate instruction in history, picture-writing, astrology, religious doctrines, and laws. Marriages depended much, as they do still in the East, on comparison of the horoscopes of the pair to ascertain if their birth-signs were com-patible. Old women were employed as go-betweens, and the marriage ceremony was conducted by a priest who after moral exhortations united the young couple by tying their garments together in a knot, after which they walked seven times round the fire, casting incense into it; after the performance of the marriage ceremony the pair entered together on a four days’ fast and penance before the marriage was completed. The funeral rites of the Mexicans are best seen in the ceremonies at the death of a king. The corpse laid out instate was provided by the priest with a jug of water for his journey, and with bunches of cut papers to pass him safely through each danger of the road—the place where the two mountains strike together, the road guarded by the great snake and the great alligator, the eight deserts and the eight hills; they gave him garments to protect him from the cutting wind, and buried a little dog by his side to carry him across the nine waters. Then the royal body was invested in the mantles of his patron-gods, especially that of the war-god, for Mexican kings were warriors; on his face was placed a mask of turquoise mosaic, and a green chalchihuite-stone as a heart between his lips. In older times the dead king was buried on a throne with his property and dead attendants round him. But after cremation came in a mourning procession of servants and chiefs carried the body to the funeral pyre to be burnt by the demon-dressed priests, after which the crowd of wives and slaves were exhorted to serve their lord faithfully in the next world, were sacrificed and their bodies burnt. Common people would not thus be provided with a ghostly retinue, but their simpler funeral ceremonies were as far as they went similar to those of their monarch.

The staple food of the Mexicans before the conquest has continued with comparatively little change among the native race, and has even been adopted by those of European blood. Maize or Indian corn was cultivated on patches of ground where, as in the Hindu jûm, the trees and bushes were burnt and the seed planted in the soil manured by the ashes. A sharp-pointed planting stick, a wooden shovel, and a bronze-bladed hoe called a coatl were the simple implements. The Mexicans understood digging channels for irrigation, especially for the cultivation of the cacahuatl, from which they taught the Europeans to prepare the beverage chocollatl; these native names passed into English as the words cacao, or cocoa, and chocolate. Other vegetables adopted from Mexico are the tomata (tomatl) and the chilli, used as flavouring to native dishes. The maize was ground with a stone roller on the grinding stone or metlatl, still known over Spanish America as the metate, dnd the meal baked into thin oval cakes called by Aztecs tlaxcalli, and by Spaniards tortilla, which resemble the chapati of India and the oat-cake of Scotland. The Mexicans were also skilful makers of earthen pots, in which were cooked the native beans called by the Spanish frijoles, and the various savoury stews still in vogue. The juice extracted by tapping the great aloe before flowering was fermented into an intoxicating drink about the strength of beer, octli, by the Spaniards called pulque. Tobacco, smoked in leaves or cane-pipes or taken as snuff, was in use, especially at feasts. It is related that in old times Mexican clothing was of skins or woven aloe and palm fibre, but at the time of the conquest cotton was largely cultivated in the hot lands, spun with a spindle, and woven in a rudimentary loom without a shuttle into the mantles and breech-cloths of the men and the chemises and skirts of the women, garments often of fine texture and embroidered in colours. Ornaments of gold and silver, and jewels of polished quartz and green chalchibuite were worn,—not only the ears and nose but the lips being pierced for ornaments. The artificers in gold and silver melted the metals by means of a reed-blowpipe and cast them solid or hollow, and were also skilled in hammered work and chasing, as some fine specimens remain to show, though the famous animals modelled with gold and silver fur, feathers, and scales have disappeared. Iron was not known, but copper and tin ores were mined, and the metals com-bined into bronze of much the same alloy as in the Old World, of which hatchet blades and other instruments were made, though their use had not superseded that of obsidian and other sharp stone flakes for cutting, shaving, &c. Metals bad passed into a currency for trading purposes, especially quills of gold-,dust and T-shaped piece’s of copper, while cocoa-beans furnished small change. The vast size of the market-squares with their surrounding porticos, and the importance of the caravans of merchants who traded with other nations, show that mercantile had risen into some proportion to military interests. Nor was the wealth and luxury of Mexico and surrounding regions without a corresponding development of art. The stone sculptures such as that remaining of Xochicalco, which is figured by Humboldt, as well as the ornamented woodwork, feather-mats, and vases, are not without artistic merit. The often-cited poems attributed to Nezahualcoyotl may not be quite genuine, but at any rate poetry had risen above the barbaric level, while the mention of ballads among the people, court odes, and the chants of temple choirs would indicate a vocal cultivation above that of the instramental music of drums and horns, pipes and whistles, the latter often of pottery. Solemn and gay dances were frequent, and a sport called the bird-dance excited the admiration of foreigners for the skill and daring with which groups of performers dressed as birds let themselves down by ropes wound round the top of a high mast, so as to fly whirled in circles far above the ground. The ball-game of the Mexicans, called tlachtli, was, like tennis, the pas-time of princes and nobles; special courts were built for it, and the ball of india-rubber (perhaps the first object in which Europeans became acquainted with this valuable material) might not be touched by the hands, but was driven against the walls by blows of the knee or elbow, shoulder or buttock. The favourite game of patolli has been already mentioned for its similarity to the pachisi of modern India.

The accounts given by Spanish writers of the Central Americans in their state after the Spanish conquest are very scanty in comparison with the voluminous descriptions of Aztec life. They bring out perfectly, however, the fact of close connexion between the two civilizations. Some Central-American peoples were actually Mexican in their language and culture, especially the Pipils of Guatemala and a large part of the population of Nicaragua, but these were descend-ants of Aztecs or allied peoples who in the comparatively modern times of Aztec power invaded and colonized these distant countries (see Buschmann, Aztek. Ortsnamen, viii., ix.). With regard to the Central-American nations proper, especially the Mayas of Yucatan and the Quichés of Guatemala, who dwelt in the cities and wor-shipped in the temples of Chichen-Itza and Uxmal, Palenque and Copan, the problem of Aztec connexion is deeper and obscurer. How closely related these nations were in institutions to the Mexicans appears, not only in their using the same peculiar weapons, such as the spear-thrower and the toothed club or maquahuitl, but in the similarity of their religious rites, such as drawing blood from their bodies as an act of penance, and sacrificing human victims by cutting open the breast and tearing out the heart; the connexion is evident in such special points as the ceremony of marriage by tying together the garments of the couple, or in holding an offender’s face over burning chillis as a punishment; the native legends of Central America make mention of the royal ball-play, which was the same as the Mexican game of tlachtli already mentioned. At the same time many of the Central-American customs differed from the Mexican; thus in Yucatan we find the custom of the youths sleeping in a great bachelor’s house, an arrangement common in various parts of the world, but not in Mexico ; the same remark applies to the Maya exogamous law of a man not taking a wife of his own family name (see Diego de Landa, Relacion de Yucatan, ed. Brasseur de Bourbourg, p. 140), which does not correspond with Mexican custom. We have the means of comparing the personal appearance of the Mexicans and Central Americans by their por-traits on early sculptures, vases, &c. ; and, though there does not appear any clear distinction of race-type, the extraordinary back-sloping foreheads of such figures as those of the bas-reliefs of Palenque prove that the custom of flattening the skull in infancy prevailed in Central America to an extent quite beyond any such habit in Mexico. It is from the ruined cities now buried in the Central--American forests that we gain the best information as to the nations who built them. The notion sometimes propounded that these fairious cities were of great antiquity and the work of extinct nations has no solid evidence; some of them may have been already aban-doned before the conquest, but others were inhabited, and by the ancestors of the Indians who now build their mean buts and till their patches of maize round the relies of the grander life of their ancestors. In comparing these ruins through the districts of Yucatan, Chiapas, Guatemala, and Honduras, it is evident that, though they are not the work of a single nation, but of two or more highly distinct in language, yet these nations had the great bond of a common system of pictorial or written characters. One speci-men of a Central-American inscription may give a general idea of them all, whether it be from the sculptured façade of a temple sketched by Catherwood, or from the painted deerskin called the Dresden Codex (reproduced in Kingsborough), or from the chapter of Diego de Lands where he professes to explain and translate the characters themselves. These consist of combinations of faces, circles, lines, &c., arranged in compartments in so complex a manner that hardly two are found alike. How they conveyed their meaning, how far they pictorially represented ideas or spelt words in the different languages of the country, is a question not yet answered in a complete way; Landa’s description (p. 320) gives a table of a number of their elements as phonetically representing letters or syllables, but. though there may be a partial truth in his rules, they are too insufficient or too erroneous to serve for any general decipher-ment. Most of what has been written on this enticing subject is worthless, but a promising attempt has been made by E. S. Holden, who has analysed the combined figures into their elementary lines (First Annual Report of Bureau of Ethnology, Smithsonian Insti-tution, Washington, 1881; see also Charencey, Mélanges de Philologié et de Paléographie Américaines, Paris, 1883). One point as to the Central-American characters is clear, that part of them are calendar--signs recording dates. From the accounts given by Landa and other writers it is plain that the Central-American calendar, reckoning the year in twenty-eight periods of thirteen days, was the same in its principle of combining signs as that of Mexico here mentioned at page 212. The four leading Maya signs called kan,muluc, ix, cauac corresponded in their position to the four Aztec signs rabbit, reed, flint, house, but the meanings of the Maya signs are, unlike the Aztec, very obscure. A remarkable feature of the Central-American ruins is the frequency of truncated pyramids built of hewn stolle, with flights of steps up to the temple built on the platform at top. The resemblance of these structures to the old descriptions and pic-tures of the Mexican teocallis is so striking that this name is habitu-ally given to them. The teocallis built by the Nahua or Mexican nations have been mostly destroyed, but two remain at Huatusco and Tusapan (figured in Bancroft, vol. iv. pp. 443, 456), which bear a strong resemblance to those of Palenque. On the whole it is not too much to say that, in spite of differences in style, the best means of judging what the temples and palaces of Mexico were like is to be gained from the actual ruins in Central America. On the other hand, there are features in Central-American architecture which scarcely appear in Mexican. Thus at Uxmal there stands on a terraced mound the long narrow building known as the governor’s house (Casa del Gobernador), 322 feet long, 39 feet wide, 26 feet high, built of rubble stone and mortar faced with square blocks of stone, the interior of the chambers rising into a sloping roof formed by courses of stonework gradually overlapping in a "false arch." The same construction is seen in the buildings forming the sides of a quadrangle and bearing the equally imaginary name of the nunnery (Casa de Monjas); the resemblance of the interior of one of its apartments to an Etruscan tomb has often been noticed (see Fergusson, History of Architecture, vol. i. ; Viollet-le-Duc, in Charnay). Attempts to trace the architecture of Central America to direct derivation from Old-World types have not been successful, while on the other hand its decoration shows proof of original inven-tion, especially in the imitations of woodwork which, as the above-mentioned architects have pointed out, passed into sculptured ornament when the material of construction became stone instead ofwood. Thus the architectural remains, though they fail actually to solve the historical problem of the high culture of the nations round the Gulf of Mexico, throw much light on it when their evidence is added to that of religion and customs. Whether Mexican civilization was a barbaric copy of that which flourished in the now deserted Central-American cities, or whether the nations who built these cities themselves raised to a higher level a civilization derived from Mexico, two things seem probable,—first, that the civilizations of Mexico and Central America were pervaded by a common influence in religion, art, and custom ; second, that this common element shows traces of the importation of Asiatic ideas into America.

Among works of reference on the ancient history, and civilization of Mexico and Central America may be mentioned H. H. Bancroft The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America, London, 1875-6 (contains the most complete summary, with references to original authorities) ; Brasseur de Bourbourg, Histoire des Nations Civilisées, du Mexique et de l’Amérique-Centrale. Paris, 1857-59 (a valuable collection of materials, but the author’s own views are mostly fanciful); Prescott, History of the Conquest of Mexico; Clavigero, Storia Antica del Messico, Cesena, 1780 (contains the substance of earlier writers such as Gomara. Torquemada, Acosta, Boturini, &c.). For special topics:—Lord Kingsborough, Antiquities of Mexico, London, 1831-48 (contains facsimiles and inter-pretations of picture-writings. the native chronicles of Ixtlilxochitl and Tezozo-moc, a reprint of Sahagun, &c.); A. von. Humboldt, Vues des Cordillères. Et Monumens des Peuples Indigenes de I’Amérique, Paris, 1816 (Mexican civilization, picture-writing, calendar, &c.). Travels and descriptions of antiquities, &c.:—- Dupaix (in Kingsborough); C, Nebel, Viaje Pintoresco y Arqueológico sobre la República Mejicana. Paris. 1839: F. de Waldeck, Voyage Pittoresque et Archéologique dans la Province d Yucatan, Paris, 1838 and Palenqué et Autres Ruines, Paris 1866, D Charnay, Cités et Ruines Americaines, avec texte par Viollet-le-Duc, Paris: 1863-, J. L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, &c., New York, 1841; Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, New York, 1858; Brantz Mayer, Mexico, New York, 1854; Tylor, Anahuac, or Mexico and the Mexicans London (E. B. T.)


FOOTNOTE (page 206)

1 References may be found in Bancroft, Native Races of the Pacific States, vol. i. pp. 24, 573, 618, 646.

FOOTNOTE (page 207)

1 The appendix to Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico contains an interesting summary of analogies between the civilization of Mexico and that of the Old World, but some of the arguments are very incon-clusive. One which has been often cited turns on the likeness alleged by Naxera between the Chinese language and that of the Otomi nation of Mexico (whose name survives in that of their town Otompan, now Otumba). The examination of an Otomi grammar (such as Éléments de la Grammaire Othomi, Paris, 1863) will, however, convince the philological reader that the resemblance is hardly of an amount to found a theory of a Chinese connexion upon.

FOOTNOTE (page 208)

1 It should be noticed that this word is not etymologically con-nected with the somewhat similar word Anahuac, of which the mean-ing is given at page 206.

FOOTNOTE (page 208)

1 It should be noticed that this word is not etymologically con-nected with the somewhat similar word Anahuac, of which the mean-ing is given at page 206.

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Mexico - Table of Contents

The above section on Ancient Mexico was written by
Edward Burnett Tylor, LL.D., D.C.L., F.R.S., Professor of Anthropology, Oxford University; Keeper of the University Museum since 1883; author of Anahuac, Mexico and the Mexicans; Researches into the Early History of Mankind; Primitive Culture; Anthropology; and The Natural History of Religion.

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