Tag Archives: Toltecs

Complicating the Aztecs

Codex Telleriano-Remensis: Historical Chronicle 1383-1399, c. 1563

Title:  Codex Telleriano-Remensis: Historical Chronicle 1383-1399, c. 1563

About the image: The destruction of Colhuacan by the Aztecs and Tepanecs. Colhuacan had been founded by the Toltecs under Mixcoatl and was the first Toltec city.

Why does Professor Andrés Reséndez at U.C. Davis find this image interesting?

“In class we often present the Aztec empire as timeless: always powerful, always an empire.  Yet the Aztecs had a history too.  Their rags-to-riches story is so extraordinary that it is hard to believe (and rightfully so, for we know that they rewrote their own history!)  According to this version, the Aztecs were originally a lowly band of wanderers arriving to the valley of Mexico when it was already occupied by several other city-states.  Colhuacan was one of the dominant powers in the fourteenth century.  The leaders of Colhuacan tolerated the late-arriving Aztecs by employing them as mercenaries and giving them other menial tasks while also forcing them to live in marginal lands.

Yet, from these humble beginnings, the Aztecs rose to power by skillfully establishing alliances with other city-states of the valley.  This folio of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis shows the moment when the Aztecs allied with the Tepanecs finally defeated Colhuacan.  I find it especially interesting for what it reveals about the Aztecs’ evolving culture and identity.  Two Aztec warriors no longer clad in animal skins (as they are depicted in earlier folios of the codex) but dressed in cotton (and therefore fully assimilated to the sedentary culture of central Mexico) are battling the mighty city-state of Colhuacan and setting it on fire.  They were no longer outsiders but important players.  Undoubtedly, this victory was a turning point in the history of central Mexico, but a turning point all but ignored in a historical narrative that almost always begins much later with the Spanish arrival.”

Related Topics/Themed Collections: Ancient Mexico, Arts & Architecture, War, Religion

Lessons in the Marchand Collection:

Resources Available in the Marchand Collection:

  • Jacques Soustelle, Daily Life of Aztecs: On the Eve of the Spanish Conquest
  • David Carrasco, Daily Life of the Aztecs: People of the Sun and Earth
  • Gisele Díaz and Alan Rodgers, The Codex Borgia: A Full-Color Restoration of the Ancient Mexican Manuscript
  • Miguel Léon-Portilla, The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico

Share your ideas! How would you use this image? Let us know here.