Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Can we call Calixtlahuaca an “Aztec” city?

Well, look what site is featured on the cover of the newly released book, Aztec City-State Capitals! This book cover proves that Calixtlahuaca was indeed an Aztec city.

To get serious now, the answer to the above question depends, of course, on one’s definition of the term Aztec. Although there are a few limited uses of “Azteca” in native sources, the term is basically a modern label, so scholars have been free to use it as they please. Some writers use “Aztec” to refer to just the Mexica peoples who inhabited the imperial capital, Tenochtitlan. This does not make sense to me, because the terms “Mexica” or “Tenochca” are indigenous terms that work just fine for that category of people. Others use Aztec for all of the Nahuatl-speaking peoples of the Valley of Mexico, but I tend to use the term Aztec to refer to all of the people living in highland central Mexico on the eve of the Spanish conquest (see The Aztecs, 2nd edition, 2003, Blackwell, chapter 1). There is no clear indigenous word for this category of people, but it is an important grouping in terms of social, economic, political, and religious dynamics.

Furthermore, this category of people—including mostly Nahuatl speakers but also significant numbers of speakers of Otomi and other Oto-Pamean languages—has a certain unity in terms of material culture. Each region (such as the area around Calixtlahuaca) had its own ceramic types and styles, but the Aztecs as defined above shared a number of ceramic traits. Also, a basic Aztec style of architecture was found throughout this area. And that is the subject of my new book (which, by the way, I have yet to see, even though my wife informs me that ten copies from the publisher showed up in Arizona last week).

Calixtlahuaca was a provincial city, hardly given a second thought by most of the Aztecs who lived in the Valley of Mexico (and hardly given a second thought today by people who associate "Aztec" with the Valley of Mexico). Yet some of the finest and best preserved Aztec public buildings (Aztec in style and form) are found at Calixtlahuaca. The publisher, University Press of Florida, initially wanted to put an image of Tenochtitlan on the book cover, but this goes against my informal alternative title for the book: “All the Aztec Cities Except for Tenochtitlan.” Besides, José Luis de Rojas is writing a book on Tenochtitlan for the same book series, Ancient Cities of the New World. So I sent them the photo of structure 3 at Calixtlahuaca, and voilá.

So my answer to the above question is yes, Calixtlahuaca was an Aztec city. But if someone wants to claim that it was a Matlatzinca city, that is also correct. The city was called Matlatzinco and it was the capital of a large territorial state also known as Matlatzinco, and some of its inhabitants probably spoke the language known today as Matlatzinca.

You can buy the book at the University Press of Florida.

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