Toltec Civilization | History, Culture, Economy, Religion & Characteristics

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Toltec Civilization | History

Toltec Culture: Mesoamerican civilization that developed between the 10th and 12th centuries.

Date Between the 9th and 13th Centuries
Location Mexican Altiplano (Nomadic Civilization)
Form of Government Militarized Theocracy
Religion Polytheism
Economy Agricultural Production and Trade

Who were the Toltecs?

The Toltecs were a Mesoamerican civilization that developed in the Mexican highlands between the 9th and 13th centuries, during the early postclassic period, in accordance with traditional Mesoamerican periodization.

These were located in the central zone of present-day Mexico and, due to their great military power, they expanded rapidly until they dominated the entire region.

Location of the Toltecs

The Toltecs, belonging to the Nahua linguistic group such as the Chichimecas and the Otomi, settled in the region of the Mexican highlands during the 7th or 8th century. There, they occupied the city of Teotihuacán, absorbed its cultural tradition, and imposed themselves on the peoples of the region.

Later, they settled in the city of Tollan-Xicocotitlan, present-day Tula, in the Hidalgo region, which was the center of this civilization.

Around 1200, waves of peoples from the north began to arrive, destabilizing the region. After a period of decline, the city of Tula was abandoned.

Location of the Toltecs.

Location on the map of the Toltec culture,

Characteristics of the Toltec Civilization

Among the main characteristics of the Toltecs we can highlight that:

  • They were a militarized society, like most of the Mexican societies of the postclassic period.
  • Their culture was very influential in Mesoamerica, ranging from present-day Honduras to Chichen Itzá in the Yucatan peninsula. The cultural dispersion was due to both military and commercial expansion.
  • During their expansion they occupied wide valleys crossed by rivers. This allowed an important development of agriculture.
  • The narratives, both pre-Columbian and colonial, mention the ability of the Toltecs to make handicrafts. They excelled in stone work. The monumental sculptures of warriors and military leaders are characteristic, especially those called “Atlanteans” in the ceremonial center of Tula.
  • They were polytheists, that is, they worshiped many gods.

photograph of toltec columns

Columns shaped like warriors known as the “Atlanteans.” They are located on the pyramid of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, the most imposing building in Tula.

Political and Social Organization of the Toltecs

Political Organization of the Toltec

The Toltec civilization was a militarized theocracy like most postclassic civilizations. In its origins it had been ruled by priests, but at its peak, the government was in the hands of warrior kings who considered themselves descendants of totemic animals such as the coyote, the snake, etc.

Social Organization of the Toltec

Toltec society was very hierarchical. The privileged group was made up of a priestly and warrior nobility: they were those who attended the cult, the administration of the State, and military activities, both defense and conquest.

The rest of the population was made up of merchants, artisans, and farmers.

Social pyramid of Toltec culture

Social pyramid of the Toltec culture.

  1. Supreme Ruler: He was called Tlahtoque and he was in charge of absolute power.
  2. Priests, Officials and Warriors: They were in charge of the military caste, attending to worship, calendars and public administration. Thus they also took care of the defense of neighboring attacks and territorial expansions.
  3. Servile Class: It was made up of farmers, carpenters, painters, weavers and all other types of craftsmen.
  4. Slaves: Prisoners of war, slaves and prostitutes who made up the last social echelon.

Economy of the Toltec Civilization

The economy of the Toltec civilization was characterized as follows:

  • Despite the fact that the city of Tula is settled in an arid region, the expansion over wide territories allowed the wide development of agriculture. They grew cotton, maguey, corn, chili, and beans.
  • The presence in the region of minerals valued by the peoples of the time, such as obsidian and alabaster, contributed to the commercial prosperity of the city. Raw materials and other products, such as sea shells and snails, jaguar skins, quetzal feathers, and manufactured objects, such as ceramics and metal ornaments, were obtained through trade with distant regions.
  • The production of handicrafts was also important.

Religion of the Toltec Civilization

The Toltecs were polytheists, that is, they worshiped numerous gods. Unlike civilizations of the classical period, the Toltec religion presents militaristic and warrior aspects.

Since its installation in Teotihuacán in the period of formation of the Toltec culture, gods associated with agriculture were left aside to replace them with others associated with fire and war. The most important were Quetzalcóatl and Tezcatlipoca.

Their gods demanded human sacrifices for which prisoners of war were generally employed.

Toltec Gods

The most important gods of the Toltec religion were:

Name Function
Quetzalcoatl The feathered snake. God of Teotihuacan origin considered the god of life, light, fertility and wisdom.
Tezcatlipoca God of the invisible and darkness. He is considered the antagonist of Quetzalcóatl.
Centéotl God of corn.
Tlaloc God of rain
Itzlacoliuhque God of disasters, cold and sacrifices.

image of Quetzalcóatl, god of Toltec culture

Representation of Quetzalcóatl, the main god of the Toltec culture.

Toltec Clothing

Toltec sculptures allow us to know the physical appearance and clothing, especially of the dominant classes that were the most represented. Thanks to them, the use of loincloths, belts with clasps, sandals, and shields decorated with feathers is known.

The wives of the important personages wore a rectangular dress called “Quechquemitl“.

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