Zapotec Civilization: History, Culture, Economy & Characteristics

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Zapotec Civilization: History & Definition

Zapotec – Civilization that developed in the region of Oaxaca, present-day Mexico.

Date 250 – 800 BC C
Location Oaxaca, now Mexico
Religion Polytheists
Economy Agriculture, Fishing and Hunting

Who were the Zapotecs?

The Zapotecs were a civilization that developed in the region of Oaxaca, present-day Mexico, between 250 and 800 BC.

These were characterized by having great influence over other great civilizations of Mesoamerica, such as the Mayan and Aztec cultures.

Location of the Zapotecs

Location on the map of the Zapotecs.

Characteristics of the Zapotecs

The most outstanding characteristics of the Zapotec culture are the following:

  • They were polytheists, that is, they believed in various gods.
  • They were great warriors, all their men were required to attend war.
  • His calendar consisted of 18 months of 365 days.
  • They were located in the region of Oaxaca, present-day Mexico.
  • Its social organization was hierarchical, religious and divided in a pyramidal way.
  • They worshiped their ancestors and performed human sacrifices.
  • They had their own language.

Zapotec Culture Religion

The Zapotecs were characterized by being polytheists, they worshiped a great variety of gods. Throughout their history, they also adopted gods from other cultures.

Representation of god of the zapoetca culture

Representation of Pitao Cocijo, god of rain and storm.

Among the main gods that the Zapotec culture worshiped are the following:

Name Function
Totec Chief God and Ruler
Xipe Creator god of all
Tlatlauhaqui God of the sun
Pitao Cozobi God of agriculture
Coqui Bezelao God of the dead
Quetzalcoatl God of the winds
Pitao Cocijo God of rain and storm
Xonaxi Quecuya God of earthquakes

Social Organization of Zapotec Culture

The social organization of the Zapotec culture stood out for having a great religious influence. We can distinguish within it 5 different classes:

Social pyramid of Zapotec culture

Social pyramid of the Zapotec culture.

  1. Rulers: Supreme priests with divine powers who made up the most powerful sector and ruled the cities.
  2. Elite: Made up of warriors, chiefs and high government officials with their families.
  3. Merchants: People who had a certain prestige due to their commercial activities.
  4. Artisans: The status of the majority of the population, including farmers, weavers, potters, etc.
  5. Slaves: prisoners of war or people punished for different crimes. They were used as labor or were sacrificed as offerings to the gods.

Economy of Zapotec Culture

As an economic system, the Zapotecs were farmers of tomato, cocoa, beans, corn, chili and squash. They also used the commercialization of their crafts and subsisted on fishing and hunting.

They were characterized by the use of different technologies that they developed throughout their history to enhance the efficiency of agriculture, such as the implementation of steps on the slopes so that the rain did not end the harvest.

Zapotec Culture Clothing

The clothing of the Zapotec culture was very unique. In the case of women, this depended on whether the occasion was special, since then they used a dress called huipil, a short-sleeved blouse, and a petticoat that consisted of a holán skirt. They complemented the outfit with jewelries and pectorals according to the occasion. Every day, they only wore a skirt.

The men wore loincloths called maxtlatl, since they only cared about covering the genitals, and they were always barefoot.

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