The Toltecs were a major power in western and central Mexico from 900 to 1200 A.D. Like the later Aztecs, they were a Nahuatl-speaking people. Tollan (modern Tula), the capital of the Toltecs, had a population of between 32,000 and 60,000 people at its height. The city was filled with temples, colonnaded halls, "palaces", ballcourts, and a tzompantli or skull rack. In residential areas, three or four houses were grouped around an open courtyard. Each grouping may have housed an extended family. Most urban dwellers were involved in a craft, such as the manufacture of obsidian blades, scrapers, and projectile points or the production of ceramics, textiles, wooden objects, and polished stone tools and ornaments. A highly favored green-gold obsidian came from the quarry at Pachuca. Lime deposits near Tollan yielded lime for construction and the processing of maize. Food, textiles, tools, pottery, and other items were traded at local and regional markets. In the Toltec rural areas, the main crops were maize, beans, squash, chilli peppers, amaranth, and prickly pear. Alcoholic pulque was made from the maguey cactus. Dog, turkey, deer, rabbits, small rodents, and birds rounded out their diet. The people worshipped Quetzalcoatl, the "feathered serpent" (who could also appear as the "morning star") and Tezcatlipoca or Tezcaltlipoca, the god of war, night, and darkness. They also worshipped Tlaloc, god of rain and vegetation, Centotl, god of corn, Itzpapaloti, god of butterflies and obsidian (?), and Tonatiuh, the sun god. (1, 2, 4)
The Toltecs also traded with the Lowland Maya, Oaxaca, Tlaxcala, Cholula, and the people of the Gulf Coast. A special merchant, the equivalent of the Aztec pochteca, carried on trade with non-Toltec peoples. They brought pottery from Guatemala, northern Mexico, and northern Central America, and perhaps turquoise from New Mexico (United States). The presence of copper bells and macaws in the American Southwest have been used to suggest direct trade between the Toltecs and the people of the Southwest. Some scholars believe it is more likely that these goods traveled to the north through indirect contacts. The Toltecs had contact with people as far north as Sinaloa. In this area, the Toltecs traded for Pacific coast shells, semi-precious stones, and copper ornaments. From the Gulf Coast came shells, feathers, animal skins, rubber, cacao beans, and cotton. The Toltecs had strong commercial interest in lands on the Pacific coast and in Guatemala and Chiapas, perhaps because of the existence of rich cacao fields in those areas. The Toltecs conquered the Mayan center of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan but lost it due to civil war. Some suggest that Toltec civilization continued at Chichen Itza after the fall of Toltec power in central Mexico (1, 2, 4)
Before 700 A.D., the site of Tollan was not occupied. The nearby site at Chingu was a Teotihuacan regional center. This site was abandoned about 750 A.D., when the people founded Tollan. Toltec power grew as Teotihuacan power faded. The rulers of Teotihuacan had first gained power around 100 A.D. The city may have had as many as 250,000 people by 600 A.D. Tollan grew through immigration. Teotihuacan craftsmen were attracted to the markets of Tollan. Northern frontier farmers were perhaps fleeing declining rainfalls. Poor agricultural conditions in the north may have led to the downfall of Teotihuacan. Teotihuacan sites at Cholula, Xochicalco, and elsewhere continued to compete with the rising power of the Toltecs for awhile before their power also faded. But the Toltecs were unable to remain a power for long. Legends suggest that Tollan was abandoned because of internal conflict and civil war. This unrest may have stemmed from continuing agricultural problems, immigration from the north, ethnic power struggles, and problems with trade. Some suggest that the Chichimecas destroyed Tollan. The Toltecs were succeeded by their linguistic cousins, the Aztecs. (2, 3, 4)
(1) The Cities of Ancient Mexico: Reconstructing a Lost World, Jeremy A. Sabloff, New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc., 1989.
(2) The Penguin Encyclopedia of Ancient Civilizations, (ed). Arthur Cotterell, New York: Penguin Books, 1980, 1988.
(3) The Post-Classic Period (900-1521 AD) - Part I, Dale Hoyte Palfrey, C. 1997, The Post-Classic Period (900-1521 AD) - Part I
(4) Toltecs - Master Builders
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Created before July 2001 Last Updated November 30, 2009