Has the Natural History Museum been pulling a fast one all these years? Are smaller dinosaurs that look similar to bigger ones in fact not seperate species just the young of the larger ones.
Accoridng to this article in National Geographical the film Jurassic Park may have to be remade, only this time with a smaller cast.
With the wealth of writing about Meso-America being on Aztecs, Mixtecs, Toltecs, Zapotecs, Maya and Olmecs, other equally great Meso-American peoples have not made it to the popular mind. This article looks at other equally great but lesser known civiliasations that rose an flourished.
Teotihuacan 200 BC – 800 AD
Teotihuacan was Mexico’s greatest indigenous civilisation. Founded about 200 BC in the valley that bares it’s name, a strategically important access point between major Puebla and Mexico valleys, the huge metropolis dominated Mexican life for half a millennium. Reaching it’s zenith in the 5th and 6th centuries, its influence towered over both the Maya and Zapotec alike. Teotihuacan is most remembered in the modern mind for the legacy it left Mexico, not just Mexico’s, but some of man’s greatest achievements to this day, the Pyramids of the Sun, Moon and Quetzalcoatl. But, it also left Mexico one of it’s greatest mysteries, as to the civilisation’s demise around 800 AD.
Unlike most civilisations in Meso-America, Teotihuacan was not just a city state. Extending far beyond the valley of Teotihuacan, a Metropolitan Area of citizens inhabiting a number of cities and rural lands covered the Central Plateau, as well as much of Hidalgo to the north. Teotihuacan is considered nowadays by archaeologists to have been a true nation state. The state had, over the centuries, picked up many colonies, conquered outside cities and placed strong military garrisons around the country. But, it would be wrong to call Teotihuacan (as it often is) an empire. Unlike many past and contemporary cultures and most later ones, there are few traces of a cult of the warrior existing within the city. Teotihuacan, instead, was a trading superpower, it dominated Mexico as a manufacturing giant and industrial base of factories and industry. A whole district of the city was an industrial park of workshops. Teotihuacan’s goods were exported all over Meso-America, the styles of it’s art and architecture have imitations in almost every city.
How the city of Teotihuacan was able to forge a nation in a world that managed nothing beyond aristocratic empires, city states and the odd kingdom before is a testimony to its real greatness. Of the thousands of artistic finds in the city, sculptures, murals, paintings, many in private apartments, the theme of Teotihuacan art is almost entirely religious and incredibly upbeat, though just before the end it took on a dour and sinister turn.
Most Meso-American cities were simply religious centres of temples and palaces for the aristocracy with the mass populous living in mud huts and wooden shacks on the surrounding farmlands. In this sense, Teotihuacan was a true metropolis, the citizens living in modern apartment blocks in the city centre. The quality of the peasant dwellings indicates the distribution of the wealth was much more even than other cultures. Modern archaeologists are tending towards the view Teotihuacan was a religious state welded together by a powerful common religious devotion. A parallel could be drawn between Teotihuacan and Angor, a city of similar size in an unfeasible jungle location forged upon the common devotion to a god king.
Why Teotihuacan fell is still a hotly debated mystery, but most of it’s 200,000 inhabitants abandoned the city leaving it to the jungle. No one common cause for this exodus seems to exist. Over population beyond the resources is a popular solution, loss of faith is another. Teotihuacan art also took on a military edge in it’s final death throws, so military historians look to either barbarians or civil war for answers. Much of the city shows signs of destruction, statues of deities defaced, and structures burned to the ground. It is known the exodus from the city was gradual, so it’s been suggested a period of decline and mass depopulation. Also, the city lost domination of its outer provinces quite a while before its fall, whether the signs of destruction in the city were caused by an outside invader preying on the dying city or done by the priests symbolising the gods abandoning them is, perhaps, something we will never know. Ice records show no major climatic change occurred in Mexico at that time, though there may have been a prolonged drought.
Angor too suffered collapse, abandonment and loss to the jungle. Like Teotihuacan, overpopulation, conquest by neighbour and overexertion of resources have been blamed for its demise. But with Angor, thanks to Chinese writings by merchants in the city, it is known, shortly before it fell, that the city was suffering terrible resource problems caused by its jungle location, repeated incursions from barbaric Thais, and the monarch of the city converted to Buddhism from Hinduism and lost his godhood.
Teotihuacan’s fate, though, wasn’t unique in Meso-America. Just a century later, a similar fate would befall the Maya cities and Monte Alban. For a while, after its fall, an estimated 30,000 people still lived in ruins, some former city residents, some primitives from outside. The later rulers of Mexico, the Toltecs, capital city, Tollan, only had a population of 30,000 at its peak.
Xochicalco 250-900 AD
Another contemporary dinosaur flourishing alongside Teotihuacan, Xochicalco was to outlive its trading partner by just a century. A highly spread out site positioned upon a fortified hilltop, the city shows great influence from all parts of Meso-America. Boasting architecture in Mayan, Teotihuacan, El Tajin and Mixtec styles, it truly was the crossroads of the New World. Known as the mysterious city because, despite being one of the most flourishing civilisations in Mexico for nearly a millennium, it left hardly any inscriptions to bare testimony to former glories.
The Aztecs had a legend of Tamoanchan, the gathering place, where the survivors of Teotihuacan assembled and there undertook to like apostles to spread to the four corners of the known world to keep alive the teaching of the great civilisation before one day returning to refound the great city. Recent archaeological finds tantalisingly suggest Tamoanchan may have been Xochicalco.
Xochicalco is located very close to Teotihuacan and, in many military history books on Meso-America, is blamed for the downfall of Teotihuacan, finding it hard to believe there was not fighting between the two rivals so close together, theorising Teotihuacan must have conquered Xochicalco, and, in turn, Xochicalco destroyed Teotihuacan in a war of independence.
Contrarily to this, the Xochicalco site itself, devoid of water like so many Meso-American cities, seems just to have been a ceremonial centre for the priest/nobility supported by cultivation of the lowlands around. The population fluctuating between 10-20,000 hardly gives it a great base for conquering the 1.4 million inhabitants of the Teotihuacan Metropolitan Area.
Cholula 100 BC – 1519 AD
If Teotihuacan had a natural successor it was Cholula. Located in the rich Puebla Valley, Teotihuacan’s closest major neighbour, the exact relationship between the two cities is unknown. Whether Cholula was the second city of the state or independent neighbour with tributaries of its own remains unclear.
The region around the city was first settled around 1500 BC and the site itself about 400 BC. In about 100 BC, two villages unified to form the bases for the city, which was to survive until 1519 AD, earning it the description as the ‘eternal city’. The great pyramid is larger even than the Pyramid of the Sun or the Great Pyramid at Giza and one of the largest man made structures on Earth. Cholula flourished as a contemporary and partner of Teotihuacan and briefly became the centre of Mexican civilisation after its fall, but quickly went into decline. Whether its decline was a co-symptom of Teotihuacan or for different reasons is unknown. However, it was to survive its decline, was reinvigorated by the settlement of the Olmec-Xicallancas in the valley around the 9th century AD, and was to become a main thorn in the side in its time for both the Toltec and Aztec Empires. Briefly conquered by the Toltecs in 1168 AD, it sowed the seeds of demise for the Toltecs Empire and, with the aid of other cities in the valley, it successfully expelled the invaders and, subsequently, restored itself to its former glory with its conversion to the cult of Quetzacoatl brought to it by its Toltec conquerors.
Cholula, in its final phase, became a holy city and place of pilgrimage. It fought a bloody war with the Aztecs and resisted conquest until 1519, when, in a ploy, it invited Cortez into the city, planning to deceive and ambush him. Unfortunately, Cortez got wind of the plan and massacred the inhabitants, vowing to destroy each of the 365 temples and replace them with churches. Fortunately, he never fully fulfilled his promise.
El Tajin 100 AD – 1200 AD
Capital of the vast Totonac lands, El Tajin can really be described as the first successor empire of Teotihuacan. The Totonacs grew in stature from around the 7th century AD as Teotihuacan’s hegemony started to wane. They peaked between the 9th and 13th Century AD, when they rivaled and outlasted the Toltec Empire before their final downfall. The date of their demise occurring so temptingly close to the rise of the Xolotl-Chichimec empire in that area as to theorise more than a coincidence.
Totonac culture impresses even among the best Meso-American cultures. The Pyramid of Niches is arguably the finest crafted in Mexico. Built between 600 and 900 AD, the site boasts a wealth of astronomical references, including the pyramid itself which has 365 niches. The city was obsessed by the Meso-American ballgame, and its ball courts, possibly the most magnificent of all, depict human sacrifice the forfeit of the losers of the game. The style and sacrifice to be copied in both Tollan and its protégée, Chichen Itza.
The city claims several firsts in Mexico, among them the terrible skull racks that decorate the city, a tradition that was to carry both to Tollan and Tenochtitlan and alarm the most hardened Conquistador.
The similarities between Totonac and Toltec culture have not gone unnoticed. El Tajin pre-dates Tollan, but also existed contemporary to it. Similarities of both the architecture built at a later date in Tollan and in Chichen Itza after the Toltec conquest, and the adoption of so many Totonac customs such as the cult of death, has lead to many theories of how the two civilisations interacted. Some historians have suggested EL Tajin was the original home of the Nonoalcas, who migrated to the Valley of Mexico and amalgamated with the Toltecs. Conquest of El Tajin by the Toltecs and adoption of their civilisation is another proposal. This would be highly unlikely due to Toltec resource limitations, though, even more unlikely, they did conquer Chichen Itza. The most reasonable solution is close links, trade and cultural influence between the two vast successor empires.
A criticism of El Tajin could be that it was the first really nasty civilisation in Meso-America, soon to be followed by the Toltecs, and the harbinger of the bloody militaristic turn the country was to decline in subsequent years.
The Olmeca Xicallancas
The Olmeca Xicallancas moved into the lush Puebla Valley from the east around the 9th century. The valley was sparsely populated and seems to have been vacated by the Mixtec migration to Oaxaca. The Olmeca Xicallancas, who don’t seem to have been that numerous, never constructed new cities, but moved into established ones including Cacaxtla, Tlaxcalla and Cholula. Their cities are believed to have functioned as a federation, constantly clashing with the neighbouring Toltec Empire and, effectively, stopping its eastward expansion.
The Olmeca Xicallancas were overran by the Chichimecs migration of the twelfth century. Many fled the valley in response to the invasion, but others, like the Toltecs in the Valley of Mexico, probably amalgamated with the more numerous Chichimecs and formed the bases of their civilisation.
An indigenous Mexican coastal people based in Hidalgo, Veracruz, and San Luis Potosi. Often regarded as a separate Mayan people, due to close links between their languages, they seem to have been a culture slightly apart from the rest of Mexico. Despite the fact they built cities, pyramids and created elaborate artwork, they scandalised conservative Mexico with their embracement of the principles of permanent naturism.
Calling themselves the Teenek, the Huaxtecs were regarded by any decent clean living Mexican to be the scourge of Meso-America. The Aztecs describe their warriors as ‘a screeching bunch of she-devils’ and many Mexican peoples were said to utter the expression ‘as low as a Huaxtec’. The reason for this was the Huaxtecs religion based around a cult of sexuality and the penis. Mexican culture was prudish by nature, in most cases deliberately not showing genitalia in art. By the time of the Toltecs and Aztecs, this Puritanism had reached a zenith Calvin would have recognised, lewdness in Aztecs society being punishable by death. So fellow Mexicans seem to have taken to Huaxtec culture, as Cromwell would taken to a Spartan religious festival.
The Huaxtecs emerged as a major people shortly after the fall of Teotihuacan and enjoyed great era of civilisation and military success during Toltec times, eventually being responsible for the destruction of Tollan. They, however, became the whipping boys of the Aztecs in several campaigns causing many of their peoples to flee north to the USA and reduced those that stayed to a client kingdom.
Nomadic skin clad tribes living the hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the northern deserts occupy a unique place in Mexican history. Charged with the destruction of just about everything that’s good in Mexico, Teotihuacan, Toltec Empire, El Tajin, Xochicalco and later becoming the Aztecs, in few accounts of Mexican history they don’t play a major role. The Chichimecs, vast in numbers and ferocious in nature, like the barbaric tribes of the Steppes ever drawn to Rome, were ever poised at any time to sweep down and destroy any culture that displayed weakness of spirit.
This evocative image of Chichimecs in much artwork and literature has been at the centre of many accounts of Mexican history. But, just how barbaric the Chichimecs really were is still questionable, many of the romanticisms simply not adding up. Meso-Americans being prone to championing the noble savage just as much as their European cousins. Though, however unbarbaric they do eventually turn out to be, the Chichimecs still were an ever present hazard to any Mexican civilisation that existed. While much of their later villainy is true, what role they played in earlier history is still debatable. One of the earliest incursions attributed to the Chichimecs was around the time of Teotihuacan’s demise. Military historians often forward the fact that mountain top cities such as Xochicalco survived, whereas the lowland Teotihuacan died, to surmise a case for a military destruction of Teotihuacan overrun by Chichimecs, though little evidence for this exists.
Chichimecs-Nahuas were among the founding co-partners of the aggressive Toltec Empire. Consisting of both civilisation and militarism in equal measures, to many it seems almost innate that the famed ferocity of the Chichimecs was the catalyst of Toltec belocracity.
It was as the sun set on the Toltec era that the Chichimecs made their most dramatic entry into the history books and earnt their reputation as the Meso-American Huns. In the great Chichimec migration of the 12th and 13th centuries, they overrun almost the whole of the Central Plateau. The image of the screaming barbarian horde at the gates of Tollan imprinted into the native psyche for generations.
It‘s here the Chichimec barbarity really comes into question. Evidence certainly shows they were no longer wearing skins and displayed many of the trappings of civilisation, both in dress and mannerism. The unruly mass of savages don’t seem to have been totally destructive either. In their conquest of the region they not only destroyed cities but built them, amalgamated with other peoples and entered many existing cities by intermarriage and integration. Their legacy of creation and building stands the test of time, filling Mexico with a higher concentration of metropolis’ than had ever existed. Testimony to this is the wonder in which the Spaniards stared at the Lake Texcoco city complex in1519.
The final phase of the Chichimec saga is as the Aztecs. The Chichimecs, more so than any people in the past, took to the ardour of empire building. For several centuries the empires of individual tribes were built, warred upon and fell to dust until, eventually, an almost complete unification was achieved under a single powerful empire that was to stretch its wings far and wide across the whole of Mexico, the Aztec Empire.
The heritage the Chichimecs left Mexico is enormous. The mighty Aztec Empire, the death cult of sacrifice, the breathtaking architecture of their cities, but, most of all, the cult of the warrior. No matter how civilised they became, the Chichimecs were, at heart, warriors. Their legacy was not the high civilisation of Teotihuacan, nor the wisdom of the Maya, it was a dark violent era that their ascension plunged Mexico into.
The mighty Teotihuacan lay dying. According to native legend, at Tamonchan a last gathering of survivors of Teotihuacan met before they divided and set off around Mexico in search of sanctuary. Legend tells further of one small group of devotees who sought refuge in the far north-west of Mexico, a great desert then home to the warlike Chichimec tribes. The Teotihuacans found sanctuary among them, the primitive nomads welcoming them and in turn benefiting from the trappings of civilisation the Teotihuacans brought with them, such as agriculture and advanced weaponry. Life in the desert was harsh, the soil arid and the Teotihuacans, yearned for the green and the fruitful soils to the south they had abandoned. So sometime in the 9th century AD the Teotihuacans joined by many Chichimecs, left their hunter-gatherer kin and migrated south in search of richer climes. There voyage ended at the hill of Xicotitlan, atop which sat the Otomi village of Mamemhi and beside flowed the rich river Tula. The Teotihuacan-Chichimecs quickly overcame the Otomis there founded a city.
The fertileness of the region, however, was not lost on other Meso-American peoples and to their surprise, as the Teotihuacan-Chichimecs encountered another nation entering the region with the same intentions as them. The people were the Nonoalcas from Tabasco in the south of Mexico, just to the north of Maya lands and culturally close to them. The Nonoalcas, highly civilised, had too amalgamated with ex-residents of Teotihuacan and like the Chichimecs been persuaded by the Teotihuacans from their homelands. They had resided for sometime in Huaxteca but now moved into Hidalgo. The common link of Teotihuacan bloodlines the two peoples carried was strong enough and rather than war over their new found home they decided to join together. The Nonoalcas brought advanced building techniques and the God Quetzalcoatl to the city.
And so the city of Tollan was born, boasting the name ‘place of reeds’ to tell all of its wealth. The dwellers of the city became known as Tenoch, people of Tollan, which was bastardised by the Spanish into Toltecs. Thus the legendary Toltecs were born fusing the ferocity of the Chichimec barbarians, the philosophy of Teotihuacan and the science and culture of the south and the local heritage of the Otomis.
The Toltecs were by no means alone in the region. After the great exodus of Teotihuacan much of the former Metropolitan Area, north of Texcoco had been settled by the nomadic Otomis, who integrated with those who refused the flight and stayed. The Otomi had established several cities and the great population centre of Otumba on the northern shores of the lake. The south of the lake was too not without powerful rivals. The Culhuas had created a tight kingdom centre around their capital of Culhuacan.
The Toltec settlement and integration period ended around 950 AD and their imperial phase began. How big the empire grew is still hotly debated by archaeologists and historians. The tantalising finds of Toltecs wares in far flung corners of Mexico coupled with native traditions lead some military historians rather romantically to believe it to be Mexico’s third great empire on a par with Teotihuacan and the Aztecs. Opposing them a realist camp claim it only came to dominate an area smaller than the Teotihuacan states inner Metropolitan Area. The city of Tollan at most 30-60,000 people at its peak and a similar number living on the surrounding rural lands.
Evidence suggests that like the Aztecs and Tlaxcallans later the Toltecs formed a traditional Meso-American triple alliance with Otumba and Culhuacan. With each possessing roughly half the population of Tollan, the Toltecs could swell their numbers, but along with several more smaller Otomi and Toltec tributary cities established, the total number of both city and rural Toltecs still falls short of the 200,000 living in the city of Teotihuacan let alone the estimated 1.2 million of the Metropolitan Area or the 8 – 15 Million of the Aztec Empire. Hardly a recipe for Mexico’s mightiest empire.
The Toltec Empire was it has been suggested a trading empire lacking the military strength for sizeable conquest and occupation. It mostly avoided conflict with areas with powerful civilisations and instead expanded into sparsely populated regions. The Empire was also a tributary empire. In other words, little more than a gangster protection racket, extorting protection money from the weaker cities within its turf by intimidation. No permanent garrisons were left and conquest kept in line only by threat of violent reprisals should their tribute falter. When a tributary empire is strong this can be a powerful incentive but if it’s iron grip weakens tributaries can quickly melt away.
The Toltec empire was at its zenith towards the end of the 10th century, stretching far north of the Valley of Mexico, coming into contact with Chichimec lands in the northwest and Huaxtec territory in the northeast. Supposed also to have conquered substantial lands in the west but it’s southern gains were more limited. In the east the empire hit the brick wall of the Cholula centred Puebla Valley, as did the Aztecs later.
The fame of the empire in disproportion to its size has endured in western minds for two of the great anomalies of history, the invasion of some Maya cities in the Yucatan and the fabled North American expedition. Though many still question if either of these really happened. If they did they support the arguments for the greater Toltec empire. The crux of the argument is the Toltec style architecture found in Chichen Itza shortly before its substantial conquest of Maya land suggesting a conquest and military invigoration of the city. Though Toltec style architecture has been found too in El Tajin pre-dating it in Tollan and nobody is suggesting a Totonac conquest of Tollan.
When the archaeological site of Tula was finally confirmed to be Tollan in the twentieth century, archaeologists were disappointed by what they found. The crudeness of the artwork, both in technique and subject, portraying crude militaristic scenes, compared the rich metaphor of both Teotihuacan and Mayan art. A comparison between Toltec buildings in Tollan and buildings in Maya cities such as Chichen Itza built in the Toltec style, shows the Maya were able to build the architecture of their conquerors to a much higher quality. The Aztecs recorded Toltec law and social customs. The philosophy of the empire seems to have been a stoic one, similar to Sparta and Rome. Toltec society was also a prudish one, adultery was against the law and sex a taboo subject. Little sexuality is found within Mexican art, with a few exceptions, in fact on most nude statues the genitalia is deliberately left off. Governmentally the cities were ruled by a monarch and an aristocracy. Impenetrable barriers existed in crossing the classes.
The Fall of Tollan
It’s not in the short lifetime of the Toltec Empire its greatness really occurred. Tollan was only to become Rome long after it burned. Tollan fell around 1168 AD and like a dozen great cities before should have passed into anonymity. But it was its final epic catastrophe that thrust it into the forefront of the Mexican psyche for an age to come. The strength of this can be demonstrated in the fact that for centuries, contrary to Indian denials, historians believed Teotihuacan had been Tollan, so great the legend of Tollan in the Meso-American mind that no other city fitted the bill.
Legendary Tollan’s fall was one of decadence, flame and conquest, today the burn marks give visitors glimpses of its sacking. But what weakened the empire and prompted the sad demise?
The Quetzalcoatl Myth
Indian tales tell that around 1125 AD about the 175th year of the empire when already the empire had lost most of its western expanses, a division at the highest level emerged within the capital. The cultural differences between the Toltec-Chichimecs and the Nonoalcas were substantial and at least one section of the Nonoalcals population even after all this time had failed to integrate, they had become a culturally estranged ethnic minority and no-longer wanted to stay within the city.
For a solution it was to the Toltecs main rivals they looked, the independent city states of the neighbouring Puebla Valley. The Puebla Valley, naturally defensible and richer even in resources than the Valley of Mexico was the location a several independent city states. Like the Toltec’s Valley, it had been part of the Teotihuacan Metropolitan Area and was now populated by a new invader. The Olmeca-Xicallancas had migrated there around the same time the Toltecs had moved into the Valley of Mexico, but had not become an empire, more a collection a independent city states. The Puebla Valley also contained the ‘eternal’ city of Cholula. At that time Cholula was at a low in its yoyo history. It was decided that the unhappy Toltec-Nonoalcas would depart Tollan and seize Cholula. This would give them a new home as befits them and remove as an adversary the only city in the whole central highlands of Mexico to rival Tollan’s glory not a Toltec tributary.
Initially the plan went well and the Toltec-Nonoalcas successfully stormed the city and took much Cholulan territory. But the Cholulans didn’t lie down, instead retreated deep into their provinces, organised popular resistance aided by the other cities of the valley now fearing Toltec conquest too. After six years of withering guerrilla warfare the Cholulans made considerable gains and finally drove the Toltec-Nonoalcas out of the city. It was now the Toltec-Nonoalcas who were reduced to guerrilla war from the provinces they still controlled.
Reeling from the humiliation, now Tollan and the empire intervened, a mighty host was marched from the great city to the aid of the Toltec-Nonoalcas. But Cholula the yoyo city had now been sparked into resurgence and joined by the forces of the other cities the great Toltec Imperial Army suffered a crushing defeat. A defeat so cataclysmic it shook the empire to its foundations.
Now Mexican history enters a phase that almost mirrors the events of Vortigen and the history of dark age Britain. The defeated Toltecs, their tributary empire balancing on a razor’s edge. desperately sent north to their kindred Chichimecs for mercenaries to fight for them. With tales of the riches of the south and the successes of the Toltecs-Chichimecs, the northern barbarians were impressed, too impressed. Instead of coming to save the Toltec-Nonoalcas, they overran the whole Puebla Valley and incurred so much into the Valley of Mexico itself they destabilised the empire itself. How badly they damaged the empire is illustrated by the case of one tribe of Chichimecs under a chief named Mixcoatl who conquered the city of Culhuacan, the empire suffering the indignity of losing its 2nd city.
However it was the conquest of Culhuacan that brought the Toltecs their brightest hope. The Toltec numbers were extremely depleted but taking on new blood had never been a problem for them. Mixcoatl was allowed to keep control of Culhuacan and given a Toltec princess Chimalman as his wife. From their marriage a son, Ce-Acatl, was born but tragedy strikes and she dies from childbirth and shortly after Mixcoatl was murdered by a jealous brother, any military threat to Tollan dying with him. Mixcoatl death proved only a delay though, and in 1150 AD the army marched out from Culhuacan lead by the now grown up Ce Acatl. Tollan easily succumbed to Ce Acatl and he was crowned king. At his coronation Ce Acatl was given the title Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, Topiltzin meaning prince and Quetzalcoatl after the God of Teotihuacan and the title of several prior Toltec kings, including the founder of the empire (the commonness of this title causing endless confusion in historical accounts). If his father was the Alaric of the Toltecs, Topiltzin was the Justinian. By now the empire was crumbling before the overwhelming hordes of Chichimecs, Topiltzin immediately went to work restoring the former glory of the empire. Legends talk of him as a Homeric hero who fought at the centre of troops in battle. It seems with the fall of any great state a moral collapse accompanies it. The years of lavish had taken its toll upon Tollan and its ruler found themselves in a terrible state of decadence and apathy. Prostitution, corruption and superstition were rife and the strict social order breaking down. Topiltzin lead by imposing the strictest code of behaviour upon himself as an example to all. Topiltzin full of hope and youthful vigour brought hope back to Tollan.
A list of conquests of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl that survived the Spanish book burning suggests that he not only saved the empire from the Chichimecs but expanded it far beyond its former frontiers. Most famous or surreal of all is his Mayan expedition, 1500 kilometres to the South. Conquering several Maya cities including the greatest prize of all, Chichen Itza. Whatever possessed an Empire 2-300 kilometres at its widest point, surrounded by enemies and dozens of other civilisations unconquered to send its army on a march so far away remains one of the great mysteries of history.
The final demise of the Toltecs came in 1168 or 1175 AD when like with its earlier troubles, internal divisions mixed with external events. The Chichimecs threat had not been destroyed, more tempered by a powerful Toltec king, but they now sat within the empire and many more at the borders in an uneasy ceasefire waiting to pounce as soon as Topiltzin’s hand weakened. The Chichimecs though were not the only Northerners, in the Northeast resided the equally numerous and dangerous Huaxtecs, who at the time of the empire greatest division played their hand.
As the Huaxtecs spilt across the borders of the empire, Topiltzin was to fall victim to an act of treachery by one of the princes of Tollan. Huemac who came from an old noble family that could trace it lines back to a Nonoalcas king and was possibly the rightful heir to the throne of Tollan Topiltzin had usurped, was said to have sent a sorcerer before Topiltzin who tricked him through a magic mirror into believing he was ill. To cure him the sorcerer then gave him a potion, a sacred alcoholic beverage called ’Pulque’ that caused drunkenness, a crime punishable by death for a noble in Toltec society, and Topiltzin innocently drank it. Shortly again a second similar incident too provoked by Huemac involving a women of ill-repute befell Topiltzin.
So weakened was he in the eyes of his people after these scandals he found himself unable even to assemble an army to oppose the Huaxtec invasion. Instead he resorted to Dane geld and tried to buy them off. Far from discouraging the Huaxtecs, they saw it as a sign of weakness and three Huaxtecs kingdoms encouraged by Topiltzin weakness formed a confederation and marched on Tollan itself. Under this threat Tollan had to act, even if it was under a disgraced king. Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl march out of the city at the head of the flower of its warriors, undefeated in 25 years and veterans of a hundred victorious battles under his leadership, organised into two great armies. But now Topiltzin was looking old, he seemed to trust nobody, be wary of his generals, his image of purity and self denial had faded in the eyes of his men. None the less for three years a see-saw struggle raged before the walls of Tollan. Until the whole campaign rested upon a single final battle. For one last time Topiltzin put on his armours, drew his sword and joined the front rank of his infantry. But it wasn’t enough, he could sense the fear in his troops before the whooping barbarians, and could already feel the line begin to buckle before the barbarians closed. The battle turned into rout and rout into a massacre, but Topiltzin and loyal guard were able to hack their way back to Tollan.
As Topiltzin stood before his council of princes it became clear his position was untenable, while he was victorious the nobles of the city would tolerate him, but now he had lost he was just a usurper son of a Chichimec barbarian who dared to think himself a Toltec. There was only one option left for Topiltzin, exile. So in the year Reed-One Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl and a band of a few followers still loyal to him, marched out of the city and headed east. Legend has it to the coast where they sailed into the horizon with Topiltzin vowing to one day to return and reclaim his empire again. Where he really went nobody knows, but one legend has it he sailed north to the United States and reigned over the native Indians there. This theory has gained some credence over recent years with discoveries of a Mexican incursion into New Mexico about the same time, Anasazi, a city built far in advance of American Indian culture flourished. With Mexican style architecture, evidence of both human sacrifice and cannibalism abundant in the city. Both Mexican customs, quite alien to North American Indians a Mexican incursions has been surmised.
After Topiltzin’s departure Huemac was made king of Tollan, but his reign was a short lived one. Not long after, Tollan was stormed by the Huaxtecs, the inhabitants put to the sword, sacrificed or enslaved. For miles and miles around Tollan fires could be seen jutting above the treetops, pillars of smoke brought early night, the sky turned blood red and Toltecs, Chichimecs and other nations stood in wonder as the centre of the world burned.
Tollan burned but unlike Teotihuacan, Monte Alban or Tikal before, its memory didn’t fade to dust. Instead the legend of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl grew and grew, like the legend of the Once and Future King. By the time of the Aztecs the legend of Quetzalcoatl was at its height. The Aztecs were Chichimecs, who integrated with the surviving Toltec-Chichimecs of the Valley of Mexico. They settled at the centre of former Toltec lands and built their empire on top of the Toltec one. The Aztecs were Toltecs too, the blood was thinner, but they were still Toltecs and they were aware the Toltecs were in turn Chichimecs who migrated from the same northern desert as them.
For the Aztecs, the Toltec Empire came to dominate their psyche, becoming both their Eden and Jerusalem. ‘Toltec’ became the Aztec word for ‘civilised’. Everything that was great and good in the world was referred to as ‘Toltec’. Aztec chroniclers wrote that every deed the Toltecs did was greater than that of the Aztecs. When the Aztecs conquered a city they believed the Toltecs conquered it before and because the Toltecs conquered it before, the Aztecs being Toltecs, it was not just their right to conquer it, but their duty. As the Aztecs believed no-matter how large their grew the Toltec’s had been larger. A viscous circle of conquest was created. But however much they conquered one fact always haunted the back of the psyche, the empire wasn’t theirs, the Aztec emperor was just a steward minding for Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl what was his rightful empire until he returned.