Pochteca

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Warning! This is not the historical pochteca. For the real Aztec Pochteca see Pochteca.

Contents

Introduction

  • Náhuatl: Pochteca/pochtecatl - merchants/merchant.

Historically, the pochteca were the long-distance travelling merchants of the Méxica, providing commerce (and military and diplomatic intelligence) throughout the Empire and beyond.

The merchants enjoyed a high status, just below the ranks of the nobility. Their activities were the basis of the economy of the early empire, as they acted not just as traders but conduits for the goods and slaves to be delivered to the tribute-hungry political elite of Tenochtitlán as well as the great market of Tlatelolco. The early expansion of the Méxica Empire follows the pattern: commerce-war-tribute.

The wealth generated by the Toltec pochteca in trade with the Nisei via the Pacific coast was one of the factors that drew the Méxica tribes into what would become the Valley of México. Despite the decline and collapse of the Kingdom of Tula a number of cities in the Valley maintained long-distance trade with the Nisei to their north-west. It was only with the advent and ascension of the Méxica however, that the level of trade approached and then overtook that of the Tolteca. For the Méxica access to the west coast of Matlalzinca as well as to the Hot Lands of the south was essential and therefore of military importance.

The trade routes and trade networks persisted despite the rise and fall of civilisations and cultures, and the volatile dynamics of city-state and imperial politics. At least some of the pochteca guilds and clans can claim descent from Toltec times and possibly beyond.

History

Early History

Yacatecuhtli

With the conversion of the Méxica Empire to Christianity, Saint Yacatecuhtli became associated with Francis of Assisi. The Franciscan Order had already been active in the Empire, and a chapter eventually occupied the Teocalli of Saint Yacatecuhtli.

Trading is known as pochtecayolt, the art of commerce.

Although a Pochtecah was not a noble, his importance in the hierarchy of the Méxica inevitably grew, bringing some friction with the nobility and the warrior societies. Eventually they were elevated to the rank of the warriors of the military orders. The Pochtecatlailotlac, the Merchant-Arbiter of a city guild ruled on behalf of the ruler. In Tenochtitlán he also sat as one of the judges in the Tlacxitlan, the highest court of law.

The merchants followed their own laws in their own calpulli, venerating their god, Yacatecuhtli, “The Lord Who Guides”, an aspect of Quetzalcóatl. The glyph of Yacatecuhtli, carrying his staff, feather fan, and backpack, appears all across the south west of North Amerika and is still used as an icon to denote the merchant. In the desert lands he appears as Kokopelli blowing his flute to announce the arrival of the merchants. The greatest temple to Yacatecuhtli was found in the Pochtlan district of Tlatelolco, known as the Pochtlan Teohuah Yahcateuctli.

The guilds became very wealthy, and took increasing care to conceal their wealth from the nobility. Trading expeditions often left their districts late in the evening, and their wealth was only revealed within their private guildhalls. Although politically and economically powerful the pochteca strove to avoid undue attention.

The pochteca acted as agents for the Huey Tlatoani, the Tetecutin and the Cuauhpipiltin by selling the surplus tribute that had been bestowed on the noble and warrior elite. The pochteca traded the excess tribute (food, garments, feathers and slaves) in the marketplace or carried it to other areas to exchange for trade goods.

The merchants also had a very close relationship with the calputin of the Toltecca (the craftsmen and artisans) supplying them with the raw materials required for the production of feather art, textiles and jewelry. In turn, the pochteca would distribute their handiwork across the continent and especially to the Nisei.

Each of the pochteca calpulli were governed by the Pochtecatlatoque – the Merchant Speakers or Leaders. Those of the Pochtlan and Acxotlan districts had the special titles:

  • The Tlailotlac of Pochtlan was the arbiter in mercantile affairs, overseeing the commerce of the Pochteca Teucnehnenqueh, the ‘travelling lords’. Elderly experience merchants, the Pochtecahuehuetqueh, helped him manage the mercantile concerns of the district.
  • The Acxoteca of Acxotlan was the Merchant-General of the Pochteca Naualoztomeca, the ‘disguised merchants’.

Merchant districts were organised similarly to other calpulli:

  • Below the Pochtecatlatoani the calpulli was organized by the Calpoltin Icniuhtli, the brotherhood of the calpulli.
  • The Calpullec acted as a secretary-treasurer.
  • The Teochcautin acted as sheriff and in war was often elected as the Cuauhpoyahualtzin.
  • In wartime the calpulli elected its own war-leader, the Cuauhpoyahualtzin and formed its own war companies under their own banner.

The facilities of the calpulli included:

  • The teaxcatetlaqui, the public property of the calpulli.
  • The tequiyotl, the public services public maintaining the community, including the telpochcalli and ichpocacalli schools and a tecpan community center.
  • The Tetlatzontequilica, the law courts of the calpulli enforcing the pochteca laws. The court was originally known as a petlatl – a mat, denoting the earlier setting in the marketplace.

The Impact of the Nisei

Prior to the arrival of the Nisei long-distance trade was limited to what a man could carry on his back. This meant that the majority of trade items were luxury goods. The introduction of the horse and the donkey and the practical application of the wheel had an immense impact on both trade and war. Greater quantities of goods could be moved and the nature of trade goods widened to include bulk products such as rice and maize. In many respects this change had greater ramifications than metal-working, as more goods could be transported over wider distances and armies could be supplied for longer in the field. The use of draught animals to pull plows increased agricultural productivity by four times. Goats and sheep traded from the Nisei expanded the available food animals beyond just turkeys and dogs - both relatively inefficient sources of protein.

In many respects the new trade items and ideas the Méxica derived from the Nisei enabled the Méxica Empire to break out of the cycle of rise and collapse apparent in the civilisations of Teotihuacan and Tula. These centers exceeded the capacity of the surrounding ecological system; their increasing populations led to a gradual systemic collapse resulting from internal social disintegration and external opportunistic attacks from barbarians. The Méxica succeeded in exploiting the opportunities provided by the Nisei where the Toltecs had failed. This was due in no small part to the activities of the pochteca.

It is possible that if the Nisei had failed to break this apparent cycle of time the Méxica Empire would eventually have vanished as well.

The Growth of the Guilds

Tlamamah - a porter employed by the pochteca

The pochteca of the Valley were originally organised into twelve guilds, each based in one of the urban centers of the Valley of México:

Each of these cities included a merchant district, the Pochtlan, and a market, the tianquiztli, though the greatest market was, and remains the tianquizco in Tlatelolco, the fifth campan of Tenochtitlán.

The western trade with the Nisei was dominated by the guilds of Tenochtitlán, Tlatelolco, Cuautitlán and Huitzilopochco. With the reunification of Tenochtitlán-Tlatelolco, the trade with the west became a near monopoly of the Méxica, and the influence of the mercantile clans of the Imperial Center grew out of proportion to that of the other merchants during the early empire. They were the primary purveyors of the new, Nisei-sourced technologies.

The merchant district of Tlatelolco expanded to encompass the seven calpulli of Pochtlan, Ahhuachtlan, Atlauhco, Acxotlan, Tepetitlan, Itztolco and Tzommolco. Eventually the entire campan became dedicated to trade and the new metallurgical industries taught by and copied from the Nisei. New Toltecca guilds grew up to exploit the new skills and wealth.

Initially the Méxica raided the Tzintzuntzan state not for slaves for sacrifice or sale but to capture their metal workers as they were skilled in working copper, silver, gold and bronze. The Tzintzuntzans themselves were trading with the Nisei and were thus in direct competition with the Méxica pochteca, and enjoying a technological edge because of their skills. Arrow wars with their irascible western neighbors proved expensive and inconclusive. Eventually the pochteca found it more cost-effective to trade with and then recruit Tzintzuntzan smiths, encouraging them to marry into Méxica pochteca and Toltecca clans. These Tzintzuntzan immigrants to Tenochtitlán-Tlatelolco wryly referred to themselves as the Tarascué, meaning relatives or brother-in-law in their language. Eventually an entire calpulli of Tlatelolco became known as Tarasco, and the Tzintzuntzans as Tarascans. The Méxica actively absorbed the Tzintzuntzan state with bribes and inducements, with their last Cazonci becoming a senior lord of the Méxica Empire.

Lesser Traders

The Tlanecuilo or Tlanecuiloani, the regional traders and pedlars were not members of the pochteca guilds but were an important part of market commerce. They traded in foodstuffs and utilitarian goods rather than the luxuries carried by the pochteca and frequently specialised in specific items such as:

  • Huauhnamacaque, who sold the seeds of amaranth (pigweed), which was used in several ceremonies, with images of the gods (notably Huitzilopochtli) made with amaranth mixed with honey to be eaten by the people.
  • Iztanamacaque, sellers of salt.
  • The Tlacemanqui pedlars who sold items, including silver and gold.
  • Tlacualnamacaque, food sellers.
  • The Tlanamacac producer-sellers who came to the markets to sell their produce.
  • Totoltenamacaque, egg sellers.

The Markets

The markets were part of a complex interlocking system. In the Valley there were four levels of market:

  • The great market of Tlatelolco which met daily.
  • The markets of Texcoco and Xochimilco.
  • The Macuiltianquiztli - every five-days markets of the city-states of Huitzilopocho, Cuautitlán, Azcapotzalco, Mixcoac, Huexotla, Cóatlichan, Otompan and Chalco.
  • The markets of the smaller towns and villages.

Some of the cities were famous for specialized markets:

  • Azcapotzalco was a major slave market.
  • Texcoco sold ceramics and clothing.
  • Acolman specialised in dogs and food animals introduced by the Nisei.
  • Tepepulco sold birds, important for their feathers.
The Great Market of Tlateloloco

The volume of trade passing through the great tianquizco of Tlatelolco was unsurpassed throughout the Amerikas. It served not merely to distribute goods in the Imperial Center but as the great clearing house of the Empire, drawing in goods such as food and slaves to be sent to the Nisei and the returning trade of metals, paper and spices.

Such was the organisation required to manage this massive entrepreneurial center that the Méxica state founded special institutions and officials to oversee it.

  • The Pochtecatlailotlac, the ‘first of the merchants’ was the effective governor of Tlatelolco, answering to the Emperor and accounted a magistrate of the Teuctlahtohqueh, the imperial judges.
  • The Tianquizpan Tlayacanqui, the Marketplace Judges, oversaw the enactment of pochteca laws and sentenced any thieves caught within the confines of the tianquizco. The Pochteca Tlahtocan commercial court had three levels and between three and five judges would sit in court each market day.
  • The omnipresent Tianquiztlacanqui administered the day-to-day running of the market, checking for compliance with the laws and looking out for fraudulent dealing. They also ensured the payment of the imperial trade tax, the pochtecatequitl, enforced on all sales.

Early Divisions of the Pochteca

The professional merchants were classified into the following roles:

  • The importers: pochteca and oztomeca.
  • The wholesalers, the tlaquixtiani.
  • The retailers, the tlanecuilo.

The pochteca were divided into the following classes:

  • The Pochteca Teucnehnenqueh, the pochteca trading on behalf of the Four Hundred Houses. They were considered the higher rank of pochteca, carrying out some private trade as well.
  • The Pochteca Naualoztomeca, the ‘disguised merchants’, seeking after rare goods often on their own behalf but also as spies for the state. A oztomecatl (plural oztomeca) was a merchant-guard or vanguard-merchant seeking out new markets and resources and goods of interest to Tenochtitlán. Senior warrior-merchants were known as Teyahualonime, with a merchant-general given the title of Acxotecatl. Often the trade performed by these warrior-merchants was a precursor of military conquest.

Within these groups there were also:

  • The Tecouanime, the slave merchants, charged with maintaining the supply of captives to be sent to work initially in the mines and fields of the Nisei, and then in the mines of the Méxica themselves.
  • The Iyahqueh, merchants based in outlying trade stations and depots, supporting the long trade routes to the Nisei and later the Shawnee of North Amerika and the Franco-Inca of South Amerika.
  • The Tlanamacani, salesmen acting as agents for the pochteca guilds.

Expansion and Consolidation

With the growth of the empire the organisation of the pochteca guilds changed and evolved, with clans specialising in certain goods or trade in certain areas.

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution some pochteca clans gradually changed into managing and marketing the goods of the Toltecca artisans and craftsmen, becoming mercantile companies and businesses, Pochtecacalli, merchant houses or Pochteca Tehuampoyotl, merchant companies.

The pochetca had always been involved with the nobility, providing luxury goods and acting as the agents of a lord in business ventures abroard. Now, following the European and Afriqan models, the nobility became the investors and shareholders of the pochteca companies. Over time the pochteca grew to resemble their European and Afriqan rivals.

The Modern Pochteca

The activities of the pochteca are now played out on an interstellar stage. With the wealth and trade of dozens of colonies and strange alien worlds, commerce remains as important as ever.

Within the empire colony worlds are divided into three main types:

  • Imperial worlds, governed by officers of the state.
  • Noble worlds, owned and ruled by one of the Four Hundred Houses, usually First or Second from the Center.
  • Merchant worlds, dominated by one or more pochteca corporations. In common usage these are often known as pochtlan, with the merchant districts grown to encompass whole worlds or systems.

Pochteca Teucnehnenqueh

The traditional Méxica pochteca companies remain a dominant presence. Their shares are nearly always owned by one or more of the noble clans, with the Pochtecatzintli, the senior director usually appointed by and sometimes from the clan holding the majority of its shares. He is aided by the board of Pochtecatlahtohqueh, the directors.

The Tecouanime, the ancient dealers in slaves, now mostly transport indentured workers to the colonies.

The modern Iyahqueh maintain and manage the great station depots and markets on the Rim, where exotic goods begin their journey to the Core Worlds and Imperial products are distributed to the outer colonies and alien worlds.

The Great Clans of the Méxica have retained their controlling interest of most of the Pochteca Tencunenenque, and derive much of their wealth from the company dividends. Among the Nisei the shounin class were traditionally despised by the nobility who cherished the Edo era social system of Shinoukoushou. With the gradual erosion of the rights and privileges of the old clans, the Nisei aristocracy has been supplanted by the rising goushousou class – the business elite.

Pochteca Naualoztomeca

With the move into space, the naualoztomeca were at the forefront of seeking out new worlds to provide luxury goods and resources for the Inner Worlds, and providing economic and military intelligence. Unlike other pochteca ships, those of the oztomeca were and remain armed, often carrying weaponry equal to an Imperial Light Cruiser. Both on Anáhuac and beyond, the oztomeca have sometimes conquered, in the name of the Méxica Emperor.

Those naualoztomeca who provide armed escorts or merchant ships are still known as oztomeca. These warrior-merchants increasingly act as merchant adventurers, seeking out new markets and goods, sometimes engaging in a little piracy and providing reports to Tenochtitlán. A large number of retired or mustered out Fleet and Marines are found among them. Ships withdrawn from active service are often purchased by naualoztomeca companies and refitted to act as armed merchantmen. A oztomecatl vessel usually has the heaviest weapons removed prior to sale but retains a few missile racks and beam mounts; even with the ship’s systems sanitized and decks ripped out to increase cargo capacity such a ship can still be an effective light warcraft. Oztomeca ships can trade but they can also act as privateers if the opportunity arises, sometimes acting as a vanguard to actual Fleet actions. As in ancient times their activities can be employed to initiate a wider conflict.

Pochteca Macehualli

There had always been different classes of pochteca, providing different goods and services.

With the Last War, the foreign companies and corporations fell under Imperial jurisdiction, but rather than close them down causing economic and industrial chaos, they were folded into the Méxica framework, supposedly as lesser class companies with the signing of the Treaty of Rostov. However, given the complex interrelationships between the Méxica companies and those Third from the Center, the tangled web of share ownership and subsidiaries meant that despite a lower legal status and a higher tax burden, many of the pochteca macehualli out perform the state and noble sponsored pochteca.

Merchant Ranks

Merchants

Title Position
Pochtecatlailotlac Chief of the city guilds
Pochtecatlatoani Merchant Speaker for a calpulli guild
Tlailotlac Arbiter in Mercantile Affairs
Pochtecahuehueh Merchant Elder
Teucnehnenqui Travelling Lord
Tealtianime Slave Sacrificer
Pochtecatl Merchant

Merchant-Warriors

Title Position Marine/Army Rank
Acxoteca Merchant-General General
Teyahualoani Besieger of the Enemy Colonel
Cuauhpoyahualtzin Merchant-Captain
(Brown Eagle Lord)
Captain
Tecuani Wild Beast
(Jaguar)
Lieutenant
Naualoztomecatl Merchant-Spy Sergeant
Oztomecatl Vanguard-Merchant Private

SS:WOF SS:HOR

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