Toltec

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The Toltecs (or Toltec or Tolteca) dominated much of central México between the 10th and 12th Century and traded with the Nisei.

The Tolteca may have originally been nomadic barbarians wandering down from the north, and have contributed to the fall of Teotihuacan. Their name meant ‘glutton’ or ‘barbarian’ but the Méxica later recognised it as meaning craftsman or artist, and took their capital of Tula as the perfect example of a city.

Toltec pochteca sail north to greet the Nisei

Contact with the Nisei provided the inhabitants of what would become the Empire of Méxica not only with new foodstuffs and technologies but also with a profound challenge to their perception of the world. Several hundred years before the arrival of the Nisei the mighty city of Teotihuacán collapsed and with it many of the trade routes. In the resulting dark age, the Tolteca center of Tula grew to prominence and became the prime conduit for trade with the newcomers to the north west. The chief god of the Tolteca was Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking Mirror, and thus the warrior caste gradually adopted some of the mannerisms and certainly the weapons of bushi. The legendary conflict between Tezcatlipoca and the godking Ce Acatl Topiltzin, an avatar of Quetzalcóatl was to form a resonance in later history. The godking had revealed the doctrine of a lofty god who cared so much for mortals that he did not demand their lives in sacrifice.

Tula relied on trade and tribute. Its location was marginal for agriculture and permanently at risk of drought. At first it controlled the major sources of obsidian, but with the arrival of the Nisei became their first and major trade partner in North Amerika. Despite the wealth and political importance of Tula there was never an extended Toltec Empire; whilst the Toltecs exploited some of the goods and knowledge brought from the Nisei Tula never made the transition from city-state to empire. Toltec society remained susceptible to crop failure and fractured by the conflict between the priesthoods of Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca – and Tezcatlipoca was a god notorious for sowing discord and deceit...

Approximately two centuries after contact between the Nisei and the Tolteca, the stresses of change caused the kingdom to disintegrate.

Dynastic intrigues, an extended drought over several years and continual immigration and attacks by Chichimeca barbarians (the Dog Lineage people) drawn in by the trade wealth of Tula eventually brought the kingdom to its knees. The last king, Huémac, abandoned the city; it was sacked and destroyed. The elite scattered – some to the Valley of México, others further afield. Around Lake Texcoco they founded or conquered the rival cities of Texcoco, Azcapotzalco and Culhuacán, setting the stage for the arrival of the Méxica.

The fall of Tula signalled a wave of tribal migrations into the south; the seventh of these tribes were the Aztecâ tlaca, ‘the People of the Place of the Herons’. Under the command of their war god, Huitzilopochtli, after many years of wandering, they entered what was to become the Valley of México. These Méxica considered themselves the heirs to the Tolteca, having tarried at legendary Culhuacan-Tollán, and inherited much of the Tolteca culture.

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