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Latin American History: Ancient and Colonial Empires
Prompt: Write-up on Inga Clendinnen’s article, “The Cost of Courage in Aztec Society”
Directions:
1. For those who do this week’s writeup on this week’s materials: Make your entire writeup a minimum of one full page and cited. Please choose one question to answer.
2. For those who do the write-up this week, please email it to me before our zoom
discussion on Thursday. (nmottier@stetson.edu)
3. Whether you submit a write-up this week or not, everyone is still responsible for reading
the material and participating in discussion. For all questions that you don’t answer for
your write-up, please informally jot down a few notes about them, or mark up the pages
of the article, so that you can be prepared for discussion.
4. Please give your examples from the reading.
Thank you, and I look forward to our discussion!
1) Throughout the article, the author Inga Clendinnen makes the point that warfare, sacrifice
and violence connected to many different aspects of the ancient Aztec civilization. (In
fact, on p. 58, she writes that “warfare is as much a cultural expression as worship [is]”.)
How did warfare and sacrifice connect to ancient Aztec religion? The Feast of the
Flaying of Men is a good example…
2) How did warfare and sacrifice connect with agriculture in the minds of the ancient
Aztecs? Please make sure to ground your answer in examples from throughout the article
The Feast of the Flaying of Men is a good example…
3) How was, as Clendinnen put it, the “Aztec warrior […] a social product”? Give examples
from the article and the primary source.
4) What was considered appropriate in Aztec military culture?
5) Why did the Aztecs put on such immense public ceremonial performances?
The Past and Present Society
The Cost of Courage in Aztec Society
Author(s): Inga Clendinnen
Source: Past & Present, No. 107 (May, 1985), pp. 44-89
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of The Past and Present Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/650706 .
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THE COST OF COURAGE IN
AZTEC SOCIETY*
Proud of itself
is the cityof Mexico-Tenochtitlan.
Here no one fearsto die in war.
This is our glory…
Who could conquerTenochtitlin?
Who could shake the foundationof heaven?’
ofan Aztec2song-poem
Today we are temptedto read thisfragment
as a familiarpiece ofbombast:theaggressivemilitary
empirewhich
insistson its invincibility,
its warriorsstrangersto fear. In what
followsI wantto indicatehow the businessof war was understood
inthegreatcityofTenochtitlin,and then,inmorebutstillinadequate
detail, to enquire into how warrioraction was sustainedand explained, in the hope of drawingcloserto an Aztec readingof this
small text.
I
That Tenochtitlinwas the creationof war and the courage and
staminaof its youngfighting
men was indisputable.The splendid
men
which
and
his
saw shimmering
above itslakewaters
Cortes
city
in theautumnof 1519 had been foundedas a miserablecollectionof
mud hutsless thantwohundredyearsbefore.Some timelatein the
twelfth
centurythefinalabandonmentoftheonce-great
imperialcity
*
My thanksare due to membersof theShelbyCullomDavis Seminaron War and
who respondedto an initialdraftof thisarticlewith
Societyat PrincetonUniversity,
The Plates
livelyinterest,subtleand acute criticism,and generousencouragement.
are reproducedby permissionof the Bibliothequede l’AssemblkeNationale,Paris,
and AkademischeDruck-und Verlagsanstalt,
Graz(Plate8), theBibliothequeNationale, Paris(Plate 2), theBodleianLibrary,Oxford(Plates 1, 3, 4), theBritishLibrary,
e Historia,Mexico(Plate
London (Plates6, 7), theInstitutoNacionalde Antropologia
9), and the Museum fuirVolkerkunde,Basle (Plate 5).
1 “Cantaresmexicanos”,fos.
19v-20′,trans.MiguelLeon-Portillain hisPre-ColumbianLiteratures
ofMexico(Norman,Okla., 1969), p. 87.
2 The people who had come to dominatecentralMexico at the timeof European
conquest, rulingtheirtributeempirefromthe island cityof Tenochtitlin,called
themselvesthe”Mexica” or the”Tenocha”, but commonusage has establishedthem
as the “Aztecs”.
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THE COST OF COURAGE IN AZTEC SOCIETY
45
of Tula to the northhad begun a restlessmovementof peoples
southwards,to thegentlerlandsofthevalleyofMexico. By theclose
of thethirteenth
“minisculepolities”jostled
centurymorethanfifty
as population
in thevalley,boundtogether
trade
and
by
increasingly,
to exacttributefromeach
and ambitiongrew,by the determination
livedmiserablyand
other.3The Aztecs,latecomersin themigration,
of
their
on
the
narrow
tolerance
neighbours
longer-settled
marginally
until the lord of Azcapotzalcoallowed themto settlethe swampy
ofLake Texcoco. He had beenimpressedby
lands in thesouth-west
ofpreviouslydespisedlakeresources;by
theiringeniousexploitation
theirenergeticreclamationof productiveland throughthedredging
and pilingsystemofchinampaagriculture
longpractisedin thevalley;
men.
and mostof all by theunusualferocity
of theiryoungfighting
The Aztecs were to live essentiallyas mercenariesforthe next
difficult
years,as theircityand neatpatchworkof chinampas
slowly
grew. Their tribal deity Huitzilopochtli,who spoke throughthe
mouthsofhisfourgod-bearerpriests,had led themthroughtheyears
of the migration,and withsettlement
internalaffairswere ordered
land
by theleadersofeach calpullior lineagegroup,who distributed
and labour and gatheredthe youngmen forwar.4Withtimecame
theneed formoreformaland unifiedrepresentation
fornegotiations
withothervalleypeoples,so thecalpullileadersapproacheda prince
of Culhuacan who could claim descentfromthe Toltecs of Tula to
becometheirtlatoani,or “Speaker”. The outsiderwas integrated
into
the group and createdan instantaristocracyby the neat device of
marrying
twentyAztecwives,one fromeach calpulli,or so thestory
goes.5
Thatfirst
on theadministration
tlatoaniprobablyhad littleinfluence
of Aztec affairs,but in the late 1420s, a hundredyears afterthe
establishmentof Tenochtitlin,therewas a significant
shiftin the
3Edward A. Calnek, “PatternsofEmpireFormationin theValleyofMexico, Late
PostclassicPeriod, 1200-1521″,in GeorgeA. Collier,RenatoI. Rosaldo and JohnD.
and History(New
Wirth(eds.), The Inca and AztecsStates,1400-1800:Anthropology
York, 1982), p. 44. Calnek elegantlyreviewsrecentdevelopmentsin this complex
area.
4 GordonBrotherston,
enquiringintoHuitzilopochtli’s”indeliblysecularstreak”,
into the god by the creatorsof the
suggeststhata one-timeleader was transformed
empire,as a vivifying
figureof unboundedenergyand terror.GordonBrotherston,
“Huitzilopochtliand What Was Made of Him”, in NormanHammond(ed.), MesoNew Approaches(London, 1974), pp. 155-65.
americanArcheology:
one of thestories:C6diceRamirez:relacidndel origende losIndios
s More correctly,
sushistorias
que habitanestaNueva Espaiia, seguzn
(Mexico, 1944), p. 42. The fewand
sketchyaccountsconflictforthisearlyperiod.
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46
PAST AND PRESENT
NUMBER 107
locus of authority.Itzcoatl,son of the borrowedprince,in alliance
with two otherclient cities, led his warriorsagainstthose of the
overlordcityand won. The spoils of victory- plunder,land and
thelabourto workit, even thechanceof securingthetributedue to
Azcapotzalcofromits subjectcities- layin his hand. He chose not
to distributethatwealthdirectlyto the calpullis,but ratherto his
warriorsand especiallyto his royalkin throughthe creationof an
elaboratesystemof militaryofficesand titles,each carryingwithit
rightsto tributeand the produce of tributefields. It has been
persuasivelyargued that with Itzcoatl and his victorybegan the
ofcalpullileadersintoserviceand identification
withthe
recruitment
nascentstate,and thedevelopmentof an increasingly
sharpdistinctionbetweena privilegedhereditary
comand a tributary
aristocracy
monerclass.6The calpulliwas notextinguished:
it remainedthekey
local unitforthedistribution
ofcalpulliland and fortheorganization
oflabourforpublicworks,warand collectiveritualuntilthesixteenth
centuryand the Spanish attack. But with Itzcoatland those who
followedhim, bothpowerand authority
moveddecisivelyfromthe
locallybased lineagegroupsto the palace of the rulerand the great
templecomplexadjacentto it.
Under Itzcoatl’s successorMoctezuma the Elder the armies of
the Triple Allianceof Tenochtitlin,Texcoco and Tlacopan spilled
beyondthe valleyto carveout the broad shape of theirmagnificent
if unstabletributeempire. That expansionwas paralleledby the
ofTenochtitlin.In 1519,thelastyearofits
increasingmagnificence
it
contained
grandeur,
perhaps200,000to250,000people,withmany
more denselysettledaround the lake margin.(Seville, the portof
numberedin thesameyear
departureformostoftheconquistadores,
not morethan60,000 persons.)7The citylived moreby tradethan
tribute,but thattradehad been stimulatedand focusedbywar,just
as itswar-fedsplendourattractedthemostskilledartisansand most
The one-classsocietyof
giftedsingersto embellishitsgloryfurther.8
6
vi
J. Rounds, “Lineage, Class and Powerin theAztec State”,Amer.Ethnologist,
(1979), pp. 73-86. For a different
emphasis,see ElizabethM. Brumfiel,”Aztec State
and theOriginsoftheState”,Amer.Anthropologist,
lxxxv
Making:Ecology,Structure
(1983), pp. 261-84.
7 For a reviewof recentdiscussionon populationfigures,
see WilliamT. Sanders,
R. Parsonsand RobertS. Santley,TheBasin ofMexico:EcologicalProcessesin
Jeffrey
theEvolutionofa Civilization(New York, 1979). For Seville,see J.H. Elliott,Imperial
Spain, 1469-1716(New York, 1964),p. 117.
8 For tradeand tributeinto
Tenochtitlan,and the developmentof hierarchy,see
Calnek, “Patternsof Empire Formationin the Valleyof Mexico”; Edward Calnek,
“The InternalStructureofTenochtitlin”,in Eric R. Wolf(ed.), The ValleyofMexico
(cont.onp. 47)
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THE COST OF COURAGE IN AZTEC SOCIETY
47
theearlydaysofhardshiphad givenwayto an elaboratelydifferentiated hierarchy.But that hierarchyhad been createdthroughthe
of thespoilsofwar,and successin combatremainedits
distribution
dynamic.Performanceon the fieldof battlewas as centralforthe
confirmation
of an elevatedpositionas forescape froma lowlyone,
and concernregardingthatperformance
grippedyoungmalesof all
social ranks.
It also concernedthosewho directedthecity.Fromtheage often
or eleven all commoneryouths save those few dedicated to the
priesthoodcame under the controlof the “House of Youth”, the
warriorhouse in their own calpulli. These were not exclusively
schools:each lad was expectedtomastera rangeofmasculine
military
the tradeof his father.The greatmass of
skills,most particularly
Aztecwarriorswereessentiallypart-time,
fromcampaigns
returning
to the mundane pursuitsof farming,huntingor fishing,pulque
brewingand selling,orthedozenothertradesthecitysupported.Few
commonerswereso successfulin battleas to emancipatethemselves
entirelyfromsuch labour. Nonethelessit was war and the prospect
of war which firedimaginationand ambition.9At fifteenthe lads
inweapon-handling,
beganintensivetraining
everyevening
gathering
in the warriorhouse withthe maturewarriors- local heroes- to
learnthe chantsand dances whichcelebratedwarriorspast and the
eternalexcitements
ofwar. Assignedlaboursbecamea chanceto test
as
wrestled
strength, boys
logs fromthe distantforestto feed the
fires
in
their
local
never-dying
templeor to meettheirward’sobliga(n. 8 cont.)
social
(Albuquerque,N.M., 1976), pp. 287-302; JohannaBroda et al., Estratificaci6n
en la Mesoamiricaprehispdnica
(Mexico, 1976); Pedro Carrascoand JohannaBroda
(eds.), Economiapoliticae ideologiaen el Mexicoprehispdnico
(Mexico, 1978); Frances
Berdan,”Trade, Tributeand Marketin theAztecEmpire”(Univ. ofTexas at Austin
Ph.D. thesis,1975).
Codex: GeneralHistoryof theThingsofNew
9 Bernardinode Sahaguin,Florentine
Spain, trans.ArthurJ. O. Andersonand CharlesE. Dibble, 13 pts. (Santa Fe, 1950on warriorschoolsand theconductof
82), bk. 8, ch. 20, pp. 71-2. Otherinformation
war is to be foundin bk. 3, app., chs. 4-6; bk. 6, chs. 3, 21-31; bk. 8, chs. 12, 14,
17-18,20-21, apps. B, C. See also, forthe regaliasand the trainingand disciplinary
procedures,CodexMendoza,ed. JamesCooperClark,3 vols. (London, 1983); Thelma
D. Sullivan,”Armsand InsigniaoftheMexica”, Estudiosde culturandhuatl,
x (1972),
oftherelevantsectionsoftheC6diceMatritense
de la Academia
pp. 155-93(translation
de la Historia);JohannaBroda, “El tributode trajesde guerrerosy la estructuraci6n
del sistematributario”,in Carrascoand Broda (eds.), Economia,politicae ideologiaen
el Mexicoprehispdnico,
pp. 113-72.For garrisons,see C. Nigel Davies, “The Military
internazionale
delliAmericanisti,
OrganizationoftheAztec State”,AttidelXL congreso
xl pt. 4 (1972), pp. 213-21. Descriptionsof campaignsare mostabundantin Diego
Durin, Historiade las Indias de Nueva-Espafiay islas de TierraFirme,ed. JoseF.
Ramirez,2 vols. (Mexico, 1867-80).
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48
PAST AND PRESENT
NUMBER 107
tionsat thecentraltempleprecinct.Butwarprovidedthecrucialand
indeed the sole consequentialtest. Performancein that test was
measuredin a quitestraightforward,
arithmetical
kindofway.Movementthroughthe ranksof the warriorgradesdependedon taking
alive on thefieldofbattlea specifiednumberofcaptivesofspecified
quality.(See Plate 1.) Each promotionwas markedby theawardof
designatedinsigniaand by a distinctive
cuttingand arrangingof the
hair,althoughthe “warriorlock”, at the centreand slightlyto the
back ofthehead, was alwayskeptintact.(Some ofthemostelevated
warriors,the “shaven-headedOtomi”, kept only thatlock, bound
withbrightcordclose to thescalp so thatit floatedbanner-like
above
theshavenpate.) It was possibleforthecommonerwhodistinguished
himselfover severalcampaignsto graduateintothe lowerranksof
theroyaladministration,
or evento enjoytheperquisitesoflordship,
at leastforhis lifetime.Rewardswerenotonlyindividual:ifsuccess
in battlebroughtincreasingly
opporgorgeousinsigniaandincreasing
tunitiesfor theirpublic and ceremonialdisplay,it also increased
access to the goods of the tributewarehouse,whichcould thenbe
dispersedto kin and friends:a nice exampleof verticalintegration.
The connectionbetween the honours heaped on the triumphant
warriorand thegeneralbenefitsenjoyedby civiliansassociatedwith
him by blood or friendshipwere well understood.Long afterthe
conquestmen recalledwhathappenedwhen “the man dexterousin
arms” was successful:
such honourhe won thatno one anywheremightbe adorned[likehim];no one in
his [own] house mightassumeall his finery.For in truth[because]of his dartand
his shieldtherewas eatingand drinking,and one was arrayedin cape and breechclout. For verilyin Mexico werewe, and thuspersistedthereignofMexico .. ..o
The conditionsofwarriortrainingforthesonsofthelordsare less
clear.Some appearto havebeenassociatedwithlocalwarriorhouses,
takingtheirspecializedtrainingthere,whileothers,dedicatedearly
to a particularorderofwarriors,trainedwithinitsexclusivehouse.11
Codex, bk. 8, app. C, p. 89.
0oFlorentine
ofthesons oflords,see Florentine
11 For thewarriortraining
Codex,bk. 8, ch. 20.
For trainingwithinthe house of the knightly
order,see Duran, Historia,ii, ch. 88.
For the complexbusinessof access of commonersto highmilitaryoffice,see Virve
Piho, “Tlacatecutli,Tlacochtecutli,Tlacateccatly Tlacochcdlcatl”,Estudiosde cultura
ndhuatl,x (1972), pp. 315-28. My own suspicionis thata rhetoricof access and an
was temperedby theoccasionalexception- a not unfamiliar
actualityof restriction
ofTenochtitlinwere
and tlacochcdlcatl
situation- butthatthepositionsoftlacateccatl
reservedto membersof the rulingdynasty.See J. Rounds’s absorbingdiscussionin
ofPowerin Tenochtitlin”,in Collier,
his “DynasticSuccessionand theCentralization
Rosaldo and Wirth(eds.), Inca and AztecStates,1400-1800,pp. 63-89.
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~ CC
L~
+CLUI
~ <3F (g ?L -4i 4 "ZAa%8j Pt i caA&ib e~a 7001, a?4L4 o,?V VL Ca-4;"L c O Vr? c L?-icccs 2b-J-OA- P~ (;r~ CaA/M 4 cth0r' n n $lP~ anrm l~~yS c~oiu W,4N~c S~ Caa9'w4ou ac4y'o :L / Cok 4 Ck ~ in various regaliasawardedfortakingbetweenone and 1. Warrior-priests (c. 1541-2),fo. 65: BodleianLibrary,Oxford,MS. Arch. S This content downloaded from 147.253.139.79 on Sat, 30 Aug 2014 11:49:02 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions 50 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 107 While the lords certainlywore the hair cuts designatinglevels of prowesstheirladderof promotionmaynothave coincidedprecisely withthatclimbedby commoners.It was probablysignificantly more rigorous.For a noblein thelateryearsofempirethecostofcowardice was high. Access to officeand theperquisitesofoffice- its tribute fields,itsdependentlabourers- dependedon adequateperformance in battle,and thehighertheofficethemorespectaculartherequired The rulerhimselfwas notexempt.His innerCouncil performance. ofFour, drawnfromtheroyalkin,includedthetwohighestmilitary commanders,and therulerhimselfhad usuallyheldone ofthosetwo positions.Afterhis "election"by thatsame council,and theobligatoryperiodof seclusionand fasting,his firstpublicdutywas to lead his fighting men to war, the splendourof his laterinstallation being a directmeasureof the successof his campaign.12 (See Plate 2.) A dramatictougheningin requiredwarriorperformance forthe in had come the middle of the rule of Moctezuma the nobility years the before Aztec the Elder, just expansionbeyond valley.Tlacaelel, a younggeneralunderItzcoatl,adviserto Moctezumaand to three of empire,made rulersafterhim, and chiefarchitectand strategist thenew rulesclear. The mostcovetedjewels,therichestcloaksand shieldscould no longerbe boughtin themarket-place. They could be purchasedonlywithvalorousdeeds. Any male who failedto go to war,evenifhe weretheking'sson,wouldbe deprivedofall signs ofrankand would liveas a despisedcommoner,whilegreatwarriors wouldeat fromtheking'sdish. This was a sufficiently crucialmatter to breachthe hardeningdivisionsof class: should a legitimateson prove cowardly,and the son of a slave or servantexcel him in battle,the bastardwould replace the coward as legitimateheir.13 Furthermore Tlacaelel proclaimedtheinitiationofa particularkind ofwarfareagainstfiveprecariously independentprovincesacrossthe mountains- provincesnoted,as weretheAztecs,forthetoughness men. In theseso-called"FloweryWars" thesoleend oftheirfighting would be the mutual takingof warriorcaptivesforritualkilling. At the same time Tlacaelel was preparingthe greatcampaignsof subjugationwhichwould bringhundreds,even thousands,of prisonersto Tenochtitlin.The buildingoftheGreatTemplewas already in train.In thenextyearstheAztecsweretobecomenotoriousamong theirneighboursfor their mass ceremonialkillings,and for the in whichthosekillingswereframed. th ... Purchase answer to see full attachment

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