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13-05-2015, 14:32


Different views on this question—Reason for the same—Their architecture—Different styles of houses—The communal house—The tecpan—The teocalli—State of society indicated by this architecture—The gens among the Mexicans—The phratry among the Mexicans—The tribe—The powers and duties of the council—The head chiefs of the tribe—The duties of the "Chief-of-men"—The mistake of the Spaniards—The Confederacy—The idea of property among the Mexicans—The ownership of land—Their laws—Enforcement of the laws—Outline of the growth of the Mexicans in power—Their tribute system—How collected—Their system of trade—Slight knowledge of metallurgy—Religion—Quietzalcohuatl—Huitzilopochtli—Mexican priesthood—Human sacrifices—The system of Numeration—The calendar system—The calendar stone—Picture writing—Landa alphabet—Historical outline.

LANDSCAPE presents varied aspects according to the standpoint from which it is viewed. Here we have a glimpse of hill and dale; there a stretch of running water. But two persons, standing in the same position, owing to their different mental temperaments, will view things in a different light. Where one, an artist born, is carried away with the beautiful scenery, another, with a more practical turn of mind, perceives only its adaptability for investments. Education and habits of life are also very potent factors in determining our views on various questions. Scholars of wide and extended learning differ very greatly in their views of questions deeply affecting human interests. We know how true that is of abstruse topics, such as religion and questions of state polity. It is also true of the entire field of scientific research. The unknown is a vastly greater domain than the known, and men, after deep and patient research, adopt widely different theories to explain the same facts.

It need, therefore, occasion no surprise to learn that there is a great difference of opinion as to the real state of culture among the so-called civilized tribes of Mexico and Central America. We have incidentally mentioned this difference in describing the ruins and their probable purpose. As one of the objects we have in view, and perhaps the most important one, is to learn what we can of the real state of society amongst the prehistoric people we treat of, it becomes necessary to examine these different views, and, if we can not decide in our own minds what to accept as true, we will be prepared to receive additional evidence that scholars are now bringing forward, and know to how weigh them and compare them with others.

It has only been within the last few years that we have gained an insight into the peculiar organization of Indian society. After some centuries of contact between the various tribes of Indians and whites, their social organization was still unknown. But we are now beginning to understand this, and the important discovery has also been made that this same system of government was very widely spread, indeed. This subject has, however, been as extensively treated as is necessary in chapter xii, so we need not stop longer. But if, with all the light of modern learning, we have only lately gained a clear understanding of the social organization of Indian tribes, it need occasion no surprise, nor call for any indignant denial, to affirm that the Spaniards totally misunderstood the social organization of the tribes with which they came in contact in Mexico.

We must also take into consideration the political condition of Europe at this time. Feudalism still exercised an influence on men's minds. The Spanish writers, in order to convey to Europeans a knowledge of the country and its inhabitants, applied European names and phrases to American Indian (advanced though they were) personages and institutions. But the means employed totally defeated the object sought. Instead of imparting a clear idea, a very erroneous one was conveyed.

As an illustration of this abuse of language, we might refer to the case of Montezuma, which name itself is a corruption of the Mexican word "Motecu-zoma," meaning literally "my wrathy chief." Mr. Bandelier2 and Mr. Morgan have quite clearly shown what his real position was. His title was "chief of men."3 He was simply one of the two chief executive officers of the tribe and general of the forces of the confederacy. His office was strictly elective, and he could be deposed for misdemeanor. Instead of giving him his proper title, and explaining its meaning, the Spaniards bestowed on him the title of king, which was soon enlarged to that of emperor, European words, it will be observed, which convey an altogether wrong idea of Mexican society. Many such illustrations could be given.

The literature that has grown up about this subject is very voluminous, but the authors not being acquainted with the organization of Indian society, have not been able to write understandingly about them. We do not flatter ourselves that we have now solved all the difficulties of the case. But since Mr. Morgan has succeeded in throwing such a flood of light on the constitution of ancient society, and especially of Indian society, and Mr. Bandelier has given us the results of his careful investigation of the culture of the Mexicans, we feel that a foundation has been laid for a correct understanding of this vexed problem.

We will now examine their architecture, or style of building. In dealing with prehistoric people, we have several times referred to the tribal state of government, involving village life and communism in living. We have seen how this principle enabled us to understand the condition of Europe during the Neolithic Age. In still another place we have used this principle to show the connection of the Pueblo Indians and other tribes of the United States. Now we think this is the key which is to explain many of the ruins we have described in the preceding chapter. But another principle to be borne in mind, is that of defense. War, we have seen, is really the normal state of things amongst tribal communities. Therefore, either some position naturally strong must be selected as a village site, or the houses themselves must be fortified, after the fashion of Indians. This will be found to explain many peculiarities in their method of construction.

Amongst the pueblo structures of to-day, and among the ruins of the cliff-dwellers, we have seen how compact every thing was. The estufa, or place of council and worship, was built in close proximity to the other building, and sometimes it formed part of it, and we do not learn that there was any thing distinguishing about the apartments of the chief. Further South a change is noticed. A specialization of structures, if we may use such an expression, has taken place, and, among the Mexicans, three kinds of houses were distinguished. It is extremely probable the same classification could be made elsewhere. There was, first of all, the ordinary dwelling houses. Every vestige of aboriginal buildings in the pueblos of Mexico has long since disappeared, and our knowledge of these structures can only be gathered from the somewhat confused accounts of the early writers.

Many, perhaps most, of the houses had a terraced, pyramidal foundation. Some were constructed on three sides of a court, like those on the Rio Chaco, in New Mexico. Others probably surrounded an open court, or quadrangle. The houses were of one and two stories in height. When two stories, the upper one receded from the first, probably in the terraced form. As serving to connect them with the more ornamental structures in Yucatan, we are told they were sometimes "adorned with elegant cornices and stucco designs of flowers and animals, which were often painted with brilliant colors. Prominent among these figures was the coiling serpent."4 After pointing out, by many citations, that the evidence always was that these houses were occupied by many families, Mr. Morgan concludes, "They were evidently joint tenement-houses of the aboriginal American model, each occupied by a number of families ranging from five and ten to one hundred, and perhaps, in some cases, two hundred families in a house."5

We can discern this kind of dwelling-house in many of the descriptions we have given of the ruins in the preceding chapter. M. Charney evidently found them at Tulla and Teotihuacan. Mr. Bandelier concludes that similar ruins once crowded the terraces at Cholula, and that to this class belongs the ruins at Mitla. The Palace, at Palenque, is evidently but another instance, as well as the House of Nuns, at Uxmal. In fact, with our present knowledge of the pueblos of Arizona, and the purposes which they subserved, as well as the uses made of such houses by the Mexicans, we are no longer justified in bestowing upon the structures in Yucatan the name of palaces.

The mistake was excusable among the Spaniards. They were totally ignorant of the mode of life indicated by these joint tenement-houses. When they found one of these large structures, capable of accommodating several hundred occupants, with its inner court, terraced foundation, and ornamented by stucco work, or sculpture, it was extremely natural that they should call it a palace, and cast about for some titled owner.

A second class of houses includes public buildings. The Mexicans, when at the height of their power, required buildings for public use, and this was doubtless true of the people who inhabited Uxmal and Palenque. The most important house was the tecpan, the official house of the tribe, the council house proper. This was the official residence of the "chief of men" and his assistants, such as runners. This was the place of meeting of the council of chiefs. It was here that the hospitality of the Pueblo was exercised. Official visitors from other tribes and traders from a distance were provided with accommodations here. When Cortez and his followers entered Mexico they were provided for at the tecpan. We would not expect to find these public buildings, except in rich and prosperous pueblos. It has been suggested that the Governor's House at Uxmal was the official house of that settlement. The large halls, suitable for council purposes, favor this idea.6

A third class of buildings was the teocalli, or "House of God"—in other words, the temple. These were quite common. Each of the gens that composed the Mexican tribe had its own particular medicine lodge or temple. This was doubtless true of each and every tribe of sedentary Indians in the territory we are describing. "The larger temples were usually built upon pyramidal parallelograms, square or oblong, and consisted of a series of superimposed terraces with perpendicular or sloping sides."7 It is not necessary to dwell longer on this style of buildings. We have only to recall the temples of the Sun, of the Cross, and of the Beau-relief at Palenque; the House of the Dwarf at Uxmal, and the Citadel at Chichen-Itza, to gather a clear idea of their construction.

The architecture of a people is a very good exponent of their culture. Yet all have seen what different views are held as to the culture of the tribes we are considering. We have, perhaps, said all that is required on this part of the subject, yet even repetition is pardonable if it enables us to more clearly understand our subject. The ornamentation on the ruins of Yucatan is so peculiar that in our opinion it has unduly influenced the judgment of explorers in this matter. They lose sight of the fact that the apartments of the houses are small, dark, and illy ventilated.

That they should hive gone to the trouble of so profusely decorating their usual places of abode is, indeed, somewhat singular.8 But Mitla was certainly an inhabited pueblo at the time of the Spanish conquest, and there is no good reason for concluding it was ever any thing more than a group of communal buildings. Yet, from the description given of it, we can not see that the buildings are greatly inferior in decoration to the structures in Yucatan. And yet again, from the imperfect accounts we have of the aboriginal structures in the pueblo of Mexico, we infer they were constructed on the general plan of communal buildings. As for the decorations, we have seen they had sometimes elaborate cornices, and were covered with stucco designs of animals and flowers. In this case some of them were, to be sure, public buildings for tribal purposes, but the majority of them were certainly communal residences. With these facts before us, we can not do otherwise than conclude that these so-called ruins of great cities we have described are simply the ruins of pueblos, consisting of communal houses, temples, and, in the case of large and powerful tribes, official houses. To this conclusion we believe American scholars are tending more and more.

This requires us to dismiss the idea that the majority of the people lived in houses of a poorer construction, which have since disappeared, leaving the ruins of the houses of the nobles. There was no such class division of the people as this would signify. These ruins were houses occupied by the people in common. With this understanding, a questioning of the ruins can not fail to give us some useful hints. We are struck with their ingenuity as builders. They made use of the best material at hand. In Arizona the dry climate permits of the use of adobe bricks, which were employed, though stone was also used. Further south the pouring tropical rains would soon bring down in ruins adobe structures and so stone alone is used.

In the Arizona pueblo we have a great fortress-built house, three and four stories high, and no mode of access to the lower story. This is in strict accord with Indian principles of defense, which consists in elevated positions. Sometimes this elevated position was a natural hill, as at Quemada, Tezcocingo, and Xochicalco. Where no hill was at hand they formed a terraced pyramidal foundation, as at Copan, Palenque, and Uxmal. In the highest forms of this architecture this elevation is faced with stone, or even composed throughout of stone, as in the case of the House of Nuns at Chichen-Itza. In the construction of houses progress seems to have taken place in two directions. The rooms increased in size. In some of the oldest pueblo structures in Arizona the rooms were more like a cluster of cells than any thing else.9

They grow larger towards the South. In the house at Teotihuacan M. Charney found a room twenty-seven feet wide by forty-one feet long. Two of the rooms in the Governor's House at Uxmal are sixty feet long. But the buildings themselves diminish in size. In Mexico the majority of the houses were but one story high, and but very few more than two stories. In Yucatan but few instances are recorded of houses two stories high. We must remember that throughout the entire territory we are considering the tribes had no domestic animals, their agriculture was in a rude state, and they were practically destitute of metals.10 They could have been no farther advanced on the road to civilization than were the various tribes of Europe during the Bronze Age. Remembering this, we can not fail to be impressed with the ingenuity, patient toil, and artistic taste they displayed in the construction and decoration of their edifices.

It may seem somewhat singular that we should treat of their architecture before we do of their system of government, but we were already acquainted with the ruins of the former. When we turn to the latter we find ourselves involved in very great difficulties. The description given of Mexican society by the majority of writers on these topics represent it as that of a powerful monarchy. The historian Prescott, in his charming work11 draws a picture that would not suffer by comparison with the despotic magnificence of Oriental lands. At a later date Mr. Bancroft, supporting himself by an appeal to a formidable list of authorities, regilds the scene.12 But protests against such views are not wanting. Robertson, in his history, though bowing to the weight of authority can not forbear expressing his conviction that there had been some exaggeration in the splendid description of their government and manners.13 Wilson, more skeptical, and bolder, utterly repudiates the old accounts, and refuses to believe the Aztecs were any thing more than savages.14

With such divergent and conflicting views, we at once perceive the necessity of carefully scanning all the accounts given, and make them conform, if possible, to what is known of Indian institutions and manners. The Mexicans are but one of several tribes that are the subjects of our research; but their institutions are better known than the others, and, in a general way, whatever is true of them will be true of the rest. We have seen the efforts of the Spanish explorers to explain whatever they found new or strange in America by Spanish words, and the results of such procedure. We are at full liberty to reject their conclusions and start anew.

What the Spaniards found around the lakes of Mexico was a union or confederacy of three tribes. Very late investigations by Mr. Bandelier have established the presence of the usual subdivisions of the tribes. So we have here a complete organization according to the terms of ancient society: that is, the gens, phratry, tribe, and confederacy of tribes. It is necessary that we spend some time with each of these subdivisions before we can understand the condition of society among the Mexicans, and, in all probability, the society among all of the civilized nations of Central America.

We will begin with the gens, or the lowest division of the tribe. We must understand its organization before we can understand that of a tribe, and we must master the tribal organization before attempting to learn the workings of the confederacy. To neglect this order, and commence at the top of the series, is to make the same mistake that the older writers did in their studies into this culture. A gens has certain rights, duties, and privileges which belong to the whole gens, and we will consider some of the more important in their proper place. We must understand by a gens a collection of persons who are considered to be all related to each other. An Indian could not, of his own will, transfer himself from one gens to another. He remained a member of the gens into which he was born. He might, by a formal act of adoption, become a member of another gens; or he might, in certain contingencies, lose his connection with a gens and become an outcast. There is no such thing as privileged classes in a gens. All its members stand on an equal footing. The council of the gens is the supreme ruling power in the gens. Among some of the northern tribes, all the members in the gens, both male and female, had a voice in this council. In the Mexican gens, the council itself was more restricted. The old men, medicine men, and distinguished men met in council—but even here, on important occasions, the whole gens met in council.

Each gens would, of course, elect its own officers. They could remove them from office as well, whenever occasion required. The Mexican gentes elected two officers. One of these corresponded to the sachem among northern tribes. His residence was the official house of the gens. He had in charge the stores of the gens; and, in unimportant cases, he exercised the powers of a judge. The other officer was the war-chief. In times of war he commanded the forces of the gens. In times of peace he was, so to speak, the sheriff of the gens.

The next division of the tribe was the phratry—the word properly meaning a brotherhood. Referring to the outline below, we notice that the eight gentes were reunited into two phratries. Mr. Morgan tells us that the probable origin of phratries was from the subdivision of an original gens. Thus a tradition of the Seneca Indians affirms that the Bear and the Deer gentes were the original gentes of that tribe.15 In process of time they split up into eight gentes, which would each have all the rights and duties of an original gens—but, for certain purposes, they were still organized into two divisions.
Each of these larger groups is called a phratry. All of the Iroquois tribes were organized into phratries, and the same was, doubtless, true of the majority of the tribes of North America. The researches of Mr. Bandelier have quite conclusively established the fact, that the ancient Mexican tribe consisted of twenty gentes reunited as four phratries, which constituted the four quarters of the Pueblo of Mexico.

It is somewhat difficult to understand just what the rights and duties of a phratry were. This division does not exist in all tribes. But, as it was present among the Mexicans, we must learn what we can of its powers. Among the Iroquois the phratry was apparent chiefly in religious matters, and in social games. They did not elect any war-chief. The Mexican phratry was largely concerned with military matters. The forces of each phratry went out to war as separate divisions. They had their own costumes and banners. The four phratries chose each their war-chief, who commanded their forces in the field, and who, as commander, was the superior of the war-chiefs of the gentes.

In time of peace, they acted as the executors of tribal justice. They belonged to the highest grade of war-chiefs in Mexico—but there was nothing hereditary about their offices. They were strictly elective, and could be deposed for cause. They were in no case appointed by a higher authority. One of these chiefs was always elected to fill the office of "Chief of Men;"16 and, in cases of emergency, they could take his place—but this would be only a temporary arrangement.

Ascending the scale, the next term of the series is the tribe. The Spanish writers took notice of a tribe, but failed to notice the gens and phratry. This is not to be considered a singular thing. The Iroquois were under the observation of our own people two hundred years before the discovery was made in reference to them. "The existence among them of clans, named after animals, was pointed out at an early day, but without suspecting that it was the unit of a social system upon which both the tribe and the confederacy rested."17 But, being ignorant of this fact, it is not singular that they made serious mistakes in their description of the government.

We now know that the Mexican tribe was composed of an association of twenty gentes, that each of these gens was an independent unit, and that all of its members stood on an equal footing. This, at the outset, does away with the idea of a monarchy. Each gens would, of course, have an equal share in the government. This was effected by means of a council composed of delegates from each gens. There is no doubt whatever of the existence of this council among the Mexicans. "Every tribe in Mexico and Central America, beyond a reasonable doubt, had its council of chiefs. It was the governing body of the tribe, and a constant phenomenon in all parts of aboriginal America."18 The Spanish writers knew of the existence of this council, but mistook its function. They generally treat of it as an advisory board of ministers appointed by the "king."

Each of the Mexican gens was represented in this council by a "Speaking Chief," who, of course was elected by the gens he represented. All tribal matters were under the control of this council. Questions of peace and war, and the distribution of tribute, were decided by the council. They also had judicial duties to perform. Disputes between different gentes were adjusted by them. They also would have jurisdiction of all crimes committed by those unfortunate individuals who were not members of any gens, and of crimes committed on territory not belonging to any gens, such as the Teocalli, Market-place, and Tecpan.

The council must have regular stated times of meeting; they could be called together at any time. At the time of Cortez's visits they met daily. This council was, of course, supreme in all questions coming before it; but every eighty days there was a council extraordinary. This included the members of the council proper, the war-chiefs of the four phratries, the war-chiefs of the gentes, and the leading medicine men. Any important cause could be reserved for this meeting, or, if agreed upon, a reconsideration of a cause could be had. We must understand that the tribal council could not interfere in any matter referring solely to a gens; that would be settled by the gens itself.

The important points to be noticed are, that it was an elective body, representing independent groups, and that it had supreme authority. But the tribes needed officers to execute the decrees of the council. Speaking of the Northern tribes, Mr. Morgan says, "In some Indian tribes, one of the sachems was recognized as its head chief; and so superior in rank to his associates. A need existed, to some extent for an official head of the tribe, to represent it when the council was not in session. But the duties and powers of the office were slight. Although the council was superior in authority, it was rarely in session, and questions might arise demanding the provisional action of some one authorized to represent the tribe, subject to the ratification of his acts by the council."19

This need was still more urgent among the Mexicans; accordingly we find they elected two officials for this purpose. It seems this habit of electing two chief executives was quite a common one among the tribes of Mexico and Central America. We have already noticed that the Mexican gentes elected two such officers for their purpose. We are further told that the Iroquois appointed two head war-chiefs to command the forces of the confederacy.20

One of the chiefs so elected by the Mexicans bore the somewhat singular title of "Snake-woman." He was properly the head-chief of the Mexicans. He was chairman of the council and announced its decrees. He was responsible to the council for the tribute received, as far as it was applied to tribal requirements, and for a faithful distribution of the remainder among the gentes. When the forces of the confederacy went out to war, he commanded the tribal forces of Mexico; but on other occasions this duty was fulfilled by his colleague, who was the real war-chief of the Mexicans. His title was "Chief-of-men." This is the official who appears in history as the "King of Mexico," sometimes, even, as "Emperor of Anahuac." The fact is, he was one of two equal chiefs; he held an elective office, and was subordinate to the council.

When the confederacy was formed, the command of its forces was given to the war-chief of the Mexicans; thus he was something more than a tribal officer. His residence was the official house of the tribe. "He was to be present day and night at this abode, which was the center wherein converged the threads of information brought by traders, gatherers of tribute, scouts and spies, as well as all messages sent to, or received from, neighboring friendly or hostile tribes. Every such message came directly to the 'Chief-of-men,' whose duty it was, before acting, to present its import to the 'Snake-woman,' and, through him, call together the council." He might be present at the council, but his presence was not required, nor did his vote weigh any more than any other member of the council, only, of course, from the position he occupied, his opinion would be much respected. He provided for the execution of the council's conclusions. In case of warp he would call out the forces of the confederacy for assistance. As the procurement of substance by means of tribute was one of the great objects of the confederacy, the gathering of it was placed under the control of the war-chief, who was therefore the official head of the tribute-gatherers.

We have thus very imperfectly and hastily sketched the governmental organization of the Mexican tribe. It is something very different from an empire. It was a democratic organization. There was not an officer in it but what held his office by election. This, to some, may seem improbable, because the Spaniards have described a different state of things. We have already mentioned one reason why they should do so—that was their ignorance of Indian institutions. We must also consider the natural bias of their minds. The rule of Charles the V was any thing but liberal. It was a part of their education to believe that a monarchical form of government was just the thing; they were accordingly prepared to see monarchical institutions, whether they existed or not.

Then there was the perfectly natural disposition to exaggerate their achievements. To spread in Europe the report that they had subverted a powerfully organized monarchy, having an emperor, a full line of nobles, orders of chivalry, and a standing army, certainly sounded much better than the plain statement that they had succeeded in disjointing a loosely connected confederacy, captured and put to death the head war chief of the principal tribe, and destroyed the communal buildings of their pueblo.

We must not forget that, from an Indian point of view, the confederacy was composed of rich and powerful tribes. This is especially true of the Mexicans. The position they held, from a defensive standpoint, was one of the strongest ever held by Indians. They received a large amount of tribute from subject tribes, along with the hearty hatred of the same. From the time Cortez landed on the shore he had heard accounts of the wealth, power, and cruelty of the Mexicans. When he arrived before Mexico the "Chief-of-men," Montezuma, as representative of tribal hospitality, went forth to meet him, extending "unusual courtesies to unusual, mysterious, and therefore dreaded, guests." We may well imagine that he was decked out in all the finery his office could raise, and that he put on as much style and "court etiquette" as their knowledge and manner of life would stand.

The Spaniards immediately concluded that he was king, and so he was given undue prominence. They subsequently learned of the council, and recognized the fact that it was really the supreme power. They learned of the office of "Snake-woman," and acknowledged that his power was equal to that of the "Chief-of-men." They even had some ideas of phratries and gentes. But, having once made up their minds that this was a monarchy, and Montezuma the monarch, they were loath to change their views, or, rather, they tried to explain all on this supposition, and the result is the confused and contradictory accounts given of these officials and divisions of the people. But every thing tending to add glory to the "Empire of Montezuma" was caught up and dilated upon. And so have come down to us the commonly accepted ideas of the government of the ancient Mexicans.

That these views are altogether erroneous is no longer doubted by some of the very best American scholars. The organization set forth in this chapter is one not only in accord with the results obtained by the latest research in the field of ancient society, but a careful reading of the accounts of the Spanish writers leads to the same conclusions.21 In view of these now admitted facts, it seems to us useless to longer speak of the government of the Mexicans as that of an empire.

We have as yet said nothing of the league or confederacy of the three tribes of Mexico, Tezcuco, and Tlacopan; nor is it necessary to dwell at any great length on this confederacy now. They were perfectly independent of each other as regards tribal affairs; and for the purpose of government, were organized in exactly the same way as were the Mexicans. The stories told of the glories, the riches, and power of the kings of Tezcuco, if any thing, outrank those of Mexico. We may dismiss them as utterly unreliable. Tribal organization resting on phratries and gentes, and the consequent government by the council of the tribe was all the Spaniards found. These three tribes, speaking dialects of the same stock language, inhabiting contiguous territory, formed a league for offensive and defensive purposes. The commander-in-chief of the forces raised for this purpose was the "Chief-of-men" of the Mexicans.

We have confined our researches to the Mexicans. Mr. Bandelier, speaking of the tribes of Mexico, remarks: "There is no need of proving the fact that the several tribes of the valley had identical customs, and that their institutions had reached about the same degree of development." Or if such proofs were needed, Mr. Bancroft has furnished them. So that this state of society being proven among the Mexicans, it may be considered as established among the Nahua tribes. Neither is there any necessity of showing that substantially the same state of government existed among the Mayas of Yucatan. This is shown by their architecture, by their early traditions, and by many statements in the writings of the early historians. These can only be understood and explained by supposing the same social organization existed among them as among the Mexicans.

But this does not relegate these civilized nations to savagism. On the other hand, it is exactly the form of government we would expect to find among them. They were not further along than the Middle Status of barbarism. They were slowly advancing on the road that leads to civilization, and their form of government was one exactly suited to their needs, and one in keeping with their state of architecture. When we gaze at the ruins of their material structures, we must consider that before us are not the only ruins wrought by the Spaniards; the native institutions were doomed as well. Traces of this early state of society are, however, still recoverable, and we must study them well to learn their secret.

We have yet before us a large field to investigate; that is, the advance made in the arts of living among these people. This is one of the principal objects of our present research. We are here slightly departing from the prehistoric field, and entering the domain of history. But the departure is justifiable, as it serves to light up an extensive field, that is, the manner of life among the civilized nations just before the coming of the Spaniards. And first we will examine their customs in regard to property. We have in a former chapter reverted to the influence of commerce and trade in advancing culture. The desire for wealth and property which is such a controlling power to-day was one of the most efficient agents in advancing man from savagism to civilization. The idea of property, which scarcely had an existence during that period of savagism, had grown stronger with every advance in culture. "Beginning in feebleness, it has ended in becoming the master passion of the human mind."

The property of savages is limited to a few articles of personal use; consequently, their ideas as to its value, and the principles of inheritance, are feeble. They can scarcely be said to have any idea as to property in lands, though the tribe may lay claim to certain hunting-grounds as their own. As soon as the organization of gens arose, we can see that it would affect their ideas of property. The gens, we must remember, was the unit of their social organization.

They had common rights, duties, and privileges, as well as common supplies; and hence the idea arose that the property of the members of a gens belonged to the gens. At the death of an individual, his personal property would be divided among the remaining members of the gens. "Practically," says Mr. Morgan, "they were appropriated by the nearest of kin; but the principle was general that the property should remain in the gens."22 That this is a true statement there is not the shadow of a doubt. This was the general rule of inheritance among the Indian tribes of North America. As time passed on, and the tribes learned to cultivate the land, some idea of real property would arise—but not of personal ownership.

This is quite an important topic; because, when we read of lords with great estates, we are puzzled to know how to reconcile such statements with what we now know of the nature of Mexican tribal organization. Mr. Bandelier has lately gone over the entire subject. He finds that the territory on which the Mexicans originally settled was a marshy expanse of land which the surrounding tribes did not value enough to claim.

This territory was divided among the four gentes of the tribe. As we have already seen, each of these four gentes subsequently split up into other independent gentes until there were twenty in all. Each of these gens held and possessed a portion of the original soil. This division of the soil must have been made by tacit consent. The tribe claimed no ownership of these tracts, still less did the head-chief. Furthermore, the only right the gentes claimed in them was a possessory one. "They had no idea of sale or barter, or conveyance, or alienation." As the members of a gens stood on equal footing, this tract would be still further divided for individual use. This division would be made by the council of the gens. But we must notice the individual acquired no other right to this tract of land than a right to cultivate it—which right, if he failed to improve, he lost. He could, however, have some one else to till it for him. The son could inherit a father's right to a tract.

We have seen that the Mexicans had a great volume of tribal business to transact, which required the presence of an official household at the tecpan. Then the proper exercise of tribal hospitality required a large store of provisions. To meet this demand, certain tracts of the territory of each gens were set aside to be worked by communal labor. Then, besides the various officers of the gens, and the tribe, who, by reason of their public duties, had no time to till the tracts to which, as members of a gens, they would be entitled, had the same tilled for them by communal labor. This was not an act of vassalage, but a payment for public duties.

This is a very brief statement of their customs as regards holding of lands. It gives us an insight into the workings of ancient society. It shows us what a strong feature of this society was the gens, and we see how necessary it is to understand the nature of a gens before attempting to understand ancient society. We see that, among the civilized nations of Mexico and Central America, they had not yet risen to the conception of ownership in the soil. No chief, or other officer, held large estates. The possessory right in the soil was vested in the gens composing the tribe, and they in turn granted to individuals certain definite lots for the purpose of culture. A chief had no more right in this direction than a common warrior. We can easily see how the Spaniards made their mistake. They found a community of persons holding land in common, which the individuals could not alienate. They noticed one person among them whom the others acknowledged as chief. They immediately jumped to the conclusion that this chief was a great "lord," that the land was a "feudal estate," and that the persons who held it were "vassals" to the aforesaid "lord."23

We must now consider the subject of laws, and the methods of enforcing justice amongst the civilized nations. The laws of the Mexicans, like those of most barbarous people, are apt to strike us as being very severe; but good reasons, according to their way of thinking, exist for such severity. The gens is the unit of social organization; which fact must be constantly borne in mind in considering their laws. In civilized society, the State assumes protection of person and property; but, in a tribal state of society, this protection is afforded by the gens. Hence, "to wrong a person was to wrong his gens; and to support a person was to stand behind him with the entire array of his gentile kindred."

The punishment for theft varied according to the value of the article stolen. If it were small and could be returned, that settled the matter. In cases of greater value it was different. In some cases the thief became bondsman for the original owner. In still others, he suffered death. This was the case where he stole articles set aside for religion—such as gold and silver, or captives taken in war; or, if the theft were committed in the market-place. Murder and homicide were always punished with death. According to their teaching, there was a great gulf between the two sexes. Hence, for a person of one sex to assume the dress of the other sex was an insult to the whole gens—the penalty was death. Drunkenness was an offense severely punished—though aged persons could indulge their appetite, and, during times of festivities, others could. Chiefs and other officials were publicly degraded for this crime. Common warriors had their heads shaved in punishment.

These various penalties necessarily suppose judicial officers to determine the offense and decree the punishment. Having established, on a satisfactory basis, the Mexican empire, the historians did not scruple to fit it out with the necessary working machinery of such an organization. Accordingly we are presented with a judiciary as nicely proportioned as in the most favored nations of to-day. But when, under the more searching light of modern scholarship, this empire is seen to be something quite different, we find the whole judicial machinery to be a much more simple affair.

Not much need be added on this point to what we have already mentioned. Each gens, through its council, would regulate its own affairs, and would punish all offenses against the law committed by one of its members against another. Of necessity the decision of this council had to be final. There was no appeal from its decision. The council of the tribe had jurisdiction in all other cases—such as might arise between members of different gentes, or among outcasts not connected with any gens, or such as were committed on territory not belonging to any gens.

For this work, the twenty chiefs composing the council were subdivided into two bodies, sitting simultaneously in the different halls of the tecpan. This division was for the purpose of greater dispatch in business. They did not form a higher and lower court, with power of the one to review the decisions of the other. They were equal in power and the decisions of both were final. The decision of the council, when acting in a judicial capacity, would be announced by their foreman, who was, as we have seen, the head-chief of the Mexicans—the Snake-woman. It is for this act that the historian speaks of him as the supreme judge, and makes him the head of judicial authority.24 His decisions were, of course, final, not because he made them, but because they were the conclusions of the council.

The "Chief-of-men," the so-called "king," did not properly have any judicial authority. He was their war-chief, and not a judge; but from the very nature of his office he had some powers in this direction. As commander-in-chief, he possessed authority to summarily punish (with death, if necessary) acts of insubordination and treachery during war. It was necessary to clothe him with a certain amount of discretionary power for the public good. Thus, the first runner that arrived from the coast with news of the approach of the European ships was, by the order of Montezuma, placed in confinement. "This was done to keep the news secret until the matter could be investigated, and was therefore a preliminary measure of policy." Placed at the tecpan as the official head of the tribe, he had power to appoint his assistants. But this power to appoint implied equal power to remove, and to punish.25

This investigation into their laws and methods of enforcing them, carries us to the conclusion already arrived at. It is in full keeping with what we would expect of a people in the Middle Status of barbarism. We also see how little real foundation there is for the view that this was a monarchy. There is no doubt but that the pueblo of Mexico was the seat of one of the largest and most powerful tribes, and the leading member of one of the most powerful confederacies that had ever existed in America.

It may be of interest for us to inquire as to what was the real extent of this power, and the means employed by the Mexicans to maintain this power; also how they had succeeded in attaining the same. They were not by nature more gifted than the surrounding tribes. The valley of Mexico is an upland basin. It is oval in form, surrounded by ranges of mountains, rising one above the other, with depressions between. The area of the valley itself is about sixteen hundred square miles. The Mexicans were the last one of the seven kindred tribes who styled themselves, collectively, the Nahuatlacs. We treat of them as the Nahuas.

The Nahuas on the north and the Mayas on the south included the civilized nations. When the Mexicans arrived in this valley, they found the best situations already occupied by other tribes of their own family. To escape persecution from these, they fled into the marsh or swamp which then covered the territory which they subsequently converted into their stronghold. Here on a scanty expanse of dry soil, surrounded by extensive marshes, they erected their pueblo. Being few in numbers they were overlooked as insignificant, and thus they had a chance to improve their surroundings. They increased the area of dry land by digging ditches, and throwing the earth from the same on the surrounding surface, and thus elevated it. In reality, in the marshes that surrounded their pueblo was their greatest source of strength. "They realized that while they might sally with impunity, having a safe retreat behind them, an attack upon their position was both difficult and dangerous for the assailant." They were, therefore, strong enough for purposes of defense. But they wished to open up communication with the tribes living on the shore of the great marsh in the midst of which they had their settlement. For this purpose they applied to their near and powerful neighbors, the Tecpanics, for the use of one of the springs on their territory, and for the privilege of trade and barter in their market. This permission was given in consideration that the Mexicans become the weaker allies of the Tecpanics, that is, pay a moderate tribute and render military assistance when called upon.

The Pueblo of Mexico now rapidly increased in power. Communication being opened with the mainland, it was visited by delegates from other tribes, and especially by traders. They fully perceived the advantages of their location and improved the same. By the erection of causeways, they entirely surrounded their pueblo with an artificial pond of large extent. To allow for the free circulation of the water, sluices were cut, interrupting these causeways at several places. Across these openings wooden bridges were placed which could be easily removed in times of danger.

Thus it was that they secured one of the strongest defensive positions ever held by Indians. The Tecpanics had been the leading power in the valley, but the Mexicans now felt themselves strong enough to throw off the yoke of tribute to which they were subject. In the war that ensued the power of the Tecpanics was broken, and the Mexicans became at once one of the leading powers of the valley. We must notice, however, that the Mexicans did not gain any new territory, except the locality of their spring. Neither did they interfere at all in the government of the Tecpanics. They simply received tribute from them.

Once started on their career of conquest, the Mexicans, supported by allies, sought to extend their power. The result was that soon they had subdued all of the Nahua tribes of the valley except one, that was a tribe located at Tezcuco. This does not imply that they had become masters of the territory of the valley. When a modern nation or state conquers another, they often add that province to their original domain, and extend over it their code of laws. This is the nature of the conquests of ancient Rome. The territory of the conquered province became part of the Roman Empire. They became subject to the laws of Rome. Public, works were built under the direction of the conquerors, and they were governed from Rome or by governors appointed from there.

Nothing of this kind is to be understood by a conquest by the Mexicans, and it is necessary to understand this point clearly. When they conquered a tribe, they neither acquired nor claimed any right to or power over the territory of the tribe. They did not concern themselves at all with the government of the tribe. In that respect the tribe remained free and independent. No garrisons of troops were stationed in their territory to keep them in subjection; no governors were appointed to rule over them. What the Mexicans wanted was tribute, and in case of war they could call on them for troops. Secure in their pueblo surrounded by water, they could sally out on the less fortunate tribes who chose to pay tribute rather than to be subject to such forays.

Instead of entering into a conflict with the tribe at Tezcuco, the result of which might have been doubtful, a military confederacy was formed, into which was admitted the larger part of the old Tecpanic tribe that had their chief pueblo at Tlacopan. The definite plan of this confederacy is unknown. Each of the three tribes was perfectly independent in the management of its own affairs. Each tribe could make war on its own account if it wished, but in case it did not feel strong enough alone, it could call on the others for assistance. When the force of the confederacy went out to war, the command was given to the war chief of the Mexicans, the "Chief-of-men."

If a member of the confederacy succeeded in reducing by its own efforts a tribe to tribute, it had the full benefit of such conquest. But when the entire confederacy had been engaged in such conquest, the tribute was divided into five parts, of which two went to Mexico, two to Tezcuco, and one to Tlacopan. This co-partnership for the purpose of securing tribute by the three most powerful tribes of the valley, under the leadership of Mexico, was formed about the year 1426, just about one hundred years from the date of the first appearance of the Mexicans in the valley.

From this time to the date of the Spanish conquest in 1520, the confederate tribes were almost constantly at war with the surrounding Indians, and particularly with the feeble village Indians southward from the valley of Mexico to the Pacific, and thence eastward well towards Guatemala. They began with those nearest in position, whom they overcame, through superior numbers, and concentrated action, and subjected to tribute. These forays were continued from time to time for the avowed object of gathering spoil, imposing tribute and capturing prisoners for sacrifice, until the principal tribes within the area named, with some exceptions, were subdued and made tributary.26

The territory of these tribes, thus subject to tribute, constitutes what is generally known as the Mexican Empire.27 But, manifestly, it is an abuse of language to so designate this territory. No attempt was made for the formation of a State which would include the various groups of aborigines settled in the area tributary to the confederacy. "No common or mutual tie connected these numerous and diverse tribes," excepting hatred of the Mexican confederacy. The tribes were left independent under their own chiefs. They well knew the tribute must be forthcoming, or else they would feel the weight of their conquerors' displeasure. But such a domination of the strong over the weak, for no other reason than to enforce an unwilling tribute, can never form a nation, or an empire.28 These subject tribes, held down by heavy burdens—inspired by enmity, ever ready to revolt—gave no new strength to the confederacy: they were rather an element of weakness. The Spaniards were not slow to take advantage of this state of affairs. The tribes of Vera Cruz, who could have imposed an almost impassable barrier to their advance through that section, were ready to welcome them as deliverers.29 The Tlascaltecans, though never made tributary to the Mexicans, had to wage almost unceasing war for fifty years preceding the coming of the Spaniards. Without their assistance, Cortez would never have passed into history as the conqueror of Mexico.

A word as to the real power of the Mexicans. Their strength lay more in their defensive position than any thing else. As we have just stated, the entire forces of the confederacy were unable to subject the Tlascaltecans, the Tarasca of Michhuacan were fully their equal in wealth and power. The most disastrous defeat that ever befell the forces of the confederacy was on the occasion of their attack upon this last-named people in 1479. They fled from the battle-field in consternation, and never cared to renew the attempt. As to the actual population of the Pueblo of Mexico, the accounts are very much at variance. Mr. Morgan, after taking account of their barbarous condition of life—without flocks and herds, and without field agriculture, but also considering the amount of tribute received from other tribes—considers that an estimate of two hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants in the entire valley would be an excessive number. Of these he would assign thirty thousand to the Pueblo of Mexico.30

This is but an estimate. In this connection we are informed, that, when the forces of the confederacy marched against Michhuacan, as just stated, they counted their forces, and found them to be twenty-four thousand men. This includes the forces of the three confederate tribes, and their allies in the valley, and would indicate a population below Mr. Morgan's estimate. The Spanish writers have left statements as to the population of Mexico which are, evidently, gross exaggerations. The most moderate estimate is sixty thousand inhabitants; but the majority of the writers increase this number to three hundred thousand.

The main occupation of the Aztecs, then, was to enforce the payment of tribute. From the limited expanse of territory at the disposal of the Mexicans, and the unusually large number of inhabitants for an aboriginal settlement, as well as the natural inclination of the Mexicans, they were obliged to draw their main supplies from tributary tribes. It is human for the strong to compel the weak to serve them. The inhabitants of North America were not behind in this respect.31 This is especially true of the civilized tribes of Mexico and Central America. The confederacy of the three most powerful tribes of Mexico was but a copartnership for the avowed purpose of compelling tribute from the surrounding tribes, and they were cruel and merciless in exacting the same.

Our information in regard to this tribute is derived almost entirely from a collection of picture writings, known as the Mendoza collection, which will be described more particularly when we describe their picture writings. The confederacy was never at a loss for an excuse to pounce upon a tribe and reduce them to tribute. Sometimes the tribe marked out for a prey, knowing their case to be hopeless, submitted at once when the demand was made; but, whether they yielded with or without a struggle, the result was the same—that is, a certain amount of tribute was imposed on them. This tribute consisted of articles which the tribe either manufactured, or was in situation to acquire by means of trade or war; but, in addition to this, it also included the products of their limited agriculture.

The same distribution of land obtained among all the civilized tribes that we have already sketched among the Mexicans. So, a portion of the territory of each conquered tribe would be set aside to be cultivated for the use of the confederacy. But, as the tribe did not have any land of its own, except for some official purpose, this implies that each gens would have to set aside a small part of its territory for such purpose. Such lots Mr. Bandelier calls tribute lots. These were worked by the gentes for the benefit of the Mexicans. It is to be noticed right here, that the Mexicans did not claim to own or control the land; this right remained in the gentes of the conquered tribe.

The miscellaneous articles demanded were generally such that they bore some relation to the natural resources of the pueblo. For instance: pueblos along the coast, in the warm region of country, had to furnish cotton cloth, many thousand bundles of fine feathers, sacks of cocoa, tiger-skins, etc. In other, and favorable locations for such products, the pueblos had to furnish such articles as sacks of lime, reeds for building purposes, smaller reeds for the manufacture of darts.

These facts are ascertained in the Mendoza collection. We are given there the pictorial symbol, or coat-of-arms, of various pueblos; also, a pictorial representation of the tribute they wore expected to pay. The plate is a specimen of their tribute rolls. The pueblos paying it are not, however, shown. Considerable can be learned from a study of this collection —such, for instance, as that the Pueblo of Chala had to pay a tribute of forty little bells, and eighty copper ax blades.32 And, in another place, we learn that the Pueblo of Yzamatitan was tributary to eight thousand reams of paper. The articles are here pictured forth; the number is indicated by the flags, feathers, etc. The tribute of provisions consisted of such articles as corn, beans, cocoa, red-pepper, honey, and salt—amounting in all, according to this collection33 to about six hundred thousand bushels. Still it will not do to place too great a reliance on picture records. The number of tributary pueblos must have been constantly changing. The quantity of articles intended for clothing was certainly very great. A moderate quantity of gold was also collected from a few pueblos, where this was obtainable.

The collection of this tribute was one of the most important branches of government among the Mexicans. The vanquished stood in peril of their lives if they failed to keep their part of the contract. In the first place, the Mexicans took from each subject tribe hostages for the punctual payment of tribute. These hostages were taken to the Pueblo of Mexico, and held there as slaves; their lives were forfeited if the tribute was refused.34 But special officers were also assigned to the subject tribes, whose duty it was to see that the tribute was properly gathered and transmitted to Mexico. These stewards or tribute gatherers, are the officers that the early writers mistook for governors. Their sole business, however, had to do with the collection of the tribute, and they did not interfere at all in the internal affairs of the tribe.

Where the forces of the confederacy had conquered a tribe, but one steward was required to tend to the tribute, but each of the confederate tribes sent their representative to such pueblos as had become their own prey, and as sometimes occurred, one pueblo paid tribute to each of the confederate tribes, it had to submit to the presence among them of three separate stewards.

We can easily enough see that it required men of ability to fill this position. They were to hold their residence in the midst of a tribe who were conquered, but held in subjection only by fear. To these people they were the constant reminder of defeat and disgrace. They were expected to watch them closely and report to the home tribe suspicious movements or utterances that might come to their notice. We need not wonder that these stewards were the tokens of chiefs. It was a part of their duty to superintend the removal of the tribute from the place where gathered to the Pueblo of Mexico. The tribe paying tribute were expected to deliver it at Mexico, but under the supervision of the steward. Arrived at Mexico the tribute was received, not by the so-called king, the Chief-of-men, but by the Snake-woman, or an officer to whom this personage delegated his authority. This officer was the chief steward, and made the final division of the tribute. We are not informed as to details of this division. A large part of it was reserved for the use of the tribal government. It was upon this store that the Chief-of-men could draw when supplies were needed for tribal hospitality or for any special purpose. The stores required for the temple, its priests and keepers were gathered from this source. The larger division must have gone direct to the stewards of the gentes, who would set some aside for their official uses, some for religion or medicine, but the larger part would be divided among the members of the gentes.

In our review of the social system of the Mexicans we have repeatedly seen how the organization of gentes influenced and even controled all the departments of their social and political system. One of the cardinal principles, we must remember, is that all the members of a gens stand on an equal footing. In keeping with this we have seen that all were trained as warriors; yet the great principle of the division of labor was at work. Some filled in their leisure during times of peace by acting as traders; others became proficient in some branch of work, such as feather work, or making gold and silver ornaments. Yet under a gentile system of society, persons practising such callings could never become very rich or proficient, simply because, being members of different gentes, there could not be that cooperation and united efforts among workmen in these various trades and callings that is necessary to advance them to the highest proficiency. It required the breaking up of the gentes and substituting for that group a smaller one, our modern family, as the unit of social organization, before great progress could be made.

From what we have just said it follows that it is not at all likely that there was any great extremes in the condition of the people. No very wealthy or extremely poor classes. This brings us to consider the condition of trade and commerce among them. They had properly no such a thing as money, so their commerce must have consisted of barter or trade and exchange. Some authorities assert quite positively that they had money, and mention as articles used for such purposes grains of cacao, "T" shaped pieces of tin or copper, and quills of gold dust.35 But Mr. Bandelier has shown that the word barter properly designates the transactions where such articles passed. But this absence of money shows us at once that the merchants of Mexico were simply traders who made their living by gathering articles from a distance to exchange for home commodities.

We are given some very entertaining accounts of the wealth and magnificence of the "merchant princes of Mexico."36 It needs but a moment's consideration of the state of society to show how little foundation there is for such accounts. Mr. Bancroft also tells us that "throughout the Nahua dominions commerce was in the hands of a distinct class, educated for their calling, and everywhere honored by the people and by kings. In many regions the highest nobles thought it not disgraceful to engage in commercial pursuits."

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