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Egalitarian Ideology and Political Power in Prehispanic Central Mexico: The Case of Tlaxcallan

  • Lane F. Fargher (a1), Richard E. Blanton (a2) and Verenice Y. Heredia Espinoza (a3)

Abstract

During the central Mexican late Postclassic period, the Aztec Triple Alliance became the largest and most powerful empire in Mesoamerica. Yet ancient Tlaxcallan (now Tlaxcala, Mexico) resisted incorporation into the empire despite being entirely surrounded by it and despite numerous Aztec military campaigns aimed at the defeat of the Tlaxcaltecas. How did it happen that a relatively small (1,400 km²) polity was able to resist a more powerful foe while its neighbors succumbed? We propose a resolution to this historical enigma that, we suggest, has implications for the broader study of social and cultural change, particularly in relation to theories of state formation and collective action. We find it particularly interesting that the Tlaxcaltecas abandoned a key tenet of traditional Nahua political structure in which kingship was vested in members of the nobility, substituting for it government by a council whose members could be recruited from the ranks of commoners. To achieve such a significant deviation from typical Nahua authority structure, the Tlaxcaltecas drew selectively from those aspects of Nahua mythic history and religion that were consistent with a comparatively egalitarian and collective political regime.

Resumen

Durante el Posclásico Tardío en el Altiplano Central de México la Triple Alianza Azteca llegó a ser el imperio más grande y poderoso de Mesoamérica. Sin embargo, el antiguo Tlaxcallan (el actual Tlaxcala, México) resistío la incorporación al imperio aunque estaba completamente rodeado por el mismo y a pesar de las muchas campañas militares aztecas para conquistarlos. ¿Cómo fue posible que este pequeño Estado (1,400 km²) pudiera resistir a su enemigo más poderoso mientras que sus vecinos sucumbieron? Proponemos una solución a este enigma histórico y sugerimos que ésta tiene implicaciones generales para el estudio de cambios sociales y culturales, específicamente en las teorías sobre la formación del Estado y la acción colectiva. Es de particular interés que los tlaxcaltecas abandonaron un elemento fundamental de la estructura política nahua, en el cual la monarquía se daba entre los miembros de la nobleza, y lo sustituyeron por un gobierno a través de un consejo cuyos miembros podían ser reclutados de entre la gente común (macehualtin). Para llevar a cabo este cambio significativo con respecto a la estructura de autoridad nahua, los tlaxcaltecas seleccionaron aquellos aspectos de la historia mítica nahua y de su religión que eran consistentes con el régimen de igualdad y colectividad política.

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References

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