Illustration on the front page: Codex Mendoza, folio 52r


Introduction ......................................................................................................................... 1

The Aztecs in general .......................................................................................................... 2 The origin of a new culture ..................................................................................... 2

The Triple Alliance ............................................................................................................. 4 The Triple Alliance taking form .............................................................................. 4 The arrival of the Spaniards .................................................................................... 6

The Aztec tribute system ..................................................................................................... 7 Factors that influenced the amounts of tribute........................................................ 8 Sources of tribute..................................................................................................... 9 Aztec tribute in Postconquest times ......................................................................... 10

Administrative documents on Aztec tribute ........................................................................ 10 The three most important sources ........................................................................... 10 Other Postconquest documents on tribute............................................................... 12

Cotton, textile and tribute clothing ...................................................................................... 13 Growing the cotton .................................................................................................. 14 The production of textile .......................................................................................... 15 The purposes of cloth............................................................................................... 16 Cloth and textile after the Conquest ........................................................................ 19

Conclusion ........................................................................................................................... 21 Summary ............................................................................................................................. 22 Samenvatting ....................................................................................................................... 23 References ........................................................................................................................... 24 Appendices .......................................................................................................................... 26

In the history of Mexico till the conquest of the Spaniards, a lot of cultures have played a crucial role through time. Starting with the earliest civilization of the Olmecs till the late migrations of the Aztecs who were still present when the Spaniards discovered the area of Mexico. Because the native people of the Aztecs were still present when the conquistadores arrived, a lot is known about this group of people. This paper describes the arrival of the Aztec in the Valley of Mexico and the formation of the Triple Alliance. With these events came the invention of highly developed tribute systems in which textiles and clothing seemed to play an important part. Textiles, mentioned at the top of each tribute list in both pre- and postconquest documents, is an item that was widely distributed and used as a form of payment. This raises the question of why this type of object was so important during the Aztec Empire. In order to answer this question, this article deals with the Aztecs themselves, the tribute system they handled and most importantly the production of textile and its meaning to the native people. The indigenous situation is compared to the situation of that with the Spaniards around so differences can be noted and the true importance of textile becomes visible.


The Aztecs in general
As mentioned in the introduction, this paper will deal with the Aztecs themselves first so that it will become clear with what kind of culture we are dealing with in the rest of this paper.

The origin of a new culture
The history of the Aztecs starts around 1200 AD when the Valley of Mexico consisted of numerous city-states that formed alliances and enemy lines. At that time a lot of migrations took place into the Valley. This was also the case with four different cultural groups. Whether the migration to the Valley of Mexico took place due to the fall of Tula or because of changes in the climate, the reason why such migrations took place at that time is still unknown. Among the many migration groups, four were about to become the most important in the history of the Aztecs. The first important group that arrived in the valley were the Chichimecs, referred to as nomads by the Aztecs, led by their chief Xolotl. Codex Xolotl describes the Chichimecs dressed in hides with light bows and arrows for hunting and other tools and things that were used to survive. The codex also describes the chief of the Chichimecs as he build Tenayuca in the northwestern part of the valley, a city where later on a large pyramid would be build (Townsend, 2002, p. 55). The second group was that of the Tepanecs. This group started to settle in the Valley of Mexico by marrying its local inhabitants and by building the city of Atzcapotzalco in the western area of the Basin. The Acolhua were the third group of migrants that came to settle in the valley. This group moved to the east side of the Basin which was, at that time, an unoccupied area. They are often referred to as incoming nomads who started to settle at the feet of hilltops and in rockshelters. Townsend states that these settlements would later become important places like Huexotla and later on Texcoco, an important Acolhua city which might have already existed at the time the Acolhua started to move into the area (Townsend, 2002, p. 56). Later on these groups of nomads would learn how to cultivate the land and maize was grown as well as cotton to make clothing. The last group of migrants called the Mexica, arrived in the mid-thirteenth century. This is the group that would later become known as the Aztecs, but they referred to themselves as Mexica. A lot of stories are told about this group, starting with their origin in a place called Aztlán, or „the place of the White Herons‟, where the word „Aztec‟ might have been derived from, since the word „Aztecs‟ means „people from Aztlán‟ (Evans, 2004, p. 418; Pasztory, 1983, p. 49). The Mexica started their migration to the central of Mexico, led by their god of war, named Huitzilopochtli. On their way, they stopped at a cave called Chicomoztoc, or „seven caves‟ from which all the seven groups that would become known as „the Aztecs‟ would descend (Evans, 2004, p. 419; Appendix I). After that the Mexica were lead to the Valley of Mexico where they arrived around the mid-thirteenth century (fig. 1). Being the last group of migrants, there wasn‟t much land left that was unoccupied at the time the Mexica arrived, 2

since a lot of other groups already started to build city-states which was why the Mexica were constantly living in areas that did not belong to them. This resulted in constantly being kicked out of their living area, forcing them to start over again. This started to change when the citizens of Colhuacan, members of the Tepanecs, invited the Mexica to live with them and become part of the Tepanecs. Intermarriage between the two tribes started to take place and things went really well. One thing the Mexica brought with them though was their affection for human sacrifice which made things starting to escalate when one day, the Mixtec sacrificed the daughter of the Tepanec king because they thought she would become the Tepanec war god in order to help them. The Tepanecs were horrified by this event and banished the Mexica from their area, forcing them to flee (Coe, 1995, p. 159; see also Townsend, 2002, p. 64).

Fig 1. The Valley of Mexico in Aztec times (Coe, 1995, p. 165)

The Mexica started to make way through Lake Texcoco, by canoe until they hit one of the islands. The story goes that a Mexica priest had a vision of Huitzilopochtli and in that vision, the god of war told the Mexica to go to the island and to look for an eagle on a cactus, wearing a snake in its mouth. When


the Mexica arrived at that place, they were told to establish a city, known as Tenochtitlan. Before the Mexica crossed the lake by canoe, the group was split in two, of which one group went north. This group founded Tlatelolco which would later from a sister-community together with Tenochtitlan (Townsend, 2002, p. 65; see also Coe, 1995, p. 159). After cultivation and draining the area, the two islands on which both cities were founded, became one large area with two governments which had an egalitarian system. This egalitarian way of living started to change around 1428 when the Mexicas wanted to take things in their own hands, starting by conquering the Tepanecs by whom they were banned long ago (Coe, 1995, p. 160). After their victory on the Tepanecs and the city of Atzcapotzalco, the Mexica formed a Triple Alliance between Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan (Hill Boone, 1994, p. 49). Michael Smith has reviewed the origin-myths that deal with the migrations to the Valley of Mexico and states that it is not sure when the great migrations took place precisely and in what way they took place (For more information on this subject: Smith, 1984). But one can conclude that a lot has changed since these migrations took place.

The Triple Alliance
The Triple Alliance often referred to as the formation of three city-states that formed the Aztec Empire, was established in 1428 by Itzcoatl, ruler of Tenochtitlan and Nezahualcoyotl, ruler of Texcoco and the city-state Tlacopan. Itzcoatl at that time claimed that the ruler of Tenochtitlan, himself at the time and later followed by Moctezuma I, would be the most important one, followed by the ruler of Texcoco and that of Tlacopan (Hill Boone, 1994, p. 39; see also Hill Boone, 1998, p. 250). That Tlacopan was playing a smaller part in the Triple Alliance does not only seem to become clear when one looks at the fact that the rulers of Tenochtitlan and Texcoco started the alliance and both received more tribute than Tlacopan did, but also becomes clear when one takes a look at the eighth book of the Florentine Codex by Sahagún in which he shows a list of the lords of both Tenochtitlan and Texcoco, but fails to make one of Tlacopan. Later on in this chapter this smaller role of Tlacopan becomes more clear after explaining the origin of the Triple Alliance.

The Triple Alliance taking form
The formation of the Triple Alliance started after the situation between the Mexica and the Tepenecs started to escalate. High amounts of tribute were demanded from the Mexica which caused a war throughout the Valley of Mexico (Smith, 1998, p.50; see also Hill Boone et al, 1998, p. 238). In order to overcome the Tepenecs, Tenochtitlan started to form an alliance together with Texcoco, Tlacopan 4

and Huexotzingo. After defeating the Tepenecs, Huexotzingo returned to the mountains where they came from and the three remaining polities of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Huexotzingo formed an economic-military front, nowadays known as the Triple Alliance with the agreement not to harm each other during wars and to support each other against enemies. According to written documents, the alliance maintained a form of power-sharing while ruling the Aztec Empire in which every ruler had its own function (Hill Boone et al, 1998, p. 237). The newly-formed Triple Alliance had a few goals that they wanted to pursue. The most important goal was to obtain control over the Valley of Mexico and its city-states which. This goal was performed out by conquering the numerous city-states, which could only be done by going into war, so it relied heavily on successful military forces (Moctezuma & Olguin, 2002, p. 47). The conquering of the city-states started with Morelos. According to Michael Smith, Morelos was the first logical city-state to conquer, since it was a well-organized city-state with a lot of inhabitants and it relied heavily upon intensive agriculture which made it a rich area from which tribute could be demanded (Smith, 1998, p. 51). After Morelos, numerous other city-states soon followed. When a city-state was conquered, the local leaders were left in place in order to avoid rebellious actions against the Triple Alliance. They could however only remain in their leading position as long as they followed the rules given by the empire and as long as they paid their demanded tribute. Being installed as the local ruler of the conquered city-state also had its advantages. One had already gained the trust of its inhabitants and the local ruler could call for help from the empire in times of need, for example when food was scarce or when enemies were around (Smith, 1998, p. 55). Sometimes the local ruler was replaced by a Mexica governor, often when these citystates occupied a strategic area or when the local rulers became hostile (Hassig, 1985, p. 104-105). Payments of tribute were demanded of every conquered city-state in order to obtain power and to improve trading and marketing throughout the Valley of Mexico. Tribute-collectors, who were installed directly by the Triple Alliance, collected the tribute of every city-state. This was done in order to make sure that the local rulers, who remained in every city-state after they were conquered, would not be able to intervene with the tribute that had to be paid. All of the collected tribute was brought to Tenochtitlan where it was divided in fifths. Tenochtitlan and Texcoco were to receive twofifths whereas Tlacopan only received one-fifth of the tribute collected from the city-states (Hill Boone et al, 1998, p. 238; see also Wikipedia 2008). Susan Gillespie however stated in her chapter in Native Traditions in the Postconquest World (Hill Boone et al), that Charles Gibson found contradictory information on this formula of the dividing of tribute amongst these three city-states, so if the amounts were divided in fifths is uncertain (Hill Boone et al, 1998, p. 239). This tribute system will be further explained in the next chapter. As the years passed by, the conquered area known as the Aztec Empire became larger and larger including a growing number of commoners living in Tenochtitlan and in the other capitals. This growing number of people started to demand more food and other things that were necessary and the


noble class started to demand more exotic and luxury products. To be able to keep up with these rising demands, the rulers of the empire started to demand the tribute of goods that weren‟t available in the city-state that had to provide them, this in order to motivate trading with city-states outside of the conquered area and the markets throughout the Valley of Mexico (Smith, 1998, 175). A second strategy that was developed by the empire included so called client-states along the enemy borders. Rulers of these client-states were asked to provide the empire with occasional gifts in addition of taking care of the protection of the empire against enemies outside of the area. These client-states were somewhat treated as allies in order to keep the peace alongside the borders so that the trade and tribute within the area could flourish (Smith, 1998, p. 183). Not everyone throughout the area was conquered by the powerful Triple Alliance. There were two groups that fought successfully against the empire and resisted their conquest by it till the arrival of the Spaniards. These two groups consisted of the Tarascans and Tlaxcalla, whom successfully formed an ally that was about as powerful as the Triple Alliance. Groups like the Tarascans and Tlaxcalla were the ones that had to be kept away from the Valley of Mexico by the client-states. By the time the Spaniards arrived in 1519 they were still standing.

The arrival of the Spaniards
With the arrival of the Spaniards and their conquest, they took over the job of the Triple Alliance. The lords of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan were taken captive and were eventually killed. The Spanish didn‟t change much of the ruling system though. Demands of tribute were still existing and public buildings were still being build. These buildings involved different monuments though since they didn‟t serve as temples or palaces anymore, but consisted of Spanish homes, churches government buildings, and new institutions (Horn, 1997, p. 86). It does not come as a surprise that in that time, a lot of the income started to depend on the wood industry (Horn, 1997, p. 88). New improvements were also made including new irrigation techniques and infrastructure. In the 1540‟s there was an epidemic which caused a serious decline in population and caused the Spanish authorities to take matters in their own hands by standardizing payments and bringing the labor under the authority of the Spanish officials (Horn, 1997, p. 90). This new way of demanding tribute did not always end up in a positive way for the Spaniards. During the absence of Cortés from 1528 till 1530, a lot of tribute sometimes contributed to the enemies and indigenous people weren‟t afraid to charge the Spaniards in court when they felt that they had to work too hard (Horn, 1997, p. 92). In response, the royal officials started to investigate the pre-conquest tribute system and in the 1530s Viceroy don Antonio de Mendoza was assigned to write a document on this system, later known as the Codex Mendoza. This codex will be further discussed later on.


The Aztec tribute system
As mentioned in the previous chapter, the city-states that were conquered by the Aztec empire had to pay tribute to the Triple Alliance. The idea of tribute-paying provinces was not invented by the Aztec themselves, but they did make good use of it when the Triple Alliance started to conquer the Valley of Mexico. The demanding of tribute had two purposes: an economical and a political one. The incoming tribute made sure that the economic needs of the elite were satisfied with the basic objects needed for daily living, but also luxury objects that were demanded for its own personal status. The demanding of tribute was also believed to keep the conquered areas in place, under control of the empire, this by bringing fear into the peoples lives for what would happen if they didn‟t pay the demanded amount of tribute (Hassig, 1985, p. 104). The payment of tribute was applied on married men who were commoners and their wife and children. Instead, unmarried men, women and widows and widowers had to help in providing the tribute, but did not have to pay it themselves. Commoners paid tribute in foodstuffs and clothing whereas artisans might have paid with the goods they made by themselves or with their service, depending on what amount of goods they could produce (Horn, 1997, p. 91). The system of tribute payments can be viewed from the perspective of the elite, but also from the perspective of the provinces that had to pay the tribute. Looking at the imperial perspective, one can see that tribute was demanded from 38 provinces (Hassig, 1985, 105; see also Codex Mendoza). Paying tribute was often the only thing these provinces had in common. Looking at the provinces, one can see that the goods were channeled from the periphery to the centers of the provinces. At the centers, a so called tribute-collector, installed by the Mexica themselves instead of the local ruler would collect these tributes and distribute them to eventually the city of Tenochtitlan. As mentioned in the previous chapter a tribute-collector was assigned by the Triple Alliance to make sure that the local rulers could not intervene with the tribute that was being paid and distributed (Hassig, 1985, p. 105106). According to Michael Smith, the tribute system consists of four different levels in which tribute is paid. The first level is the tribute being paid directly to the Triple Alliance itself, which makes this the highest level of tribute payment. The most important categories in this level are textile clothing, warrior costumes and foodstuffs like grain and maize. This tribute as collected by installed tribute-collectors and was being administrated. The second level contains the tribute paid by city-states to the conquest-state capitals. The third level of tribute was the amount that was paid to the local rulers by the nobility to support them and their local government. The last level consists of commoners who support their nobles by offering their service and goods. This is also referred to as the lowest form of


tribute. This level of tribute includes the payments of raw cotton and cotton mantas, but also the manufacturing of textiles itself (Hodge & Smith, 1994, 333-338). Not all the tribute ended up in Tenochtitlan though. Some of it was used along the way in order to be traded for other objects and often things like foodstuffs were kept in granaries and warehouses, which were available in almost every province throughout the Valley, to be used as food for the people (Hassig, 1985, p. 107). The payment of tribute was not always the same throughout the city. The amount of tribute could fluctuate when one was behaving well according to the rules that were made by the Triple Alliance, but tributes could also be raised in cases when the city refused to pay or to perform certain tasks (Hassig, 1985, p. 102). When a city remained to refuse after the amount of tribute was increased, things could even end up in a war with the Aztec army. So the tributary provinces and thus the tributary system served the empire economically in maintaining their power and influence. The provinces provided the goods needed by the empire on a regular, periodic basis and they assured certain amounts of foodstuffs used not only for the nobles, but for the people throughout the Valley of Mexico as well. It also gave the possibility of opening larger areas for trade and market channels allowing a flow of goods into the empire (Berdan et al, 1996, p. 135).

Factors that influenced the amounts of tribute
Ross Hassig states in his book that there were five factors that influenced the demands of tribute by the Triple Alliance (Hassig, 1985, p. 107). The first factor involves the time at which the province was conquered and where the conquered city-state was located. As an example, Hassig mentions the provinces located the closest to the center which provided the foodstuffs, clothing and other necessities. Since it would not been logical to demand these things through long-distance trading routes, these objects were kept close to the center. Besides that, if these objects were to be distributed through long-distance routes, people who had to pay the tribute, had to take care of the transporting costs as well which would not benefit anyone (Hassig, 1985, p. 110; see also Berdan et all, 1996, p. 124-125). The provinces that were located further away were demanded to pay the same goods, but in smaller parts and in additional they were demanded to pay luxury goods. The second factor that included the demanding of tribute was the availability of the goods themselves. In general, the goods that were locally available were paid as tribute, but in some examples this wasn‟t the case, like the province named Tlatelolco that had to pay tribute in cacao beans but did not also produce it in its own province. So they had to trade their own items in order to obtain the cacao beans (Hassig, 1985, p. 109). The amount of tribute was also depending on the resistance of the city-state. As previously mentioned, the amount of tribute could be increased when one remained to resist in paying tribute. There was also


a general increase that was applied over time. Hassig states that this might be done in order to compensate the increasing number of inhabitants. Finally there is the factor of growing requirement that affected the amount of tribute demanded by the Triple Alliance. In this example the demanding of the Aztec state was mentioned, not only as a result of the previously mentioned increasing number of inhabitants, but also the increasing number of nobility whom each demanded their own luxury objects and other things needed (Hassig, 1985, p. 108; see also Berdan et al, 1996, p. 129).

Sources of tribute
The most important sources for tribute consisted of textiles, warrior costumes, foodstuffs, luxury products and specialized goods (Berdan et al, 1996, p. 124). Textile was the most important product that was being paid as tribute in large quantities by all but two provinces and consisted of mantas or cloaks, tunics and skirts and loincloths (Berdan et al, 1996, p. 125). Provinces that could cultivate cotton mostly paid a larger quantity of textile as tribute. Warrior suits came from every tribute-paying province except for eight of them as shown in the Codex Mendoza. They were demanded in the greatest number from provinces that were the closest located to the imperial capitals. The exotic feathers and ornaments that were used to decorate the costumes had to be imported over some long distances. These warrior suits were only given to the most courageous warriors from the battlefield (Berdan et al, p. 125). Grain was the most important foodstuff used as tribute payment. This food was paid as tribute by all but one province, which is probably the case since the Valley relied on intensive agriculture as their number one food source which seemed to have fed most of the population (Berdan et al, 1996, p. 125). Objects and foodstuffs weren‟t the only types of tribute that was paid to the Triple Alliance. There was also payment in form of labor, which was needed for the construction of public works, and war service since the Aztec had to form their army out of people that were available. This was particularly the case in city-states located near the borders of the empire. Luxury goods paid as tribute were mostly imported from the most distant areas. Most of the times these areas were the most recently conquered ones. It seems also likely that precious goods that were status-linked reached the imperial capitals through trading and markets (Berdan et al, 125-126). Paper was also paid as tribute and was often used to administrate tributaries and to keep records of historical and religious events (Berdan et al, 1996, p. 129).


Aztec tribute in Postconquest times
When the Spaniards arrived in Tenochtitlan en conquered the Aztec Empire in 1521, things concerning the payments didn‟t change much under the Spanish control. The Spaniards still depended on the food production and other items of the Aztec, so most Nahuas remained living in their communities, cultivating maize and grain which were still being distributed through the payment of tribute and through the market-system on regional and local level (Horn, 1997, p. 86). In the first decade after the conquest, the encomienda had to rely on the tlatoani, or local rulers, to collect the tribute and organize the labor, demanding as much tribute and labor as they could get. After the midsixteenth century the tribute system started to take a different form wherein the system was slowly transformed into one that was based on one uniform tax for each inhabitant (Horn, 1997, p. 87-91). Since a lot of effort was put in new buildings and improvements, the Spanish royal officials expected the local people of the Valley of Mexico to provide them with a lot of labor and building materials which was logically the main form of tribute being paid (Horn, 1997, p. 91). Later on in the 1560s and 1570s, again a reformation of the tribute system took place. The tribute system was still based on the payments of adult married men, but the officials now started to count every widow, widower or unmarried person as a half tribute payer, so they had to pay half the amount of tribute compared to the married men, while they didn‟t have to pay any tribute at all during indigenous times (Horn, 1997, p. 99). When inhabitants of the province could not meet their tribute payments, the Spaniards saw this as a personal dept of the Nahua ruler of the province. Local rulers with such a dept were frequently imprisoned during the seventeenth century (Horn, 1997, p. 100).

Administrative documents on Aztec clothing as tribute
In pre-Hispanic times as well as in Hispanic times, the tribute that was being paid was administrated in tribute records. These records contained local payments to their lords and kings, but also the imperial tribute that was being paid to the Aztec Empire. The most well-known document dated from Aztec times is the Codex Mendoza in which amongst other things, the payment of tribute is shown (Smith, 2006, p. 1). In this chapter, further information will be given on this subject.

The three most important sources
Data on tribute payments throughout the Aztec Empire are being collected with the help of numerous sources, the three most important ones being the Matrícula de tributos, the Codex Mendoza, and the Información de 1554 (Hassig, 1985, p. 276). The Matrícula de tributos consist of a representation of


towns and their payment in tributes, shown as pictures on sixteen leaves of native paper called amatl dating between 1511 and 1540 as described in Ross Hassigs Trade, Tribute and Transportation (Hassig, 1985, p. 276). The work is bound in a European way and shows no evidence of ever being displayed in the form of a pre-conquest screenfold, which makes it hard to determine whether the document is pre- or post-Columbian. The Codex Mendoza is sure to be a document dating from post-Columbian times, since it was painted by Viceroy Mendoza in assignment of the king of Spain between 1541 and 1550 on European paper (Hassig, 1985, p. 276; see also Berger, 1998, p. 42). This document consists out of three sections. The first section deals with the history of the Aztecs, dating from the founding of Tenochtitlan until the Spanish conquest, written on 16 pages. The second section deals with the tribute that was paid by the numerous provinces that were conquered by the Triple Alliance, shown on 39 pages. The towns that had to pay tribute are listed at the top left corner of each page and the items of tribute that were demanded from these towns fill up the rest of the page (Berdan & Anawalt, 1992, p. 55). The pictures that are shown in the Codex Mendoza all have Spanish notes underneath, which also mark the fact that this document was probably made after the Spanish Conquest. The tribute that was paid in cloth or textile is shown on top of each page, since it was paid in the largest numbers and because it was probably a very important item in tribute payments (Appendices II-VI). The third and last section is a pictorial depiction of the daily life of the Aztecs presented on 16 pages (Berger, 1998, p. 42-43). The second important source for tribute payments is a document called the Matrícula de tributos. This codex is the only tribute tally of which one can say with complete certainty that is dates from pre-colonial times. The document consists of 32 pages made from bark paper, painted with colors made from different minerals. Some of the pages are incomplete, but the Matrícula de Tributos still is a good representation of the towns listed and the tribute that each of these towns had to pay to the Aztec Triple Alliance. Some people seem to think that the Matrícula de Tributos is a post-conquest document like the Codex Mendoza, but there is no clear evidence to prove this (appendix VII and VIII). The tribute section of the Codex Mendoza seems to look much like the tribute list that is shown in the Matrícula de tributos which is why many researchers believe that the tribute part of the Codex Mendoza was directly copied from the Matrícula de tributos or that they share the same source of information. A few differences however are notable between the two documents when looking a bit closer at them. The first notable difference between both documents is that of the number of tributepaying provinces listed. The Codex Mendoza speaks of thirty-eight provinces that paid tribute, while the Matrícula de tributos lists only thirty-four tribute-paying provinces. Ross Hassig states that this might be due to two missing leaves at the end of the document (Hassig, 1985, p. 276). The provinces are listed in the same way though. Another difference concerns the time periods mentioned in which people had to pay their tribute. The three time-periods mentioned are: yearly, twice yearly and every


eighty days (Hassig, 1985, p. 278). The Matrícula de tributos mentions all of the listed period, where the semiannual period only reflects the tribute being paid by a province called Xoconochco while the Codex Mendoza mentions only the annual and semiannual periods with occasionally the period of eighty days (for more information see also: Berdan & Anawalt, 1992, v. 4, p. 57-64). The third document that mentions the tribute being paid in the Aztec Empire is called the Información de 1554 which was written in December 1553 in order to get some information on the Aztec tribute system during pre-conquest times. The document is based on the testimonies of thirteen Indian nobles who witnessed the tribute system. The problem of the document however is that these people were all between fifty and more than seventy of age, so if the information they gave is correct and accurate enough seems to be doubted. Beside the problem of the source of information does this document only list annual payments and payments made every eighty days. These differences between the three documents mentioned above raised a lot of questions among researchers. I will however not get into that existing debate since it is not relevant for this essay on Aztec textile. What is important though is the listing of the amounts of the tribute being paid. There seems to be also a big difference between the documents mentioned above as far as this point is concerned. Hassig states that the Codex Mendoza mentions textile and clothing in number of cargas rather than items as mentioned in the Matrícula de tributos which results in the fact that the number of textiles listed in the Codex Mendoza have increased in a twentyfold when compared to the number of items listed in the Matrícula de tributos. Also the periods in which items like shields for warriors were paid differ from the periods mentioned in the Matrícula de tributos (Hassig, 1985, p. 277). These differences are quite big and cause a lot of commotion among researchers. These differences in the amounts of paid tribute registered in the documents makes it difficult to fully understand the tribute system, but what is sure, is that the Triple Alliance demanded large amounts of tribute from the conquered provinces, something that continued to exist in the Spanish times.

Other post-conquest documents on tribute
Another document on tribute that was written in the postconquest period is the Codíce de Coyoacan. This document was written in 1553 in order to investigate the history of tribute in the 33 years after the Aztec Empire was being conquered. The codíce de Coyoacan shows both indigenous pictures as well as Spanish notes which makes the document suited for both the Spanish as the Indigenous people to read. It records tribute schedules, which were set up by the Spanish officials, accompanied by the drawing of Spanish judges. The written texts in Spanish indicate the names of these judges and the amount of tribute that was paid and the elapsed time since the previous tribute payment. The one that had to pay the tribute was pictured as well as someone who was facing the judge. Tribute included chickens, bundles of wood, cacao beans and pieces of cloth (Horn, 1997, p. 97).


The next codex is called Codex Kingsborough, also known as the Codíce de Tepetlaoztoc, which is listed in the occasional paper of the British Museum where it is located. This document is written in Spanish and contains the tribute that was paid by the Indians of Tepetlaoztoc to the empire from 1522 till 1556. These payments are shown in a pictorial way and here is also shown how important the payment of tribute was. The codex Kingsborough shows how important textile and clothing was for the empire. These items were demanded the most and are portrayed on top of the pages (Berger, 1998, p. 35 and 113; Appendix IX). The codex is thought to be written for the Spanish crown. The Handbook of Middle American Indians shows another few codices which contain tribute lists. The first one that is mentioned in volume 14 of the series is the Codex Monteleone which is only partially published and dates back to 1531-1532 from Huexotzingo. It consists of eight pictorial sheets and 79 leafs that describe a lawsuit against Cortés whom, after that, claims incomes in tribute. In here, clothing and foodstuffs are the two main items. Finally there is a codex named Tributes of Tzintzuntzan and Tlalpujava. This document was made in 1542-1552 and contains drawings of clothing. When looking at all of the documents that were just explained in this chapter and shown as pictures in the appendices, one can see that clothing and textiles must have played a very important role in the tribute system. In nearly every document, clothing is demanded in large quantities and is shown at the top of the page.

Cotton, textile and tribute clothing
Long before the Spaniards came, people were showing a high interest in cotton and textiles. The Mayas had a purpose for almost every piece of the cotton. For example, the seeds were used for curing aching bones by making oil out of it, the leafs of the cotton plant were used for a healthy bath and the blossom of cotton was used to cure earaches. However, medicine weren‟t the only things that were made out of cotton. Cotton was also used as a spun thread or as woven textiles and clothing used for example as loincloths, skirts or cloaks, so cloth was a highly demanded item which served two purposes: as a trading item in market exchange and as items of status for the elite. This was however only the case when the items were richly decorated (Hodges & Smith, 1994, p. 89). In order to understand more about the meaning of cloth for the Aztec people, this chapter will focus on the production process of cotton and textile first before linking textile and cloth with the tributesystem that was explained in the previous chapter.


Growing the cotton
First there will be something explained about the cotton, how it is grown, how it is spun and used to make textiles. Cotton is a crop with a lot of demands when it comes to growing it. Cotton could only be grown on the lowlands where the elevation level was less than 1000 meters. For cotton to grow at its optimum level, it needs to be planted in an area where there is no frost, an area where there is an annual rainy season and the rainy season needs to be followed by warm, sunny periods (Berdan, 1987, p. 237). In Mesoamerica, such areas as these were found along the Gulf coast and the Pacific coastal area. Cotton was also found somewhere more inland, along river valleys and in areas that were well irrigated, as long as the area was not harmed by frost and had enough moisture (see fig. 2). The cotton grown on the inlands was said to be even more valuable than the types grown on the coastal zones. Sahagún explains in his Florentine Codex that the inland cotton was thicker and rounder than the other types that were sold on the market (Sahagún, 1950-1982, Book 10, p. 75). In the areas where cotton could not be grown, there was still no problem for them because during the Aztec empire and even before that, there were large cotton trade routes throughout the whole area so people were always able to provide cotton. After the cotton had grown in the suitable areas, it was gathered in two different forms. First there was a small cotton plant which is harvested every year because it is a plant that only lasts for about a year. The cotton grows on the plant. The second one is a larger type of cotton plant which lasts about five or six years and bears fruits every year. These fruits are like walnuts, bearing the cotton inside a hard green shell that opens in four directions when the cotton is ready to be harvested, usually early in the dry season around September or October (Berdan, 1987, p. 236). When all the cotton is gathered, it will be prepared for either cloth production or for other purposes. Unfortunately, not a lot is known about this process, like the technology that was used to process the cotton, how the tasks were divided among men and women. There is something known about the ginning though. This involves the process of taking out the seeds that are between the cotton fibers. This is assumed to be usually done by the one who harvests the cotton itself. The seeds seem logical to be removed at the place where the cotton is harvested, since they make up more than half of the weight of the collected cotton (Hodge & Smith, 1994, p. 90). After the ginning, the cotton was combed to remove the last debris. This process is also mentioned further in the next chapter. Cloth was not the only product that was made out of cotton. There is evidence that cotton was spun and woven together with a type of grass to make strong nets for fishing (Berdan, 1987, p. 235) and there is also a description of cotton being spun and woven into cloth, combined with a light type of wood and feathers to make a strong type of shield (Berdan, 1987, p. 236). However, the most important purpose of the cotton was to be spun and woven into cotton cloth and finally made into clothing to be used for example as tribute payment.


Fig. 2 The cotton growing areas in the Aztec empire (Berdan, 1987, p. 238)

The production of textile
As mentioned before, cotton had to go through a process before it to become textile. The manufacture of textile was considered a very noble job done by specialists during the sixteenth century in Mesoamerica. Producing a fine type of cotton was a way of receiving status as a family known to be good at producing cloth, like the women in the highlands who could produce large amounts of cloth. Sometimes these highland communities would even become noted for their achievements (Berdan, 1987, p. 247; see also Sahagún 1950-1982, book 8, p. 51-52 and book 10, p. 35-36). Since textile was an item used for payment, the manufacturing of it had to be also highly productive. Cotton cloth was produced for a number of purposes, for example for rich adornments for the elite and deities, used in marriage and other rituals, cotton cloth also served as an exchange good, for battle armor and of course as payment for either goods or as tribute that was paid by almost all of the provinces during the Aztec empire. In case of the tribute payment, cotton cloth was usually paid in a form of clothing like skirts, cloaks or loincloths (Berdan, 1987, p. 239). Large quantities of cotton were woven directly in the urban cities where the cotton was collected from the land. There, women worked on the cotton. Spinning and weaving the cotton was a typically women‟s task, performed only by women. Before the Spaniards took over, spinning and weaving were even part of a woman‟s identity to symbolize proper femininity (Hodge & Smith, 1994,


p. 94). Babies were presented with items as the spinning bowl and spinning and weaving are said to be metaphors for the experiences with the birth of children and the pregnancy itself (Brumfield, 1997, p. 56). Spinning was a task that was performed at home only. Sahagún states that when a girl got special training, she would learn how to sweep and how to clean, but not how to spin and how to weave (Sahagún, 1950-1982, book 6, p. 210, 216). Because most of the spinning and weaving took place at home, this task was often combined with the household job and taking care of the children (Berdan, 1987, p. 241). Children could even be of great help by putting them to clean the fibers or when they are older, to spin (Hodges & Smith, 1994, p. 94). However, in important large areas like palaces for instance, there could have been a workshop where women would work on the textile for full days. For example, in the palace of Motecozuma, where his daughters wove nice cloths for him. Because cotton was not grown throughout the Valley of Mexico, it was first widely moved over long distances to reach the weavers within the empire (Berdan et al, 1996, p. 125). Thus these workshops seem to have been depending on the amount of raw materials available, such as cotton, maguey, yucca but also the feathers for decorating (Berdan, 1987, p. 246). Before the cotton could be spun, it had to be cleaned, beaten and combed (Brumfiel, 1997, p. 55; see also Hodge & Smith, 1994, p. 91). Before the cotton could be spun, the cleaned cotton was laid on mats on the floor. This was done in order for it to dry so that the fibers could be easily separated. After preparing the cotton, it was spun using a small ceramic bowl to support the end of the thread by putting weight on it to straighten the thread, to be able to obtain control over the thread. In order to spin with the bowl, the one spinning the thread was supposed to remain seated. These so called spindle whorls were also made of wood. After the spinning, the cotton was finally was woven into a fine cloth (Hodge & Smith, 1994, p. 91).

The purposes of cloth
The production of cloth had three purposes. First it was made to provide the household itself of clothing and textile. These cloths were usually not made of cotton though, since cotton was an object of prestige and was preserved for the payment of tribute to the nobility. Cloth was also manufactured to be able to pay tribute to the Triple Alliance, who demanded cloth because it was very valuable. Finally, cloth was produced for the market. A lot of objects were obtained by trading it with cloth or by paying for it with cloth which was used as a type of money throughout whole Mesoamerica (Brumfield, 1997, p. 56). Not only cloth and textile was distributed throughout the market, raw cotton or other raw products such as the fiber of the leaves from the maguey plant were also brought to the market for sale and tribute payments. Some conquered provinces were even required to pay their tribute in raw cotton (see fig. 3). This was specifically the case among the coastal provinces along the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean where cotton was grown under very suitable circumstances. The raw cotton was paid to the highland rulers so that they could deliver it to provinces where cotton could


not be grown in order for them to make tribute cloth out of it (Brumfiel, 1997, p. 55). The provinces that had cotton-growing capabilities were also often required to deliver more woven cotton in tribute than other provinces were forced to do.

Fig. 3 The provinces that pay tribute in raw cotton (Berdan, 1987, p. 243)

Now that it is clear what the purposes were for the cotton and the cloth, let us take a look at the things that were made from cotton and maguey cloth and what the purposes were for these products. The most important things made from cotton are the white mantas or cloaks. These were made from highquality white cotton and then decorated to make them even more valuable or brought to the market in plain white to serve as a payment or as tribute. When a white manta was brought to the market and was sold, people tended to decorate it afterwards themselves to increase the value of it. These mantas were seldom used for the makers‟ own purpose. The mantas that did serve as households clothing, were usually made of the fibers from the maguey leaves. These leaves were cut from the plant and then put in an earth oven for a few days. This was done to loosen the fibers from the leave itself. Then the leaves were scraped to get rid of the flesh from the leaf and in order to sort the fibers. The fibers were then washed and whitened to be spun afterwards. Most of this work was done by women using a drop-spindle technique which allowed the women to walk while spinning so that they would be able to combine the spinning of fibers with their household chores (Brumfiel, 1997, p. 55, Hodge & Smith, 1994, p. 90-91). Usually these cloths were of less quality than the cotton ones and therefore only used for the commoner use, but in cases that the cloth turned out to be really fine and soft, the mantas would serve the nobility perfectly once it was decorated (Berdan, 1987, p. 244). 17

Mantas were also made from yucca fiber from a yucca plant that was widely distributed. These mantas were woven tightly or very loose, looking like a net. These mantas were not only worn by commoners. Sahagún mentions the mantas being “the kind in which to dress up for the market” (Sahagún, 19501982, book 10, p. 75). Since these mantas were also used for tribute as well as for commoner use like the maguey mantas mentioned before, it is likely that these mantas were made in large numbers at the time. Beside mantas, other types of clothing were also made from cotton and other fibers. As mentioned before, tribute payment also included skirts, loincloths, blouses and clothing for armor. These clothes were usually highly decorated since most of the clothing provided by tribute payment was worn by the nobilities or distributed throughout the market to be sold for a decent price. The decorating of the garments was usually done by women and with lots of different objects. The most common decoration was the painting on plain white cotton mantas, but women also attached adornments on the cloths using spun rabbit fur, feathers and other precious objects (Berdan, 1987, p. 245). The paint with which the mantas and other cloths were decorated were usually dyes made from plant and animal materials that were available in a wide variety. The process concerning these dyes involved the crushing of the parts that contained the color and boiling it afterwards in order to be able to extract the pigments (Hodge & Smith, 1994, p. 91). Particularly these highly decorated and precious clothes were worn by the nobility (Brumfiel, 1997, p. 57). About 25% of the clothes paid in tribute were decorated (Brumfiel, 1997, p. 58). To be able to make all these precious items for all these different uses, there was an elaborate trade network available to maintain the products needed to make the items, namely the marketplace. With the exchange through marketplaces there was a whole pattern of processes involved. This pattern contained a few stages of production, followed by an exchange and after that another set of stages of production and so on, until the final stage of the product was reached (Berdan, 1987, p. 246). The end of the chain could mean that the object was ready to be paid as tribute or that the object got to its final consumer. Sometime during the stages of production, it could happen that also the objects involving these stages, like spindle whorls, were also obtained through exchange. Exchange of textiles and clothing did not only occur within the boundaries of the Aztec empire, but also with foreign countries. In the case of exchange with foreign countries, the exchange was highly supervised by and sanctioned by the rulers of the countries themselves (Berdan, 1987, p. 250). Therefore this kind of transaction only occurred with finished goods, and was not an easy thing to do. Finally there is the aspect of tribute as it comes to textile and clothing. Because textile was so highly demanded throughout the entire population, it comes as no surprise that textiles were frequently demanded as tribute on local, regional and imperial level (Hodge & Smith, 1994, p. 89). The paying of this tribute was installed when the Triple Alliance was formed with Tenochtitlan as its capital. The Aztec empire was divided into 38 provinces of which 36 paid their tribute in some form of textile (see


fig. 4). The tribute was paid four times a year, by the house-to-house visits made by officials that were in charge of the tribute payments (Brumfiel, 1997, p. 66). Textile tribute could, as mentioned before, be paid either in raw materials or in finished goods like mantas which are paid the most. Lists of the tribute paid, like the Codex Mendoza, show the most valuable objects at the top which is most often textile, but also other luxuries like feathers, stones or animal skins. Along the coastal areas, where cotton was grown, the amount of tribute in cotton goods tended to be higher than in other areas throughout the country. Since cotton was not available in all of the areas, tribute relied on regional trade and exchange through marketplaces. These trades were stimulated a lot by greater demands of the rulers that forced the provinces to pay their tribute (Berdan, 1987, p. 259).

Fig 4. The Aztec provinces without textile tribute (Berdan, 1987, p. 253)

Cloth and textile after the Conquest
At the time the Spaniards arrived, this pattern of tribute was highly available and it is no surprise that the Spaniards continued the demanding of payment in textiles when they colonized the country. The Spaniards shared the high interest in textile with the former Aztecs. Since the arrival of Columbus, people have been writing about cotton and the way in which it was produced into fine clothing (Berdan, 1987, p. 235). During the Spanish conquest and even after that, the tribute demanded by Cortés and his men still consisted for about 80% out of textile (Brumfiel, 1997, p. 58). In Spanish 19

times, the cloth provided by tribute, was mostly sold on the markets to get some income for state expenditures (Brumfiel, 1997, p. 58). Not much was changed since the colonization by the Spaniards. They did however, demand clothing for tribute that was more tightly woven, maybe to increase the value of the cloth when sold on the markets (Brumfiel, 1997, p. 58) and they started to demand much more plain textile and cloth (Hodge & Smith, 1994, p. 98). Another thing that changed during the time of the Spaniards was that the purpose for the textile changed. Because the Spaniards only wanted to use the cloth to sell it on the markets so they could finance their expenditures, the weaving of cloth became more simplified. Aztecs had considered the clothing as something valuable, as an item of wealth. The Spanish did still see it this way, but much more as a use of money than a use for its personal status, but maybe this just seems the case since plain cloth was used much as money since there was a shortage of coined money (Hodge & Smith, 1994, p. 98). That is why, in colonial Mexico, women started to spend less time at making precious wealth items out of textile. Producing cloth also lost its purpose to gain status as a household. Even though things changed during the arrival of the Spaniards, it is clear that cotton, textile and cloth played a valuable part in the daily life of the Aztecs and the other people throughout Mesoamerica.


Looking at the world of the Aztecs and how they developed, one can see clearly that from 1200 AD onwards there was a major shift towards the Valley of Mexico. A lot of people started to migrate to this area, which made a piece of land highly demanded. This is probably why there was so much competition between the various cultures. People started to get more violent, claiming their own piece of land through battle and war. Alliances were formed to stay stronger in these battles and areas along with the people who lived there were conquered. This was also the case with the Aztecs when they formed their powerful Triple Alliance. As a result of these conquests, the tribute system was invented to cast fear into the lives of the conquered ones and to make sure that they know who was in charge. As we can see, looking further into this system of tribute demands, items of wealth were highly demanded. Looking at the documents made on tribute payments, it becomes clear that textile was such an item as it was used for various reasons like an item of payment and exchange, but also, mostly when decorated, as an item of wealth for the Aztec elite and later on even the Spaniards. In the chapter on textile itself and the production process that it involves, it becomes clear that while textile was such an item of wealth and prestige, cotton was grown almost throughout the entire Valley of Mexico. Still it remained to be an important item even long after the Aztec empire was overthrown by the Spaniards. This is a remarkable phenomenon. Why it was such an item of wealth is not really clear to me but what is clear, is that everybody needs clothing. Maybe it was due to the process of production itself, since it had to go through numerous stages for cotton to become cloth and maybe it was just because everyone needed cloth that it could so easily be demanded as tribute and kept in storages in case one might need it when the climate would change and cotton could not be grown properly anymore. Whatever the reason was that textiles and clothing played such an important role for the Aztec people, one thing is clear, that it really was an important item which was demanded the most as a tribute item by far and that the elite saw the highly decorated textiles as an item of wealth, since people are often show a high level of status by looking neatly dressed.


The Aztecs, known because of their great empire at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards, were a culture with a great history. Starting with migrating into the Valley of Mexico after which they became more and more powerful. They started to form an alliance between three of the most important city-states of that time, Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan. Together they conquered numerous citystates throughout the Valley of Mexico and demanded tribute by making the local people fear for what would happen if they did not pay or lived by the political rules of the Triple Alliance. Looking at the documents, it seems clear that one of the most important items being paid in tribute was textile. Wondering why this was such an important item, the making of textile and its purposes for the Aztec people are described in this article. It shows that textile was used as a type of money and as an exchange item, but also as an item of wealth which it continued to be in the Postconquest times. Remarkable is that even when textiles and cloth were distributed in large quantities throughout the Valley, it still did not loose its value.


De Azteken, die erom bekend staan een groots rijk te hebben gehad in de tijd dat de Spaniaarden in Mexico aankwamen, maken deel uit van een cultuur met een rijke geschiedenis. Het begon in de twaalfde eeuw wanneer men naar de vallei van Mexico migreerde om daar vervolgens land in te nemen en uiteindelijk een machtige alliantie tussen drie steden te stichten. Deze alliantie veroverde vervolgens een groot gebied in de vallei en oefende druk uit op de veroverde plaatsen door tribuutplicht in te stellen. Deze tribuutbetalingen werden bijgehouden in administratieve documenten. Uit deze documenten blijkt dat textiel het belangrijkste product was dat men als tribuut moest betalen. Textiel werd namelijk gebruikt als betaalmiddel en als handelsmiddel, maar ook een item dat gezien werd als een symbool voor welvaart. Dit bleef ook het geval nadat de Spaniaarden het gebied van de Azteken veroverden. Opvallend hierbij is dat textiel overal in de vallei van Mexico werd geproduceerd. Daarom is het interessant om te zien waarom textiel zo belangrijk was voor de Azteken en later voor de Spaniaarden. Om hier een beter beeld van te krijgen, gaat deze paper dieper in op de betekenis van textiel voor de mensen en hoe de productie van textiel in elkaar zit. Daarnaast zal er nog specifiek naar textiel als tribuut in het Azteekse tribuut-systeem worden gekeken.


Berdan, Frances, and Patricia R. Anawalt 1992 The Essential Codex Mendoza. University of California Press Berdan, Frances, Richard E. Blanton, et al. 1996 Aztec Imperial Strategies. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington D.C. Berger, Uta 1998 Mexican Painted Manuscripts in the United Kingdom. The British Museum, London. Coe, Michael D. 1995 Mexico, from the Olmecs to the Aztecs. Thames & Hudson, London Evans, Susan T. 2004 Ancient Mexico & Central America. Thames & Hudson, London Hassig, Ross 1985 Trade, Tribute and Transportation. University of Oklahoma Press, Oklahoma Hill Boone, Elizabeth 1994 The Aztec World. St. Remy Press, St. Remy Hill Boone, Elizabeth, et al. 1998 Native Traditions in the Postconquest World. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington D.C. Hogde, Mary G, and Michael E. Smith (editors) 1994 Economies and Polities in the Aztec Realm. University of Texas Press, Texas Horn, Rebecca 1997 Postconquest Coyoacan. Stanford University Press, Stanford Moctezuma, Eduardo M., and Felipe S. Olguin 2002 Aztecs. Royal Academy of Arts, London Pazstory, Esther 1983 Aztec Art. Harry N. Abrams inc. publishers, New York Sahagún, Bernardino de 1950-1982 General History of the Things of New Spain, Florentine Codex. School of American Research, Santa Fe Smith, Michael E. 1984 The Aztlan Migrations of the Nahual Chronicles: Myth or History? Ethnohistory, 31: 153-186 Smith, Michael E. 1998 The Aztecs. Blackwell Publishers Inc., Oxford. Smith, Michael E. 2006 Aztec Culture: An Overview. Arizona State University, Arizona


Townsend, Richard F. 2002 The Aztecs. Thames & Hudson, London Wauchope, Robert 1964-1976 Handbook of Middle American Indians. University of Texas Press, Texas



Appendix I. Chicomoztoc, the cave with the seven niches from which the Mexica think they came from (Pasztory, 1983, p. 48)


Appendix II. Tribute as shown in the Codex Mendoza, folio 20r. At the top it shows the payment of tribute in textiles which were paid in the largest quantities next to the warrior costumes (


Appendix III. Codex Mendoza, folio 37r. Again in this page, the tribute of textiles is shown at the top of the page being the most important type of tribute that was paid (


Appendix IV. Codex Mendoza, folio 43r (


Appendix V. Codex Mendoza, folio 46r (


Appendix VI. Codex Mendoza, folio 52r (


Appendix VII. Matrícula de Tributos, folio 13r. In this part of the tribute list, textile is clearly represented and claims the biggest part of the tribute being paid. What is remarkable about this page, is that textile is depicted at the bottom of the page, whereas in the Codex Mendoza, textile is represented at the top of the page. Archaeologists believe that this was due to a different way of reading the page, e.g. from the bottom of the page upwards instead of from the top down (Pasztory, 1983, p. 192).


Appendix VIII. Matrícula de Tributos, folio19r. What is remarkable about this particular page, is that this part of the tribute list does not show textile paid as tribute. It does however show items that are related to textile, like animal hides and feathers which were both used to decorate textile and warrior suits which were very important (Pasztory, 1983, p. 192).


Appendix IX. A tribute list from the Codex Kingsborough, folio 209r. This page shows the pieces of cloth that were being paid every 80 days at the top of the page, for example 20 large cotton blankets. (Berger, 1988, p. 113).


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