Tula, Capital of the Toltecs: Precursor of the Aztecs and Mayas

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Atlantes of Pyramid B at Tula

The Toltec empire arose about AD 750 just when the Teotihuacan empire, as all empires inevitably do, began to crumble.

The years AD 900 to AD 1160 were heyday years. The Toltecs in Tula numbered between 30,000-60,000 but controlled an empire that included most of central Mexico, Guatemala, the Yucatan Peninsula, the Gulf coast and perhaps the Pacific coast as well, where Toltec artefacts have been unearthed.

Life Within Tula

The Toltecs spoke Nahuatl, which was also spoken by the Aztecs. The city of Tula was located about 50 miles north of present-day Mexico City and contained impressive buildings, including pyramids. The city was surrounded on three sides by steep embankments to protect against attack.

What did the Toltecs get up to behind their city walls? It seems that aside from day-to-day human affairs to occupy their time, they also offered up human sacrifices to the god Tezcatlipoca on an epic scale.

The Toltecs had a great influence on the Aztecs, who openly admired them, and not just for their mass human sacrificial ceremonies, which they would imitate in their own capital city of Tenochtitlán. The non-sacrificial -related admiration extended to a claim by the Aztec ruling family that they were descendants of Toltecs from Colhuacan, a sacred city. So too was the Maya civilization of Yucatan strongly influenced by the Toltecs, particularly in the city of Chichen Itza.

The city of Tula, with a size of between just 13 to 16 square kilometers was not in the class of Teotihuacan before it; however, the Toltecs were ultimately able to wield much more influence.

Tula had a ceremonial core that was surrounded by pyramids and giant stone warriers standing guard in front of temples. The city was organized into households featuring square or retangular houses with flat roofs. These were each, in turn, grouped into four or five dwellings sharing the same shrine.

All Good Things Must in Their Turn Come to an End

The 1160 arrival of the Aztecs in the Valley of Mexico spelled the end of the Toltecs. However, there are suggestions that drought and famine may have already weakened Tula considerably.

Some accounts speak of a retreat to Cholula by some of Tula’s citizens after the fall of their capital. There they lived in relative peace for several centuries before finally being overcome, as was everyone else in Cholula, by Hernán Cortés and the Spanish conquistadors, who saw fit to burn the city.