The origin of the Toltec people is still shrouded in mystery, but archaeological records show that they first appeared around the time when the Maya civilization in Mexico had collapsed between 800 and 900/1100 AD. These mysterious people spoke an Uto-Aztecan language called Nahuatl. They were probably the descendants of the Chichimecas. A nomadic Nahua people from the north and the Nonoalcas, the Mesoamerican people who migrated from the Teotihuacan area. The Toltec people had a reputation as highly-skilled artisans, doctors, merchants, and astronomers. They made great innovations in agriculture and writing during the peak of the Toltec civilization. The building of the Tolec’s capital in Tula, Mexico is recorded on the Biblical Timeline with World History around 900 AD.
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The origin of the Toltec capital of Tula was just as mysterious as the people who lived there. Its story was entwined with the wind god Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl and the ruler-priest Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl. The Toltec, just like other Mesoamerican people, considered the god Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl as the most powerful in their pantheon and the creator of the world. He was the supreme god of the city of Tula. The Toltec decorated every corner of the city with statues of the Plumed Serpent, the representation of this deity. Apart from his role as the creator of the world, the Toltec also revered him as the creator of civilization and identified him with the legendary Toltec hero Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl.
Topiltzin and the Foundation of Tula
Topiltzin was the city’s supreme god, priest, warrior, and ruler all rolled into one. His father was the demigod and conqueror Mixcoatl (Serpent of the Clouds) while his mother was Chimalman, the goddess of fertility. In his youth, Topiltzin became a mighty warrior and accompanied his father in various conquests. He rose to political and priestly greatness after his father’s death, then peacefully led the Toltec people to the city of Tula and established it as their capital. In another version of this myth, Topiltzin and the Toltec people conquered Tula which was already a civilized city-state.
He commissioned the construction of temples in the city and turned it into a center for worship of Quetzalcoatl. Topiltzin and the Toltec enriched the city with innovations in agriculture and the arts, which made it a gem in the Mesoamerican world. But the glory days of Tula did not last when the god Tezcatlipoca arrived and lured Topiltzin to abandon his priestly responsibilities. The people he ruled died from plagues, starvation, and wars because of Topiltzin’s fall from grace. So he decided to go into exile with his followers to the underworld where he set himself on fire and was later reborn as the Morning Star.
In another version of the story, Topiltzin was a compassionate ruler who did not favor the Mesoamerican practice of human sacrifice. He decreed that only snakes and butterflies should be sacrificed instead. The god Tezcatlipoca did not want human sacrifice to end, so he tricked Topiltzin and his sister out of their priestly duty of penance and lured them to get drunk all night long. Topiltzin was so ashamed the morning after that he decided to go away from Tula into exile with his followers. Before he left the city, he burned his home and all his possessions. Then he traveled to the Gulf of Mexico where cremated himself and turned into the Morning Star.
Another ending was that upon reaching the Gulf of Mexico, Topiltzin rode a serpent-shaped raft which traveled to the east with a promise that he would return to Tula someday to reclaim his kingdom.
Tula continued to exist after the rule and exile of the legendary Topiltzin, but its golden age only lasted less than a century until the Toltec people were just as mysteriously driven out of the city around 1050 AD.
Picture by: CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41726
Florescano, Enrique. The Myth of Quetzalcoatl. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.
Werner, Michael S. Concise Encyclopedia of Mexico. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001.
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