Tlahuica Peoples of Morelos

photo of the temple of Tepozteco in Tepoztlan By Dr. Michael E. Smith, Professor of Anthropology, University at Albany (State University of New York)
Award1.gif - 2.6 K The Tlahuica were one of the Aztec peoples living in central Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest (AD 1521). The Aztecs were divided into numerous local ethnic groups that were linked together into the broader Aztec culture by a common language (Nahuatl), a common historical origin, and many shared cultural traits, from gods and ceremonies to money and tools. The Tlahuica lived in the area that is now the state of Morelos; their largest cities were Cuauhnahuac (modern Cuernavaca) and Huaxtepec (modern Oaxtepec).

Most of the Aztec ethnic groups are poorly represented in ethnohistorical sources, since the majority of the documents describe the dominant Mexica group of Tenochtitlan. Nevertheless, many scattered references exist to the Tlahuica and other non-Mexica Aztec peoples. This web site describes some of the historical information on the Tlahuica peoples of Morelos. The reader is invited to consult the references in the bibliography below for more information, and for scholarly documentation of the information provided here. This web site is complementary to the Tlahuica Ruins Page, which describes archaeological evidence for some of the major Tlahuica sites.

To go to the Tlahuica Ruins Home Page, Click Here.

The Native Historical Record

Aztecs migrating from Aztlan The Aztecs kept careful written records about certain important political and religious topics. The chronicle of Aztec native history began with the migration of various ethnic groups from a mythical northern homeland called Aztlan. Once these groups reached central Mexico, they founded city-states and dynasties. The achievements and history of these dynasties filled many of the surviving pictorial manuscripts. None of these dynastic histories have survived from the Tlahuica city-states, but the Tlahuica are mentioned in the better-preserved histories of the Mexica people. The Codex Mendoza and other documents tell us which Mexica rulers conquered the Tlahuica city-states (Itzcoatl and Motecuhzoma Ilhuicamina), and what tribute the Morelos peoples paid to the Aztec empire (see Maldonado 1990)

Various sources mention some names from the Cuauhnahuac dynasty, which intermarried with the Mexica and other city-state royal families throughout central Mexico. For example, Tezcacohuatzin was the ruler of Cuauhnahuac in the late 14th century. He was described as one of the most powerful Aztec kings at that time, and one of the early Mexica rulers, Huitzihuitl, successfully sought a marriage with Tezcacohuatzin’s daughter to form a political alliance. This Tlahuica princess, Miahuaxihuitl, bore a son, Motecuhzoma Ilhuicamina, who grew up to become one of the most renowned of the Mexica kings (he later reconquered Cuauhnahuac for the Aztec empire, perhaps forgetting his roots). Miahuaxihuitl’s brother, Cuauhtototzin, succeeded his father in Cuauhnahuac, where he ruled around AD 1400. These marriage alliances are discussed further in Smith (1986).

Political and Economic Patterns

The Tlahuica were organized into about 50 small city-states that covered the area of the modern state of Morelos. These city-states were very similar to the better-described Aztec city-states of the Valley of Mexico. Each was ruled by a hereditary king or tlatoani, who was aided by a group of nobles. When the Tlahuica city-states were conquered by the Aztec empire (first in the late 1430s, and then again in the 1450s), they were forced to pay tribute to the imperial capitals Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan. The empire left the local government intact, and generally did not interfere in the affairs of subject city-states as long as the tribute payments were kept up (the Codex Mendoza lists the tribute from Morelos). This form of indirect rule was the norm in the Aztec empire - for a fuller description see the book, Aztec Imperial Strategies).

Click here for a description of the book, AZTEC IMPERIAL STRATEGIES .

Maps of Tlahuica Cities
Tlahuica city-states consisted of a central town and the surrounding countryside and villages. City-state towns were built around a public plaza. On the east side of the plaza was the temple-pyramid of the city-state’s patron god or gods (good examples of these pyramids survive at the sites of Coatetelco and Teopanzolco – see photos in the Tlahuica Ruins Page). On another side of the plaza was the palace of the ruler (see examples at Yautepec and Cuexcomate), and often a ballcourt was also placed along one side of the plaza.

All of the Tlahuica city-state towns had periodic marketplaces where professional merchants, petty artisans, farmers, and other people gathered once a week to buy and sell. Traveling merchants linked these markets together, and also linked them into the larger network of Aztec markets throughout central Mexico. Through the markets, the Tlahuica people, commoners as well as nobles, had ready access to a large variety of goods produced throughout Mesoamerica (see descriptions of imported goods from Yautepec and rural sites).

The major specialty of the Tlahuica was cotton. The crop grew throughout Morelos wherever land could be irrigated. This was a large area, and Morelos was one of the largest cotton producing areas in the Aztec empire. Tlahuica women spun and wove cotton textiles in their homes. This cloth served a variety of purposes in Aztec central Mexico. Aside from cloth’s utilitarian uses for clothing and other uses, cotton textiles were the primary form of tribute that people had to pay to both the Aztec empire and their local city-state. Cotton textiles were a form of money, and people exchanged them in the markets for needed goods. Archaeological evidence for cotton spinning is extensive at Tlahuica sites (see descriptions of the Yautepec and rural sites projects).

Family and Social Class

Tribute codex from Tlaquiltenango In the late 1530s, shortly after the Spanish conquest of 1521, officials visited several Tlahuica towns and recorded house-by-house census documents in the Nahuatl (Aztec) language. These are some of the richest ethnohistoric documents from anywhere in the Aztec realm, providing detailed information about family structure, economic activities, community organization, and tribute payments. The documents have been published in Cline (1993) and Hinz et al (1983), and analyses of their contents include McCaa (1994), Smith (1993), and a series of articles by Pedro Carrasco.

Bibliography on Tlahuica Ethnohistory

For summaries of ethnohistorical information on the Tlahuica, the best sources are Maldonado (1990) and Smith (1994a).

rock carving of a scribe Acuña, René
1984-87 Relaciones Geográficas del Siglo XVI. 9 vols. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City.

Angulo Villaseñor, Jorge
1979 Una Visión del Museo Cuauhnahuac en el Palacio de Cortés: Recopoliación Histórico-Arqueológico del Proceso de Cambio en el Estado de Morelos. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City.

Carrasco, Pedro
1962 Tres libros de tributos del Museo Nacional de México y su importancia para los estudios demográficos. Paper presented at the 35th International Congress of Americanists (Mexico City, 1962), Mexico City.

Carrasco, Pedro
1972 La casa y hacienda de un señor Tlahuica. Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl 10:235-244.

Carrasco, Pedro
1976a Estratificación social indígena en Morelos durante el siglo XVI. In Estratifiación social en la Mesoamérica Prehispánica, edited by Pedro Carrasco and Johanna Broda, pp. 102-117. Instituto Nacional de Antropolgía e Historia, Mexico City.

Carrasco, Pedro
1976b The Joint Family in Ancient Mexico: The Case of Molotla. In Essays on Mexican Kinship, edited by Hugo Hutini, Pedro Carrasco and James M. Taggert, pp. 45-64. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh.

Cline, S. L.
1993 The Book of Tributes: Early Sixteenth-Century Nahuatl Censuses from Morelos. U.C.L.A. Latin American Center, Los Angeles.

Codex Mendoza
1992 Codex Mendoza. Frances F. Berdan and Patricia R. Anawalt, editors. 4 vols. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Cortés, Fernando
1869 Testimonio de una petición, presentado por Hernan Cortés a la Audiencia de México, dando cuenta de los pueblos que ya tenía ... (1532). In Colección de Documentos Inéditos ... de Indias, pp. 554-563. vol. 12. Real Academía de la Historia, Madrid.

Cortés, Hernando
1962 Five Letters of Cortés to the Emperor. Translated by Morris, J. Bayard. Norton, New York.

Cuernavaca, Códice Municipal de
1973 Códice Municipal de Cuernavaca. In Fernando Cortés and the Marquesado in Morelos, edited by G. Micheal Riley, pp. 100-109. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Cuernavaca, Títulos de
1947 Unos Títulos de Cuernavaca (1552), translated by Arnulfo Velasco. Tlalocan 2(3):215-222.

Dubernard, Juan
1975 Santa Ana Amanalco (Cuernavaca, Morelos). Private publication, Cuernavaca.

Gerhard, Peter
1970a El señorío de Ocuituco. Tlalocan 6:97-114.

Gerhard, Peter
1970b A method of reconstructing Pre-Columbian political boundaries in central Mexico. Journal de la Société des Americanistes de Paris 59:27-41.

Gerhard, Peter
1975 Continuity and change in Morelos, Mexico. Geographical Review 65:335-352.

Haskett, Robert
1991 Indigenous Rulers: An Ethnohistory of Town Government in Colonial Cuernavaca. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Hinz, Eike, Claudine Hartau and Marie Heimann-Koenen
1983 Aztekischer Zensus: Zur Indianischen Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft im Marquesado um 1540. Verlag fur Ethnologie, Hanover.

1951 Life in a Mexican Village: Tepoztlan Restudied University of Illinois Press, Urbana.

Maldonado Jiménez, Druzo
1990 Cuauhnahuac and Huaxtepec: Tlalhuicas y Xochimilcas en el Morelos Prehispánico. Centro Regional de Investigaciones Multidisciplinarias, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Cuernavaca.

Martin, Cheryl E.
1985 Rural Society in Colonial Morelos. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

McCaa, Robert
1994 Child marriage and complex families among the Nahuas of ancient Mexico. Latin American Population History Bulletin 26:2-11.

Morayta, L. Miguel
1981 Chalcatzingo: Persistencia y Cambio de un Pueblo Campesino. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City.

O'Mack, Scott H.
1985 Yacapitztlan: Ethnicity and Ethnohistory in Late Postclassic Central Mexico. Unpublished MA thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky.

Riley, G. Micheal
1973 Fernando Cortés and the Marquesado in Morelos, 1522-1547. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Smith, Michael E.
1986 The role of social stratification in the Aztec empire: A view from the provinces. American Anthropologist 88:70-91.

Smith, Michael E.
1993 Houses and the settlement hierarchy in Late Postclassic Morelos: A comparison of archaeology and ethnohistory. In Prehispanic Domestic Units in Western Mesoamerica: Studies of the Household, Compound, and Residence, edited by Robert S. Santley and Kenneth G. Hirth, pp. 191-206. CRC Press, Boca Raton.

Smith, Michael E.
1994a Economies and Polities in Aztec-period Morelos: Ethnohistoric Introduction. In Economies and Polities in the Aztec Realm, edited by Mary G. Hodge and Michael E. Smith, pp. 313-348. Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, Albany.

Smith, Michael E.
1994b Social complexity in the Aztec countryside. In Archaeological Views from the Countryside: Village Communities in Early Complex Societies, edited by Glenn Schwartz and Steven Falconer, pp. 143-159 Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.

Tlayacapan, Relación de
1980 Una relación inédita de Tlayacapan, Morelos, en el siglo XVIII (1743), edited by Teresa Rojas R. Cuicuilco 2:59-62.

Tributos, Declaración de los
1870 Declaración de los tributos que los Indios de la provincia de Guanavaquez .. hacían a su señor el Marqués del Valle (1533). In Colección de Documentos Inéditos ... de Indias, pp. 142-147, vol. 14. Real Academía de la Historia, Madrid.

Visita, Tasación y Cuenta
1946 Visita, Tasación y Cuenta de la Villa de Yecapixtla, Morelos (1561). In Nuevos Documentos Relativos a los Bienes de Hernan Cortés, 1547-1947, pp. 169-260. Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico City.
For More Information:
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Tlahuica Ruins Near Cuernavaca || Tlahuica Peasant Sites ||
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Description of the book, THE AZTECS ||
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© 1997, Michael E. Smith (updated 12/12/97)

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