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Society for Comparative Studies in Society and History

The Aztec Aristocracy in Colonial Mexico Author(s): Charles Gibson Source: Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Jan., 1960), pp. 169-196 Published by: Cambridge University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 17/06/2011 14:54Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

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The studentof Aztec "aristocracy" its colonialperiod(1519-1810)confronts in an historicalsituationof whichthe abstractconditionsare familiarfrom other (andoftenmuchbetterknown)instancesof conquestandlong-term adaptation. Romans and Barbarians, Moslemsand Christians, Whites and Negroes, and additionalexampleswill immediately suggestthemselves.The situationis one whereina given society, previouslyindependent, sufferssubjugation underan the extent that its whole hierarchy class stratification is externalsociety to of subordinated a new and foreignupperclass. The society is demotedas a to for for whole,and whereas lowerclassesthis entailsonly a furtherdegradation, classesthe changeis absolute,from a dominantto a subordinate rank. ruling at and in Theoretically, least,one couldexpectstimulus response greatest degree and greatestincidencein the groupwhose position is most seriouslyaffected. is Thisexpectation fulfilled to be surewith somelocal andparticular modifications - in the case of the native Mexicanaristocracy underSpanishrule. The presentobjectivehoweveris not to arguefor this viewpointbut to describefor Aztec society from the purposesof comparisonthe conditionsof upper-class to earlysixteenth the earlynineteenth century. The subjecthas manyfacetsand complications.Fromthe point of view of the historianof LatinAmericaits fulltreatment would require a discussion much more in extenso, and certain special

wouldmerita completeand separate topics,e.g., the land holdingsof caciques, The preliminary provisionalnature of all our conand monographicstudy. clusions should be insistedupon, for the subjecthas not heretoforereceived examination. systematic classes in late Aztec (i.e., pre-colonial) Upper imperialsociety may be disas follows:the seriesof sovereign"monarchs", whomthe last was of tinguished Montezuma (ruled1502-1519);the monarchs' II retinuesand staffsresidentin the capital city of Tenochtitlan;similar semi-independent "monarchs"and courts, notably those of Texcoco and Tlacopan(Tacuba);and a complex of local chiefs,militaryofficers, tributecollectors,priests,judicialauthorities, and state officials. By the time of the Spanishconquest(1519-1521) miscellaneous thesecomprised authoritarian an Aztec skilledin the characteristic bureaucracy practicesof political administration, religious shamanism(includinghuman



sacrifice), militarism, and tribute assessment and collection. Most high officials, including the Cihuacoatl, Tlacatecatl, Tlacochcalcatl, and Huitznahuatl, exercised their offices in Tenochtitlan during the whole or a portion of each year.' Outside the capital each substantial community (altepetl, cabecera) possessed a chief or Tlatohuani (pl. Tlatoque) and a local officialdom supported by community tributes.2 Succession in the monarchical and Tlatohuani offices was for the most part hereditary, from brother to brother in some instances, from father to eldest "legitimate" son in others, but with certain additional variants if age or incapacity made the normal heir incapable of inheritance or if the incumbent's own choice fell on another. Many of the Tlatoque and other officials of 1519 were related to one another and to Montezuma either directly or through marriage. The principal officers of the state possessed private lands and received services and tributes from one or more communities or parts of communities. Relatives of the principal lords, forming the Pilli (pl. Pipiltin) group, and members of military orders, forming the Tecuhtli group, likewise received private lands and laborers and other marks of favor. None of these groups was completely separate from the others. The priesthood maintained the cult, guarded the temples, and performed the religious ceremonial. Within the several classes of nobility many gradations of rank and privilege were recognized and at their lowest levels the "upper classes" merged indistinctly with the administrative officers of the sub-community units, calpulli and others. The mass occupied macegual status, paying tributes, performing military and labor services, and cultivating land principally in the form of usufruct privileges on communal properties.3 A sub-macegual class existed1 de HernAn Cortes, Cartasde relacionde la conquista Mejico(2 vols., Madrid,Espasa-Calpe, S.A., 1942), II, 109. Bartolom6 de Las Casas, Apologeticahistoria de las Indias (Nueva e bibliotecade autoresespanoles,XIII; M. Serranoy Sanz et al., eds.; Madrid,Bailly-Bailliere y hijos, 1909),p. 554. Coleccionde documentos ineditos,relativosal descubrimiento, conquista de posesionesespanolasde Americay Oceania,sacadosde los archivos organizaci6n las antiguas del reino,y muy especialmente de Indias(title varies; 42 vols.; Madrid, 1864-1884),XIII, del 253 ff. (hereafter abbreviated as CDIAI). Eduard Seler, trans., Einige Kapitel aus dem de Geschichtswerk Fray Bernardino Sahagun(Stuttgart, Streckerund Schr6der, 1927), des Historiageneralde las cosas de NuevaEspania vols.; de (3 pp. 459, 566 ff. Bernardino Sahagiun, Miguel Acosta Saignes, ed.; Mexico, Editorial Nueva Espafia,S.A., 1946), II, 71 ff. Many other sources treat of these officials. 2 The pre-conquestaltepetl is not however in every case to be equated with the colonial 3 Las Casas, op. cit., pp. 173 ff., 566 ff. Motolinia (Toribio de Benavente),History of the and Indiansof New Spain(Documents Narratives the concerning Discovery& Conquest Latin of America, New Series, Number Four; Elizabeth Andros Foster, trans. and ed.; Berkeley, ineditosdel siglo XVIpara The CortesSociety, 1950),p. 28. MarianoCuevas,ed., Documentos la historiade Mexico (Mexico, Museo Nacional de Arqueologia,Historia y Etnologia, 1914), pp. 225, 230. Alonso de Zorita, "Brevey sumaria relaci6n de los sefiores...," CDIAI, II, 9 ff., 31, 201-202. Joaquin Garcia Icazbalceta,ed., Nueva colecci6nde documentos para Ia historiade Mexico (3 vols.; Mexico, EditorialSalvadorCh,vez Hayhoe, 1941),III, 267. Seler, op. cit., p. 493. "La orden que los Yndios tenianen su tiempoparahacersetecutlis"and other titles, ClementsLibrary,Universityof Michigan,MS No. 100, PhillippsMSS 13685,pp. 1-17. Joaquin Ramirez Cabafias, "Los macehuales,"Filosofia y letras, Revista de la facultad de




also, directly under the control of the Tlatoque or others, and in several conditions, including one wherein individuals might be bought and sold or otherwise maintained in a condition approximating that of European slavery.4

The records are unanimous in indicating the full social and economic subordination of the macegual and sub-macegualclasses to the others mentioned, and for working purposes all Aztec ranks superior to the macegualmay be considered as composing the nobility or aristocracy- terms which we here understand to be synonymous and which it would be an excess of refinement more exactly to define and apply to Aztec conditions. The terms are not precise, and they could be made so only arbitrarily and with a much more thorough exposition of the complexities of Aztec social organization.5 The effect of the Spanish conquest was practically to eliminate the central Indian authority and the military and priestly ranks. "Imperial" offices either ceased to function after the conquest or came to be controlled under new circumstances by Spaniards. The dynasties of the three major imperial cities suffered the most rapid alterations of their histories, and their jurisdictions wereimmediately confined to local limits.6 In Texcoco the Spaniards recognized a

schismatic and collaborating puppet ruler, while fratricide, internal conflict, and dynastic intrigue made of the native administration a complex and shifting sequence.7 In Tacuba two successive rulers quickly met their deaths, TotoquiN. filosofia y letras de la Universidad de Mexico, II (1941), 119-124. Martin Fernandez Navarreteet al., eds., Coleccionde documentos ineditospara la historiade Espana(112 vols.; as Madrid, La Viuda de Calero,etc., 1842-1895),IV, 198 ff. (hereafterabbreviated CDIHE). 4 Don Vascode QuirogaDocumentos (Rafael Aguayo Spencer,ed., Mexico, EditorialPolis, entre 1939),pp. 398-400. CarlosBosch Garc