The 10 Characteristics Of The Most Important Toltec Culture

The characteristics of the Toltec culture are those basic and essential elements that identify the Toltecs, indigenous people who inhabited the southern region of present-day Mexico before the arrival of the Spanish to the American continent.

The Toltec culture is one of the inhabiting cultures in the Mesoamerican region whose origins date back to the pre-Columbian era. This culture belonged to the Nahuatl Indians . It is presumed that they occupied the region between the 10th and 20th centuries.

Toltec culture.  Image extracted from the Toltec Pedagogy Book.

The Toltec word is of Nahuatl origin (Tōltēcah). In all probability and as a result of linguistic studies carried out, this word means Dweller of Tula. This name is due to the fact that this population was located in the current region called Valle de Tula, in the Mexican state of Hidalgo.

The Toltecs gave rise to the great Mexican indigenous civilizations and were the forerunners of the Aztec apogee. The Toltec culture was considered over the years as the master builders and the Aztecs proclaimed themselves descendants of the Toltecs, in order to boast of their deeds and achievements.

The Toltec culture left considerable artistic creations that have allowed its existence to be dated. One of these manifestations were the stone warriors or Atlanteans , which are still exhibited in the current city of Tula.

In addition, the Toltecs had a strong participation in the architectural area, developing different techniques for the construction of pyramids, such as Pyramid B in Tula.

You may also be interested in knowing the Toltec economy: most important characteristics .

Main characteristics of the Toltec culture

1- Geographical location in Mesoamerica

The Toltec culture was established in Mesoamerica. At present, the area occupied by the Toltecs belongs to the United Mexican States, mainly in the southern part.

This area is currently called the Tula Valley, but its domain extended to neighboring regions that today correspond to the states of Zacatecas, Hidalgo and a large part of Jalisco, but due to the architectural constructions it is believed that it could reach Quintana Roo and Yucatan.

However, this Toltec settlement did not occur since the beginning of civilization. On the contrary, it is considered that the Toltecs at first were nomads, like most of the indigenous groups, and they kept moving from one place to another for more than a century, until their establishment in Tula.

2- despotic governments

The different indigenous groups and civilizations had, for the most part, despotic monarchical governments, with an iron male leader who prevailed in power but was always haunted.

In the case of the Toltecs, they maintained a monarchical system of a military nature, where the warriors prevailed and reached the throne. The monarchs were known by the name of tlahtoques.

The establishment of the monarchy arises only after the end of nomadism of the Toltecs. When they were nomads they supported seven people called lords in charge of the governance of the town.

These were Zacatl, Chalcatzin, Ehecatzin, Cohualtzin, Tzihuacoatl, Metzotzin, and Tlapalmetzotzin (Clavijero, 1987).

3- Nomadism

As previously mentioned, the Toltecs began as a nomadic people. It is stated that the Toltec population began their pilgrimage when they left Huehuetlapallan, which can be translated as Old Red Land , located in the kingdom of Tollan.

This shift is estimated to have started in the 6th century AD and spanned approximately 104 years. The seven lords who ruled the tribe initially settled in Tollantzinco.

However, twenty years later they left the territory and settled fourteen leagues away, founding the city of Tollan-Xicocotitla, or more simply, Tula.

The Toltec monarchy lasted 384 years and supported eight monarchs or tlahtoques. Once this period was over, the Toltec culture went into decline and ended up being diluted and plunging into the new majority civilizations such as the Aztec.

4- Agrarian economy

Like most indigenous and later Western cultures, the economy of the Toltec culture was predominantly based on agriculture.

Through it the Toltecs cultivated the food with which to provide to all the vast inhabiting people in the Tula valley. Among the products they planted are beans, corn and amaranth , highly valued by the natives of that time.

The Toltecs developed an interesting irrigation system to make planting more efficient. In addition, in relation to art, another of the economic sources of the Toltecs was the carving of stones and the creation of different sculptures, which still exist.

As a good monarchical system, the Toltecs maintained a tributary system by means of which wars and government expenditures were financed.

5- Caste society

Indigenous cultures did not tend to be egalitarian or just. Quite the contrary, the establishment of caste systems was the norm in indigenous Mesoamerican cultures, and the Toltec was no exception.

The Toltecs had a marked caste system, where the warriors were in the dome, who occupied the throne and related positions; the priests, government officials and the most economically favored hierarchs in society.

The lower positions were succeeded by different castes. The next was the servile class, that is, the workers. In this class, all farmers, sculptors, carvers, carpenters, painters, potters and other trades that involve manual labor took part for the benefit of the entire Toltec society.

Finally, the slaves followed. As a common characteristic, the slaves were indigenous people from other ethnic groups who were captured in times of war.

6- Undefined domain

The authors diverge on what was the domain and scope that the Toltec culture had, in the geographical and social part.

This is due to the fact that most of the knowledge that is had about the Toltec culture is through legends told later, which makes it difficult to be certain of their behavior.

Although some historians maintain that the Toltec civilization was not such, but a series of groups that settled in the Tula Valley, most indicate otherwise.

The dominion of the Toltec culture could extend beyond the Tula region, reaching the Yucatan peninsula. These conclusions are reached after observing different architectural constructions, although there is no scientific evidence to support these arguments.

7- Architectural constructions

One of the characteristics that stands out to the Mesoamerican indigenous cultures were the architectural constructions they made. Today, those that stand out the most in this regard are the pyramids erected by the Aztec and Mayan civilizations.

Although the Toltec culture was earlier, there are also important architectural inventions, such as the creation of anthropomorphic sculptures that could support a wall, in a combination of art and architecture.

In the same way, the Toltecs built pyramids such as the Tlahuizcalpantecutli, where the current Atlanteans are found at the top.

In the residential part, in the Tula valley there were three types of houses: the residences of the hierarchs, the residential units and the group, isolated or united, of houses. 

8- Polytheistic religion

The indigenous people have common characteristics when it comes to religion. They are based on the worship of stars, which in turn personify as people.

With regard to the Toltec culture, beliefs revolved around a series of gods , which makes them a society of beliefs of a polytheistic type.

The gods that they venerated were, mainly, Quetzalcóatl, Tláloc, Centéotl, Itzlacoliuhque and Tezcatlipoca. The first of them was the central god of Mesoamerican cultures and it is considered that his veneration originated in Toltec society.

9- Artistic manifestations

The original peoples of America stood out for expressing themselves artistically in different ways as a distinctive icon of the different cultures they exercised.

Among these manifestations, ceramics, painting, pottery and things related to crafts stood out, and finally the strongest of all in Toltec culture: sculpture.

At present we can see the Atlanteans, a series of sculptures that represent the Toltec warriors and that were positioned in the city of Tula along with the pyramids that this culture made. It is believed that these warriors would have been decorated with feathers and that their pictorial composition was different.

10- Amaranth: the main ingredient of gastronomy

All Mesoamerican cultures maintained a similar diet rooted in the very essence of the culture.

Referring specifically to the Toltecs, historically it has been possible to verify that it was a culture mediated by the consumption of amaranth, which are a set of herbs to which different uses are given in the gastronomic area.

Amaranth was easily produced and was able to be stored in clay pots for a long time, which allowed its consumption to be carried out throughout the year.


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