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Altepetl, a term derived from in atl, in tepetl ("the water, the mountain") denoting the provincial unit, or regional state, of pre-Hispanic Nahua society. By definition, each altepetl had a ruler, land base, marketplace, and temple dedicated to a patron deity. The altepetl was subdivided into smaller districts (groups of four, six, and eight were common) known as Calpulli or Tlaxilacalli, which enjoyed political representation and gave tribute services by means of a rotational system. After the Spanish invasion, institutions such as the encomienda and parish were based directly on the altepetl, known later as a pueblo, which generally continued to be governed by indigenous elites.

See alsoNahuas .


Excellent discussions of altepetl structure before and after the Conquest can be found in James Lockhart, The Nahuas After the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries (1992), and James Lockhart, Frances Berdan, and Arthur J. O. Anderson, trans. and ed., The Tlaxcalan Actas: A Compendium of the Records of the Cabildo of Tlaxcala (1545–1627) (1986). Though he barely mentions the term altepetl, Charles Gibson's monumental study The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519–1810 (1964) provides an invaluable study of the evolution of the indigenous corporate entity.

Additional Bibliography

Fernández Christlieb, Federico, and Angel Julián García Zambrano. Territorialidad y paisaje en el altepetl del siglo XVI. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2006.

Reyes García, Cayetano. El Altépetl, origen y desarrollo: Construcción de la identidad regional náhuatl. México: El Colegio de Michoacán, 2000.

                                         Robert Haskett