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Chichimecs, a term for various groups of nomadic, warlike peoples to the north of Mexico City. From the Nahuatl chichi (dog) and mecatl (lineage), the term may have been pejorative, or it may have had totemic significance. The chronicler Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxóchitl rejects these possible meanings, suggesting a relationship with eagles. Long before the Spanish Conquest, the term was applied to succeeding waves of invading bands of Anahuac peoples. In the sixteenth century it encompassed the Guachachiles, Guamares, Pames, and Zacatecos, all of whom lived to the north of Mexico City. With the great silver discoveries of mid-century, the Chichimecs resisted the Spanish advance to the north. Because of the Chichimecs' ferocity and successful resistance, the colonists consistently called for a total war of extermination or enslavement. The proposed war was roundly condemned by the bishops of the Third Mexican Council (1585). Eventually, the Chichimecs were pacified by a combination of Presidio and missions that were directed by the Jesuits.

The Chichimecs descended from the north and fused culturally with the Toltec or Toltec successor peoples. This is essentially the story as narrated by the Chichimec historian Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxóchitl.

See alsoAztecs; Indigenous Peoples; Nahuas; Precontact History: Mesoamerica.


Alva Ixtlilxóchitl, Fernando de. Obras Históricas. 3rd Edition. 2 vols. Edited by Edmundo O'Gorman. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, 1975–1977.

Alva Ixtlilxóchitl, Fernando de. Historia de la nación chichimeca. Edited by Germán Vázquez. Madrid: Historia 16, 1985.

Anders, Ferdinand, Maarten Jansen, and Luis Reyes Garcia. Códex Ixtlilxoxhitl. Vol. 2. Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck und Verlagsanstalt; Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1996.

Poole, Stafford, C.M. "War by Fire and Blood: The Church and the Chichimecas in 1585," in The Americas 55 (1965): 115-137.

Powell, Philip Wayne. Soldiers, Indians, and Silver: North America's First Frontier War (1952, repr. 1975).

Ward, Thomas. "From the 'People' to the 'Nation': An Emerging Notion in Sahagún, Ixtlilxóchitl and Muñoz Camargo." Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl 32 (2001): 223-234.

                              Stafford Poole C. M.

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