Pochteca, hereditary merchants of central Mesoamerica, especially associated with imperial Tenochtitlán-Tlatelolco. Though some operated locally, they are best known as long-distance traders who led caravans of tlameme (bearers) through sometimes hostile territory, not uncommonly acting as spies or even conquerors. From the Chaco Canyon area of New Mexico to Guatemala, pochteca exchanged processed goods for precious feathers, stones, and other items which fueled Nahua artisan production. Internally stratified, residing in their own districts, and organized in a guildlike fashion, they acquired enough wealth to rival that of the nobility. Although privileged to own property, have their own law codes, and sacrifice captives, as commoners they were nonetheless restricted in the display of their wealth, normally flaunting their riches only in the sumptuous interiors of their outwardly humble dwellings. Following the Conquest, pochteca continued to operate, disappearing as a distinct group only in the later sixteenth century with the advent of more intense Spanish competition.
The best recent discussion of pochteca in English is in Ross Hassig, Trade, Tribute, and Transportation: The Sixteenth-Century Political Economy of the Valley of Mexico (1985). Frances Berdan, The Aztecs of Central Mexico: An Imperial Society (1982), also provides a very useful account.
López-Austin, Alfredo and Leonardo López-Luján. El pasado indígena. México: Colegio de México, Fideicomiso Historia de las Américas: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1996.