views updated May 18 2018


Tula, the capital of the Toltecs, central Mexico's dominant civilization in the Early Postclassic period (900–1250 ce). The Nahuatl name is Tollan (Place of the Reeds). Aztec legends recorded in the colonial period describe Tula and its builders in glowing terms; archaeologists have verified some of these claims but others are obvious exaggerations.

Located on a ridge overlooking a verdant river valley in Hidalgo, Tula dates back to the eighth century. By 1100 it was a city of at least 35,000 inhabitants, covering almost 6 square miles. Tula Grande, the city's main civic and religious precinct, included temples, ball courts (playing fields), and colonnaded halls surrounding a large open plaza. The buildings were adorned with carved friezes, ornaments, and numerous freestanding stone sculptures, including the famous recumbent Chacmool figures. Pyramid B, known as the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, featured friezes composed of carved and stuccoed panels on all sides, and atlantes, gigantic stone sculptures depicting Toltec warriors, supported the temple roof.

Thousands of densely packed but well-constructed houses filled the city. Most had foundation platforms, stone and adobe walls, flat roofs, compacted earth or stucco floors, and subterranean storm drains. They commonly occur in groups of three or four ranged around interior courtyards. Poorer families presumably occupied less substantial wattle and daub houses with thatched roofs.

Some of Tula's inhabitants cultivated lands outside the city, but many worked as artisans. Their products included utilitarian objects consumed by everyone in Toltec society and luxury goods reserved for the elite and for export. Pottery vessels, figurines, textiles, cutting tools and scrapers made from obsidian, and jewelry are just a few of the craft products for which archaeological evidence exists.

The reasons for Tula's demise are not clear. Aztec legends attribute it to drought, famine, and civil unrest, but archaeologists have not been able to verify these accounts. One scholarly view has it that after a century of abandonment, Tula was reoccupied by people of Aztec affiliation who ransacked the ruins in search of sculptures, buried offerings, and other treasures, thereby leaving the site so archaeologically impoverished that a few twentieth-century scholars refused to accept it as the Toltec capital described in the legends. Another view, perhaps more based in mythology, holds that the Aztecs went to Tula to drink from the cultural fountain of Toltecá yotl or Toltecness, thereby appropriating the heritage of the great Toltecs.

See alsoArchaeology; Mesoamerica; Nahuas; Quetzalcoatl; Toltecs.


Richard A. Diehl, Tula: The Toltec Capital of Ancient Mexico (1983).

Dan M. Healan, Janet M. Kerley, and George J. Bey III, "Excavation and Preliminary Analysis of an Obsidian Workshop in Tula, Hidalgo, Mexico," in Journal of Field Archaeology 10, no. 2 (1983): 127-145.

Alba Guadalupe Mastache, Ana Maria Crespo, Robert H. Cobean, and Dan M. Healan, Estudios sobre la antigua ciudad de Tula (1983).

Beatríz De La Fuente, Silvia Trejo, and Nelly Gutiérrez Solana, Escultura en Piedra de Tula (1989).

Dan M. Healan, ed., Tula of the Toltecs: Excavations and Surveys (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Gómez Serafín, Susana, Enrique Fernández Dávila, and Francisco Javier Sansores González. Enterramientos humanos de la época prehispánica en Tula, Hidalgo. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1994.

Jiménez García, Elizabeth. Iconografía de Tula: El caso de la escultura. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1998.

Jones, Lindsay. Twin City Tales: A Hermeneutical Reassessment of Tula and Chichén Itzá. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1995.

López Austin, Alfredo, and Leonardo López Luján. Mito y realidad de zuyuá: Serpiente emplumada y las transfor-maciones mesoamericanas del clásico al posclásico. Mexico City: Colegio de México, Fideicomiso Historia de las Américas, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1999.

Mastache, Alba Guadalupe, Robert H. Cobean, and Dan M. Healan. Ancient Tollan: Tula and the Toltec Heartland. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2002.

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.

                                   Richard A. Diehl


views updated Jun 11 2018

Tula the ancient capital city of the Toltecs, generally identified with a site near the town of Tula in Hidalgo State, central Mexico.