Toltec: Wikis


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The Atlantes – columns in the form of Toltec warriors in Tula.
A rather expressive orange-ware clay vessel in the Toltec style. For other Toltec artifacts from the American Museum of Natural History collection, click here.

The word Toltec refers to populations and polities that inhabited pre-Columbian central Mexico. The word has been used in different ways in Mesoamerican studies by different scholars to refer to the ancestors mentioned in the mythical/historical narratives of the Aztecs. There is a key scholarly debate over whether the Toltecs were ever a genuine ethnicity or genuine polity, or if they are rather a myth produced by the Aztecs and/or by other civilizations of the region.


Theories About the Toltec Society

A school of thought popular in the first half of the 20th century, represented by Pedro Carrasco and Miguel León Portilla, held the Toltecs to have been an actual ethnic group. This school of thought connected the "Toltecs" to the archaeological site of Tula, which was taken to be the Tollan of Aztec myth. This tradition assumes that much of central Mexico was dominated by a "Toltec empire" between the 10th and 12th century CE. Other Mexican cities have been speculated to have been the historical Tollan "Place of Reeds", the city from which the name Tolteca "inhabitant of Tollan" is derived in the Nahuatl language.[1] The term Toltec has also been associated with the influx of certain Central Mexican cultural traits into the Mayan sphere of dominance that took place in the late classic and early Postclassic periods; the Postclassic Mayan civilizations of Chichén Itzá, Mayapán and the Guatemalan highlands have been referred to as "Toltecized" or "Mexicanized" Mayas. For example, the striking similarities between the city of Tula, Hidalgo and Chichén Itzá have often been cited as direct evidence of Toltec dominance of the Postclassic Maya.

Fictional Ancestors Theory

The real polity line of scholarship has largely been abandoned in recent decades in favor of a more critical and interpretive approach to the historicity of the Aztec mythical accounts. This approach applies a different understanding of the word Toltec, interpreting it as largely a mythical and philosophical construct by either the Aztecs or Mesoamericans generally that served to symbolize the might and sophistication of several different civilizations during the Mesoamerican Postclassic period. Among the Nahuan peoples the word "Tolteca" was synonymous with artist, artisan or wise man, and "toltecayotl" "Toltecness" meant art, culture and civilization and urbanism—and was seen as the opposite of "Chichimecayotl" "Chichimecness", which symbolized the savage, nomadic state of peoples who had not yet become urbanized. This interpretation argues that any large urban center in Mesoamerica could be referred to as "Tollan" and its inhabitants as Toltecs—and that it was common practice among ruling lineages in Postclassic Mesoamerica to strengthen its claims to power by claiming Toltec ancestry. Mesoamerican migration accounts often state that Tollan was ruled by Quetzalcoatl (or Kukulcan in Yucatec and Gukumatz in K'iche'), a godlike mythical figure who was later sent into exile from Tollan and went on to found a new city elsewhere in Mesoamerica. Claims of Toltec ancestry and a ruling dynasty founded by Quetzalcoatl have been made by such diverse civilizations as the Aztec, the Quiché and the Itza' Mayas. While the skeptical school of thought does not deny that cultural traits of a seemingly central Mexican origin have diffused into a larger area of Mesoamerica, it tends to ascribe this to the dominance of Teotihuacán in the Classic period and the general diffusion of cultural traits within the region. Recent scholarship thus does not see Tula, Hidalgo as a "Toltec" site but rather tries to find clues of the ethnicity of the people who built it. Lately it has been suggested that they were in fact Huastecs.[citation needed]

The Hybrid View

Some Mesoamericanists believe that both the preceding approaches are partly true. Taking the Mesoamerican ethnohistorical accounts at face value more or less, they posit that there was a genuine historical Toltec civilization which became mythologized by other Postclassic civilizations. These scholars try to discern the genuine amid the myths, for example, to distinguish between the historical Toltec ruler named Quetzalcoatl and the deity of the same name. According to the second, skeptical tradition, such a distinction is impossible or extremely difficult to make exactly because the Mesoamerican peoples themselves did not distinguish between historical fact and mythical and metaphorical representations of historical fact. The earlier school mentioned above read the ethnohistorical sources and tried to find confirmation of these stories through archaeology, but the skeptical school does not accept this method as fruitful because basing the understanding of Mesoamerican history on mythical accounts that were not meant to reflect actual history may lead to biased interpretations of archaeological findings. Instead, they prefer to let archaeology speak for itself and while they interpret the ethnohistorical sources in a way that corroborates rather than defines the archaeological findings.

Contemporary Toltec

During the late 20th century the understanding of the Toltec tradition became further muddied as a result of the writings of Carlos Castaneda, many of which became popular bestsellers between 1968 and 1998. While studying the use of medicinal (entheogenic) plants among the native population in the southwestern United States and Mexico, he alleged to have met with a Yaqui Indian, Don Juan Matus, who was the central figure in a group of carriers of an esoteric Toltec tradition that had survived since the time of the conquistadors. But, De Mille and Others publish books as soon as 1973, focused of the not methodology of Castaneda's works. Castaneda did not use the term "Toltec" in its academic sense (pertaining to history), but instead as a label for persons who are either sages or "spiritual warriors". Don Juan Matus, according to Castaneda, stated that the term Toltec his group used was a reminescence to a much older people than those known from the history books. Among "New Agers", the term "Toltec" has gained popularity from the books of Don Miguel Ruiz (in the U.S.) and others in Mexico such as Frank Diaz (founder of the Templo Tolteca, and who refused show academic credentials, probably a new age people and no academic), referring to their practices as "Toltequidad" (Toltequity) or "Toltecayotl." In fact, the Nahuatl word "Toltec" generally means "craftsman of the highest level" and may not always refer to the archaeological Toltec civilization centered at Tula, Hidalgo.


  1. ^ Enrique Florescano has argued that the "original" Tollan was Teotihuacán.


Davies, Nigel (1980). The Toltec Heritage: From the Fall of Tula to the Rise of Tenochtitlan. Civilization of the American Indian series, Vol. 153. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-1505-X. OCLC 5103377. 
Miller, Mary; and Karl Taube (1993). The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya: An Illustrated Dictionary of Mesoamerican Religion. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05068-6. OCLC 27667317. 
Smith, Michael E. (1984). "The Aztlan Migrations of Nahuatl Chronicles: Myth or History?" (PDF online facsimile). Ethnohistory (Columbus, OH: American Society for Ethnohistory) 31 (3): 153–186. doi:10.2307/482619. ISSN 0014-1801. OCLC 145142543. 
Veytia, Mariano (2000) [1836]. Donald W. Hemingway and W. David Hemingway (compilation and eds.). ed. Ancient America rediscovered: including an account of America's first settlers who left from the biblical tower of Babel at the time of the confusion of tongues. Ronda Cunningham (trans.) (Translation of the first 23 chapters of Book 1 of the Veytia's Historia antigua de Mexico, 1st English ed.). Springville, UT: Bonneville Books. ISBN 1-55517-479-5. OCLC 45203586. 



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Statues of Toltec warriors in Tula.
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From Spanish tolteca, from Nahuatl tōltēcah, plural of tōltēcatl "inhabitant of Tollan", from Tōllān + -catl.



Toltecs or Toltec

Toltec (plural Toltecs or Toltec)

  1. A member of a Pre-Columbian Native American people who dominated much of central Mexico between the 10th and 12th centuries AD.


  • Tolteca

Related terms


Simple English

.]] collection, click here. ]] Toltec is used by historians in different ways. It is either used to refer to certain people that lived in what is Mexico today, before Christopher Columbus came there. Some scholars also use the word to refer to the people that later developed into the Aztec civilisation. These people are only known from Aztec stories. It is not known if they actually formed one people or not.


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