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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.

The Toltec Empire

The Toltecs establish a vast empire that reached to central Mexicomarker and by around 1000AD, they had reached to Yucatanmarker and the former Mayan regions. This caused the Toltecs's commercial influence to extend northward as the American southwest. It is also believed by Hopewell peoples that Toltecs also had commercial influence over the Mississippi and Ohio valley. Although a number of cultural similarities exist there have been no artifacts found to this day.

Shortly after around 1150 AD the Toltec Empire collapsed (it is believed because of Nomadic invasions). Shortly after population and political power to the valley of Mexico and it large chain of lakes.

Theories About the Toltec Society

Real Polity Theory

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 Tulamarker, which was taken to be the Tollan of Aztec myth. This tradition assumes that much of central Mexicomarker was dominated by a "Toltec empire" between the 10th and 12th century AD. 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. 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 Itzámarker, Mayapánmarker 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 Itzámarker 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 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 Huastec.

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. 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, 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.


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


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