The Fifteenth Month: Aztec History in the Rituals of Panquetzaliztli

University of Oklahoma Press
Free sample


The Mexica (Aztecs) used a solar calendar made up of eighteen months, with each month dedicated to a specific god in their pantheon and celebrated with a different set of rituals. Panquetzaliztli, the fifteenth month, dedicated to the national god Huitzilopochtli (Hummingbird on the Left), was significant for its proximity to the winter solstice, and for the fact that it marked the beginning of the season of warfare. In The Fifteenth Month, John F. Schwaller offers a detailed look at how the celebrations of Panquetzaliztli changed over time and what these changes reveal about the history of the Aztecs.

Drawing on a variety of sources, Schwaller deduces that prior to the rise of the Mexica in 1427, an earlier version of the month was dedicated to the god Tezcatlipoca (Smoking Mirror), a war and trickster god. The Mexica shifted the dedication to their god, developed a series of ceremonies—including long-distance running and human sacrifice—that would associate him with the sun, and changed the emphasis of the celebration from warfare alone to a combination of trade and warfare, since merchants played a significant role in Mexica statecraft. Further investigation shows how the resulting festival commemorated several important moments in Mexica history, how it came to include ceremonies associated with the winter solstice, and how it reflected a calendar reform implemented shortly before the arrival of the Spanish.

Focused on one of the most important months in the Mexica year, Schwaller’s work marks a new methodology in which traditional sources for Mexica culture, rather than being interrogated for their specific content, are read for their insights into the historical development of the people. Just as Christmas re-creates the historic act of the birth of Jesus for Christians, so, The Fifteenth Month suggests, Panquetzaliztli was a symbolic re-creation of events from Mexica myths and history.
 
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About the author

John F. Schwaller is Professor of History at the University at Albany (SUNY) and serves as the Latin American editor for the journal Ethnohistory. He is contributor to The Directory for Confessors, 1585: Implementing the Catholic Reformation in New Spain.
 

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Oklahoma Press
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Published on
May 2, 2019
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Pages
264
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ISBN
9780806164106
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Ancient / General
History / Latin America / Mexico
History / Native American
Religion / Ancient
Religion / Holidays / Other
Social Science / Indigenous Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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The founding of la Villa Rica de la Veracruz (the rich town of the True Cross) is prominently mentioned in histories of the conquest of Mexico, but scant primary documentation of the provocative act exists. During a research session at the Spanish archives, when John Schwaller discovered an early-sixteenth-century letter from Veracruz signed by the members of Cortés's company, he knew he had found a trove of historical details. Providing an accessible, accurate translation of this pivotal correspondence, along with in-depth examinations of its context and significance, The First Letter from New Spain gives all readers access to the first document written from the mainland of North America by any European, and the only surviving original document from the first months of the conquest.

The timing of Cortés's Good Friday landing, immediately before the initial assault on the Aztec Empire, enhances the significance of this work. Though the expedition was conducted under the authority of Diego Velázquez, governor of Cuba, the letter reflects an attempt to break ties with Velázquez and form a strategic alliance with Carlos V, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. Brimming with details about the events surrounding Veracruz's inception and accompanied by mini-biographies of 318 signers of the document—socially competitive men who risked charges of treason by renouncing Velázquez—The First Letter from New Spain gives evidence of entrepreneurship and other overlooked traits that fueled the conquest.

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