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The Teotihuacan Trinity

The Sociopolitical Structure of an Ancient Mesoamerican City

By Annabeth Headrick

Publication Year: 2007

Northeast of modern-day Mexico City stand the remnants of one of the world’s largest preindustrial cities, Teotihuacan. Monumental in scale, Teotihuacan is organized along a three-mile-long thoroughfare, the Avenue of the Dead, that leads up to the massive Pyramid of the Moon. Lining the avenue are numerous plazas and temples, which indicate that the city once housed a large population that engaged in complex rituals and ceremonies. Although scholars have studied Teotihuacan for over a century, the precise nature of its religious and political life has remained unclear, in part because no one has yet deciphered the glyphs that may explain much about the city’s organization and belief systems. In this groundbreaking book, Annabeth Headrick analyzes Teotihuacan’s art and architecture, in the light of archaeological data and Mesoamerican ethnography, to propose a new model for the city’s social and political organization. Challenging the view that Teotihuacan was a peaceful city in which disparate groups united in an ideology of solidarity, Headrick instead identifies three social groups that competed for political power—rulers, kin-based groups led by influential lineage heads, and military orders that each had their own animal insignia. Her findings provide the most complete evidence to date that Teotihuacan had powerful rulers who allied with the military to maintain their authority in the face of challenges by the lineage heads. Headrick’s analysis also underscores the importance of warfare in Teotihuacan society and clarifies significant aspects of its ritual life, including shamanism and an annual tree-raising ceremony that commemorated the Mesoamerican creation story.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: William and Bettye Nowlin Series in Art, History, and Culture of the Western Hemisphere


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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xi

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pp. xii-xiv

On my first visit to Teotihuacan I was wholly unimpressed. Though this thought now causes me much chagrin, at the time I had been seduced by the florid art and tree-sheltered architecture of the Maya. In fact, my initial view of the city was through the small window of a camper on a pickup truck while making my way home from excavations in Belize. Through this small window, the incredible size of...

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Chapter 1: Approaching the City

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pp. 1-22

Whether it be A.D. 400 or today in the twenty-first century, the Avenue of the Dead profoundly overwhelms any visitor to the ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacan. In an almost indescribable manner this broad street orchestrates the space around it, incorporating the visitor into the careful integration of architecture and natural landscape (Figure 1.1). The avenue once...

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Chapter 2: The Invisible Kings

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pp. 23-43

Though many have looked for the rulers of Teotihuacan, the search for those who orchestrated the massive building campaigns and designed the city’s organized layout has been a perplexing one. The picture is not clear, and any proposals on the issue seem to be tenuous arguments that lack solidity. To the modern researcher, the Teotihuacan rulers simply do not announce their presence...

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Chapter 3: Ancestral Foundations

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pp. 44-71

The nature of Teotihuacan art implies that the rulers of this city contended for power with a variety of social entities. As images of the king gradually become more visible to modern eyes, he appears not as a completely submerged personality, but still as an institution that featured the office much more than the individual. Even when the surviving texts...

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Chapter 4: Animals, Cannibals, and the Military

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pp. 72-89

The final component in the Teotihuacan trinity, joining the ruler and the lineages, was the military. While the ruler may seem elusive, and the ancestral bundles of the lineages all but vanished, evidence of a military presence at the city is extensive. Militaristic individuals populate the visual arts in large numbers, marching on painted walls near the city center and out in the more secluded apartment compounds. Likewise, warriors circle around...

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Chapter 5: A Marriage of Convenience: The King and the Military

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pp. 90-102

Like the mortar that holds a house together, the military orders provided the unifying force that bound the city into a concordant whole.While the military may have risen as a necessary part of establishing a new city, its later manifestation when Teotihuacan was at its apogee reflects an urgent need to counteract the oppositional forces of the other elements of the triad. Inherent tensions between the ruler and...

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Chapter 6: The Gods Did It: The Divine Sanction of Power

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pp. 103-123

The murals of Atetelco’s White Patio provide a unique opportunity to reconstruct at least one version of Teotihuacan’s political structure because the three separate murals were so clearly designed as a unified program.While each discrete portico celebrates a particular social body, as a cohesive unit the structures describe the inter-relatedness of these social institutions. The north portico expresses...

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Chapter 7: Teotihuacan Jihad

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pp. 124-145

The pageantry of warriors parading across the walls of Teotihuacan and the fantastic deposition of the warrior orders’ motifs within the Pyramid of the Moon bespeak the active and vital role played by the military in the great city. Their social prominence was sufficient to warrant the celebration of their imagery at the city’s largest temples and in its most intimate...

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Chapter 8: Fiesta Teotihuacan Style

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pp. 146-164

Thus far the emphasis has been on architectural and visual mechanisms used by the state to structure a unified ideology for its citizens. The subjects covered have included architectural arrangements and the stylistic components of the architecture. The murals that frequently grace these architectural environments have also served as evidence, as have the painted and carved decorations on ceramics. Sculptural...

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Chapter 9: Continuities and Power

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pp. 165-169

When I began to write my concluding thoughts on Teotihuacan, the funeral procession for former President Ronald Reagan was assembling on our own broad national thoroughfare. Dense crowds packed either side of Constitution Avenue while various members of the military branches positioned themselves on the processional route. A man in a large bearskin hat led the Army band, followed by rows of sailors...


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pp. 171-180


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pp. 181-202


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pp. 203-210

E-ISBN-13: 9780292794887
E-ISBN-10: 0292794886
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292716650
Print-ISBN-10: 0292716656

Page Count: 230
Illustrations: 131 figures
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: William and Bettye Nowlin Series in Art, History, and Culture of the Western Hemisphere
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OCLC Number: 183881296
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Teotihuacan Trinity

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Subject Headings

  • Aztecs -- Mexico -- San Juan Teotihuacán -- Antiquities.
  • Excavations (Archaeology) -- Mexico -- San Juan Teotihuacán.
  • Teotihuacán Site (San Juan Teotihuacán, Mexico).
  • Social archaeology -- Mexico -- San Juan Teotihuacán.
  • San Juan Teotihuacán (Mexico) -- Antiquities.
  • Aztecs -- Mexico -- San Juan Teotihuacán -- Politics and government.
  • Aztecs -- Mexico -- San Juan Teotihuacán -- Rites and ceremonies.
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