We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Aztecs, Moors, and Christians

Festivals of Reconquest in Mexico and Spain

By Max Harris

Publication Year: 2000

In villages and towns across Spain and its former New World colonies, local performers stage mock battles between Spanish Christians and Moors or Aztecs that range from brief sword dances to massive street theatre lasting several days. The performances officially celebrate the triumph of Spanish Catholicism over its enemies. Such an explanation does not, however, account for the tradition’s persistence for more than five hundred years nor for its widespread diffusion. In this perceptive book, Max Harris seeks to understand the "puzzling and enduring passion" of both Mexicans and Spaniards for festivals of moros y cristianos. He begins by tracing the performances’ roots in medieval Spain and showing how they came to be superimposed on the mock battles that had been part of pre-contact Aztec calendar rituals. Then, using James Scott’s distinction between "public" and "hidden transcripts," he reveals how, in the hands of folk and indigenous performers, these spectacles of conquest became prophecies of the eventual reconquest of Mexico by the defeated Aztec peoples. Finally, he documents the early arrival of native American performance practices in Europe and the shift of moros y cristianos from court to folk tradition in Spain. Even today, as lively descriptions of current festivals make plain, mock battles between Aztecs, Moors, and Christians remain a remarkably sophisticated vehicle for the communal expression of dissent.

Published by: University of Texas Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (37.4 KB)
pp. vii-viii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (44.0 KB)
pp. ix-x

Were I to thank by name all those who have helped me with this book, I would not only end up with a list too long for all but the most determined to read, but I would almost certainly fail to recall someone to whom I am deeply indebted. Even more troubling to my conscience, I would privilege scholars and friends whose names I know over the innumerable local actors and dancers whose names I do not know but without whose devotion to their craft this book really...

List of Illustrations

pdf iconDownload PDF (45.2 KB)
pp. xi-xii


read more

1. Beheading the Moor (Zacatecas, 1996)

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.3 MB)
pp. 3-17

Each year in late August several thousand Moors and Christians invade Zacatecas. Dressed in brightly colored uniforms and armed with swords, scimitars, and arquebuses, warriors from European history clog the streets of a city that was once the silver-mining capital of colonial Mexico. Music from a dozen well-drilled drum and bugle corps orchestrates the invasion. In 1996, scurrying to and fro along side streets that intersected the main path of the parade, I saw the Twelve...

read more

2. Reading the Mask (Cuetzalan, 1988)

pdf iconDownload PDF (525.8 KB)
pp. 18-28

The morismas of Bracho are part of a tradition of mock battles between Moors and Christians that is long-standing,widespread,and formally diverse. It draws on both European and indigenous sources, and, despite its apparent focus on past heroics, it is equally concerned with present power structures. The tradition may have begun in Spain as early as 1150 and is arguably more popular there today than at any time in the past eight centuries. ...

PART TWO: SPAIN, 1150-1521

read more

3. A Royal Wedding (Lleida, 1150)

pdf iconDownload PDF (64.4 KB)
pp. 31-36

The Moors ruled parts of Spain for nearly eight centuries. The first and decisive invasion took place in 711, and by 732 Muslim forces had advanced as far as central France. Defeated at Poitiers by the Frankish armies of Charles Martel (grandfather of Charlemagne), the invaders retreated south of the Pyrenees. For the next 350 years, Muslim and Christian rulers faced each other across an oscillating frontier that stretched more or less northeast from central Portugal to the River Ebro at Tudela, and then turned ...

read more

4. A Medley of Battles (Zaragoza, 1286 –1414)

pdf iconDownload PDF (63.8 KB)
pp. 37-42

It is another 150 years before we find the next suggestion of a Spanish mock battle between Moors and Christians. Meanwhile, there were other festive combats, including juicy “battles with oranges” between men in galleys that were dragged through the streets on “small wagons.” When such a battle was staged in Zaragoza for the coronation of Alfons III in 1286, “more than fifty cart-loads” of oranges were imported from Valencia, where a similar event had taken place for a royal visit in 1269.1 ...

read more

5. A Martyrdom with Hobby Horses (Barcelona, 1424)

pdf iconDownload PDF (393.0 KB)
pp. 43-53

The Barcelona Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian differs from its predecessors in several ways.1 It was performed annually, the knights rode hobby horses rather than live animals, the Muslims were designated Turks rather than Moors, and it was one in a series of processional dances and pageants. Traces of its battle between Turkish infantry and Christian hobby horses survive in Catalan festivals today. It is, moreover, well documented. It is thus not only the first undisputed example of an annual festive Spanish mock battle between Muslims and Christians, but it is also the oldest root to which current festive practices can be clearly traced. ...

read more

6. A Game of Canes ( Ja

pdf iconDownload PDF (90.4 KB)
pp. 54-64

Every report of a mock battle between Moors and Christians before the middle of the fifteenth century comes from territory controlled by the rulers of Aragon-Catalonia. There is no mention of the tradition in Castile-Le


read more

7. The Fields of the Wars of Flowers

pdf iconDownload PDF (67.1 KB)
pp. 67-73

After the conquest,” writes Inga Clendinnen, “the Mexicans were to display an early, puzzling and enduring passion for the ‘dances of Moors and Christians.’” 1 Such a passion should not puzzle us too much, for the tradition was inherently susceptible to indigenous readings. Spanish colonists may have thought they were celebrating the victory of light-skinned Christians over dark-skinned “heathens,” linking the defeat of the Moors in 1492 to the defeat of the Aztecs in 1521. ...

read more

8. The Festival of the Sweeping of the Roads

pdf iconDownload PDF (630.9 KB)
pp. 74-84

Mexica military traditions, whether displayed in flowery wars or angry wars, helped to shape the visual spectacle of early colonial festivals of reconquest. Closer to the subsequent tradition of Mexican moros y cristianos, however, were the scripted battles embedded in Tenochtitlan’s festivals of human sacrifice, for these involved impersonation, costume, script, dance, and a festive context that flowed through the streets and surrounding countryside, engaging all the senses. ...

read more

9. The Festival of the Raising of the Banners

pdf iconDownload PDF (263.2 KB)
pp. 85-93

Preparations for Panquetzaliztli (the Festival of the Raising of the Banners) began immediately after the close of Ochpaniztli. Nightly, during the intervening months, naked, fasting priests, blowing shell trumpets and pottery whistles, spread fir branches on mountaintop altars around Tenochtitlan. On the branches they laid bloodied reeds and maguey thorns that had been passed through perforations in their own flesh. ...

read more

10. The Festival of the Flaying of Men

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.7 MB)
pp. 94-104

Before going on to our third and final Mexica festival, it may be helpful briefly to address the question of the festivals’ theatricality.On the one hand, it would be a mistake to reduce to mere metaphors descriptions of the Mexica calendar festivals as “grand ritual dramas” and as a “state theatre of power.”1 On the other hand, the festivals do not conform to the conventional model of literary theater, in which a prescribed dramatic text is performed before a single, stationary audience intended to hear every word, see every action, and participate only with attention and applause. ...

read more

11. The Dance of the Emperor Motecuzoma

pdf iconDownload PDF (394.4 KB)
pp. 105-114

"As well developed as we know it was both before and after the conquest,” Mexica dance has left too little “tangible evidence” to yield any certain reconstruction. 1 Other aspects of the Mexica festivals have left an elaborate architectural and archeological grid on which to map their remains, but dance is a fleeting and kinetic art whose performers need only time and an open space. While the accounts provided by Durán and Sahagún affirm the importance and variety of Mexica dance, they offer little in the way of detailed choreography. ...

PART FOUR: MEXICO, 1521-1600

read more

12. The Conquest of Mexico (1524 –1536)

pdf iconDownload PDF (63.1 KB)
pp. 117-122


read more

13. The Conquest of Rhodes (Mexico City, 1539)

pdf iconDownload PDF (101.2 KB)
pp. 123-131

The year 1539 yields undisputed testimony of three scripted mock battles in colonial Mexico: a battle between Moors and Christians in Oaxaca, a Conquest of Rhodes in Mexico City, and a Conquest of Jerusalem in Tlaxcala. All three were prompted by a single piece of news from Europe. ...

read more

14. The Conquest of Jerusalem (Tlaxcala, 1539)

pdf iconDownload PDF (107.5 KB)
pp. 132-147

Tlaxcala in 1539 was very different from Mexico City. Apart from two or three minor Spanish government officials and half a dozen Franciscan friars, the population of Tlaxcala, estimated at between 200,000 and 250,000, was almost entirely Indian. Local government was in the hands of the Indian cabildo, presided over by an elected Indian governor. Perhaps for this reason, the Franciscan mission in Tlaxcala, founded in 1524, had been remarkably successful. By the late 1530s Christian festivals were being celebrated with an enthusiasm and extravagance that astounded Spanish observers.1 ...

read more

15. The Tensions of Empire (Mexico City, 1565 –1595)

pdf iconDownload PDF (60.6 KB)
pp. 148-152

The scattered records of moros y cristianos in Mexico during the rest of the sixteenth century do not support the idea that there was a “rich pageant staged annually in the central plaza of Mexico City to reenact the conquest of the Azteccapital” or that there was anywhere “an annual battle of Moors and Christians.”1 As in medieval Spain, with the single exception of the Catalan Turks and hobby horses, mock battles between Moors and Christians in sixteenth-century Mexico ...

read more

16. The Travels of Alonso Ponce (New Spain, 1584 –1589)

pdf iconDownload PDF (72.7 KB)
pp. 153-160

Between September 1584 and June 1589, Alonso Ponce traveled relentlessly through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, visiting 176 Franciscan convents in fulfillment of his calling as commissary general of the Franciscan order in New Spain. His companion and secretary, Antonio de Ciudad Real, kept a daily record of their journeys. Published most recently under the title Tratado curioso y docto de las grandezas de la Nueva España, Ciudad Real’s account offers valuable insight into the ecclesiastical politics of the day and much anthropological, archaeological, and geographical detail about the regions through which the two friars traveled. ...

read more

17. The Conquest of New Mexico (1598)

pdf iconDownload PDF (420.6 KB)
pp. 161-170

From New Spain, the tradition of mock battles between Moors and Christians traveled north to New Mexico. On 30 April 1598, on the banks of the Río del Norte (now the Río Grande), Juan de Oñate formally “took possession of all the kingdoms and provinces of New Mexico, in the name of King Philip [II of Spain].”1 Oñate may have “staged” the conquest of New Mexico as a reenactment of Cortés’s conquest of old Mexico ...

PART FIVE: SPAIN, 1521-1600

read more

18. Touring Aztecs (1522–1529)

pdf iconDownload PDF (568.8 KB)
pp. 173-178

"It is possible,” María Soledad Carrasco Urgoiti wrote in 1963, “that a complete study of American festivals would discover currents of mutual influence linking moros y cristianos in the New World” to their Spanish counterparts.1 Her suggestion of mutual influence is one that few have considered, let alone pursued with any rigor. We know that food traveled eastward: tomatoes, potatoes, corn, chocolate, turkeys, and tobacco all originated in the Americas and were unknown in Europe...

read more

19. Royal Entries (Toledo, 1533, and Naples, 1543)

pdf iconDownload PDF (189.9 KB)
pp. 179-183

We will return to the influence of indigenous traditions on European festivals in due course. For now, we turn our attention to the opulent entries and other pageants of royal power in which sixteenth-century Europe negotiated the relationship between the imperial pretensions of the monarchy, the universal claims of the church, and the rights and privileges of its urban citizens. The most splendid of these spectacles were “great compilations of imperial mythology on a scale unknown since the Roman Empire.”1 ...

read more

20. Great Balls of Fire (Trent, 1549)

pdf iconDownload PDF (777.3 KB)
pp. 184-197

The most spectacular series of sixteenth-century Spanish royal entries greeted the future Philip II on his long tour of Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands between October 1548 and May 1550. The tour was intended as a triumphal buildup to his proclamation as heir to the Holy Roman Empire. Having defeated the Lutheran League of Schmalkalden at the battle of Mühlberg in April 1547 and so consolidated his power in Germany, Charles V had decided that the time was ripe to secure the imperial succession for his son. ...

read more

21. Noble Fantasies (Binche, 1549, and Rouen, 1550)

pdf iconDownload PDF (627.7 KB)
pp. 198-205

Philip’s journey through Lutheran Germany was comparatively sedate. There were no triumphal arches until he reached Brussels in April;1 and, apart from an occasional salvo of artillery and a joust on the Danube in Ulm, very little in the way of noise. Catholic Belgium was rowdier. In Namur, in late March, the prince saw a battle between two teams of fifty men apiece on stilts. The stilts were six feet high, and the men “seemed like giants.” The battle seems to have been ...

read more

22. Fêted Dreams of Peace (Andalusia, 1561–1571)

pdf iconDownload PDF (82.0 KB)
pp. 206-215

In 1561, Philip II appointed eighteen-year-old Luis Hurtado de Mendoza mayor of the Alhambra, the fortified Moorish palace that dominates the city of Granada. Luis was the fourth successive member of the Mendoza family to hold the office. Both his grandfather and father, who had preceded him in office, were still alive, the former serving as president of the royal council of Castile and the latter as captain general of the kingdom of Granada and as Philip’s ambassador to the Vatican. ...

read more

23. Changing Tastes (Daroca to Valencia, 1585 –1586)

pdf iconDownload PDF (959.7 KB)
pp. 216-226

On 19 January 1585, Philip II set out on a royal tour of eastern Spain that lasted fourteen months.1 Along the way, he attended his daughter’s wedding, presided over a meeting of the Cortes (legislative assembly) of Aragon, and was entertained by lavish festivities that, in his late middle age, he was beginning to find tiresome. A record of Philip’s journey was kept by a notary and archer of his Flemish guard, Enrique Cock. ...

read more

24. Gilded Indians (1521–1600)

pdf iconDownload PDF (73.6 KB)
pp. 227-234

Among the triumphal floats that greeted Anne of Austria as she entered Burgos in October 1570 was one on which twelve matachines performed “acrobatics and feats of strength.”1 In the same year, a dance of matachines appeared in a civic procession in Seville.2 As we return to the matter of mutual influence between Spanish and Mexican mock battles, concentrating now on dances rather than festivals, we face a deceptively simple question that illustrates very well the difficulty of definitive answers. ...


read more

25. Dancing with Malinche (New Mexico and Oaxaca, 1993 –1994)

pdf iconDownload PDF (960.9 KB)
pp. 237-250

The long popularity of dances and festivals of Moors and Christians in widely divergent cultures is due to the tradition’s remarkable flexibility of historical referent and contemporary application. The Christians can be Carolingian knights, medieval crusaders, invaders of the Alpujarra, sailors at Lepanto, New World conquistadors, or New Mexican settlers. The Moors can become Moriscos, Turks, Saracens, Jews, Aztecs, Chichimeca, or Comanches. Into the public transcript of historical conflict ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (172.7 KB)
pp. 251-280


pdf iconDownload PDF (111.2 KB)
pp. 281-298


pdf iconDownload PDF (72.2 KB)
pp. 299-310

E-ISBN-13: 9780292798311
E-ISBN-10: 0292798318
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292731318
Print-ISBN-10: 0292731310

Page Count: 319
Illustrations: 18 halftones, 14 line drawings
Publication Year: 2000