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Insignia of Rank in the Nahua World

From the Fifteenth to the Seventeenth Century

Justyna Olko

Publication Year: 2014

This significant work reconstructs the repertory of insignia of rank and the contexts and symbolic meanings of their use, along with their original terminology, among the Nahuatl-speaking communities of Mesoamerica from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries. Attributes of rank carried profound symbolic meaning, encoding subtle messages about political and social status, ethnic and gender identity, regional origin, individual and community history, and claims to privilege.

Olko engages with and builds upon extensive worldwide scholarship and skillfully illuminates this complex topic, creating a vital contribution to the fields of pre-Columbian and colonial Mexican studies. It is the first book to integrate pre- and post-contact perspectives, uniting concepts and epochs usually studied separately. A wealth of illustrations accompanies the contextual analysis and provides essential depth to this critical work. Insignia of Rank in the Nahua World substantially expands and elaborates on the themes of Olko's Turquoise Diadems and Staffs of Office, originally published in Poland and never released in North America.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-v


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pp. vii-ix


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pp. xi-xviii

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pp. xix-xxii

I have long been enthralled with status items and images of power among the ancient Nahuas, and all the more so when I became aware that the topic is not only fascinating in itself but a window onto other essential dimensions of their culture. The...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-32

“Let your Majesty not imagine that what I say is fabulous, for it is true that Moteucçoma had had copied very faithfully all the things created in both land and sea of which he had knowledge, in gold and silver as well as in precious stones and...

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2. The Repertory of Elite Apparel and Insignia of Rank

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pp. 33-185

“All the nobles, all the eagles and jaguars [brave warriors], and the commoners were delighted when they assumed [the paraphernalia]. For they did not lightly attain all the ruler’s gear that they put on; it was worth their life.”1 Indeed, as implied by this...

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3. Images of Rank by Region

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pp. 187-307

The Nahuatl-speaking altepetl and other communities of central Mexico have left a particularly rich and notable body of pictorial renderings of their native nobility in different media. Among these, precontact sculptures and postcontact manuscripts...

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4. Functions and Meanings of Precontact Costume and Status Items

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pp. 309-334

The Nahuas and other Mesoamerican groups were not exceptional either in the importance they gave to dress and insignia or in their use of them to convey sophisticated symbolic messages. Just as in numerous traditional and modern cultures worldwide, garments and other status items served to transmit information on...

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5. Postcontact Survivals and Adaptations

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pp. 335-357

Even if preconquest apparel continued to play a crucial role in early colonial imagery of the native nobility, the change in dressing customs took place relatively quickly, mirroring the quick adoption of numerous elements of Spanish material culture....

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6. Summation

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pp. 359-366

Those who study the Nahua world may feel particularly fortunate in having available to them a huge corpus of extant preconquest and postconquest sources for numerous aspects of native life and culture. This material, though certainly not...

Appendix: Dictionary of Insignia and Accouterments

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pp. 367-444


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pp. 445


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pp. 447-471


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pp. 473-492

E-ISBN-13: 9781607322412
E-ISBN-10: 1607322412
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607322405
Print-ISBN-10: 1607322404

Page Count: 528
Illustrations: 80 B&W photographs, 55 line drawings, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2014