Malinalco : an expression of Mexica political and religious dominance in a subject territory
MetadataShow full item record
Near the edge of the Aztec empire, about sixty-eight miles from Mexico City-Tenochtitlan, the temple complex Malinalco (built 1501 -- ca. 1519) comprises a tiny portion of an eponymous town and has the only known monolithic temple in Mesoamerica. The Mexica tlatoani Ahuitzotl (r. 1486-1502) commissioned the complex in 1501, and his successor Moctezuma II (r. 1502-1520) renewed the work order at least once. The site remained unfinished after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan in 1521. The remarkable preservation of Structure I offers a unique view of a Mexica temple interior, and the eagle and jaguar seats carved within that temple led to the traditional interpretation of the site as a haven for eagle and jaguar warriors. In contrast, I contend that Malinalco's ceremonial center was a Mexica space for politico-religious rituals likely performed by the tlatoani or his proxies. My analysis of Malinalco's pre-Mexica history (Chapter 2) examines the mythical history of the Malinalca and their possible dual Mexica-Toltec heritage. Malinalco's now-lost mural of Toltec warriors situates the site within the larger corpus of Tula-inspired procession scenes, and links it iconographically to Tenochtitlan monuments that legitimated imperial power. Through a close analysis of early colonial texts and pictographic sources, I show that the eagle and jaguar seats in Structure I were not used by warriors, but rather were the purview of the tlatoque. An analysis of Malinalco's sacred landscape features demonstrates that the Mexica did not simply build a temple complex in the sacred space of a subject territory, but rather transformed the shape of a sacred mountain in declaration of a god-like imperial power. Finally, Malinalco's famous upright drum, often cited as proof that the site was for warriors, actually shows eagle and jaguar warriors weeping as they sing a war song, perhaps alluding to the martial sacrifices of the empire as it fought to preserve and expand its boundaries. I conclude that the Mexica designed Malinalco as a space for the performance of politico-religious regime-legitimating rituals, permanently declaring their dominance in their empire's hinterland.