Thursday, September 26, 2013

Trade Routes: 9th Century

Part 3: Toltec center of Tula
Over the centuries, trade centers grew to prominence, flourished and then declined and were replaced by a new center.  By the 9th Century, the Mayan trade center in Tikal was starting to decline.   The Ancestral Puebloan trade center at Chaco Canyon and the Mississippian trade center at Cahokia were just becoming power centers and the Trade center for the Toltecs in Mexico was in its prime.
Panoramic view of the ruins of Teotihuacan

The city of Tula rose to prominence after the fall of Teotihuacan around 900 and reached its height
between 900 and 1150.  By all accounts, Teotihuacan was a magnificent center in its prime with a population possibly reaching 250,000.  It was probably the largest city in the world around 500 A.D.  Since it had no fortifications, it was a city very comfortable with its position in the world.  And the archaeology suggests that although it was influenced by many different cultures, it was never invaded by a foreign military.  It was, it appears, defeated by climate change—severe droughts starting around 535 A.D. and lasting for extended periods. This theory of ecological decline is supported by archaeological remains that show a rise in the percentage of juvenile skeletons with evidence of malnutrition during the 6th century.  When it finally fell, it appears that there was an internal uprising against the ruling class that resulted in the burning of their palaces.
Tula, ancient Toltec capital

At that point, the Toltec city of Tula picked up the slack and became the dominant center in Mexico.  Unlike Teotihuacan, it was well fortified and supported a powerful military.  So, in the 9th century, it would have been the regional trade center and in my hypothetical trade route, it would have been one of the main stops.

It never grew to the size of Teotihuaca.  At its height, the population was probably only 60,000 with another 20,000 in the surrounding area.   The factors lending  to  Tula becoming the dominant center in its region were its fertile farmland, obsidian mines, and location (along the trade route).
The population would have been made up of the ruling and elite class, craftsmen, merchants and a large number of farmers.  About half the population was involved in mining and crafting of obsidian and the working of travertine and ceramics.  They became so well-known for their craftsmanship that later the Aztec words for craftsmanship were synonymous with the Toltec and Tula.

But, agriculture also played a prominent roll in the economics of Tula.  They traded chili peppers, amaranth, squash and maguey along with corn and beans.  They also harvested a number of wild plants like mesquite beans and cactus fruit.  They even domesticated dogs and turkeys.  The skilled farmers used irrigation to produce bounteous crops of corn.

Tula didn’t last as long as many of the Mexican empires and likely suffered the same fate as Teotihuacan.  The leeched soil and drying climate led to the decline of their farming culture.  Like Teotihuacan, the ceremonial center was burned and looted around 1179 A.D.  At that point, the trade center probably moved to Tenochtitlan.

I think it is clear that commerce and trade played a major role in the prominence and decline of the major empires of Native America just as it does in the world today and did in the Old World.  The centers of power in the world seem to be constantly changing, but the principles of prosperity seem to be unchanged throughout history.

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