Arbeitstitel des Dissertationsvorhabens

"Power, Performance, and Propaganda: Sociopolitical Aspects of the Aztec Feast of Toxcatl"

Betreuung: Prof. Dr. phil. Ingrid Kummels


The PhD dissertation “Power, performance and propaganda – sociopolitical aspects of the Aztec feast of Toxcatl” will investigate the Toxcatl festival, an event that used to take place during the fifth month of the Aztec ceremonial calendar - xiuhpohualli. The main concept behind this thesis states that Toxcatl was not only a religious ritual, but its elements served as means of political propaganda aimed at upper classes of Tenochtitlan’s neighboring city-states: their political and religious leaders, nobility and warrior caste. Toxcatl was one of the tools used to build, strengthen and maintain the Aztec Empire; its symbolical meaning had broadcast Aztec claim to power in the region and had reminded the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan of their principal ideological objective: to ensure further development of the empire for the glory of their gods and to provide their deities with energy necessary to keep the world in equilibrium.

The state of the art is focused predominantly on religious and anthropological aspects of the feast, whereas the purpose of the dissertation lies in the analysis of its political and social impact on the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan and neighboring states. Even though renowned scholars made many interesting points on its character and significance, there are still important questions waiting to be answered, such as: what kind of political and symbolical message had been sent through the ceremony and who was supposed to be the “addressee”, the “recipient”? Was it just an empty ritual, a relic or still a thriving public feast crucial for the state policy?

Based on the assumption that the rituals performed during Toxcatl were understandable only to the upper castes, the dissertation intends to prove that rites could have been used as an element of political propaganda, strengthening the position of Tenochtitlan and indicating its link to the sphere of sacrum. Incorporating popular deity Tezcatlipoca to the Aztec pantheon was a conscious act placing the Aztecs in a wider cultural context. Tezcatlipoca’s figure served as a carrier of political and ideological message, clear and visible to members of the same cultural circle; it “rooted” Tenochtitlan deeper in the regional culture.

The purpose of the dissertation is to show that Toxcatl was a continuation of the Mexica people’s pilgrimage myth, a ritual conclusion of the construction of Tenochtitlan and the Triple Alliance. It was supposed to legitimize the power held by the tlatoani of Tenochtitlan by indicating its divine origin and stressing the significant relationship between the ruler – the vassal of the divine senior Tezcatlipoca – the source of power and Huitzilopochtli – the warrior god and the symbol of the empire. All those elements combined created a powerful message, which was sent to those under the Aztec rule or those who still managed to oppose it – a message that Tenochtitlan was the center of the world, its inhabitants were chosen by gods to fulfill their special mission and were subsequently awarded with political supremacy. Religion and politics intermingled again in a matter typical for this warrior nation, using ritual for state purposes, creating a channel for propaganda.