Mixtec Civilization: History, Religion & Facts

Instructor: Joanna Harris

Joanna has taught high school social studies both online and in a traditional classroom since 2009, and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership

The Mixtec Civilization was a warring tribe that took over the Mexican Valley prior to the Aztec rule and the coming of the Spanish. Learn about their calendar system, religion, and history.

Mixtec Civilization

What date is your birthday? Well, if you were a member of the Mixtec royal family, the answer would be obvious, as your date of birth would also be your name.

The Mexican Valley was a large area of central Mexico that had many indigenous civilizations. They vyed for domination among each other, and by the 12th century, the area was jam packed with tribes like the Toltecs and the Zapotecs.

However, there was another unique group called the Mixtec civilization that moved to the Mexican Valley in the 1100s and ruled an area called Oaxaca until the Aztecs conquered them in the mid-1400s.

The many clans of Mixtecs spoke different Otomanguean languages, but regardless of clan their name 'Mixtec' had the same meaning: Rain People.

Mixtec Culture and Facts

Though the Mixtecs took over the Oaxaca Valley, their time as hegemonic leader was relatively short as far as empires go. Their vibrant culture and religion were nuanced, yet similar to others in the area.

The Mixtec language was similar to the Zapotec language, but the Mixtec writing system was unrelated. Instead of using text or letters, they used glyphs (symbols and pictures) to denote language. They also used illustrations that would symbolize important events like wars, deaths of important figures, and the crowning of new leaders.

They were also very adept at making various forms of art like jewelry and were excellent metallurgists. Native to the Mexican Valley were stores of gold and turquoise that the Mixtecs used to form and craft necklaces and elaborate pendants.

Mixtec warrior vessel
Warrior Vessel

Mixtec Decline

Unfortunately, any Mexican Valley civilization's grasp on power was always short-lived and one group's hold on the region would often give way to the next.

In the mid-1400s, the Aztecs began their subjugation of the Mexican Valley, and one by one, the old guard civilizations fell. The Aztecs required all of the empires they conquered to pay them in money, food, and humans for sacrifice.

However, the Mixtecs didn't give up without a mighty defense that took years for the Aztecs to defeat, culminating in 1458. Nevertheless, once the Aztecs had fully conquered both the Mixtecs and the Zapotecs, they constructed a huge fortification on a hill high above Oaxaca that kept both groups in line.

The Spanish

By 1521, news spread through the Mexican Valley that the Aztecs had been defeated by an unknown force with foreign looks and weapons. The Spanish had arrived. The Mixtecs were soon met by the Spanish emissaries of Hernan Cortes who came to survey the valley and search for sources of Aztec gold.

By 1528, the Spanish had begun to Christianize the Mixtecs and other groups in the Oaxaca region. By the 1600s, Spanish diseases like small pox decimated the Mixtecs' once large population.

Today, there are still Mixtecs in the Oaxaca Valley and through Guerrero and Puebla (area now called La Mixteca).

Mixtec Religion and Facts

Today most descendants of the Mixtecs are believers in Catholicism, but they had their own religion before the coming of the Spanish in the 1500s. Much like most other Mesoamerican indigenous groups, the Mixtecs had many different gods that all relied on the flesh and blood of human and animal sacrifices to survive.

Mixtec rain god
Mixtec Rain god

Like the Axtecs, the Mixtecs worshiped the sun, but they also worshiped other natural forces of the world like life and death (the afterlife) with no regard for hierarchy. They had other gods who represented war, fertility, rain and other natural elements. The Mixtecs relied on blood sacrifice to show fealty to their gods, but specifically from areas like the ears and tongue, and sometimes the heart.

The Mixtecs would create beautiful pottery to use during religious ceremonies. These vessels were used to collect blood from ears and tongues as offerings. Following their advanced calendar, they also had fire rituals to celebrate the passage of epochs and the beginning of new religious eras.

Mixtec god and frogs
Mixtec God Frog

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