Moche Religion, Culture & Writing

Instructor: Bailey Cavender

Bailey teaches High School English, has taught history, and has a master's degree in Anthropology/Historical Archaeology.

The Moche Civilization was based in modern Peru. Although they left no written language, their culture was preserved in their art. A polytheistic culture that practiced human sacrifice, the Moche valued the priests and the warriors above all other people.

Moche Religion, Culture, and Writing

At the height of its power, between 1 CE and 800 CE, the Moche Civilization , also called Mochica , covered the northern coast of modern Peru, and extended into the valleys of Peru as well. The Moche were likely a confederation of several different groups, and are considered one of the important cultures that existed in the Andes. Archaeological work in the capital city of Moche have shown mounds, like pyramids, as well as a thriving urban center. The Moche civilization was destroyed in 800 CE, and many believe that the cause for this were the weather storm pattern El Nino, that continued to wreak havoc, despite prayer and sacrifice.

Moche Religion

The taller of the pyramid-mounds, or a huaca , was originally over fifty meters tall, though it is now only forty. The two pyramids are Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna . Huaca de la Luna is covered with murals, or friezes that depict the beliefs of the Moche. Archaeological evidence shows that the two structures were used by the Moche for important rituals and religious ceremonies.

The Moche religion was tied into the art of the Moche, something that is still visible today. In fact, most of what is known about the Moche religion comes from the friezes and pottery that have been found. Religious practices of the Moche were like other cultures, adopting different features at different times. The Moche were polytheistic , or had many gods.

The most powerful god in their religion was Si, the moon goddess . Since the moon was always visible, and controlled the seasons, Si was the most powerful god. In Moche religion, women could have an important role. Additionally, the Moche practiced human sacrifice. These were offered to the god Al Paec , and generally also included an offering of a glass of blood. Typically, the Moche only sacrificed captured warriors, not women or children.

Another god of the Moche was shown in murals as either half-man, half-jaguar, or as a giant spider. He is referred to as the Decapitator god , because he sometimes has a knife in one hand and a human head in the other. He is another god that the Moche offered human sacrifices to.

Moche Culture

Most of what is known today about the way that the Moche lived is found in the pottery that they left behind. This pottery was used to portray every aspect of Moche life, from the religious to the every day. These pieces and murals can also tell us about their culture.

The most important people in the Moche culture were the priests and the warriors. They were highly honored and respected. The artists and craftsmen were the next more important people to the Moche, then the farmers and fishermen. Finally, the culture held servants, slaves, and beggars as the lowest of people.

Moche burials have been found as well, and the type of burial depends on the position that the dead had held in life. In each burial, there is some sort of grave goods , or objects belonging to the deceased. Sometimes, a human sacrifice was included, and the wealthier the dead, the more impressive the grave. The more elaborate graves belong to the people who are likely to be either the priests or the warriors, judging by the objects found buried with them.

The Moche were an agricultural society, but because of the climate, they used a system of canals and aqueducts to transport the water to their farms. It is likely that the Moche civilization was not a vast empire, like the Incas or the Aztecs, but was instead a group of smaller city-states, ruled by the priests, who were still part of the same larger culture. The Moche were also using technologies that allowed them to work with copper, something that is part of their weapons, tools, and jewelry. They also used gold, silver, and wonderful weaving.

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