Moctezoma's Menagerie: Managing the Beast in Pre-Cortesian Tenochtitlan


The purpose of this thesis is to explore the idea of the 'ecological Indian' in regard to the Tenochca cultural group (Aztec) who inhabited the city of Teriochtitlan (modern Mexico City) prior to the coming of Cortes and his Spanish envoy. What relationship did the Tenochca have to their natural habitat? How did they conceive of the earth and the cosmos, and what consequences resulted from that conceptualization? The thesis explores the unprecedented historical developments of the Tenochca in terms of socio-economics and politics and interprets them in regard to the underlying Tenochca cosmovision. The crux of the thesis deals with the anxieties that resulted from the unavoidable contradiction of empire in a cosmovision that sees the world as inherently unstable and inhospitable to human culture. The basic argument is that the Tenochca responded to such anxieties with the tools of military and religious violence and with a scientific management strategy that sought to control and order the inimical forces of the natural world. In making this argument, both material and intellectual culture are considered, including animal domestication, economic development and resource exploitation, migration myths and stories, hunting rituals, scientific conceptualizations of time, space, and materiality, and perhaps most telling of all, Moctezoma's menagerie, which was a clear attempt to implement scientific advancements by way of ordering the natural world. The methodology of the thesis is partially analytic and interpretive, and uses a wide variety of sources spanning from, Indigenous picture manuscripts to archaeological evidence. The main sources used are the ethnographic materials left to us by Spanish friars such as Bernardino Sahagun, Diego Duran, Andres Olmos, and Toribio Motolinia

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This paper was published in eCommons@USASK.

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