Teotihuacan is an ancient Mesoamerican city inhabited in a sub valley of the Valley of Mexico, situated in the State of Mexico, 25 miles northeast of modern-day Mexico City. The ancient history of Teotihuacan is quite mysterious, and the origin of its founders is unknown. Around 300 BCE, people of the southeastern and central areas of Mesoamerica began gathering into larger settlements. Let’s look at the four periods of Teotihuacan.
The name Teotihuacan (or Teōtīhuacān) was given by the Nahuatl-speaking Aztecs decades after the fall of the town around 550 CE. The term has been synonymous with “birthplace of the gods” or “the area where gods were born,” reflecting Nahua origin stories that were said to occur in Teotihuacan.
The first human establishment in the neighborhood dates back to 600 BCE, and until 200 BCE, there were distributed small settlements on the site of the future city of Teotihuacan. It is discovered that the total population of the Teotihuacan Valley during this time was approximately 6,000 inhabitants. During the period from 100 BCE to CE 750, Teotihuacan had evolved into a vast administrative and urban centre with cultural influences throughout the broader Mesoamerica region.
The history of Teotihuacan is characterized by four periods, known as Teotihuacan I, II, III, and IV.
- Period I occurred between 200 – 1 BCE and marked the growth of a real city. During this time, Teotihuacan began to grow into a town as farmers working on the Teotihuacan Valley hillside began to move down into the valley, mingling around the teeming springs of Teotihuacan.
- Period II lasted between 1CE to 350CE. During this period, Teotihuacan showed fiery growth, making it the largest municipality in Mesoamerica. Determinants affecting this growth include the elimination of other settlements due to volcanic eruptions and the economic pull of the evolving city. This introduction of new residents caused a restructuring of urban housing to the novel compound complexes that typify Teotihuacan. This era is striking both for its impressive architecture and its majestic sculpture. During this era, the development of some of the most well-known places of Teotihuacan, the Pyramids of the Moon and Sun, was built. Moreover, the change of political power from the Temple of the Feathered Serpent and its neighboring castle building to the Street of the Dead Complex occurred sometime between 250CE and 350CE.
- Period III lasted from 350CE to 650CE and is the classical era of Teotihuacan, during which the city entered the apogee of its power in Mesoamerica. Its population was evaluated at 125,000 inhabitants or more, and the city was among the most populated cities of the old world, containing 1500+ buildings within an 18 square kilometer range. During this long period, Teotihuacan contained nearly half all people in the Valley of Mexico, becoming a kind of metropolitan city of Mesoamerica. This era saw a massive rehabilitation of monuments; the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, which records back to the previous period, was embraced with a rich sculptural decoration. This period’s conventional artistic artifacts were burial masks, crafted mainly from greenstone and covered with mosaics of the shell, turquoise, or obsidian. These masks were mysteriously uniform.
- Period IV defines the period between 650CE and 750CE. It marks the end of Teotihuacan as a significant power in Mesoamerica. The city’s elite housing compounds, those centered around the Street of the Dead, bear many burn marks. Archaeologists hypothesize that the town experienced a civil war that accelerated its decline. Factors that led to the deterioration of the city included interruptions in tributary relations, increased social stratification, and power struggles between the governing and intermediary elites. After this decline, Teotihuacan continued to be inhabited, though it never reached its previous population levels.
Archaeological data suggests that Teotihuacan involved several ethnic groups. The official languages used by Teotihuacan are mysteriously unknown, Nahua and Totonac, early forms of which were spoken by the Aztecs, seem to be highly likely. This clear diverse population of Teotihuacan can be dated back to a natural disaster that occurred before its population boom. At one point in time, Teotihuacan was challenged by another basin power, Cuicuilco. Both cities were approximately the same size and centers for trade, commerce and artisans. Around 100 BCE, however, the power changed when Mount Xitle, an active volcano, exploded and profoundly impacted Cuicuilco and the farmland that supported it. It is concluded that the exponential growth of Teotihuacan’s population was due to the following migration of those dislodged by the eruption.
The agreement among scholars is that the chief deity of Teotihuacan was the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan. The robust civic architecture is the pyramid. Politics were based on the state religion; religious rulers were the political leaders. Religious leaders would select artists to create religious artworks for rituals and ceremonies. The arts were burnt during religious rituals to summon the Gods, including rituals with human sacrifice.