Feathered Empire: Avian Value in Culture and Economics Before and After the Conquest of Mexico Open Access

Romero, Diego (Spring 2020)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/tt44pn92j?locale=en


Feathers served as a predominant symbol of Mesoamerican culture well before the invasion of Europeans. This symbology had many facets emphasized by the Nahua peoples of Mesoamerica, but nowhere was it more pronounced than in the Mexica Empire. Feathers were objects associated with almost every sphere of life, from spirituality to social status, gender, and even military service. Feathers carried strong cultural connotations that signified social rank, connected human beings to the sacred, and motivated warfare. Nothing made this more apparent than the feather artwork of the amantecas (featherworkers), whose artistic style continued throughout the sixteenth century. After the Spanish conquest, indigenous peoples adapted feather symbology to new Christian imagery, with a pronounced shift from feathers as a marker of personal identification to markers of institutional identification. Feathers held a unique place within the Mexica tributary system and the Spanish colonial economy, and their meaning legitimized empire before and after the conquest of Mexico. Four primary sources serve as the pillars of this study: The Florentine Codex, Matrícula de Tributos, The Tlaxcalan Actas, and Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s Discovery and Conquest of Mexico. I engage in comparative textual analysis of these sources, relating the information I found about feathers to additional information in the secondary literature, as well as to Christian feather paintings from the colonial period. I use these sources to trace the changing economic and cultural values of feathers in the Mexica and Spanish empires.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Section 0. Historiography 5

Section I. Pre-Conquest Mexica Economics 11

Section II. Military, Political, and Spiritual Uses of Feathers in Pre-Colonial Mexico 27

Section III. Evolution of the Tributary Economy in Postconquest New Spain 34

Section IV. Feathers in Mesoamerican Rituals and Iconography Postconquest 43

Conclusion 56

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