Toltec tŏl´tĕk [key], ancient civilization of Mexico. The name in Nahuatl means
master builders.The Toltec formed a warrior aristocracy that gained ascendancy in the Valley of Mexico c.AD 900 after the fall of Teotihuacán. Their early history is obscure but they seem to have had ancient links with the Mixtec and the Zapotec. Their capital was Tollán (see Tula). In architecture and the arts they were masters; they were influenced by Teotihuacán and the Olmec culture. Cholula is considered to be a Toltec site. Toltec civilization was materially far advanced. They smelted metals, and their stonework was highly developed. Their polytheistic religion in later days seems to have centered about Quetzalcoatl. Their ceremonies included human sacrifice, sun worship, and a sacred ball game, tlatchli. They are said to have discovered pulque (a fermented drink), and they had considerable astronomical knowledge, as shown in their calendar cycle of 52 years of 260 days each. A period of southward expansion began c.1000 and resulted in Toltec domination of the Maya of Yucatán from the 11th to the 13th cent. Nomadic peoples (collectively termed the Chichimec) brought about the fall of Tula and of the Toltec empire in the 13th cent., thus opening the way for the rise of the Aztec. See also pre-Columbian art and architecture.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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