The Fifteenth Month
Aztec History in the Rituals of Panquetzaliztli
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
264 Pages | 6 x 9 | 13 color and 18 b&w illus., 2 maps, 1 table
The Mexica (Aztecs) used a solar calendar made up of eighteen months, with each month dedicated to a specific god in their pantheon and celebrated with a different set of rituals. Panquetzaliztli, the fifteenth month, dedicated to the national god Huitzilopochtli (Hummingbird on the Left), was significant for its proximity to the winter solstice, and for the fact that it marked the beginning of the season of warfare. In The Fifteenth Month, John F. Schwaller offers a detailed look at how the celebrations of Panquetzaliztli changed over time and what these changes reveal about the history of the Aztecs.
Drawing on a variety of sources, Schwaller deduces that prior to the rise of the Mexica in 1427, an earlier version of the month was dedicated to the god Tezcatlipoca (Smoking Mirror), a war and trickster god. The Mexica shifted the dedication to their god, developed a series of ceremonies—including long-distance running and human sacrifice—that would associate him with the sun, and changed the emphasis of the celebration from warfare alone to a combination of trade and warfare, since merchants played a significant role in Mexica statecraft. Further investigation shows how the resulting festival commemorated several important moments in Mexica history, how it came to include ceremonies associated with the winter solstice, and how it reflected a calendar reform implemented shortly before the arrival of the Spanish.
Focused on one of the most important months in the Mexica year, Schwaller’s work marks a new methodology in which traditional sources for Mexica culture, rather than being interrogated for their specific content, are read for their insights into the historical development of the people. Just as Christmas re-creates the historic act of the birth of Jesus for Christians, so, The Fifteenth Month suggests, Panquetzaliztli was a symbolic re-creation of events from Mexica myths and history.
“In The Fifteenth Month, distinguished historian of early colonial Mexico and renowned authority on Nahuatl language texts John F. Schwaller turns his sharp ethnohistorian’s eye to the most important of the Aztec yearly festivals. His deep analysis of Panquetzaliztli reveals it is an outstanding lens through which to view major developments in Aztec history.”—Elizabeth Hill Boone, author of Cycles of Time and Meaning in the Mexican Books of Fate
“With The Fifteenth Month, Aztec studies takes another leap forward. Examining what is arguably the most important of the year’s eighteen months, John F. Schwaller brilliantly uses the twenty festive days of Panquetzaliztli as a device with which to explore Mexica daily life, the imperial culture of the Aztecs, and Nahua civilization on the eve of the Spanish invasion.”—Matthew Restall, author of When Montezuma Met Cortés: The True Story of the Meeting that Changed History