The Zapotecs

Zapotec seated figure B.C. 300 - 200  Monte Albain


The Zapotecs dominated the area around Oaxaca with their city of Monte Alban for centuries. Monte Alban was one of the more ancient Classic period city states, with sites there as old as 600 B.C..After 650 A.D. Monte Alban was one of the most powerful cities in Mexico . Around the 800s, the city began to lose its power and by 900 A.D. the city was abandoned . However, the Zapotec culture still remained vigorous and other cities, such as their capital at Zaachila remained .The Zapotec city of Mitla are masterpieces of Classical architecture  with dazzling geometric patterns .


wall mural at Mitla



 Mitla is a short distance from the home of Porfirio Gutierrez & family in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. The ruins at Mitla give a glimpse of the former glory of the Zapotec civilization and how it lives to inspire the weavers of today.


 The Zapotec Empire

The Zapotecs developed a calendar and a logosyllabic system of writing that used a separate glyph to represent each of the syllables of the language. This writing system is one of several candidates thought to have been the first writings system of Mesoamerica and the predecessor of the writing systems developed by the Maya, Mixtec, and Aztec civilizations.

The Mixtecs, Zapotecs, and Chatinos:

Ancient Peoples of Southern Mexico 

 The history of the rich and complex societies that arose and

flourished in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.



Video of ruins at Monte Alban


Zapotec funerary urn 300-800 AD, Monte Albain. the Zapotecs built monumental tombs in which they placed urns with offerings, often with the face of the deceased upon them .The headdress is a mask of the eagle and jaguar .

 Zapotec rugs




At the present time, there is some debate as to whether or not Olmec symbols, dated to 650 BC, are actually a form of writing preceding the oldest Zapotec writing dated to about 500 BC.The Zapotecs tell that their ancestors emerged from the earth, from caves, or that they turned from trees or jaguars into people, while the elite that governed them believed that they descended from supernatural beings that lived among the clouds, and that upon death they would return to such status. In fact, the name by which Zapotecs are known today resulted from this belief. In Central Valley Zapotec "The Cloud People' is "Be'ena' Za'a."


 Terracotta jaguar 300-800 AD, Monte Alban.The Zapotecs were heavily influenced by the Olmecs, who also worshipped the jaguar. The collar around the neck shows that they were worshipped alive and in captivity


The last battle between the Aztecs and the Zapotecs occurred between 1497 and 1502, under the Aztec ruler Ahuizotl. At the time of Spanish conquest of Mexico, when news arrived that the Aztecs were defeated by the Spaniards, King Cosijoeza ordered his people not to confront the Spaniards so they would avoid the same fate. They were defeated by the Spaniards only after several campaigns between 1522 and 1527.


 The interpretation of the symbols and patterns woven in Zapotec rugs


The Mixtecs


a Mixtec breast ornament, made with the lost wax method

In pre-Columbian times, the Mixtec were one of the major civilizations of Mesoamerica. Important ancient centres of the Mixtec include the ancient capital of Tilantongo, as well as the sites of Achiutla, Cuilapan, Huajuapan, Mitla, Tlaxiaco, Tututepec, Juxtlahuaca, and Yucuñudahui. The Mixtec also made major constructions at the ancient city of Monte Albán (which had originated as a Zapotec city before the Mixtec gained control of it). The work of Mixtec artisans who produced work in stone, wood, and metal were well regarded throughout ancient Mesoamerica.

 A Mixtec turquoise tile serpent, laid over wood


The term Mixtec (Mixteco in Spanish) comes from the Nahuatl word Mixtecapan, or "place of the cloud-people". The area in which Mixtec is spoken is known as the Mixteca.

The Codex Vindobonensis Mexicanus an ritual-calendrical and genealogical document  contains lists of Mixtecian rulers and priests. It is not certain where the codex was discovered. Probably it was discovered in Veracruz and sent to Sevilla, together with the other manuscript Codex Zouche-Nuttall, as a gift for Charles V in 1518. See a larger image here .


After the Spanish conquest,Mixtec Indians were important for cochineal production. Cochineal is an insect that yields a red dye, used by the British for their uniforms.

Aztec, Mixtec and Zapotec Armies