General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 22 Sep 2017/11 Vulture
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Our In-House Team

Question for July 2008

Was Snake Woman an Aztec empress? Asked by Connaught Junior School. Chosen and answered by Our In-House Team.

Pic 1: Batman (mask) and Snake Woman (sculpture) images
Pic 1: Batman (mask) and Snake Woman (sculpture) images (Click on image to enlarge)

Mexican Batman, Snake Woman... Were these Aztec Superheroes? Not exactly, no. Whilst in some South American myths the leader of the very first people, who taught people all they needed to know as human beings, was a hero bat or... ‘Batman’, the bat in ancient Mexico was very much linked to a darker side of human and animal life (follow the link below to learn more). And as for Snake Woman...

Pic 2: Cihuacóatl, Florentine Codex Book I
Pic 2: Cihuacóatl, Florentine Codex Book I (Click on image to enlarge)

Cihuacóatl (‘Woman Serpent’), named after a goddess, was the rough equivalent of our Prime Minister. He - yes, it was a he - looked after the day-to-day affairs of the Aztec Empire. He handled official finances, organised military campaigns and appointed commanders, determined rewards for warriors, and served as supreme judge. When the tlatoani (Great Speaker, ie the Emperor) left Tenochtitlan on military campaigns, Snake Woman moved into the palace and acted as ruler in his absence.

Pic 3: Cihuacóatl sculpture, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Pic 3: Cihuacóatl sculpture, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

The position of cihuacóatl was created by Itzcóatl, the 4th tlatoani of the Aztecs, to help him in the affairs of the ruler. The first and by far and away the most famous - some might say infamous - cihuacóatl was Tlacaélel, one of the most brilliant and shrewd politicians in the history of the Aztecs. He died in 1487, having lived 89 years and been cihuacóatl for 60 years, serving under 5 great rulers.

In Picture 3 you can see a stone sculpture representing Cihuacóatl, the powerful earth deity and goddess of fertility, the giver of life and the keeper of the souls of the departed, as half human, half serpent. The gaping jaws of a reptile frame her face, and the creature is depicted as a fantastic mask with a large forked tongue hanging from the mouth. The serpent played a crucial role in the mythology of ancient Mexico, identified with the sun’s rays (‘fire serpents’), forked lightning and with driving rain, which resembles water-snakes falling from the sky during heavy storms. Cihuacóatl represented the creative female force of the earth.

Picture sources:-
• Photos of sculptures in the National Museum of Anthropology by Ana Laura Landa/Mexicolore
• Photo of the batmask by Donald Cordry from Mexican Masks by Donald Cordry, ©1980; courtesy of the University of Texas Press
• Image from the Florentine Codex scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994.

‘Yes Prime Minister!’

Mexican Batman

Our In-House Team has answered 20 questions altogether:

Did the Aztecs have different types of chewing gum to today’s?

Did the Aztecs have a god of snow?

Which parts of the Day of the Dead festival go back to the Aztecs?

Why did they put holes [gaps] in the [upright huehuetl] drums?

Was Snake Woman an Aztec empress?

How big was the Aztec army?

Did they have First Aid?

Which pet was the Aztecs’ favourite?

Why did they call them ‘chinampas’?

Did the Spanish have an interpreter when they conquered the Aztecs?

Which was the Aztecs’ most fearsome weapon?

Why was the Sun God called Tonatiuh?

Did they send post (mail)?

Did they have the same seasons as we do?

What did they do with the shells of armadillos after eating the meat?

Why didn’t Aztec houses have doors?

Which was the biggest group [job sector] in Aztec society?

Why is it better to support loads on the forehead and not on the shoulders?

When children were punished, how long were they held over smoking chillies for?

What was the Aztecs’ greatest fear?

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