General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Nov 2017/5 Eagle
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Sculpture of an Aztec couple

Many partners or one?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Caitlyn Krueger: I have a question, did many men or women have many spouses or were they only to have one spouse? (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

The classic image of Aztec marriage - folio 61 (detail) from the Codex Mendoza (original in the Bodleian LIbrary, Oxford)
The classic image of Aztec marriage - folio 61 (detail) from the Codex Mendoza (original in the Bodleian LIbrary, Oxford) (Click on image to enlarge)

Though the Spanish accused the Aztecs of polygyny (men being married to more than one wife at the same time) it seems that this was limited entirely to the Mexica élite. For the vast majority of ordinary Aztecs, marriage was ‘monogamous’ (between one man and one woman). The marriage ceremony was a very public event - though it took place within the home - and cemented not just the relationship of a couple to each other, but also of the two of them to the wider community, through the roles of both mothers and matchmakers.

Even among members of the élite, in the few cases where it was reported that a tlahtoani (Great Speaker, or ruler) had many wives - Moctezuma II was supposed to have had 150 partners pregnant at the same time - there was a vital difference between the official, primary ‘wife’ and any other women partners. The principal relationship - often to a woman chosen from among the Aztecs’ most valued ally of the time, and so clearly someone who would have had considerable influence - involved special ceremonies and ritual meaning that didn’t feature in relationships with other, secondary, ‘wives’ or partners. It seems clear that the aim of ‘multiple’ marriages for rulers was to engage in marriage alliances, to strengthen the position of the Aztecs in control of neighbouring territories and peoples.

Source/more info -
Bonds of Blood by Caroline Dodds Pennock (2008)
Photo sources:-
• Photo (sculpture of an Aztec couple, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City) by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Image from the Codex Mendoza scanned from our own copy of the James Cooper Clark 1938 facsimile edition, London

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Mexicolore replies: There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of this, but it’s an interesting question...