General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 18 Mar 2019/7 Flint
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The clothing of Aztec priests and royals

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Maddie: I’m doing an assignment on the clothing of the Ancient Aztecs and one of my focus questions is what clothing items and decorations distinguished the Priests from the Royals. Thanks! (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Aztec priest (left, Codex Mendoza fol. 63r, detail) and emperor (right, Codex Azcatitlan fol. 22a, detail)
Aztec priest (left, Codex Mendoza fol. 63r, detail) and emperor (right, Codex Azcatitlan fol. 22a, detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

We don’t have time to answer this very fully now, but an essential difference would be in the main garment worn by a member of each social group. According to Patricia Rieff Anawalt, a world expert on this, there was one type of ‘special-purpose’ Aztec clothing that was ‘principally associated with priests’ and that was the xicolli or sleeveless jacket or waistcoat. In our picture (left) you can see a priest wearing a xicolli and carrying three common priest’s accessories - an incense burner, incense bag and (on his back) a tobacco container. Because he’s shown in side view, you can’t see the opening in his jacket.

A ruler, on the other hand, would sport the finest embroidered and decorated example of ‘the most important status item of male wearing apparel’, the tilmatli, a cotton cloak, cape or mantle. In the picture (right) sits the emperor Moctezuma, wearing a nose jewel and the royal diadem on his head. Note that, appropriate to his status, his cloak is tied at the front rather than on the right shoulder, which was the norm for most Mexica men.

Info from Indian Clothing Before Cortés by Patricia Rieff Anawalt, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1981.

Picture sources:-
• Codex Mendoza image scanned from our own copy of the James Cooper Clark 1938 facsimile edition, London
• Codex Azcatitlan image, public domain.

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