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Macehualli (commoner)

Aztec/Mexica macehualli commoner anthropomorphic figure

Anthropomorphic sculpture (macehualli), Mexica (Aztec), c. 1500 CE, basalt, height 80 cms, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City.

[Throughout the life of the Mexica empire] the macehualtin [commoners] were destined to lead a simple life although they gradually earned themselves important roles in the ranks of the warriors, as well as administrative posts within the empire. When Moctezuma II came to power, he abolished these rights and the noble, military and political class was exclusively confined to the royal family.
This sculpture has been interpreted as a representative portrait of a macehualli. His strength, submission and loyalty are expressed through the simplicity of his clothing - little more than a loincloth - and the sturdiness of his physique. The sculpture may have served to recall the pact between the nobility and the common people [made generations before when the Mexica were under serious threat from the kingdom of Azcapotcalco], thereby emphasizing the obligation and duty to the Mexica empire to which the macehualtin had been committed by their ancestors.

From ‘Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler’, British Museum Catalogue, 2009, p. 181.

Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

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