The Aztec Kings
The Construction of Rulership in Mexican History
Scholars have long viewed histories of the Aztecs either as flawed chronologies plagued by internal inconsistencies and intersource discrepancies or as legends that indiscriminately mingle reality with the supernatural. But this new work draws fresh conclusions from these documents, proposing that Aztec dynastic history was recast by its sixteenth-century recorders not merely to glorify ancestors but to make sense out of the trauma of conquest and colonialism.
The Aztec Kings is the first major study to take into account the Aztec cyclical conception of time—which required that history constantly be reinterpreted to achieve continuity between past and present—and to treat indigenous historical traditions as symbolic statements in narrative form. Susan Gillespie focuses on the dynastic history of the Mexica of Tenochtitlan, whose stories reveal how the Aztecs used "history" to construct, elaborate, and reify ideas about the nature of rulership and the cyclical nature of the cosmos, and how they projected the Spanish conquest deep into the Aztec past in order to make history accommodate that event.
By demonstrating that most of Aztec history is nonliteral, she sheds new light on Aztec culture and on the function of history in society. By relating the cyclical structure of Aztec dynastic history to similar traditions of African and Polynesian peoples, she introduces a broader perspective on the function of history in society and on how and why history must change.
"Gillespie has put the myth back into Mexica history and shown that the often tedious accounts of royal marriages and accessions are really mirrors of the Nahua mentality, which continued to shape the past in its own terms even after an invasion that challenged all definitions of past, present, and future."—Ethnohistory
"A readable book for the general reader and for the expert."—Choice
"A brilliant new synthesis of the many confusing and contradictory Aztec documents. . . . The Aztec Kings is a study of the nature of rulership, and as such it is a major contribution to the cross-cultural literature of symbolic-structuralist analysis of historical traditions."—Prudence M. Rice, American Anthropologist