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Saturday, 12 August 2017

World History: The Inca

Machu Picchu, an Inkan Site
Last time on World History we looked at the Triple Alliance, or as they are more widely referred to as the Aztecs. Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 the Americas were home to a wide variety of civilizations and cultures, and today we'll look at another one. Originating in the Andes there was a short lived city-based empire which stretched from the Ecuadorian/Colombian border all the way down to Santiago in Chile. This empire was the Incan Empire. For the purposes of this post we shall refer to the empire and the people who made it as Tawantinsuyu, (the empire), and the Inka, (the ruling people). We will not be using Inca as this is the European spelling of the ruling people; Inka is the spelling in Quechua. The Inkas ruled a unique empire with the Spanish seeing it as a wealthy kingdom possibly home to El Dorado while in the twentieth-century some historians had started to portray them as the first socialists or even the first communists. Before we look the Tawantinsuyu and the Inka we must first look at the world they emerged in.

Pre-Inka Andes
Image of the Andes
Historians, such as Nigel Davies, have stressed the continuation of the Inka with earlier Andean civilizations. You may be wondering how so many civilizations emerged in a mountain range though. When we've looked at other emerging civilizations ranging from the Maya to China to the Mexica to the Greeks none have appeared in mountain ranges. Peru, the heart of the Inkan Empire, has a very complex topography containing 84 of the 117 different types of life zones that can be found. It also experiences two ocean currents: El Niño and the Humboldt. In a small area we have coasts, puna (high grasslands), wet grasslands, rainforests, deserts, fog meadows (lomas) and rivers. El Niño supplies torrential rain to Peru's northern coast while fifty rivers cross the Peruvian desert. This helped create fertile land rich in nutrients for the first agriculturalists over 4,000 years ago. Through terracing great areas of arable land emerged in the Andes themselves. From around 1800 BCE the first pottery was made in the Peruvian lands.

Tawantinsuyu was not the first empire to exist in the Andes. Craig Morris and Adriana von Hagen put emphasis on two societies which laid the groundwork for the Inka, (although there were many others): Wari and Tiwanaku. These were both city states which both inspired the Inka and allowed them to rise. Tiwanaku was founded by 200 CE on the southern shores of Lake Titicaca which prospered for almost a thousand years with buildings made of sun-dried mudbrick. Around 600 CE to the north of Tiwanaku in the Ayacucho basin Wari was founded. Wari founded an empire which helped spread its art style across the central Andes, although it shares some iconography with Tiwanaku indicating that Wari borrowed some elements from Tiwanaku or that they shared a common ancestral tradition. Tawantinsuyu emerged four centuries after the collapse of Wari and Tiwanaku in Cuzco where the city-states either held sway, (Wari), or bordered, (Tiwanaku). There was a void in the Cuzco region left by these empires which the Inka filled. However, they borrowed or were inspired by both, particularly the Wari. The Inka adopted administrative tools and models from the Wari, (such as the khipu which we shall later address), and possibly even Quechua as a lingua franca for the empire. Now we must deal with the origins of the Inka and Tawantinsuyu.

Colonial image of the first king, Manco Capac
Through archaeological evidence, Spanish sources, and what remains of Inkan sources we can piece together the origins of the Inka. Until around 1200 CE the people who would become the Inka were pastoralists until they settled and founded the Kingdom of Cuzco. Through oral and Spanish written sources we do have a story for how the Kingdom of Cuzco was formed. The Inkan people emerged from a cave, called Pacariqtambo, led by four brothers and four sisters, (the brothers and sisters were married as well). They were led by Ayar Manco and his sister/wife Mama Ocllo. Manco had a golden staff which when planted would offer his people a place to live. On the way the strongest brother, who could level mountains, Ayar Cachi was sent into a cave to retrieve some golden cups, (in some versions a llama), to stop his boasting. When inside his brothers sealed the cave and Cachi was turned to stone becoming a huaca, a sacred object. When they reached Huanacauri, a hill, a second brother, Ayar Uchu, was turned into a huaca as he wished to stay to watch over the people. The last brother, Ayar Auca, grew tired and then grew wings so he could travel alone. He flew to Cuzco and became the Cuzco Huaca becoming the first city guardian. With no one to challenge him Manco goes to Cuzco with his sisters where they encounter the Huallas and Alcavizas. Depending on the version either the small band defeats the two tribes, or one of the sisters (Mama Huaca) kills a soldier with a bola scaring the rest off. After the battle Ayar Manco builds the first Coricancha temple and founds Cuzco and he changes his name to Manco Capac. Compared to the origin stories of Rome, the Aztecs and Athens this is a rather humble story. In some versions Manco Capac becomes undisputed king basically by accident rather than his own efforts. 

That story deals with the origins of Cuzco. There is a second myth which deals with the founding of Tawantinsuyu. Our sources are more reliable as we enter the fifteenth-century but then again Nigel Davies highlights how we can't take them at face value. The Inkas didn't really use their writing system to record chronology saving it instead for mainly recording things like censuses and tribute, and many which did record history were unfortunately burnt by the Spanish. Many of the chronicles that we do have are written post-Conquest and act more as histories, such as Comentaries Reales written in 1609 by Garcilasco de la Vega. We do have some good idea of what happened though. Bordering Cuzco was a loose confederation of the Chankas, (not a solidified threat as many chronicles made out), but it was enough to be a threat to the rising Inkas. During the reign of the eighth ruler Wiraqocha the Chankas sent a message to Cuzco demanding that the ruler surrender. He fled with his heir, Inka Urco, so his other son Inka Yupanki decided to defend Cuzco. He had a dream where the creator god Inti told him that he would be 'greater than any of his ancestors...because he would conquer the Chankas who were marching on Cuzco'. As the Chankas approached Cuzco the stones in the fields surrounding Cuzco turned into warriors, called pururaucas, who helped him defeat the Chankas. When he took the prisoners to his father, who was expected to tread on them as expected, his father got Inka Urco to do so disrespecting Yupanki. Apparently he staged a palace coup killing Urco, and then returning to Cuzco to fight the regrouping Chankas. The battle saw the slaughter of the Chankas and afterwards Yupanki became known as Pachakuti or 'transformer of the world'. It is quite possible though that this all never happened and that Inkan conquest of the Chankas was less sudden. Apparently Pachakuti had Machu Picchu constructed as a family retreat and he reorganized the empire around 1438. At the center was Cuzco surrounded by four provincial governments: Chinchasuyu, Antisuyu, Kuntisuyu and Qullasuyu. This formed Tawantisuyu, or the 'Four Regions'.

The khipu is so unique that I believe that it deserves to be talked about by itself. Charles Mann has described the khipu as being 'reminiscent of today's computer languages'. This was the Inkan writing system. Made of camelid fiber the khipu is a series of knots which recorded numbers in primarily a decimal system. For years it was believed that they only recorded numbers for purposes of tribute, censuses etc. but since 1981 when Robert and Marcia Ascher that it actually recorded writing. The material, spin, ply, and color of each string, and the direction of the knot referred to what we would call a letter. Gary Urton has described it as a 'seven-bit binary array' which had 1,536 'information units' compared to 1,500 cuneiform signs and the 600-800 Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphics by the time of the Conquest. The Inka likely did not pioneer the khipu. Evidence suggests that the Wari had a similar system as well. As the khipu was made of string and knots it was easy for the Spanish conquerors to burn them compared to the stone writing system of the Maya and Mexica. 

Someone using a khipu. Image by Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala in the later 16th/early 17th century
The Inka had a very efficient administrative system recorded on the khipu. All this was done with Quechua as a uniting language as the empire covered many different cultures outside the Valley of Cuzco. Aymara and Uru were also widely used in the empire with Aymara being most popular after Quechua. As a result 'conquest' and 'annexation' of peripheral regions were never completed and what was conquered through force was done through other means. The Inkan roads were famous and linked the empire together. The roads were some of the greatest in history. Cuzco was the administrative center and the largest settlement which was described by Cristobal de Molina as being 'a town of more than forty thousand citizens in the city-center alone-with suburbs and outlying settlements around Cuzco to 10 or 12 leagues, I believe there must have been 200,000 Indians'. In Cuzco the emperor resided and was honored, Louis Baudin refers to him as a 'Man-God'. Incest happened as the emperor had to marry his eldest sister, as in keeping with their origin myth. The empress could hold immense power. Pachakuti's wife often ruled in his place when he was away conquering and personally organized relief for victims of an intense earthquake in Arequipa. Tupac Yupanqui's wife, (Pachakuti's daughter), even got the Yanayacu to join the empire. As mentioned earlier outside of Cuzco there were the four suyu ruled by what can be described as a governor. 

The empire also used a policy called mitmaq or mitma. This was a policy which combined colonization with ethnic cleansing at its worst. The mitmaq was a policy to encourage submission without wasting resources suppressing an unruly people. This policy of ethnic cleansing moved less cooperative communities to loyal communities breaking up the unruly peoples so they could not organize resistance against Cuzco. It was described by Spanish chronicler Juan de Betanzos: These Indians were young married men with their wives, their things, and seeds from their lands so they could be placed as mitimaes in the valleys and lands surrounding Cuzco...If the natives should rebel, and the [mitmaq] supported the [Inka] governor, the natives would be punished and reduced to service of the Incas. Likewise, if the [mitmaq] stirred up disorder, the natives put them down. In this way these rulers had their empire assured against revolt.'Thousands could be moved with this system. This was done via the roads.
An Inkan Road
The Inkas built over 20,000 km of road! They are now officially a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These systems were linked by way-stations offering shelter to official travelers. The roads aren't consistent throughout the empire. From Cuzco to Quito in modern Ecuador with large impressive roads whereas in the south, (Chile and Argentina), they are rather small. 

An image of Viracocha
Religion was extremely important for the Inka. Many different religions existed in the empire, and like the Romans knew that imposing their religion onto the conquered meant that they could not sustain an empire. To ensure their power sometimes the Inka would associate themselves with local deities and oracles, as well as honoring local shrines. However, the conquered had to acknowledge that the sun and moon were superior to local gods. A Spanish chronicler, Juan de Betanzos, who spoke Quechua and was married to Emperor Atawallpa's niece/consort has spoken in detail about Inkan religion. The Inkas were polytheistic and even have several creation stories, (with one concerning Lake Titicaca to possibly link themselves to the Wari). The creator god, Viracocha, had created a race of shadowy people but was displeased with them so turned them to stone. He then emerged from Lake Titicaca where he created the sun, moon and the first humans. It was also stated that he was the ancestor/father to Manco Capac. The sun god Inti, however, was most revered where in some stories he is the father of Manco Capac. It is believed that the worship of Inti above all was put forward by Pachakuti. 

Religion varied for the aristocracy and commoners. For one, commoners could not utter the name Viracocha. Rituals were vital for everyone and were recorded on a lunar calendar of 354 days although the elite used a precise solar calendar to link with Inti. Temples were important centers, especially the temple for Inti in Cuzco called Qorikancha, where thousands congregated to observe sunrises and sunsets. Sacrifice was done but this was largely a sacrifice of maize or a llama. Human sacrifice did occur but in many areas figurines made of silver, good or wood were used. Here we see a difference between the Mexica and the Inka. For the Mexica humanity was in debt so repaid the debt via blood sacrifice; for the Inka this was not present and veneration of ancestors was more prevalent. Mummification was common for the ruling elite, especially for emperors. For commoners religious worship was common with many praying daily to household gods. Pregnant women offered more in sacrifice to ensure that her baby would survive, (curious side note Inkan children weren't referred to as a human until age 2/3 due to high infant mortality rate and not given a gender specific name until age 7). 

An Inkan terrace for farming
At the start I mentioned that the Inkas have sometimes been described as being communist or socialist. The reason for this is that the Inkas didn't have markets or currency. While in Mexico the Spanish spoke often of the markets being blown away by them; in Peru they make no mention of them. Instead of a market economy the economy was ran through reciprocity. In exchange for corvee labor, military obligations and taxes in the form of crops or textiles people would be supplied with food during hard times, feasts, and projects terraces. Although bartering did occur most of the economy was ran via reciprocity. The Inkas were famous for their precious metals like gold and silver. How then did this fit into the Inkan world? The value of goods depended on their role in the system of social relationships and rituals. Gold and silver were needed for ceremony which formed the backbone of society. Hence these precious metals became important in society.

Depiction of the Conquest
In less than a hundred years since the formation of Tawantinsuyu under Pachakuti the empire fell to invaders from another world. In 1492 Christopher Columbus brought the Americas to the attention of Europe. In the 1520s Wayna Qhapaq was consolidating his northernmost conquests in the far north, (modern Columbia and Ecuador). While there he heard stories of strangers being spotted. In 1521 Hernan Cortes had destroyed the Triple Alliance, (Aztec Empire), in Mexico. The Spanish Empire had been building an empire in the Americas bringing with it explorers and colonists but more importantly disease. Smallpox had devastated the people of Mesoamerica and the disease would spread across the Americas killing thousands if not millions in something called the Great Dying. Tawantinsuyu was no exception. Before they met the Spanish they encountered their diseases-measles, influenza and smallpox-and lacking resistance to the disease thousands died in the Inkan Empire. Wayna Qhapaq and his designated heir both succumbed to one of the diseases sometime between 1524 and 1528 causing a succession war. While this was happening a conquistador named Francisco Pizarro in 1524 had attempted to find a rich 'tribe', (and tried again in 1525), and in 1530/1 he made landfall at Tumbas in northern Peru. In 1532 with 150 men on foot and horse he set off to meet one of the brothers in the succession war, Atawallpa. Like Cortes in Mexico he recruited locals who had opposed Atawallpa. On November 15, 1532 they arrived at Atawallpa's temporary capital of Cajamarca where Pizarro's secretary commented that the city was 'larger than any city in Spain'. Atawallpa greeted them warmly but Pizarro feared that he would betray them so conspired to kidnap the emperor. They met with Atawallpa demanding that he accept Christianity and that he submit to the Spanish king. Due to translation errors the emperor threw a Bible which the Spanish used as a provocation to attack. It was a massacre leaving hundreds of Atawallpa's men dead. The emperor was captured but he had a chance to be released: he had to fill a room full of gold and twice that of silver. He did but Pizarro would not let him go. When the other brother was assassinated the Spanish used this as an excuse to blame Atawallpa and used it to execute him in 1533. Over the next thirty-five years the Spanish began a bloody genocide against the Inka. Atawallpa's nephew, Tupac Amaru, was leading the resistance against them until 1572 when he was captured and executed.

Although many died in fighting more were killed thanks to diseases including typhus, smallpox and influenza. Between 60 and 90% of the Inkan population died thanks to European diseases. Already broken thanks to disease and civil war the conquest was easy for the Spanish. With thousands dead through disease by the time of Tupac Amaru's death in 1572 nothing could bring back the Inkas.

The Inka remain a key point in South American history. Often overlooked their brief empire offered a way to unite a huge swath of land, (just 1000 km smaller than Alexander the Great's empire). With a unique writing system and an economic system which can be easily described as communistic the Inkas are a key point in history. Their legacy is also important. Their usage of Quechua spread the language so much that it is the official language of several countries, including Peru. Several sites including the roads and Machu Picchu are UNESCO World Heritage Sites showing their importance. Finally the leader of a Peruvian independence movement in the late eighteenth-century changed his name to be named after Tupac Amaru who resisted the Spanish years earlier. They may have been a short-lived society but they left a huge impact. Next time we will look closer at the Great Dying as well as other aspects of European colonialism.

Thank you for reading and the sources I have used are as follows:
-The Incas by Craig Morris and Adriana von Hagen
-The Discovery and Conquest of Peru by Pedro de Cieza de Leon, (translated by Alexandra Parma Cook and Noble David Cook)
-The Ancient Kingdoms of Peru by Nigel Davies
-Daily Life in Peru Under the Last Incas by Louis Baudin, (translated by Winifred Bradford)
-'Andean Societies before 1532' by John Murra, in The Cambridge History of Latin America, Volume 1: Colonial Latin America edited by Leslie Bethell
-1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
-'South America on the eve of European Conquest' in The Times Complete History of the World edited by Richard Overy

For other World History posts please see here. Please like our Facebook page and follow me on Twitter @LewisTwiby. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave any comments and I'll see you at the next World History post when we discuss colonialism.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

DC's First Comic

The DC logos until today
Even non-comic book fans know DC comics. Alongside Marvel it is the largest comic book company in at least the English speaking world giving us characters such as Superman, Wonder Woman, and my personal favorite of Batman. For decades this company has dominated the world of comic books and pulp fiction. How then did DC comics start? To answer this question we must go back to 1935...

The World of 1935
What would become DC comics came about in 1935 in a time when the world was in crisis. In 1929 the Wall Street Crash had plunged the world economy into crisis leading to the Great Depression. In the United States over 20% of the workforce became unemployed and in Germany it stood at 25%. The only country to be largely unaffected was the Soviet Union who had become a social pariah in a capitalist world. In 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president and he began a program named the 'New Deal' which redefined the American left and began lifting the USA out of Depression, (although it would take until American entry into the Second World War for the economy to recover). Meanwhile, in Europe and Asia the far-right was taking over. Imperial Japan started to become ultra-nationalist and in 1937 would reinvade China, the Kuomintang in China drifted towards fascism under Chiang Kai-shek, Italy under Mussolini hoping to rebuild the Roman Empire invaded Ethiopia in 1935 committing horrible atrocities, and in 1933 Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. In 1935 he would start German rearmament in violation of the Treaty of Versailles and would pass the Nuremberg Laws which stripped German Jews of their rights. 1935 also saw the friendship ruining game Monopoly being released by the Parker Brothers and in I Haven't Got a Hat Porky Pig made his debut. It was in this setting that comic book history was made.

Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson
The man who made comic book history
Who would have thought that a former army major would shape comic book history so much? The man pictured, (while in his army uniform sometime in the 1890s), is Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. He had written an open letter criticizing army command causing him to face a lawsuit and even being shot, something which his family described as being down to the army attempting to assassinate him. After resigning in 1923 he began writing pulp stories in Adventure and Argosy writing about historical and military adventure stories. He even acted as a ghost writer for six novels for Street and Smith Publications. In 1925 he first stepped into the comic book industry by founding Wheeler-Nicholson Inc. which published a daily comic-strip adaptation of Treasure Island. Then came the Depression. With the economy in tatters Wheeler-Nicholson had to find a way to keep things a float and Famous Funnies seemed to be the answer. In 1933 Famous Funnies published what can be seen as the very first comic book. Instead of just comic-strips this new comic book offered many comics in one for just 10 cents. The next year Famous Funnies became regularly sold with the first issue offering 100 comics and games for just 10 cents. Cash strapped people bought this book by the thousands. The equivalent today would be a company selling the seven main Harry Potter books for $10. Although Wheeler-Nicholson didn't realize that the comic's success also made the company go over four grand in the red he saw dollar signs. In 1934 National Allied Publishing was founded and the next year New Fun #1 was published.

New Fun #1
The First Comic
New Fun would act like Famous Funnies where Wheeler-Nicholson would reprint famous or at least somewhat popular comic-strips in a book format. It was subtitled 'The Big Comic Magazine' as it was literally larger than the competition at 25.4 x 38.1 cm (10 x 15 inches). In this one issue there were several stories including the cowboy Jack Woods fighting cattle rustlers (depicted on the cover), Super-Police fighting crime in 2023, Native Americans attacking a band moving West, and some kids being sent to Ancient Egypt by a crystal ball just to name a few stories. All these would be brief, one page, and would continue in the next issue. However, Wheeler-Nicholson was at a disadvantage. Although he wanted to reprint famous comic-strips he couldn't: licensing was expensive and many of the famous strips were already being licensed by Famous Funnies. Although later they did manage to publish a story involving Oswald the Lucky Rabbit; the character Walt Disney made before Mickey. Not only that but New Fun could only afford color on the front while Famous Funnies could afford color throughout. It would take until issue three for it to have color on the inside. New Fun did pioneer something though which would revolutionize comic book history. Wheeler-Nicholson, to save money, got people to write original stories so he didn't have to pay the expensive licensing costs. Although they were comic-strips they served as a landmark in comics as they were original stories. Issue one came out in February and in October, with issue six, something important happened: DC's first super hero was introduced.

DC's First Character
Issue Six
On first glance New Fun #6 appeared to be like the five preceding comics. Several of the stories featured happened to be 'part 6' of the ones from the first issue. For this issue a pair named Jerry Siegel (the writer) and Joe Shuster (the artist) were hired to write two stories. The first was 'Henri Duval, Famed Soldier of Fortune' went on to appear in in only four installments. Their second story, written under pseudonym, was 'Dr. Occult, the Ghost Detective'. In this story the titular hero and his assistant, Rose Psychic, attempt to save a man and his wife from a vampire. Those who know their DC comics will understand the significance of this. For those who don't Dr. Occult and Rose Psychic regularly feature in stories to this day, and are DC's 'superheroes'. Siegel and Shuster went on though to write an even more important character.

Siegel's and Shuster's Second Character
By 1937 with the Depression still ravaging the world economy Wheeler-Nicholson was going under despite owning two titles, More Fun Comics, (formerly New Fun), and New Adventure Comics, and he couldn't afford to create his desired third. He wanted a title devoted to detective stories and mysteries after seeing the success of the Green Hornet and the Phantom but neither of his titles could accommodate them. He turned to his distributor Harry Donenfeld who helped get Detective Comics #1 released as well as forming Detective Comics Inc. Still Wheeler-Nicholson was not seeing profits so by the end of the year he was forced out. Donenfeld's business adviser Jack Liebowitz was eager to buy Wheeler-Nicholson's shares saying that 'I had a feel for it [comic books], that it was a good field'. While this was happening Siegel and Shuster were continuing to write comics. They had a love for science-fiction and started implementing it into their comics. In More Fun Comics #15 they had Dr. Occult don a blue costume and red cape to resemble a character which they had pitched years earlier. This character was a bald-headed, cape-wearing powerful alien trying to dominate the world but their plan had been rejected. In 1938 Detective Comics Inc. bought More Fun Comics and New Adventure Comics with many of the writers/artists coming with them. Siegel and Shuster were hired to write a story for the new title, Action Comics, and they decided to bring back their old character. However, they changed him. Instead of a villain he would be hero. As Siegel and Shuster were Jews in a time of intense hatred to not only Jews but other minorities including African-Americans and Asian-Americans they decided to make this character an alien. That way minorities could see themselves as this character, another minority. In fact, the subtitle for this story was 'Champion of the Oppressed'. Although other stories were featured alongside it Siegel's and Shuster's story was granted the cover page. Thus the world was introduced to the Superman.
The Arrival of Superman
From there DC produced more and more memorable characters. A year after Superman's debut the world was introduced to the Batman. However the last words of Superman's debut story would reverberate in the history of pop culture: And so begins the adventures of the most sensational strip character of all time.

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this. For future posts please see our Facebook or follow me on Twitter @LewisTwiby

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Comics Explained: The Infinity Gauntlet and Infinity Stones

The Infinity Gauntlet and the Infinity Gems
Since The Avengers the Infinity Stones (called Infinity Gems in the comics) and the Infinity Gauntlet have been teased throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In Thor we see a right-handed Gauntlet in Odin's vault, they were first properly seen in Guardians of the Galaxy, in Avengers: Age of Ultron Thanos is seen wearing the left-handed gauntlet, and the recently leaked trailer for Avengers: Infinity War (which has now been taken down) shows Thanos using it. In the comics and movies the Infinity Gems are the most powerful items in the universe granting the wielder powers which can literally shape the universe. Today we'll look at the Gems and the Gauntlet.

The Infinity Gems
The Six Gems
The Infinity Gems first appeared in Marvel Premier #1 in 1972 where they were initially referred to as Soul Gems. There Adam Warlock was reborn by the 'Soul Gem' being fused to his forehead in the same way that Vision was created in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The Gems were created when the cosmic being Nemesis commit suicide whose energy was dissipated into the Gems. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe created their own backstory for them in Guardians of the Galaxy where the Collector explains that they are six singularities that existed prior to the Big Bang, and were compressed when the universe began. A very good Nerdist video, (please see here), theorizes that inside the Gems are small black holes. The first group/people to bring the six Gems together were the Elders of the Universe, a group comprising of the last members of powerful species, in order to destroy the world eating Galactus and then recreate the universe. This was to ensure that they would be the oldest and most powerful beings in the universe, (Galactus was the last survivor of a universe which was destroyed before the Marvel universe was created). In 1990's The Thanos Quest they are referred to as 'Infinity Gems' for the first time where Thanos beats the Elders one by one until he could obtain all six Gems. This acted as a prelude to The Infinity Gauntlet where Thanos created the Gauntlet in order to wield all the Gems at once which gives him so much power that with a snap of his fingers half the universe dies and allowed him briefly to supplant a being called Eternity as the embodiment of the universe. Currently five of the Gems were destroyed when Captain America used them to stop a parallel version of Earth from crashing into the main Earth. The only one which was not destroyed vanished. Now let's look at what each Gem does.

Mind Gem
Mind Gem
The Mind Gem gives the wielder the ability to control the minds of others. For a non-psychic person it grants the wielder the ability to use psychic powers whereas it augments the psychic abilities of someone who has those powers. These powers include telepathy, telekinesis and feel empathy for other beings. When used in conjunction with the other Gems the Mind Gem can link the wielder with the minds of every being in the universe at once. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe the Mind Gem was located in Loki's scepter, which he used to control people, and was later used by Ultron to create Vision.

Power Gem
Power Gem
The Power Gem gives the user the ability to use all the energy that exists in the universe, (and by default all energy that will ever exist), and can give the wielder enhanced strength or durability. Of course this depends on how much the user draws from the Mind Gem. Through this it allows the user to replicate any superhuman ability therefore making anyone who can properly use it practically invincible. When used with the other Gems it can drastically enhance the abilities of the other Gems. In the MCU the Power Gem was the first of the Gems to be formally introduced (although the color of the Gem/Stone was changed), in Guardians of the Galaxy where Ronan wished to use it to destroy Xandar. It now remains with the Nova Corps. 

Time Gem
Time Gem
The Time Gem, in my opinion, is the second most powerful Gem. This Gem has the ability to travel through time, slow down/speed up time, accelerate or slow down ageing, and see through time itself. This includes the future where the wielder can possibly see multiple possibly future timelines. When used with the other five Gems it can allow the user to exist in every point in time. When the other five Gems were destroyed the Time Gem was the only one not to be destroyed. In the movies the Time Gem is currently located inside the Eye of Agamotto where Doctor Stephen Strange used it to trap Dormammu inside a time loop. In the comics the Time Gem and Eye of Agamotto are two separate items. Quite likely Kevin Feige wished to reduce the number of powerful objects in the MCU so the final battle with Thanos would be a lot less equal. 

Space Gem
Space Gem
The Space Gem allows the wielder to manipulate space anyway the user sees fit. This is largely done my manipulating the motion and trajectory of objects. However, the most common use is teleportation. At its full potential the Space Gem can alter the Laws of Physics allowing the wielder to appear in several places at once and even change the distance between two or more objects. In the MCU the Space Gem was located inside the Tesseract, called the Cosmic Cube in the comics, which served as the main McGuffin in Captain America: First Avenger and The Avengers. Currently in the movies it is located in Asgard.

Soul Gem
Soul Gem
The Soul Gem was the Gem given to Adam Warlock to grant his rebirth. This Gem allows the wielder to basically manipulate the soul of another being. This involves the user being able to see the soul of another being, attack or even steal their soul. It can even revert beings to their original state. For example, in the comics Adam Warlock came into conflict with an artificially created group of humanoid animals called the New Men. He uses this to revert them to their pre-evolved animal forms. Unlike the other Gems the Soul Gem is sentient and actively desires the souls of other beings. As it steals souls it desires further souls. Currently the Soul Gem is the only one not to appear in the MCU and could likely appear in Thor: Ragnarok although we don't fully know yet.

Reality Gem
Reality Gem
The Reality Gem is, in my opinion, the most powerful of the six Infinity Gems. This Gem allows the user to change the very fabric of reality regardless if it breaks all laws of physics and logic. If someone wants two plus two to equal five it can do that, if they want black to be white it can do that. Regardless of the absurdity or impossibility of the request it can do it. To give you some perspective resurrecting the dead is a minor task for the Reality Gem. More powerful wielders can even create entirely new alternate realities immediately. In the MCU the Reality Gem is referred to as 'the Aether' which instead converts matter to anti-matter and vice versa. At the end of Thor: The Dark World the Asgardians took it to the Collector but after the events of Guardians of the Galaxy it's fate is unknown.

Infinity Gauntlet
The Gauntlet
The Infinity Gauntlet first appeared in Silver Surfer Vol. 3 #44 in 1990. Thanos created the Infinity Gauntlet as a way for him to wield all six Infinity Gems at once and fully utilize their power. During the Siege event, where the Green Goblin who was then leading a warped version of SHIELD attacked Asgard, Tony Stark became the first human to use the Infinity Gauntlet. After the first use of the Infinity Gauntlet, and Thanos' defeat, a being named the Living Tribunal declared that the Infinity Gems should never be used in conjunction. The Living Tribunal is a cosmic entity who exists outside the universe monitoring all realities in the Multiverse enforcing balance whose power dwarfs that of the Infinity Gauntlet. However, Thanos managed to get the Living Tribunal to reverse this decision. When the five Gems were destroyed the Gauntlet went with them.

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Sunday, 23 July 2017

Comics Explained: The Black Order

Thanos and the Black Order
Over the last week we've seen many things comic book related drop. We had the new trailers for The Defenders, Inhumans, Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok and the D23 expo. For those who don't know D23 is the big Disney convention hosted every two years where they announce the upcoming projects for the next two years. At first I was excited that they released the new trailer for Kingdom Hearts III with a release year but then they released the models for Thanos and the Black Order for the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. The Black Order is a recent edition to the Marvel universe with them making their first appearance in 2013 in the excellent Jonathan Hickman's run on New Avengers, (first appearing in New Avengers Vol. 3 #8). Today we'll look at the Black Order to see just who they are.

Who are the Black Order?
The D23 Models left to right: Corvus Glaive, Proxima Midnight, Thanos, Ebony Maw, and Black Dwarf
The Black Order can be considered some of Thanos' elite commanders. They serve Thanos; they are definitely not his equal. Corvus Glaive can be considered the overall leader of the Black Order with him acting as the right-hand man of Thanos. Other members of the Black Order included Proxima Midnight, (who also happened to be Corvus Glaive's wife), Ebony Maw, Black Dwarf and Supergiant. So far Only Corvus Glaive, Proxima Midnight, Ebony Maw and Black Dwarf have been announced to appear in the MCU. The purpose of the Black Order is to basically be Thanos' messengers and commanders. Corvus Glaive sends out a race of genetically engineered humanoids called the Outriders to seek out planets inhabited by weak species. Later they arrive on the planet demanding that they submit to the will of Thanos or face annihilation. However, this is not their only role. If there is something on a planet which Thanos is aware of that he wants he will send the Black Order to retrieve what he wants. In 2013 there was a large event called Infinity which caused the Avengers to have to go into space. Thanos then sent the Black Order to a largely defenseless Earth in order to retrieve the Infinity Gems, under the control of several of Earth's heroes, and Thanos' own son, Thane. Retrieving Thane was Thanos' main goal; he had been destroying worlds who refused to give him people aged sixteen to twenty-two. Thane was an Inhuman whose mother had been raped by Thanos when he was trying to destroy her Inhuman tribe. However, Thanos did not want to be reunited with his lost son. Instead he wanted to kill him to ensure that there would be no other Titan to challenge him. So when the Avengers went to space Thanos arrived at Attilan to get Thane as his Black Order attacked Earth to retrieve the Infinity Gems. Now let's look at each member of the Black Order.

Corvus Glaive
Corvus Glaive
Corvus Glaive is Thanos' right-hand man who was in charge in leading his master's crusade against the universe. Naturally being a homicidal alien in charge of an army for a genocidal alien he has the typical powers to lead such an army including enhanced strength, speed endurance etc. The most significant power happens to be his immortality. Corvus Glaive's immortality stems from his glaive, (hence his name), where as long as the blade of the glaive is intact he cannot die. He was even completely disintegrated but because of the blade being intact his body slowly reformed. Through comic book logic it is possible that his blade contains part of his soul. Furthermore his glaive can split atoms which means that it can cut through anything. Thanks to this his blade can cut beings whose powers prevents them from being cut like the Hulk or Marvel's equivalent of Superman, Hyperion. Finally Corvus Glaive is a master tactician. Before invading a planet he learns every form of warfare that the specific planet has ever experienced so when Proxima Midnight called him the greatest general that Earth has ever seen it isn't an exaggeration by his wife.

When the Black Order invaded Earth Thanos tasked him in finding Thane. He arrived at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, (where the X-Men are), believing that a half-Titan would be sheltered by a school devoted to helping superpowered teenagers. He left after finding out that Thane wasn't there. Glaive was smart; he knew picking a senseless fight against the X-Men was a poor idea. Instead there was a brief fight. Although the Avengers are Earth's most powerful group the X-Men are still very formidable. Eventually Thane was tracked to an Inhuman city called Orollan in Greenland. However while fighting Hyperion at Orollan he was disintegrated by the hero and his glaive was frozen in an amber construct with Proxima Midnight and Thanos by Thane. The three were later freed and he formed his own Black Order to challenge Thanos. However he was no match for Thanos who destroyed his blade so Glaive killed himself to avoid torture at Thanos' hands.

Proxima Midnight
Proxima Midnight
Proxima Midnight is by far the best fighter in Thanos' army which by default makes her one of the most formidable fighter in the entire Marvel universe. By being the wife of Corvus Glaive she also happens to be one of the more influential members of the Black Order with Thanos. She wields a spear which was forged by Thanos from a star distorted in a space-time paradox so it was simultaneously a star, supernova and black hole. This spear can harness all three of them making it one of the most powerful weapons in the Marvel universe. It can be a projectile with constant velocity, can release an energy to immobilize targets, and contains a lethal toxin which can kill anything. Possibly thanks to the black hole which it was made of when Proxima Midnight fought the Hulk she managed to drain the strength from him, (generated thanks to gamma rays), which reverted him back to Bruce Banner. Thanks to Midnight's expert fighting skills she never misses with the spear. She is one of the greatest fighters wielding one of the greatest weapons to exist. Despite her and Corvus Glaive's formidable nature they share a genuine love for one another. In one comic they take a walk on a beach in an area that they've devastated just chatting about work as if they were just a normal workplace couple.

During the invasion of Earth she was tasked in invading Atlantis to retrieve Namor's Infinity Gem. Before she did so she invaded New York City. In the real world NYC is one of the most important cities in the USA and the world and in the Marvel universe it is even more important. Many of the Earth's heroes including the Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four and Stephen Strange are based in New York so destroying New York could destroy most of Earth's heroes. Unexpectedly she met resistance from Luke Cage and his Mighty Avengers, as well as resistance from the citizens of New York, which caused Thanos to express disappointment in her. Knowing that if Thanos is disappointed in you in signs your death warrant she soon left for Atlantis, (after sucker punching Cage). Arriving in Atlantis she saw that it was in ruins and therefore deduced that Namor could not have an Infinity Gem. Upon meeting Namor she demanded his allegiance and location of the Gem or she would destroy Atlantis. Namor revealed that Wakanda and the Black Panther may have the Gem so she joined Glaive and Thanos in breaching Wakanda after Black Dwarf failed to do so. She later went with Thanos to Orollan and was frozen in amber. Recently Thanos tried to obtain Mjolnir where she defeated Thor but was killed by the ruler of Hel, Hella, who took her spear and killed her with it.

Ebony Maw
Ebony Maw
Unlike the other members of the Black Order Ebony Maw is not a fighter. Instead he is a tactician and an expert persuader which allows him to control even the most strongest of peoples. He was described as a 'black tongue that spreads mischief and evil wherever he goes'. We can't actually confirm if he does have superpowers. Speaking mostly in lies we cannot be certain that his claims to lack enhanced powers is accurate or not. The best way to show the extent of his powers is to show what he did during Earth's invasion. Thanos tasked him in dealing with Dr Strange. Dr Strange's magic and position as Sorcerer Supreme makes him one of the most powerful non-cosmic beings in the Marvel universe being able to warp reality. By Thanos' invasion his powers had been reduced (writers felt he had become so omnipotent that he could not be relatable), but he still remained extremely powerful. Normally mind control had no chance of remotely working on him. Maw managed to make Strange his puppet, act as a double agent to betray Earth, and also summon Shuma-Gorath (basically Cthulu). When Thane was discovered Maw got Strange to tell him where Thane was. Later he started manipulating Thane and when Thanos was frozen in amber he started instructing Thane into becoming something greater than his father. Later Thane and Maw were captured by Glaive's followers but Maw talked himself to freedom leaving behind Thane.

Like Maw Supergiant is not a fighter like many other members of the Black Order. Instead she has the ability to read and control the minds of people of any race. Naturally this makes her an invaluable part of Thanos' Black Order. Thanks to Thanos' genocidal tendencies he won't simply get her to control leaders into acquiescing to his demands. She has been described as a 'mental parasite' where she can read others minds and even devour the minds of her victims. Her psychic ability is so strong that she can control several people at a time and make them do her, and Thanos', wishes. During the invasion of Earth she accompanied Glaive in attacking the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning where she was integral in defeating the X-Men without much violence. After Black Dwarf failed to conquer Wakanda, and after Proxima Midnight had got confirmation from Namor, she was sent to control Black Bolt, ruler of the Inhumans, who had been defeated by Thanos. Black Bolt had refused to reveal Thane's whereabouts, even shouting 'No!' at Thanos, (a whisper from Black Bolt can cause an earthquake), which made Thanos pound him to a pulp. Using her powers she had Black Bolt mentally prepare the bombs placed in Wakanda's Necropolis (where the most powerful heroes were organizing). When heroes came to rescue him she used his voice to easily flatten them and then got him to activate the bombs. However, she was met by Black Bolt's brother, Maximus, and the dog Inhuman Lockjaw (who can teleport objects/people). Maximus had Lockjaw teleport Supergiant and the bombs to an unihabited planet where the bombs detonated killing her.

Black Dwarf
Black Dwarf
Black Dwarf is the Black Order's equivalent of the Hulk or the Thing. With super strength and with unbreakable skin he is the powerhouse of the group. He also happens to be the brother of Corvus Glaive. Black Dwarf was sent to destroy Wakanda when Thanos invaded. However, this was a bad move. Black Dwarf isn't a tactician like Glaive and he was sent to destroy the most technology advanced, best defended, and richest country in the world (only Latveria possibly comes close to surpassing it). Also Wakanda is defended by Black Panther and the Dora Milaje. T'Challa, the Black Panther, is an expert in countless martial arts and he himself is a genius rivaling the likes of Tony Stark and Stephen Hawking. The Dora Milaje are the Black Panther's elite bodyguards comprising of female warriors trained in virtually every fighting style in existence. With little effort Black Dwarf was defeated by Wakanda causing his expulsion from the Black Order by Thanos. However, the Titan gave Black Dwarf a rare chance at redemption. During the early stages of the invasion Thanos had taken over the Peak, S.W.O.R.D's (an organization which deals with extraterrestrial threats and relations) base, and it was under threat by being retaken by the Avengers. Ronan the Accuser, (fans of Guardians of the Galaxy will instantly recognize him), aided the Avengers and killed Black Dwarf.

My predictions on Role in Infinity War
Those who know their comic book history will know that the Infinity War story was written about twenty years before the introduction of the Black Order. We will likely see a very loose adaption like with Captain America: Civil War as Marvel currently has not properly introduced some key characters (like Adam Warlock who appeared in the post-credits scene of Guardians Vol.2), or don't own the rights to (like Dr Doom, Galactus and Silver Surfer). We do know that at least two Infinity Gems are on Earth, (the Mind Stone in Vision's head and the Time Stone in the Eye of Agamotto). I believe that Thanos sends the Black Order to Earth to demand at least these two stones. I am currently living in Edinburgh and a few months ago they were filming scenes for Infinity War just ten minutes from where I live, and several of the cast have been spotted in Edinburgh. A comic book news website also stated that a European city is destroyed in the movie. Whether that city is Edinburgh or is standing in for another city we don't know yet but I believe that the Black Order is the cause of this destruction. I believe that the Black Order arrives at this city, possibly destroys it and demands the Stones in return for not destroying other cities. The heroes refuse and fight the Black Order.

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Saturday, 15 July 2017

World History: The Aztecs

A piece of Aztec art
Throughout Mesoamerican history there has been a history of city states. The last time we looked at Mesoamerican history we focused particularly on the Maya and their height of power. Today we shall look at the most famous Mesoamerican civilization: the Aztecs. However, we do run into a bit of an issue here. The people referred to as Aztecs never actually called themselves Aztecs. The term 'Aztec' was first used in the nineteenth-century by Alexander von Humboldt to describe the largely Nahuatl speaking peoples of something called the Triple Alliance, (Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan). If 'Aztec' is used anywhere in this post it will be in reference to the peoples who lived in the Triple Alliance. Before we look at the Triple Alliance, however, we must first look at the culture of Mesoamerica as 'Aztec' culture bears a huge resemblance to other Mesoamerican cultures.

Introduction to Mesoamerican Cultures
The Temple of Kukulkan
The above photo is of El Castillo, or the Temple of Kukulkan, which was a Mayan pyramid. Many other cultures in Mesoamerica, including the Triple Alliance, built pyramids. Winged serpents, human sacrifice, emphasis on the sun in religious worship and a unique approach to time, (among other things), are all present in the various cultures to have existed in pre-Spanish Mesoamerica. This can be easily explained as the many city states and empires either briefly coexisted or ousted the previous state creating cultural similarities throughout the centuries. Comparing this to other areas of the world we can see this in Europe since the time of the Greek states and Rome, and in China with the continued Chinese cultural pieces like the Mandate of Heaven. Although each culture had their own way of doing things it was similar to each other and is descended from the Olmecs who arose around 1500 BCE. These cultures co-opted ideas from one another. As we mentioned all these civilizations used human sacrifice; why this originated we do not know, (in early time and simultaneously with human sacrifice food was also offered for sacrifice), and historians have put forward several explanations why (population control? aiding political expansion? elite power maintenance?). However, cultures had different ways to do this. Initially the Maya in their sacrifices would cut their ruler or would decapitate someone but after interacting with the Triple Alliance they would start cutting out hearts. We will into more detail about 'Aztec' culture later but before we move on to the Triple Alliance's origins I briefly want to talk about Mesoamerican concept of time.

European, Islamic and most Asian calendars are based off of one linear object, mainly the sun, so experience time, as described by Kay Read and Jason Gonzalez, as 'beads on a rope'. Mesoamerican cultures including the Maya, Mexica, Toltecs etc. based their calendars off of many celestial objects which each had their own movements and paths. Read and Gonzalez describe this as them experiencing time as the rope instead of the beads. Fibers on the rope spin together overlapping at times and then not. The present moment contains many past and future moments so will pick of powers of specific years, deities and times from the past and future. By manipulating the bindings through ritual one could control the path of the future or even the past, (we shall talk about this soon). The Maya have legends of the Hero Twins which perfectly show this: they existed at the dawn of time and helped create the first beings but they were also newborn long after creation. Now with that explained we shall talk about the origin of the Triple Alliance.

The eagle from the origin story, now part of Mexico's flag
It's quite difficult to ascertain the origins of the Triple Alliance for several reasons. The first is that when the Spanish took over they proceeded to do a cultural genocide of Mesoamerica so many sources are now lost to us, and they later rewrote sources to make them sound not far from barbaric. The second reason is that many rulers rewrote history, Itzcoatl being a famous one to do this. As mentioned earlier the concept of time meant that in the present it was possible for someone to rewrite the past. Many rulers rewrote the past to suit the current situation, Itzoatl was king of Tenochtitlan who helped found the Triple Alliance and later there was a massive rewrite to help cope and understand the Spanish conquest. We have managed to piece together some idea of their origins through remaining sources and archaeological evidence. The people who founded, and made up, the 'Aztec Empire' come from the Uto-Aztecan language group which comprised of thirty languages of which Nahuatl was, (and still is), the largest. It is currently believed that a nomadic group of the Nahua people named the Chichimeca under the leadership of chief Xolotl settled in the Valley of Mexico in 1224. Here they founded Tenayuca. There other groups followed and were ruled by petty kings called tlahtoqueh. Eventually in 1250 the Mexica arrived in the Valley. One tradition states that they started for Mexico in 1111 bring led by their tribal deity Huitzilopochtli whose idol was carried by four priests called teomanaque. Official history states that they came from a place called 'Aztlan' and called themselves the 'Azteca' and on the march to the Valley Huitzilopchtli gave them the name 'Mexica'. On their journey Huitzilopchtli was supposedly born at the mythical Coatepec (Snake Mountain) where he became a sun god showing the Mesoamerican idea of time.

By the time that the Mexica had arrived in the Valley most of the fertile land had been taken by the established city states. As a result many had to act as mercenaries, quite fitting as Huitzilopchtli was a war god as well as a sun god, and were eventually made 'serfs' by the city of Colhuacan. In an attempt to 'civilize' them the Colhuacan king gave his daughter to the chief as a bride in 1323 but she was sacrificed, (and possibly flayed), in the hope that she would become a war goddess. Colhuacan then expelled them from the lands. A prophecy from Huitzilopchtli stated that the Mexica will have a sacred spot which would be marked by an eagle perching on a nopal cactus which they supposedly saw on Lake Texcoco where in 1325 they started building Tenochtitlan. Later by 1344 or 1345 the tribe split with one tribe founding Tenochtitlan and another going north to found Tlatelolco. 
Rear of the Teocalli Stone which depicts the eagle
Around 1367 the Mexica came into an alliance with the Tepanac kingdom of Atzcapotzalco who was ruled by Tezozomoc. For Tepanac protection the Mexica would send levies and fight for Tezozomoc. Here we begin to see a later trend in societies with a landed elite. The military commanders, tlatoani, and nobles, pipiltin, gained land through conquest and were rewarded land for fighting. The tlatoani were elected by a council of clan, calpulli, elders. Also it is important to note that the ruler of Tenochtitlan was elected by a council and not inherited father and son. However the son was always elected. One tlatoani of Tenochtitlan even married Tezozomoc's granddaughters. How did the 'Aztec' rise to power then? During a campaign to conquer Texcoco in 1426 Tezozomoc died and his son Maxtla took power after murdering a rival. Maxtla had the Tenochtitlan tlatoani assassinated and Itzcoatl was elected with the support of another tlatoani Motecuhzoma Ihuilcamina. As Tenochtitlan had grown in power they decided to oust Tepananc Atzcapotzalco rule. Tenochtitlan and Texcoco formed an alliance and joined with a dissident Tepananc city of Tlacopan. They managed to conquer Atzcapotzalco in 1428 forming the Triple Alliance, or as it is commonly called the Aztec Empire.

Artist portrayal of Tenochtitlan
When we saw so many cities and villages built in the water and other great towns on dry land we were amazed and said that it was like the enchantments... on account of the great towers and cues and buildings rising from the water, and all built of masonry. And some of our soldiers even asked whether the things that we saw were not a dream?... I do not know how to describe it, seeing things as we did that had never been heard of or seen before, not even dreamed about.
This is what Bernal Diaz del Castillo wrote about Tenochtitlan in The Conquest of New Spain. At almost 14 square kilometers in size with a population over 200,000 Tenochtitlan dwarfed most cities in Europe at the same time. One of the most famous aspect of Triple Alliance cities was the chinampa district in most cities which Castillo refers to as 'cities and villages built in the water'. Chinampas were, (and are), 'floating gardens' as observers have described. In reality they are securely built up the shallow lakebed in fertile layers anchored by slender willows. The chinampas were organised in rectangles which were separated by small canals. They were so successful that they could generate seven harvests a year! Maize, beans, flowers, chili peppers, tomatoes, amaranth and squash were all grown on these chinampas. Quite remarkably many were made by reclaiming swamp land so it can help supply the cities. The cities were like the other Mesoamerican cities and the cities on the Incas in Peru in the fact that they were centers of trade. Each calpulli, about twenty in Tenochtitlan, had its own marketplace which Hernan Cortés estimated to be larger than Salamanca. Although this was an exaggeration the marketplace was certainly large with over 20,000 people a day trading there. Tlateloco had a similarly large marketplace having 25,000 there daily which rose to 40-50,000 on every fifth day when there was a special market. Markets were supplied via canoes. Bernal Diaz described some of the things seen at the market at Tlateloco:
Let us go and speak of those who sold beans and sage and other vegetables and herbs in another part, and to those who sold fowls, cocks with wattles, rabbits, hares, deer, mallards, young dogs and other things...the women who sold cooked food, dough and tripe in their own part of the market; then every sort of pottery made in a thousand different forms from great water jars to little jugs...I could wish that I had finished telling of all the things which are sold there, but they are so numerous and of such different quality and the great market place with its surrounding arcades was so crowded with people, that one would not have been able to see and inquire about it all in two days.
Moon Pyramid
The cities of the Triple Alliance were centered around public buildings, palaces and religious buildings. These normally included a Pyramid of the Moon, Pyramid of the Sun, and a Temple to Quetzalcoatl. A tlachtli ball court was often found. Tlachtli was the 'Aztec' ball game which was mix of soccer and basketball and would sometimes see the sacrifice of four war captives. In the center of the city was the royal palace safe from external attack.

Social Structure and Society
Like every state in history there was a rigid social structure. At the head of the three cities was the Huehuetlatoani who acted as a king of each city and one of these were chosen to be Huey tlatoani (Great Speaker) for the confederation. The Huey tlatoani was more concerned with external affairs of the confederation with a Chihuacoatl ruling the city itself. As Tenochtitlan was the most powerful of the three cities normally they became the Huey tlatoani. The Chihuacoatl was normally a close relative of the Huey tlatoani and would be the equivalent of a European prime minister or Islamic vizier. This position was essential as the tlatoani had to deal with constant external affairs. Unlike other empires the Triple Alliance had a tribute system which they exacted tribute from or warred against to get prisoners for sacrifice. Priests, tlamacazqui, were extremely important in society. A recurrent theme in Mesoamerican religions is world renewal and the tlamacazqui was expected to perform rituals in the city ensure the maintenance and renewal of human society. He, (it was always a he), was also expected to go an annual pilgrimage to a shrine on Mt Tlalco to perform the dry-season rites calling for rain and renewal. Castillo did not describe them positively but in his description we can see Orientalist discourse present:
They wore black cloaks like cassocks and long gowns reaching to their feet. Some had hoods like those worn by canons, and others had smaller hoods...Their hair was covered with blood, and so matted together that it could not be separated, and their ears were cut to pieces by way of penance. They stank like sulphur and they had another bad smell like carrion. They were the sons of chiefs and abstained from women. They fasted on certain days and what I saw them eat was the pith of seeds. The nails on their fingers were very long, and we heard it said that these priests were very pious and led good lives.
Children in Triple Alliance society were raised to respect elders and deities in a similar way to Chinese Confucianism. Childbirth was seen as being a major occasion with midwives shouting war cries and a ritual would take place. Male umbilical cords would be taken by a warrior to a battlefield to be buried as a female cord would be buried by the hearth (representing their places in society). The Codex Mendoza, (a history of Mexico and all its culture made by the Spanish for Charles V), showed the strict raising of children as well as harsh punishments for the worst rulebreakers (including be held over a fire of roasting chili peppers). Surprisingly for a 'pre-modern' society education was open for all classes and sexes. Commoners had the telpochcalli which taught moral/religious training, history, ritual dancing and singing, and public singing. Boys were taught military training while girls were taught to participate in religious cults for later life. Richer classes had the calmecac although smarter commoners could enter it. Although patriarchal Elizabeth Brumfiel has shown that male/female relations was largely gender complimentary. Men and women were seen as equally related in their respective families, could equally own or inherit property/assets, and held equal positions in the markets, schools and temples. Women in temples were linked to female deity cults. We shall now turn to religion.

A depiction of Quetzalcoatl
For time constraints we won't go into detail about 'Aztec' religion. One of the most important and well-known is Quetzalcoatl who is often portrayed as a feathered serpent. Throughout Mesoamerican cultures we see various feathered serpents including Kukulkan in Mayan religion. One story is that the there have been five ages, (the one which the Triple Alliance existed in was the Fifth Age), and Quetzalcoatl formed the Fifth Age. He sacrificed all the gods and then blew on the sun to make it move. Some stories even has him being a comic, trickster god although after the Conquest this side of him appears far less. As mentioned earlier the Mexica greatly honored Huitzilopochtli who was a sun and war god. In Tenochtitlan he shared the Temple Mayor in the center of the city with the rain god Tlaloc. According to Castillo as Huitzilopochtli wore a hummingbird helmet the Aztecs saw the conquistadors helmets resembling Huitzilopochtli's so assumed the Spanish were people like them. One aspect of Aztec religion seen most prominently in the media was sacrifice. Sacrifice was done at certain times of the year at very precise moments, (all Mesoamerican cultures were extremely accurate with their astronomy), and sacrifice was seen as giving gifts to the gods for food. Most of the sacrifices were food like amaranth cakes and the first corn tortillas were eaten at dawn as a sacrifice to the sun. Human sacrifice was also prevalent. Numbers of those sacrificed were embellished by conquistadors to justify their conquest. Only important figures such as warriors taken from tribute states were sacrificed in the temples as they were seen as the best to honor the gods.

The Fall
A depiction of the Fall of Tenochtitlan
The Triple Alliance fell in some of the bloodiest periods of European conquest of the Americas. In 1517 Hernandez de Cordoba arrived in the Yucatan Peninsula sailing from Cuba. There they fought several Maya formations. In 1519 Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors arrived searching for the famed gold of the Triple Alliance. Meanwhile, Motecuhzoma II of Tenochtitlan heard stories of new strange sailing ships and outlandish people on the coast. Cortés had brought with him 500 soldiers and 100 sailors who lacked gold, land or inheritance but did have the crusading spirit of a newly unified Spain. Since the sixteenth-century it has been said that Motecuhzoma believed that Cortés was Quetzalcoatl who had been prophesied to return in the year 1-reed (1519). However, Nigel Davies has highlighted that the original legend had been transformed into a prophesy and Susan Gillespie has argued that this story of Cortés being Quetzalcoatl was invented after the Conquest to make sense of the quick Spanish victory. It is likely that Motecuhzoma treated them as royal emissaries and their gifts were thus gifts for ambassadors and not for gods, (one such was a golden disc 'as large as a cartwheel' valued at 20,000 ducats). Inspired by the wealth in Mexico Cortés burnt his ships and decided to conquer the Triple Alliance. Using tributes which had borne the brunt of the Triple Alliance the Spanish to deprive the Aztecs of their forces and used them to fight their overlords. Cortés arrived back at Tenochtitlan where Motecuhzoma greeted them again and the Spanish, (and their local allies), eventually took him captive where he was killed. Fearing reprisal by the Mexica they fled but left behind the most destructive weapon of all: smallpox. We shall discuss the Great Dying in a future post but here 50% of Tenochtitlan's population died thanks to the horrific disease including the emperor himself. Meanwhile the Spanish made an alliance with the Texcocans, Tlaxcalans and other cities wanting to break free from Triple Alliance rule. Together they laid siege to Tenochtitlan and it fell in 1521. With the fall of Tenochtitlan years of subjugation for the indigenous peoples of Mexico began.

The Triple Alliance remains a key point in history. It was a unique civilization which showed a continuation of Mesoamerican culture while also representing something new. It represents how pervasive colonial thought is in our culture. We refer to them as a name invented by someone who lived centuries after they fell, today their religion is portrayed as being bathed in blood and human hearts based on the description from Spanish conquerors, and still a story that they were naive believing that Cortés was a god. Their fall shows the destructiveness of colonialism. Finally they also helped shape what Mexico wanted to be. Mexico itself is named after the Mexica people who ruled Tenochtitlan and currently Mexico City is built on Tenochtitlan. Mexico's flag even portrays the eagle eating a snake on the cactus which the Mexica supposedly saw. Although the colonialists tried to erase the memory of the Aztec Empire they remained to shape how Mexico tried to see itself.

Thank you for reading and the sources I have used are as follows:
-The Aztecs, third edition, by Richard F. Townsend
-Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, sixth edition, by Michael D. Coe and Rex Koontz
-1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, second edition, by Charles C. Mann
-Handbook of Mesoamerican Mythology by Kay Almere Read and Jason Gonzalez

For a list of other World History posts please see here. There's a Facebook page so you can keep updated and follow/message me on Twitter @LewisTwiby