The legends surrounding Quetzalcoatl, the human incarnation of the Plumed Serpent, provide key insights into the sophistication and complexity of societies in Mexico in the period between 900 and 1521 AD. At Tollan, in what is now Tula, Hidalgo, the Toltec people prospered under Quetzalcoatl’s reign; they developed trading partnerships across Mexico and Central America. However, according to legendary accounts, Quetzalcoatl was banished from Tula after committing transgressions while under the influence of a rival. During his exile, he embarked upon an epic journey through southern Mexico, where he visited many independent kingdoms. A loose confederacy of royal families from across Mexico embraced Quetzalcoatl as their patron deity and dynastic founder, united by his cult. Inspired by Quetzalcoatl’s association with commerce, this diverse, multilingual population cultivated vast trade networks that facilitated the exchange of materials and ideas across great distances, resulting in cultural developments, such as an international art style and a pictographic writing system that brought together disparate communities of Mesoamerica.
Image:Effigy Censer in the Form of the Maize God, Mexico, Yucatan, Mayapan, 1200–1400, Museo Nacional de la Historia, Chapultepec, Mexico, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA, by Jorge Pérez de Lara