Concubines and Cloth: Women and Weaving in Aztec Palaces and Colonial Mexico

Susan Toby Evans

in Servants of the Dynasty

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780520254435
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520941519 | DOI:
Concubines and Cloth: Women and Weaving in Aztec Palaces and Colonial Mexico

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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In contrast to the few imperial palaces with dozens of wives and concubines, most polygynous households in the Aztec period were probably much more modest. Spain's conquest of the Aztec Empire changed much of Aztec culture: ancient Mexico's land and riches came under Spanish control, and its native people were converted to Christianity—and obliged to obey marriage laws that demanded monogamous unions. This change in marriage practices had severe economic consequences for the Aztec nobility, because Aztec women wove cloth, and cloth was so highly valued that it was a form of money. Therefore, a household with many wives produced much wealth, and one with only one wife was much poorer. The secondary wives, the “concubines,” held a status of respect because of the prosperity they generated. This chapter traces the relationship between marriage patterns and wealth in textiles through three successive periods in Mexican history: the Late Postclassic period heyday of the Aztec Empire (ca. 1430–1521), the Early Colonial period (1521–1620), and the Middle Colonial period (1621–1720).

Keywords: Aztec Empire; palaces; Mexico; Spain; marriage; wealth; textiles; concubines; wives; cloth

Chapter.  5705 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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