In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Book of Mormon Tributes v.s. Aztec Tributes

"Matricula de tributos" of the
Codex Mendoza
Throughout the Book of Mormon there are many stories of groups who at one point or another fell under tribute/bondage to other larger groups.  These usually happened as one group conquered another in warfare or through mutual agreements used to avoid further warfare.  Rather than recognizing the individuals in the tributary groups as direct property or as slaves they were set up as tributes where taxes or heavy burdens were placed up on them.  This practice was also commonly used among the Aztecs.  This is not assuming that slavery to some degree didn't exist in both the Book of Mormon and by the Aztecs because it more than likely did but to the degree that was practiced with the Israelites in Egypt or Africans driven into slavery in the Americas that doesn't seem to be the case.  This article will be a quick peak into the practices of tributaries in the Book of Mormon and among the Aztec populations. 

In the Codex Mendoza which was an Aztec codex that was created after the Spanish conquest of Mexico (14 years after the conquest) it contains multiple sections, one section in particular has a portion of 39 pages which provide a list of the towns conquered by the Triple Alliance which is better known as the Mexica Aztec Empire.  The Triple Alliance was made up of an alliance between three Nahua city-states Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan.  These three "altepetl" (city states) ruled the Valley of Mexico from 1428-1521 when they were defeated by the combined forces of the Spanish conquistadores and their native allies under Hernan Cortes.  In the 39 pages mentioned above there is a smaller section known as the "Matricula de tributos" which details the tributes paid from the lesser towns of a province to the principal city-state.  These tributes include gold and other precious metals for jewelry, cocoa, cotton, jars of honey, granary, copal, feathers, strings of semiprecious beads, warrior suits, animals and many, many other goods.

Many of these tributes were in such large quantities that it would have been hard for a conquered people to compile and would have been considered an extreme hardship.  This caused the hatred for the Aztec Empire from the smaller towns and city-states that were forced to pay tribute.  It was this hatred and discontent that eventually caused many of these tributaries to join forces with the Spanish conquistadores in hopes of alleviating this burden. Bernal Diaz spoke of one such king who ruled on the Veracruz coast who had to deal with this burden.  "This king was known only as the Fat King or Fat Chief who, "broke into bitter complaints "saying, the Mexica (Aztecs) ruler "had taken away all his golden jewelry, and so grievously oppressed him and his people that they could do nothing except obey him, since he was lord over many cities and countries, and ruler over countless vassals and armies of warriors."1

Captain Moroni and Zarahemna
This same type of oppression is seen throughout the pages of the Book of Mormon.  At many points there are military wars between the Lamanites and the Nephites because the Lamanites delighted in bloodshed and wanted to destroy the Nephites or subject them to bondage.  This was the case in the wars between the Lamanite (Amalekite) leader Zarahemna and the Nephite leader Captain Moroni in Alma 43 and 44.  Captain Moroni and the Nephites fought to uphold their freedom (including religious freedom) and their families and lands, whereas the Lamanites fought for bloodshed and to put the Nephites in bondage through making them a tributary state.

This is seen again in more detail when we look at the people of Limhi and their dealings with the Lamanites in Mosiah 19. There was internal turmoil between the previous King of the Nephites (the group who lived in the lands of the Lamanites) a man named wicked King Noah and another man named Gideon.  This turmoil caused dissensions between the Nephites and their loyalty to the wicked King Noah.  It was at this precise time that they were attacked by the Lamanites who conquered them and scattered their leaders who had fled for their lives (Noah included).  In the absence of leadership and being subjected to bondage a tributary King was placed over the Nephites named Limhi (the son of King Noah) and his people were forced to pay a grievous tribute as noted in Mosiah 19:15 which states,

"Therefore the Lamanites did spare their lives, and took them captives and carried them back to the Land of Nephi, and granted unto them that they might possess the land, under the conditions that they would deliver up King Noah into the hands of the Lamanites, and deliver up their property, even one half of all they possessed, one half of their gold, and their silver, and all their precious things, and thus they should pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites from year to year."

The dealings of Limhi and his people with the Lamanites only got worse form there.  At one point after some limited prosperity the people of Limhi had multiple wars against the Lamanites in which they were badly beaten three times in a row.  These losses caused them to be humbled as Mosiah 21:13 states,

"And they did humble themselves even to the dust, subjecting themselves to the yoke of bondage, submitted themselves to be smitten, and to be driven to and fro, and burdened, according to the desires of their enemies."

Fat Aztec Chief
The resemblance between the tribute chronicled in the Matricula de tributos and the tribute paid by the people of Limhi is uncanny.  Both tributes were obviously hindrances that had to be endured by all tributary parties involved.  A comparison of the scenarios of King Limhi and those of the Fat King or Fat Chief from Veracruz coast noted above show many similarities as well.  The burdens placed on both leaders as tributes were enough to bring about complaints and murmurings.  In the case of Limhi, he and his people eventually escaped to join the larger group of Nephites in the land of Zarahemla in order to ease their hardships and gain freedom.  Unfortunately we do not have the outcome of the Fat Chief but it is assumed that he would have either continued to either comply or joined the movement with other tributaries to join the conquistadors and battle the Mexica Aztecs in Tenochtitlan.  Either way it is easy to see the parallels between both practices held by the Nephites and later by the Aztecs.  If the Nephites were a minority population during the same period as the Maya than it would be easy to see why this practice of tributary bondage was still alive and well during the time of the Aztecs.

1. Stuart Gene S, Glanzman Louis S, The Mighty Aztecs, May 1982.