The Cuzcatlan was a pre-Columbian Nahuat nation of the postclassical period that extended from the Paz river to the Lempa river (covering most of the western and central zones of the present Republic of El Salvador), this was the nation of Pipils/Cuzcatlecs. No codices or written accounts survive that shed light on this señorío, but Spanish chroniclers such as Domingo Juarros, Palaces, Lozano, and others claim that some codices did exist but have since disappeared. Their language (Nahuat), art and pyramids revealed that they had significant Mayan and Toltec influence. It is believed that the first settlers to arrive came from the Toltec nation.
The name "Cuzcatlan" comes from the Nahuatl origin "Kozkatlan" (Cozcatlan Spanish form), which is derived from "Kozkatl", meaning "diamond" or "jewel", and "tlan", meaning "next to" or "in between". Kozkatlan means "The Place of the Diamond Jewels".
The Pipils/Cuzcatlecs arrived in El Salvador around the year 900 AD. On arrival, they attacked and conquered the native city states by burning towns and establishing their own. Some city states such as Tehuacán allowed them free entrance avoiding destruction and eventually with time they became Pipil cities themselves. Others such as Chalchuapa and Cihuatán became allies with the Pipils, but also eventually became Pipil city states. According to legend, the city of Cuzcatlán (the capital city of the Pipil/Cuzcatlecs) was founded by the exiled Toltec Ce Acatl Topiltzin, also called Quetzalcoatl, around the year 1054. In the 13th century the Pipil city states were most likely unified, and by 1400, a hereditary monarchy had been established.
The Señorío de Cuzcatlán was divided into chieftainships:
The chieftainships did not form a unified political system and were at first independent, and were obligated to pay tribute/taxes to the chieftainship of Cuzcatlán. With time, they were all annexed by the chieftainship of Cuzcatlán, today the modern city of Antiguo Cuscatlan a city and municipality, part of the San Salvador Metropolitan Area (AMSS).
The Señor de Cuzcatlán (lord of Cuzcatlán) was the head of state and had the title of Tagatécu. Below the chief were the Tatoni or princes, and below them the state elders and priests who advised the ruling family.
Upon the death of a chief, the succession was hereditary starting with the eldest son and so on, in case there were no sons available, the closest male family member was chosen by the counsel of elders and priests.
Tagatécus Or Señores de Cuzcatlán
There were many Tagatécus or Señores of Cuzcatlán; most have been forgotten with time, with the exception of the last four. Historical writings by the Spaniard Domingo Juarros reveal who they were.
- Cuachimicín: Governed before the Spanish conquest, he was overthrown and executed by the priests.
- Tutecotzimit: Successor of the previous one, restored the hereditary system.
- Atlacatl: Was the last and most recognized, he fought off the Spanish conquistadors on their first attempt to colonize their. (See Battle of Acajutla). After fighting the Spanish and their Native American allies, Atlacatl and his forces were defeated, Atlacatl jumped into the volcano to remain an unconquered legend.
Military service was obligatory from about age 15 until they were unable to serve due to age. The soldier's attire consisted of a corselete or vest (made of cotton) and a mashte (species of loin cloth) and each painted their faces and bodies with unique colored abstract shapes and forms. The soldiers were organized in teams or platoons bearing distinctive names, such as:
- The Jaguars
- The Eagles
- The Brave Owls
The Pipil soldier had a variety of weapons, most made of wood and volcanic rock shards. Some of the documented weapons are described below.
- Tecuz (Lance): there were two types, a long spear that according to the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado it was 6,30 metres. The second one was a more maneuverable shorter spear.
- Macuáhuit (mallet): made out of strong wood with sharpened obsidian at the end.
- Tahuítul (bow) and Mit (arrows):
- Malacate (disc): Most likely made of sharpened rock and used in the hand-to-hand combat.
The economy was based on the barter or exchange of agriculture and handcrafted goods such as multicolored textiles. Some products, as in the case of cacao, served even as currency. Other agricultural products grown by the Pipil were cotton, squash, corn, beans, fruits, balsam, some peppers, and chocolate; but chocolate could only be prepared and served to the ruling class.
There was significant mining of gold and silver, but were not used as currency, rather were used as offering to their many gods. Only the priests and the ruling family could use gold and silver as ornaments.
Through cronistas and archaeology we know that the Señorío de Cuzcatlán was well organized with respect to the priesthood, Gods, rites, etc. One of the peregrination places was the sanctuary to the goddess Nuictlán (constructed by EC Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl) located in the lake of Güija.
Honoring the Creators
The people living in the Señorío of Cuzcatlán attributed cosmic power to the following: Xipe Totec, Quetzalcoatl, Ehécatl, Tláloc, Chacmool, Tonatiuh, Chalchitlicue and others. In addition there were some spirits identified with the Señorío of Cuzcatlán like Itzqueye. Téotl, Quetzalcoatl and Itzqueye were three of the most important to the people's spiritual beliefs.
Fall and end of the Señorío de Cuzcatlán
After the fall of the Aztec Empire under Hernan Cortez, Pedro de Alvarado was sent by Cortez to conquer the native city states further south. On June 6, 1524, Pedro de Alvarado crossed the Paz river with a few hundred soldiers and subdued the Cacique of Izalco (the first major city state en route to Cuzcatlan). Fierce battles were fought in defense of Izalco in Acaxual (today Acajutla in the Spanish version) and Tacuzcalco. On June 17, de Alvarado arrived in Cuzcatlán. Atlacatl, king of Cuzcutlan, put up a brave defense until defeated during a second approach by the Spanish and was executed. The population fled to the mountains.
On the ashes of the once mighty Cuzcatlan in 1525, Pedro de Alvarado's cousin Diego de Alvarado established the Villa De San Salvador. Over the next three years, various attempts by the native Indians to destroy the newly founded town resulted in the decision to move the town a few kilometers south to its present location, to the valley commonly known as "the valley of the hammocks" (due to significant seismic activity) next to the Quezaltepeque (San Salvador) volcano.
Many archeological sites abound in El Salvador to give testament of this once great Native American nation. Tazumal is by far the best example of the complexity of their civilization; the main structure of the edifices has similarities to Toltec style pyramids. Other sites, among many, are in San Andres, Cara Sucia, Joya de Ceren and Cihuatan.
Consulted Web Sites
Sites in Spanish:
- Señorío de Cuzcatlán
- Museo arqueológico digital: los pipiles
- Fuerza Armada precolombina de El Salvador
- Historia precolombina de El Salvador
- Museo arqueológico digital: Crónica de Diego García Palacios
- Proyecto Cihuatán
- Asociación Tikal: Investigaciónes en Antiguo Cuscatlán
- Google books: Cronica de Domingo Juarros
- Google books: Manual de Arqueologìa Americana