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Title: Altepetl  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Aztec warfare, History of Mexico City, Tepeticpac, Triple Alliance, Tenochtitlan
Collection: Altepetl, Aztec Society, Nahuatl Words and Phrases
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


The altepetl (Nahuatl pronunciation: ), in Pre-Columbian and Spanish conquest-era Aztec society, was the local, ethnically based political entity. It is usually translated into English as "city-state".[1] The word is a combination of the Nahuatl words ā-tl, meaning water, and tepē-tl, meaning mountain.

Nahuatl scholars Lisa Sousa, Stafford Poole, and James Lockhart have stated:

A characteristic Nahua mode was to imagine the totality of the people of a region or of the world as a collection of altepetl units and to speak of them on those terms.[2]

They prefer the Nahuatl term over any English-language approximation. They argue that in many of the documents pertaining to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the word āltepētl is often used as a translation of the Spanish Ciudad de México (Mexico City), a translation that has colored the interpretation of the texts and conceptions of Nahua society.

The concept is comparable to Maya cah and Mixtec ñuu.

See also


  1. ^ Smith 1997 p. 37
  2. ^ Sousa et al. 1998, p. 36


García Martínez, Bernardo (2001). "Community Kingdoms: Central Mexico (Nahua)". In David Carrasco (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures: The Civilizations of Mexico and Central America. vol. 1. Oxford:  
Noguez, Xavier (2001). "Altepetl". In David Carrasco (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures: The Civilizations of Mexico and Central America. vol. 1. Oxford:  
Smith, Michael (1997). The Aztecs. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.  
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