Teotihuacan in Mexico compared to Rome, Italy: Part One

Setting the scene
Thousands of years ago, as the ice sheets melted and humans began their migrations and explorations of this Earth, let us try to imagine, without modern transport and comforts, how tribes of people could travel from Africa to Mexico. In doing so, their long journey meant they had not remained close to the warm climate closer to Africa, but had trekked across hostile territories; their descendants, generation after generation, continuing to move on and on, until, with all their ancestral knowledge and genetic interbreeding, they found themselves in Mexico – a location that offered so much they finally settled and became farmers.

A modern day journalist is currently attempting a similar journey, trying hard to make it on foot wherever possible. His article makes interesting reading if you want to consider how modern man copes with the journey and travels in months not hundreds or thousands of years.

See his story at https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/miles-to-go/article24985199.ece

As all humans had migrated around the world, those who had settled earlier, nearer to Africa, developed tribal warfare often inspired by belief systems. They would claim to be fighting with and for their gods as they plundered each other’s territory; becoming increasingly brutal, acquiring slaves from those conquered to work in harsh toil and subject to tribute where produce was abundant. Those appointed kings and queens would make conquered leaders kneel before them and be their vassals.

The longer the culture of warfare had become established and tied to religion, the more fervent the desire to spread the conquest and dominate over non-believers.

When Rome became the religious centre of the Roman Church it suffered what some scholars would say was the ‘dark ages for true Christianity’. This was between 590 to 1517 A.D. As the Roman Church dominated the known western world, it systematically controlled religion, philosophy, morals, politics, art and education. Catholicism had spread to become a church and state ruler of many lands. It spurred evangelistic wars and inspired brutality against non-believers. 

But new territory and, as yet, unknown tribes of lands across oceans awaited the explorer, funded by kings and queens who needed bounty to fill their war chests.

The famous (perhaps, some would say, infamous) Genoese explorer Columbus was certain he could find wealth in a land called India which he had heard of from others who sailed the high seas. Queen Isabella, a staunch Catholic (see earlier blog https://borderslynn.com/2017/06/13/forceful-woman/) and instigator of the Inquisition in Spain, was eventually persuaded to fund Columbus; her husband King Ferdinand agreed. 

So it was, in the late 15th century, that the prevailing Catholic faith gripped the mercenaries who fought with the army which seemed to be the strongest. Those who manned the ships which sailed with Columbus when he landed first on the Taíno inhabited island of Hispaniola, were already hardened by brutal interpretation of Catholicism woven into perceptions of ‘the heathen’ who must be cleansed, enslaved or simply murdered. But Columbus was certain he had found India, and in his ignorance he named the Taíno, and all other indigenous peoples of the New World, ‘Indians’. This misnomer has prevailed to this day.

Unknown to Columbus, two hundred years before he arrived, the Caribbean Mayan traders were colonizing the islands. To do that, they had to have the skills to sail to them and to set up communities, but the idea of such skills belonging to barely clothed people was not a concept these foreigners could consider. Their minds were closed and not receptive and open. They were not curious, except to seize whatever they could and take it back to build the wealth of their investors. This ruthless characteristic is still with us today, throughout the world, people are robbed of their birthright to advance the wealth of a few investors.

But let us go back to an earlier history, and compare what the tribes were achieving in Italy and Mexico, before Christ was born and thereafter until the demise of two civilisations, that of Teotihuacan and Rome.

Teotihuacan, Mexico – the earliest and largest civilisation of Mesoamerica.

The ancient city of Teotihuacan can still attract thousands of tourists. It’s remains lie around 50 kms north east of Mexico City. It was named a UNESCO site and is constantly being researched, maintained and, as new technology develops, is revealing an amazing and stunning history.

It is situated in the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán valley, which is located in southeastern Puebla state and northwestern Oaxaca state in central Mexico. It is the southernmost arid area of Mexico, its aridity caused by the rain shadow of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range. About 12,000ft up on the pine covered mountains, the fourth generation Monarch butterflies fly from Canada and the US to seek the shelter of the pines in order to survive. But illegal logging threatened their place of safety, and so the area is protected.

Annual mean temperature averages 21 degrees C (70 F) and rainfall 400 millimeters (16 inches). Today, it is named Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve.

No wonder, thousands of years ago, various ethnic mixes of tribes were drawn to the valley, to develop farming techniques and to locate and use spring water, expertly managing to irrigate the land which would otherwise have been arid. 

These tribes traded and mixed communally, bringing with them ancestral skills from earlier civilisations such as the Olmecs, sharing and learning from each other.

Rome, Italy: the centre of the most influential civilisation of the western world

In the area we now know as northern Italy, various tribes as described in the previous blog, were drawn to the geographically attractive area which became first the Etruscan dominated region, then, over centuries, the Roman Empire.

What attracted those who would eventually build Rome, was the shape of the Tiber River, which flows through the center of the city. It begins in the Apennines and flows to the sea. It is 405 km long. The river makes a horseshoe-shaped bend, where there is a small island. Around 900 B.C., prior to the Roman Kingdom, this part of the Tiber was one of very few places where travelers, traders and herders of livestock could ford the river. It made that area of Rome an early meeting point for Latin and Sabine tribes as well as the Etruscans, who ruled over much of the Italian peninsula before Rome was built. Rome is also in the rain shadow ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rain_shadow) of the Apennines, which does affect the farming practices.

The ancient city of Rome was made of seven hills on which various local tribes settled during the reign of the Etruscans prior to 700 B.C. The hills provided steady ground for residence as well as a certain degree of protection from invasion from below. Palatine Hill, surrounded by the other six hills, is located just to the east of the island at the river ford, and traditionally is said to be home to the first Romans. The city and culture began with the integration of various peoples living atop each of the hills when they began building permanent residences and common civic spaces around 500 B.C.

Scholars consider the tribes of the Proto-Villanovan (1200 BC – 1000 BC) became Villanovan (1000 BC – 750 BC) then became Etruscan (750 BC – 300 BC), ruling over the region pre Rome, then Etruscans were absorbed into the Roman Kingdom ( 753 BC–509 BC) the capital becoming Rome growing into the Roman Republic (509 BC – 27 BC) then overthrown and becoming the Roman Empire. 

The Roman Empire began when Augustus Caesar became the first emperor of Rome (31 BCE) and ended, in the west, when the last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed by the Germanic King Odoacer (476 CE). In the east, it continued as the Byzantine Empire until the death of Constantine XI and the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 CE. The influence of the Roman Empire on western civilization was profound in its lasting contributions to virtually every aspect of western culture. When Queen Isabella of Spain funded Columbus to find India across the Atlantic Ocean, she (and he) was unaware he was going the wrong way to find India.


Teotihuacan city first formed between 150 BCE and 200 CE and benefitted from a plentiful supply of spring water which was channelled through irrigation. The largest structures at the site were completed before the 3rd century CE, and the city reached its peak in the 4th century CE with a population as high as 200,000. Teotihuacan is actually the Aztec name for the city, meaning “Place of the Gods”; unfortunately, the original name is yet to be deciphered from surviving name glyphs at the site.

The city’s prosperity was in part based on the control of the valuable obsidian deposits at nearby Pachuca, which were used to manufacture vast quantities of spear and dart heads and which were also a basis of trade. Other goods flowing in and out of the city would have included cotton, salt, cacao to make chocolate, exotic feathers, and shells. Irrigation and the natural attributes of local soil and climate resulted in the cultivation of crops such as corn, beans, squash, tomato, amaranth, avocado, prickly pear cactus, and chili peppers. These crops were typically cultivated via the chinampa system of raised, flooded fields which would later be used so effectively by the Aztecs. Turkey (native to the Americas) was husbanded for food, and wild game included deer, rabbits, and peccaries (old world pigs) whilst wild plants, insects, frogs, and fish also supplemented a diverse diet. In addition, the city displays evidence of textile manufacturing and crafts production. Teotihuacan also had its own writing system which was similar to, but more rudimentary than, the Maya system and generally limited in use to dates and names, at least in terms of surviving examples.

Building materials

Rome, Italy
Romans utilized a volcanic stone native to Italy called tufa to construct their buildings. Although tufa never went out of use, travertine began to be utilized in the late 2nd century B.C.E. because it was more durable. Also, its off-white color made it an acceptable substitute for marble.

Image of Temple Hera II, nr Rome, Italy

By the time the Pantheum was built, new building materials had evolved, initially this Roman temple was commissioned by the great Roman architect and General Marcus Agrippa. Its name from Greek Πάνθειον Pantheion, “[temple] of all the gods”) during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD). A century after it was burned down, it was completed by the emperor Hadrian and probably dedicated about 126 AD. 
Image of the Pantheum

Roman concrete, like any concrete, consists of an aggregate and hydraulic mortar – a binder mixed with water that hardens over time. The aggregate varied, and included pieces of rock, ceramic tile, and brick rubble from the remains of previously demolished buildings.

Gypsum and quicklime were used as binders. Volcanic dusts, called pozzolana or “pit sand”, were favored where they could be obtained. Pozzolana makes the concrete more resistant to salt water than modern-day concrete. The pozzolanic mortar used had a high content of alumina and silica. Tuff was often used as an aggregate.

Image of Temple of the Sun, Teohuacan 

The city of Teotihuacan was built using volcanic basaltic andesite scoria. Researchers have also found the stones on some pyramids were covered in a layer of mica, sourced, ingeniously, from igneous rocks.

In 1983, archaeologists stumbled upon cellear rooms with unusual ceilings that are insulated by a layer of mica inserted between two layers of stone (stone-mica-stone) to a total thickness of approximately 6 inches (15 cm).

Mica, also known as muscovite (“Moscow glass”) is a component of granite. It is a colorless mineral that glimmers like a pearl. Chemically calcium silicate, it possesses very special properties.

Slide explaining sources of mica (source: http://slideplayer.com/slide/8772146/26/images/14/Igneous+Rock+Descriptions.jpg)

It is highly elastic, heat-resistant up to 1470 degrees F (800 degrees C) and resistant to both sudden temperature changes (heat/cold) and organic acids. It is unclear what purpose these special rooms served.

According to one theory,  the heat was generated inside the chambers and the rooms may have served as smelting ovens.

Teotihuacan builders were master architects and highly skilled craftsmen with good knowledge of the heavenly bodies. The dimensions for the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and even Neptune and Pluto were apparently known to them.

In 1973, David S. Hyman, Civil engineer, published in the American Anthropologist the following:

“I collected a comprehensive number of concrete, stucco, and mortar samples from many important sites throughout Mexico and Central America including about a dozen representative specimens at Teotihuacán. These were subjected to load tests, chemical, petrographic, x-ray diffraction, and other analyses… All cements proved to be pure or nearly pure calcium carbonate.  Extreme hardness and durability of the finished concrete slab or stucco had been accomplished by purity of cement, incredible skill in proportioning and mixing with the aggregates and, in some cases, by the use of additives and surface hardeners.
 …My earliest [dated] samples were of the highest quality at this site, the products of a sophisticated technology, while specimens taken from later periods were increasingly lower in quality. Indeed, it was the excellence of the concrete and stucco in the early Classic periods, [200-600 A. D.], both here [at Teotihuacán] and in the Oaxaca Valley, [Mexico]….” Source of Information:(Cement at Teotihuacán by David S. Hyman)

Both Romans and Teotihuacanoes showed engineering abilities which were similar with high skill and mathematical accuracy of an equally impressive level. Both early Mesoamerican and early Roman settlers chose to locate near fresh water but in the rain shadow of mountains, thus requiring irrigation to improve farming and trading strengths. Both built temples to their gods, on whom they believed their survival depended.

In Part Two of this subject I will explore more similarities which so clearly tie the genetic and ancestral skills gained over thousands of years since early humans migrated out of Africa.

I have used the Internet, of course, to locate fascinating details, but also managed to obtain a pre owned book published by Readers Digest back in 1973 – a beautiful coffee table book named simply ‘Teotihuacan’ which I will continue to treasure. There is also a little book written by Dr Jesse Harasta written in the early 2000’s. This book has helped me appreciate the social aspects of the Teotihuacanoes.

About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers. In 1998 I co-wrote Millennium Countdown (US)/ A Business Guide to the Year 2000 (UK) see https://www.abebooks.co.uk/products/isbn/9780749427917
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1 Response to Teotihuacan in Mexico compared to Rome, Italy: Part One

  1. Pingback: Teotihuacan in Mexico compared to Rome, Italy: Part One — borderslynn | Die Goldene Landschaft

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