History of Teotihuacan

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Teotihuacan began to grow between 100 BC and about 250 AD. Although scholars aren’t entirely certain of the exact dates, we are confident that these were the estimated ranges based off of archaeological excavations and ceramic sequences. We know that, at its beginning, Teotihuacan was relatively small and was likely in competition with a nearby city called Cuicuilco, located to the south of modern-day Mexico City. 

However, at the beginning of the BC – AD transition, a volcano named Xitle erupted and caused a flow of lava to pour over Cuicuilco and the surrounding area. People fled from this area, looking for a place to go. The most likely solution was Teotihuacan. This eruption actually coincides with Teotihuacan’s period of explosive growth. 

The city expands exponentially at this point, and Teotihuacan went from being a small urban city in competition with its nearby city to the main city in the area. After this, Teotihuacan’s population grew significantly. During this early period of Teotihuacan’s history, construction of most of its monumental architecture was completed. 

As Teotihuacan reached its height, it became the bustling metropolis that it is imagined to have been. It also established and grew trade relations that extended far beyond the valley of Mexico. Teotihuacan had cacao trade routes going all the way down the Pacific coast of Mexico and into Guatemala, and feather routes into the Peten region of the Yucatan. 

Teotihuacan was clearly no stranger to traveling far for exotic goods. Evidence of Teotihuacan’s art style and architecture also popped up at other sites along these trade routes, indicating that not only were physical items being exchanged, ideas were being exchanged as well.

Teotihuacan did eventually decline; however, we’re not entirely sure why. Given the lack of information regarding the Teotihuacano government, it’s difficult to know if the city’s decline was due to a political uprising, an attack from an outside city, or something entirely different. However, what we do know is that around the years 500 to 600 AD– maybe even 650 AD– the population at Teotihuacan declined significantly, and evidence suggests that the city was partially or entirely burned. This, however, does not indicate firm evidence for external destruction. Since some Mesoamerican rituals involved the completion or decommission of a city, building or valuable object by destruction or burning– a ritualistic closing ceremony of sorts, it is difficult to know for sure if Teotihuacan’s end was self-inflicted or the cause of external pressures. What facts do show is that the city did decline, and eventually it ceased to be the world power that it was. However, Teotihuacan’s legacy would live on for many years to come.


This post is an excerpt of my recently published eBook, Teotihuacan: Site Guide for Travelers and Students. Click here for more information about the eBook!

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