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Title: Flexibility and conformity in Postclassic Nahua rituals
Author: Smart, H. L. C.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7655 2979
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2018
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The Postclassic (pre-conquest) Nahua often performed displays of religious devotion. Usually involving stripping victims of their skin, flesh and internal organs, these public, state-sanctioned rites have been understood as astonishing, even exceptional, for their brutality. As a consequence, scholars have focused on human sacrifice at the steps of the Templo Mayor; ritual away from the imperial capital Tenochtitlan has remained very poorly understood. Where attempts have been made to understand regional practices, scholars have generally assumed binary distinctions between central versus periphery or state versus local. Existing studies fail to appreciate Nahua ritual as fluid and dynamic, instead casting ceremonial behaviour across space as unrelated and fundamentally oppositional. Integrating the ethnohistorical and archaeological records, this thesis takes understandings of Nahua ritual in new directions by examining the relationship between the public arena, the sacred landscape and domestic spheres. Crucially, this thesis argues that rituals were sensitive to circumstantial pressures and personal imperatives, across hierarchies,space and time. In so doing, this study suggests a more fluid model for understanding Nahua ritual than binary distinctions can allow. A lack of appreciation for variation or agency in ritual performance has perpetuated the understanding that the Nahua were trapped in a cycle of ferocious ritualism which left little room for critical thought. Using alphabetic, pictorial and archaeological evidence for a rounded perspective, this thesis examines the intersection between official structures and personal agency to question the notion that all Nahuas unthinkingly repeated human sacrifice and other ritual bloodshed. This study argues that the household was a crucial arena for the normalisation of the blood debt which permitted the acceptance of mass public human sacrifice. This thesis finds that, within the Nahua's symbiotic worldview, activities of the temple, mountain and household rituals were mutually supporting. Moreover, it is shown that the Nahuas chose to adapt their rituals throughout the years, to suit individual preferences and environmental circumstances. Taken as a whole, my findings suggest that the Nahuas sought to control their daily existence by adapting rituals to assuage violent and impulsive supernatural forces.
Supervisor: Dodds Pennock, Caroline Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: ritual ; ceremonies ; personal versus official spaces ; centre versus periphery; agency ; conformity ; power ; flexibility ; change ; control