|1st century – 8th century.
|North coast of present-day Peru.
|Agriculture, fishing and commerce.
The Mochicas, also called Moche, were a complex civilization that inhabited the north coast of present-day Peru, between the beginning of the 1st century and the 8th century .
This period corresponds to the Early Intermediate Period (or First Intermediate Period) according to the periodization of the history of the Andean Area.
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Location of the Mochicas
The Mochica culture spread over a wide coastal territory in the north of present-day Peru . Settlements were found especially in the Lambayeque, Chicama, Moche and Virú valleys . In this extremely desert area, the Mochicas settled around the rivers that run through it and flow into the Pacific Ocean.
Characteristics of the Mochicas
The main characteristics of the mochicas are the following:
- They installed their settlements in areas unsuitable for cultivation . In this way, they took advantage of the fertile lands for agricultural production.
- They preferred the places near the hills because they were considered sacred places.
- The houses of the common population had sloping roofs and were built on stone and adobe foundations with woven reeds.
- The palaces of the ruling elites, as well as the ceremonial centers and temples, were built with adobe. These huge spaces were decorated with reliefs and paintings.
- The settlements were divided according to the hierarchy of their inhabitants. Some of them included a neighborhood dedicated to specialized artisans, where luxury and ceremonial products were produced that were consumed by the ruling elite.
- The war was very important in the Mochica culture. The motifs that decorate the ceramics often include scenes of wars, ritual hunts and human sacrifices.
- When they died, the most important characters were buried with all their trousseau, including their servants and animals. The discovery of one of these tombs, known as the tomb of the Lord of Sipán, allowed to verify many of the hypotheses made by the researchers from the ceramic images.
- Women could also hold positions of power, as evidenced by the finding of the tomb of a young woman, known as the Lady of Cao, buried with all the attributes of a ruler.
Political and social organization of the Mochicas
Type of government
The Mochicas were organized into two states that shared the same culture , one to the north of their territory and one to the south. These states were theocratic and centralized . They were governed by a political, priestly and warrior elite, which exercised great power over the population and had control of economic resources.
Mochica society had a complex hierarchy . The place that each one occupied in society was evidenced by different attributes such as clothing, accessories, the number of servants, physical appearance, etc.
Then, the great mass of the population was made up of artisans, merchants, peasants, shepherds and fishermen with different hierarchy within society.
There were also slaves who were prisoners of war, who were often sacrificed in ceremonies.
Religion of the Mochicas
The Mochicas were polytheists . Their religion had a complex system of gods of different hierarchy . The highest scale was occupied by gods in human form and in a lower scale were their servants, gods in the form of animals such as foxes, hummingbirds, owls, cats and hawks.
It is considered that its maximum divinity was Ai Apaec , a kind of anthropozoomorphic demon, that is, with human and animal features .
The mochica was a state religion in which it is assumed that the highest political leader was also the priest . These local priest-rulers, of noble origin, performed similar ceremonies in the different Mochica populations, which are known because they were widely represented in the ceramics of the different regions.
As an offering to their gods, they performed massive human sacrifices with prisoners of war. Both the ceremonies and the sacrifices had the function of promoting the fertility of the land and favoring the conditions of agricultural production .
The most important religious centers known so far are Huaca del Sol , a few kilometers from the Moche River, and Huaca de la Luna , at the foot of Cerro Blanco. These are stepped trapezoidal structures made of adobes that currently measure between 30 and 40 meters in height.
Economy of the mochicas
The base of the Mochica economy was agriculture under irrigation in the areas crossed by the rivers. They also practiced pastoral activities .
To practice agriculture in the desert environment in which they lived, they carried out hydraulic works such as canals and dams that even joined the different valleys. Thanks to that, they were able to take advantage of the river water to grow corn, cotton, peanuts and beans. Production surpluses were stored and administered by the state power.
The Peruvian north coast is rich in marine resources , so its exploitation was also very important. From the coastline they obtained fish, shellfish and sea lions, which were used both for consumption and for trade with other peoples.
Manifestations of Mochica culture
The Mochica culture was characterized by the very high level of metallurgical and ceramic productions .
They dominated gold, silver and copper goldsmithing , as shown by the numerous pieces found in the tombs of members of the elite.
The pottery that is preserved, in general ritual and made to be used in religious ceremonies, is very naturalistic . It presents a great variety of shapes and ornamentation. Some depict animals, ritual hunting scenes, and sexually explicit scenes, among other motifs. The portrait glasses (or bottles) are characteristic, representing different characters with great detail and expressiveness .
In general, ceramic is not very colorful: it has two or three colors. On the other hand, the textile manifestations and wall paintings that have been preserved stand out for their chromatic variety .