A brief overview of Mexico’s cultural development before the arrival of the Spanish in 1519 is given. See also chichimeker, culhua, huasteker, mogul culture, taras and totonaker as well as Mesoamerican and Ancient American art and architecture.
Findings of primitive stone implements together with mammoth and mastodont bones suggest the presence of hunters in southern Mexico about 24,000–21,000 years ago; from Tequixquiac north of Mexico City comes an animal head figure of bones, dated to the same period. A later evidence of the presence of big game hunters is a spearhead from Durango, belonging to the clovis culture and dated to about 9000–7000 BC. Then the climate after 7000 BC became warmer and drier, a differentiated collector economy developed with seasonal movements during dry and wet periods. The settlement pattern is exemplified by small camps found around the Tehuacan Valley in southeastern Puebla. Between 7000 and 2000 BC a number of plants were also domesticated, i.e. corn, beans and pumpkins.
- Countryaah: Check to see the location of Mexico on the world map. Also covers major mountains, rivers and lakes in Mexico.
Pre-classical times (about 2000 BC – 250 AD)
At the beginning of the period, there were long ago several ceramic farming village communities with cultural characteristics. Terracotta fertility figurines indicate the beginning of complex beliefs. Between about 1200 and 500 BC large ceremonial and religious centers were established at San Lorenzo, La Venta and Tres Zapotes by Olmeker, a people in the southern Gulf of Mexico. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of Mexico. The first calendar and hieroglyphic systems appeared during this period, and the findings indicate that social behavior was often hierarchical. The chief deities were the rulers of the corn, the rain and the sun. Cultural practice included ritual ball games and extensive human sacrifices; the latter phenomenon became more and more common during the following periods.
Classical times (ca. 250–950 AD)
A number of thriving city states appeared, of which the most prominent, the Teotihuacán in the Mexico Valley, may have had over 120,000 residents during its heyday (about 400-600). Others were located in the Oaxaca Valley-dominated Zapotecs (compare Mitla and Monte Albán), on the east coast and on the Yucatán Peninsula, where the Mayan people (compare Maya) built many ceremonial building complexes from around 300 AD. The rulers of the cities, by means of mutually ranked elites (priests, warriors and artisans) ruled larger or smaller agricultural populations. Intergovernmental conflicts were common. These trends were gradually sharpened. The culturally worshiping god of Mexico, “The Feathered Serpent,” appeared at this time (compare Quetzalcóatl). The Mayan culture underwent a sudden collapse in some areas around 900 AD, but nevertheless came to survive. Famous Maya locations in Mexico are Palenque and Uxmal.
Post-classical Time (ca. 950–1519)
The warlike interpreters ruled about 960–1160 over the most powerful empire in Mesoamerica. The capital Tula was located in the Mexico Valley, but their influence also included Yucatán (compare Chichén Itzá). From about 900 AD the dominion over the Oaxaca Valley began to transition to the mix tecs, a people who, about 1300, mastered the old centers of the Zapotec. The militaristic ideals of the Toltecs were taken over by the Aztecs, who from the 1300s to the Spanish conquest developed the last dominant Native American culture in Mexico. In the magnificent capital of the Aztecs Tenochtitlán houses and arable systems were constructed on artificial islands (Chinampas) in a geometric system of canals and bridges. In the central double temple, dedicated to Tlaloc (the rain god) and Huitzilopochtli (the god of war), thousands of people, mainly prisoners of war, were sacrificed each year.
Colonial times (1521–1821)
Spanish expeditions to Mexico 1517–18 preceded Hernán Corté’s conquest train 1519–21. The capital of the Aztec Empire Tenochtitlán fell into the hands of Europeans in 1521, and on its ruins was built Ciudad de México (Mexico City), which soon became the capital of the newly established Viceroy of New Spain. The colonization process fundamentally transformed the composition of the population, not only through the presence of Europeans but also through the vast demographic decline of the Indians and the growth of the mestizo population that today constitutes Mexico’s overwhelming majority. The physical landscape was also changed by the introduction of extensive livestock management and new cultivation plants. Colonial society was dominated partly by a Spanish-born elite of government officials, prelates and merchants, and partly by an American elite with Spanish onus, Creole, which had its power base in the freight economy and mining. Some of the remaining Native American population was allowed to form Native American villages that were collectively managed and could not be divested, while the mixed population constituted a growing proletariat with employment on the Spanish estates.haciendas, in mining or as servants in the cities.
Independence, empire and republic
The three-hundred-year-old, stable Spanish empire was in sharp contrast to Mexico’s chaotic development following the wrestling with Spain. The independence aspirations that characterized South America in the 1810s also gave echoes in Mexico, but initially not in the form of any Creole elite revolt. In 1810, the priest Miguel Hidalgo and Costilla rebelled and demanded on September 16 (Mexico’s National Day) in Grito de Dolores(“Call of Dolores”) not only national liberation but also equal rights for all Mexicans regardless of race as well as social and economic reforms. The rise led to a bloody class war, in which the Creole elite stood on Spain’s side. In 1811, Hidalgo was executed, but the uprising continued under the priest José María Morelos and ebbed, after extensive bloodshed, in connection with Morelo’s death in 1815.
The break with Spain occurred in 1821 and was a creole reaction to the reforms that a liberal uprising had forced in Spain in 1820. Agustín de Iturbide led a movement that transformed Mexico into an independent empire, and in 1822 he himself was crowned Mexico’s first emperor as Agustín I However, the empire soon collapsed, and General Antonio López de Santa Anna proclaimed the Mexican Republic on December 2, 1823. Then followed fifty years of violent civil conflicts, with the anti-clerical liberals and church-friendly conservatives being the main opponents. The result was an extremely weakened Mexico, which could no longer protect its own territory. In 1836, Texas broke out of Mexico, and after a war with the United States in 1846-48, Mexico lost California and New Mexico as well as parts of Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Colorado.
In the 1850s, a great liberal revolt broke out with Benito Juárez as the leading figure. The liberation of the Liberals in 1855 gave rise to La Reforma (the “Reform”), which involved a frontal attack on the power of the church but also on the collective ownership of the indigenous communities. A conservative uprising ravaged the country in 1858–61 and opened the way for Napoleon III ‘s intervention. A French invasion force was sent to Mexico in 1862, and in 1864, with the support of the Conservatives, Austrian Archduke Maximilian was deployed as emperor. The French forces withdrew from Mexico in February 1867, and the liberals’ victory over Maximilian’s forces led to the emperor’s execution in July of that year, after which the victorious Juárez was re-elected president.
Mexico during Díaz and the Revolution (1876–1920)
Political stability first gained Mexico after General Porfirio Díaz took power in 1876. Díaz, who ruled the country directly or indirectly until 1911, symbolizes better than anyone else the Latin American enlightened despot. He wanted to modernize Mexico by opening the country to foreign investment, favoring export-oriented landlords, building appropriate infrastructure and creating an elite of enlightened progress enthusiasts. Economic growth led to the creation of a prosperous urban middle class, but also an industrial working class, rooted in, among other things. Mexico City, Puebla and Monterrey. However, the price of modernization became widening social divisions and massive expropriation of Native Americans’ land, and this prepared the ground for Latin America’s most shaky social upheaval, the Mexican Revolution (1910-20).
The revolution began in 1910 as a revolt within the elite, when Díaz was re-elected as president for the sixth time. He had the arrest of counter-candidate Francisco Madero, who belonged to a wealthy landowner family from northern Mexico, and won the election through widespread cheating and violence. Madero called from prison to rebellion, and soon Mexico was in the midst of a devastating civil war. The revolution gained its unique, but also extremely violent, character through the independent participation of the rural poor. Emiliano Zapata in the south and Pancho Villa in the north gathered tens of thousands of poor peasants and farm workers in their armies. In 1911, Zapata formulated the radical peasant movement’s program in Plan de Ayala, according to which the peasants would regain the land unserved during Díaz’s long holding of power. In 1914, Zapata and Villa took part in joint action Mexico City. For the first time in Latin America’s history, the poor had seized power, but ruling proved to be an overwhelming task for a movement based on rural simple people. Zapata’s and Villas’ rapid retreat from the capital marked that the peasant movement began to ebb. With the big estate owner Venustiano Carranza and the labor leader Álvaro Obregón the revolution gained a more sustainable leadership. In 1917, Mexico was given a new and radical constitution, which established the Mexican state’s ownership of the country’s natural resources and its right to redistribute the land of large goods, as well as the right of village communities, the so-called ejidos, to regain unoccupied land, eight hours of working day, strike right, secularization of the school system and state control of the church.
Mexico after the revolution
Mexico has been a politically stable country after the chaotic revolution of 1910-17. After the revolution, regional leaders and generals of various warring factions sat down to end the violence and regulate internal power struggles. The agreement laid the foundation for the party that subsequently became Partido Revolucionario Institucional(PRI) that dominated the country during the rest of the 20th century. PRI built up a corporatist system where different sectors and interests were brought together in organizations that were all more or less affiliated to and governed by the party. The hegemonic dominance of the party set its mark on the whole country: the official writing of history, the national myth, the country’s symbols and the state institutions all served to maintain the story of the Mexican revolution as the country’s soul and the party PRI as its sole and true interpreter.
During Lázaro Cárdena’s presidency (1934–40), the political system and the dominance of the PRI were consolidated in society. Cárdenas carried out an extensive land distribution program and nationalized foreign oil companies. The years 1940-70 were a positive period for the country which was internationally called “the Mexican miracle”. The population tripled during a time of political stability and economic expansion and the era ended with Mexico hosting the 1968 Olympics and the 1970 Soccer World Cup, which became symbols of the country’s position in the world. But during this time the country also developed into an authoritarian one-party state with a powerful party elite, widespread poverty and deep social injustice. The economy, which was based on oil exports and large loans,
During the 1980s, economic policy was restructured with reduced state influence. A free trade agreement between Mexico, the United States and Canada was the cornerstone of the reform package that opened the previously protected industry to competition from the outside world. Exports grew strongly and brought with them the entire economy, which led to Mexico becoming the first Latin American country in 1994 to join the OECD. Mexico’s membership was a confirmation that the country was recognized as an important part of the world economy and a leading nation in Latin America.
Despite the growth, the country was hit by repeated financial and currency crises. The so-called tequila crisis was the worst, and occurred in 1994 when foreign investors withdrew their money from Mexico, creating a currency crisis that caused stock markets to collapse and the entire financial world of Latin America to shake. The same year, the Zapatist guerrilla launched an armed uprising in the southern state of Chiapas. The Zapatists demanded the restoration of the rights of the Indians and improved economic conditions (see further Zapatists).
The recurring economic crises were largely caused by political instability and, in parallel with the economic reforms, changes were also made to the political system. Among other things, reforms of the electoral system were carried out which gave more room for parties other than PRI.
In 1989, the PRI lost for the first time a state election and in 1997 the majority in Congress. In 2000, PRI also lost the presidential post held by the party since 1929, to Vicente Fox of the Conservative Party Partido Acción Nacional (PAN). At the next election in 2006, the PRI became only the third largest party after the PAN and the Left Alliance Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), and many predicted that the party would disappear from Mexican politics.
The 2006 presidential election was won by PAN’s candidate Felipe Calderón following a lengthy voting process in which PRD candidate Andrés Manuel López accused Calderón of electoral fraud. Once Calderón took office, one of his first steps was to declare war on the country’s growing drug cartels. The army was ordered out into the streets to lead the attack on organized crime dominated by two groups: the Sinaloa cartel, which controls western Mexico from Central America and up to the border with the United States and the Zeta cartel.which governs the eastern part of the country. There are still many smaller cartels and new ones are constantly emerging after internal power struggles, but in general most have joined one of the two dominant groups. Since Calderón began the war against the cartels, violence has escalated and since 2006 more than 100,000 people have been killed in the wake of the fighting (2018). Compare MexicoNa (Drug Trafficking).
The 2012 election marked a return to PRI, which won the presidential post with candidate Enrique Peña Nieto at the same time as the party became the largest party in Congress. Although Peña Nieto managed to get through several important reforms, such as opening up the telecom and oil sector to competition, economic growth was modest. The PRI failed to stop the drug-related violence that increased the violence again during his final years.
The election campaign in 2018 was bordered by violence. Over 100 politicians were murdered during the campaign and the general level of violence in the country increased again. Left Party Morenas (National Renewal Movement) candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador won the election and took office as president in December 2018.