Jewelry Sumptuary System

Jewelry Sumptuary System

Stratification among the Aztec society was visible because of the sumptuary laws that regulated the ownership and display of prized goods like jewelry. Members of the aristocracy, priests, and warriors ostentatiously displayed their jewelry during public rituals, which were viewed by the commoners and rulers of neighboring towns (Young-Sanchez, 122). Distant military successes DSCN0664 (1)
facilitated the ability of the ruling class to display and control foreign goods like feathers and jade. The successes provided the artisans with the materials and availability needed to produce extravagant pieces for the elite. As a whole, the influx of resources enriched the glamor of the state and its religious ceremonies, as well as enhanced the elite’s ability to show off their status and wealth (Evans and Webster, 61). People achieved high status of rank and beauty in their ability to ornament themselves.

People of high status had a type of monopoly over prized jewelry. Only members of the nobility and elite warriors were allowed to wear lip, nose, neck, or ear ornaments in social settings, and gold and silver were also used as a part of the sacred costumes of priests (Phillips, 220). Luxurious and painted sandals were only permissible for nobles inside the city, while noble warriors could wear undecorated sandals. The king, great nobles, and provincial rulers had the pleasure of wearing gold and jade jewels and great warriors could wear jewelry made of bone and wood. The noble elite also enjoyed wearing animal rings. Leading military figures liked these rings since some of the symbols used, like the jaguar and eagle, had important associations to elite warrior groups (Phillips, 220).

Another symbol of status was the wearing of jewelry or clothing with attached metal bells. These bells had a good sound and were pleasing in color, making them highly prized among the elites. DSCN0644 (1)The creation of a good sound while walking was very important in the overall impression a nobleman made. The color of the bells was also important, with silver and gold being preferred. These colors were associated with the moon and the sun. The bells and other metal jewelry were only allowed to be worn by priests and important warriors. A few elites wore metal pieces regularly, but most chose to save these pieces for great events and ceremonies.

Although fine jewelry was restricted to the elitist of Aztec society, hand stone and fired clay ornaments were allowed to be worn and could be afforded by all social classes. These simple pieces were worn daily.

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Suggested Reading:

Phillips, Charles. The Aztecs and Maya World: Everyday Life, Society and Culture in Ancient Central America and Mexico, with Over 500 Photographs and Fine Art Images. London: Lorenz Books, 2005.

Evans, Susan, and David Webster, eds. Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America an Encyclopedia. New York & London: Garland Publishing, 2001.

Young-Sanchez, Margaret. An Aztec Gold Warrior Figurine. 29/30 ed. President and Fellows of Harvard College Acting through the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, 1996. 102-126.