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Zapotec Language    Zapotec Religion    Zapotec Symbols

The Zapotec were the largest indian group of Oaxaca, from 800 BC to 1600 AC.The early Zapotecs were a sedentary, agricultural city-dwelling people who worshipped a pantheon of gods headed by Cocijo the rain god, represented by a fertility symbol combining the earth-jaguar and sky serpent symbols common in middle-american cultures.

They had no traditions or legends of migration, but believed themselves to have been born directly from rocks, trees, and jaguars. A priestly hierarchy regulated religious rites, which sometimes included human sacrifice. The Zapotecs worshipped their ancestors, and believing in a paradisaical underworld, stressed the cult of the dead. In art, architecture, hieroglyphics, mathematics, and calendar the Zapotecs seem to have had cultural affinities with the Olmec (ancient Maya), and later with the Toltec. By 200 B.C. the Zapotecs were using the bar and dot system of numerals used by the Maya.

The Mixtecs, from the north, replaced the Zapotecs at Monte Alban and then later at Mitla. Though the Zapotecs captured Tehuantepec from the Zoquean and Huavean indians of the Gulf of Tehunatepec, by the middle of the 15th century both the Zapotecs and Mixtecs were struggling to keep the Aztecs from gaining control of the trade routes to Chiapas and Guatemala. Under their greatest king, Cosijoeza, the Zapotecs withstood a long siege on the rocky mountain of Guiengola, overlooking Tehuantepec.

The arrival of the Spanish in 1521 changed forever the traditional rivalries in the Valley of Oaxaca. With the Spanish Conquest, Hernan Cortez even took his title from the name of the Valley, becoming marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca. Today, most of the 300,00 Zapotecs are Catholic, and live either in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec or the mountain village communities of the Oaxaca Valley.

Zapotec Religion
cocijoAncient Zapotec ritual activities provide clues to their pre-Hispanic religious beliefs. > Read more

Zapotec Symbols
The Zapotecs along
with the Mayans
devised sophisticated
and complex symbols
that are thought be
among Mesoamerica's
earliest writing
> Read more

Zapotec Language
Pre-Hispanic Zapotec writing was
very complicated; partly phonetic
(where some glyphs represented
sounds) and partly ideographic
(where certain glyphs represented
ideas). > Read more

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