Jilotepec: a place name with a double territorial meaning?

Rosa Brambila Paz1

The names social groups give to places is important for understanding their notion of territoriality. Place names constitute an extremely rich source of information, because they denote cultural facts related to the appropration of a natural environment. Place names are thought to be descriptive, mentioning something about what the place is like, showing its importance in the group’s cosmovision or referring to a historical event which took place there. However, the toponym’s meaning at the territorial level has been little analyzed. Place names have much to tell us about how different social groups construct their space. For example, we know that most Nahuatl place names take one of several particles which clearly identify them as toponyms, thus differing from place names in Spanish, which have no such identifiers.

In this article, I present some of the possible interpretations of the toponymic glyph for Jilotepec. First, I will say a word or two about the study of place names in general; then I will go into the different interpretations that have been attributed to the toponym Jilotepec and its glyph; and finally I will present a few thoughts about its meaning.


A toponym is a proper noun that designates a particular place. It is an identification marker which serves to point out one place among many similar ones and, at the same time, situate it temporally and spatially.2 Toponyms are also called place names, site names or geographic names. Usually, the inhabitants themselves name the place where they live and the geographic features which surround them. However, it is possible for the inhabitants of another place to generate the toponym indirectly. In the opinión of Guzmán Betancourt,

in the earliest stages, toponyms must have originated as a consequence of contact between different groups or tribes: “to be from such-and-such a place” implied belonging to a certain group of friends, enemies or allies; that is, the name of the place functioned as an “identification marker” for several purposes. In each case, however, custom is what allows the acceptance of place names, independently of who created them.3

Naming a place allows people to refer to it at any time or in any situation, whether they find themselves in that place or not. The toponym is a motivated sign which always alludes to a description, an explanation or a specification. Giving a name to home territory unites the pronunciation of today’s inhabitants with the pronunciation of those who inhabited it in ancient times. The name of a place is an element of identity.4


Nowadays, the name Jilotepec is applied to the VIIIth district of the northern part of the State of Mexico whose territorial boundaries are the following: on the North, the State of Querétaro; on the Northeast, the State of Hidalgo; on the East, the District of Cuautitlán; on the South, the District of Tlalnepantla; on the Southeast, the District of Ixtlahuaca; and on the Northwest, the State of Michoacán. The name is also given to a municipio in the same district, as well as to the municipal seat and the sierra which runs east of it. The mountain, the town, the municipio and the district all have the same name. The process by which the name came to be used so extensively is the topic of other research. Here, I will only say that in colonial documents, Jilotepec denotes both the town and the province (the mountain was called Las Peñas), and to distinguish between them an analysis of each context where the word occurs is necessary.

At the end of the XIXth century there were other places with the name Jilotepec: one in the municipio of Xochihuehuetlán, which belonged to the state made up of the modern States of Guerrero and Morelos; San Andrés Jilotepec in Zitácuaro, Michoacán; San Pedro Jilotepec, San Sebastián Jilotepec and Santa Cruz Jilotepec, all in the State of Oaxaca. There is another Jilotepec in Veracruz near Jalapa; a small settlement (ranchería) in the municipality of Temascalapa, in what used to the the District of Morelos in the old State of Mexico; a neighborhood in Zacapoaxtla, Puebla; a ranch in Ixtacuixtla, District of Hidalgo; another ranch in Huauchinango, Puebla; and a hill on the flank of the volcano Popocatépetl, overlooking Tochimilco, Puebla.5 There is also a Jilotepeque in Guatemala, and from the colonial period, the first engraving in the Codex Xólotl shows a Jilotepec in the vicinity of Teotihuacan. Also during the colonial period, San Luis de la Paz, Guanajuato, was known as San Luis Jilotepec.

On first inspection, it would seem that the repetition of the same name in different places would violate the definition presented above. This apparent contradiction will be resolved when we analyze how each of these places came to be named Jilotepec. For the moment, I will point out that it is not unusual to find toponyms repeated within the Nahuatl group, and these may interpreted as the product of colonizations, either from the Prehispanic or the colonial period.

The application of the toponym Jilotepec to the northern region of the modern-day State of Mexico during the colonial period is the one which I will be interested in exploring in this paper. During the Prehispanic and early colonial period, this region was populated by Otomís.6 The place was named Mandenxi in Otomí and nowadays, the Otomí-speakers of Acambay use the name Mandonxhi to refer to it. Different documents conserve variations on this name, which appears as Mandonxi or Madoentsi; however, in those documents of Nahua and late colonial origin, it is known as Xilotepec. This name change was not a simple translation from one language to the other, as is the name Querétaro, a Tarascan word, which in Nahuatl is Tlaxco and in Otomí Anda Maxei; all three of these mean ‘ball game’. In the case of Jilotepec, the change of name from one language to the other may have several explanations. One of these is that the Nahua name came about as a consequence of the contact between Otomís and Nahuas that populate the area. It may have come about either because the Nahuas have a long tradition in the region and directly named the place themselves or because the Nahuas dominated the Otomís and intentionally tried to do away with the Otomí place name. The name Jilotepec, then, was a mark of identification that the Nahuas gave to a geographic space populated by Otomís.

Jilotepec is a word of Nahuatl origin which was incorporated into the list of place names of New Spain -written at different times as Xilotepec, Xillotepec, Xilotepeque, Xillotepeque or Gilitepec- and has been incorporated into Mexico’s major language. Its spelling became fixed as Jilotepec in the same way that may Spanish words which were formerly written with an x came to be written with a j, such as xabón ‘soap’ which is now written as jabón. The graphic representation of the toponym Jilotepec is a hill with xilotes. The name combines geographical elements -Nahuatl tepetl, ‘hill, mountain’- with plant matter -Nahuatl xilote, ‘newly sprouted ear of corn’. The unknown origin of this name has led scholars to interpret the meaning of the word Jilotepec in different ways.

The most frequent interpretation is that of ‘on the hill of xilotes’. Cecilio Robledo says the following:

the Mexican proper name is Xilotepec, which is made up of xilotl, from which the Aztec-based derivative jilote has been formed. A jilote is the flower or ear of corn whose grains have not yet ripened, and particularly the corn silk; of tepetl, ‘hill, mountain’; and of c, ‘in’; and it means ‘on the hill of jilotes’“.7

Manrique, on the other hand, interprets Jilotepec as ‘hill of tender ears of corn’. José Corona Núñez, in his interpretation of engraving XI of the Matrícula de Tributos says: “Xilotepec: on the hill of jilotes (tender ears of corn)”. In the opinion of Antonio García Cubas, Jilotepec is a village or hill of tender corn: xilotl, ‘ear of corn at the beginning of its development’; tepec, ‘village or hill'”. Many authors accept this version.8

Toward the end of the XIXth century, Antonio Peñafiel defined Jilotepec the following way:

Jilotepec. Xilo-tepec, in Mexican; place of the goddess Xilomen [sic], center of the region of the Otomí tribe which carried the name of mandonxi or madoentsi; roots: Xilotepec, xilo, shortened form of Xilonen or Xilomenetl, or goddess of cornfields, also known as Centeotl, and the place ending tepec; it belongs to the State of Mexico”.9

Robelo agrees with this but adds:

We agree with this, but the name of the goddess is not Xilomen, but rather Xilonen, the shortened form of Xilonenetl. Centeotl was the goddess of earth and corn. When corn had just been planted, they invoked her with the name of Tzinteotl; when the corn was tender, with the name of Xilonen; when the ear was well-formed and turned into elotl, (Spanish elote), ‘firm ear of corn’, with the name Iztacacenteotl; and when it ripened, with the names Tlatauhqui Centeotl or Tonacayohua, ‘the one who sustains us'”.10

The idea that the origin of the name might be mythological is based, then, on the idea that the glyph could be the written representation of something phonetic, rather like a rebus. ‘The hill of jilotes’ or ‘the place of the goddess Xilonen’ are the two most common interpretations for this name, but they are not the only ones. There are other possible explanations as to why the Nahuas selected that name. It might be derived from Xillotzinca,11 the name of an alreadly-existing group of people, or it might have its origin in the calendar. In the Codex Huichapan, Xillomanalixtli, meaning ‘when jilotes spring forth’, appears as a month of the year.12 Lastly, the possibility that the name refers to some personage must not be overlooked. The root xillo appears in several chronicles as part of proper names. Xillomantzin, lord of Colhuacan, appears in the Annals of Cuautitlán, as well as in Torquemada, Betancourt, Durán, Tezozomoc, Ixtlixóchitl and in the Crónica Mexicáyotl. Other names recorded by Ixtlixóchitl are Xilomenco, Xilocuextzin, Xilotzin and Xiloxochitzin.13 Most of these proper names have to do with the historical events of Acolhuacan.

With respect to the graphic representation, the glyph of Jilotepec is mad up of two elements disposed vertically: corn (jilotes) and hill. The hill with jilotes, contrary to what might be expected, appears infrequently in different graphic representations. It appears in some codexes and, until now, on only one engraved stone of Prehispanic origin. In the graphic representation, two parts may be distinguished, according to Barlow’s dictionary.14 The first one woud be the xilotl (whose contribution to the compound would be xilo, which means ‘newly sprouted ear of corn’), represented by two ears of corn with their respective cornsilk. The second, the hieroglyph for tepetl (whose contribution to the compound is tepec, translated as ‘hill’) is bell-shaped with side adornments in the middle part, plus two bars at the bottom. More recently, Manrique has called this figure ‘grapheme N15’, and he characterizes it in the following way:

It is represented as a hill whose silhouette is bell-shaped; at the bottom both edges curve inward in a brief spiral which touches a red edge which forms a small yellow rectangle above, to the right and to the left, but not below […] the bell-shaped curve is not continuous, but rather half-way the sides there are three arches which emanate from each side; the surface contained between the bell-shaped curve and the base is painted green […] As common as this idealized drawing is, there is one in which the line that defines the hill is not solid, but broken at some point, usually at the top, which is the place where the majority of other graphemes are placed when they combine to form place names with grapheme N15″.15

In the graphic representation of the etymological meanings of toponyms, Antonio Peñafiel presents four variants of the Jilotepec glyph, although he does not specify his sources. In the first variant, the hill is painted green, with its two side adornments. The bars are found at the bottom, between two circles; the top bar is red and the lower one is yellow. Two juxtaposed ears of corn -leaves in green, kernels in red and silk in yellow- top the hill. The overall image is as long as it is wide. The second representation is similar to the first. The variation consists in the fact that it is a bit elongated and that the kernels of corn are yellow in one case and red in the other, while the silk contains an interspersing of these two colors. Another variant is one in which the plant is made up of the stalk and leaves of the plant and just one ear of corn. This figure is painted white, with red kernels and yellow silk. One leaf is also yellow. The hill is green and at the lowest part there is a solitary white bar. The last representation is a variation of this one in black and white. It is worth noting that within the same group of illustrations, as a variant of Xilotzingo, there is also a hill with no side adornments, and only one ear of corn, whose stalk and leaves are green, with red kernels and yellow silk. The red and yellow bands underneath the design are present.16

The Jilotepec glyph appears in several different pictographic documents. In the Codex Xólotl, it appears in the lower part of Plate I as a hill with no decoration or lower bars, crowned with an ear of corn transversed by an x to represent the leaves that cover the kernels, and the cornsilk is visible. It appears on the map near Teotihuacan and two other toponyms which Dibble has not been able to identify. In regard to Plate VII, this author says,

The towns conquered by Ixtlixóchitl’s forces appear in the margin. The shield and Macuahuitl over each place glyph indicates its surrender. Ixtlixóchitl’s forces entered through Xaltepec, found in the middle part of the margin. The places which were conquered appear in downward order: Xaltepec, Otompan, Axapuxco, Azquemeca, Temascalapan, Tula, Xilotepec, Citlaltepec, Tepozotlan and Cuautitlan.17

In this case the graphic representation is that of a hill with two ears of corn and their silk. The fact that it is found between Tula, Tepozotlan and Cuautitlan might indicate that it refers to the Jilotepec in which we are interested. However, this cannot be confirmed absolutely, because there was apparently a town of this name in the Valley of Mexico.

In the Matrícula de Tributos (Tribute Rolls), the glyph appears in Engraving XI, in the lower left-hand corner, heading a list of toponyms. The hill is green with nether bands of red and yellow. The kernels of the corn are yellow, as is the silk. The name Xillotepec is written above the glyph. In the Codex Mendoza this glyph appears twice. The first one is in folio 8r, among the towns conquered by Huehue Mocteccuma. In this case the hill is green and is adorned by three semi-circles on each side. At the base there is a red band on top of a yellow one. At the top, there are two xilotes whose base is painted green to indicate the leaves which cover the newly-formed ears. The left one is yellow with red silk and the right one inverts these colors. The glyph is directly connected by a line to a tecpan destroyed by fire, denoting a conquered Jilotepec. In folio 31r, where tribute is specified, Jilotepec heads the list of places paying tribute. The glyph is exactly the same as the one just described, although the green pigment of the ears of corn, in this case, covers the lines which depict the leaves. The tone of the reds and greens of the band and the jilotes is the same in each case. At the top is a gloss which reads Xillotepec Po. Here the name Jilotepec also refers to a town which is the seat of a tributary province, according to Barlow.18


The glyph appears again in the Historia Tolteca Chichimeca. It is mentioned in paragraph 109 along with Auauhtepec, Comalli mani, Xillotepec and Quiyauiztlan. Later, in paragraph 240, we read,

Cozamallometitlan; then they came to Tzompantutlan; then they came to Yeuacueyecan; then they came to Cuecuenatzonco; then they came to Tonollaminco; then they came to Couatlan; then they came to Xillotepec; then they came to Acxotlan Motlapachocan; then they came to Tlatlauhquitepexic; then they came to Chiunauatoyac, where they slept.

The following appears in paragraph 255:

Ocipipilla; then they came to Cepayauitl ytenpan; then they came to Quallac; then they came to Calnepanolco; then they came to Xillotepec; then they came to Omitemaloyan; then they came to Mazaquaquauhco; they they came to Yztaccuixtlan; then they came to Yepatepec; they they came to Xochitlan.

Two Xilotepecs appeared on the route followed by the Chichimecas, the first before Tula and the second after Texcoco.

The graphic representation for these two places appears in this document in Plate I, almost in the center, associated with Tzouac Xilotepetl which, according to comments by Kirchhoff and his associates, could be a site occupied by the Quauhtinchantlaca.19 The representation of the hill is totally different from the other representations of tepetl in the same illustration and from those described here. The silhouette of the hill is broken, without any decoration, as if representing a jagged peak and is green in color. Another difference is that in the middle, within the heart of the mountain, there is an ear of corn coming out of a kind of reed flute at the center, uncolored. There are no bars at the bottom, but rather another sign emanating from the mountain. It is noteworthy that in the same codex there is another mountain with side and top adornments, also uncolored. Not all the glyphs which unite depictions of a hill and corn can be read as Jilotepec. In the Historia Tolteca Chichimeca there is another combination of corn and hill where the ear of corn, painted green with yellow kernels and silk, is in the center of the glyph. The hill is bell-shaped with a band at the bottom and other decoration. This glyph is read Centepetl.20

The Jilotepec glyph also appears in Plate XCI of the Codex Vaticano. It appears in the lower part of the illustration in the context of a band of calendar glyphs which show dates from 1214 to 1223. At the top there is a band with four toponyms: Tlacaxupantépetl, ‘hill of the lord of summer’; Huehuetépetl, ‘hill of the ancients’ or ‘ancient hill’; Xilotépetl, ‘on the hill of tender corn’; and Zumpango. In this case the hill is painted green; it has side adornments and a white band. In the middle of the hill there is a representation of a stalk with its corn. This design is painted white, except for the kernels, which are yellow.

Twelve hieroglyphs appear in Plate 9 of the Huichapan Codex. Their names appear in Otomí. They are distibuted vertically, six on the front of the plate and six on the back. Alfonso Caso had already identified the first hieroglyph as Xilotepec in 1928: two ears or tender sprouts of corn above a hill.21 This interpretation gives one the idea that we are dealing with just one group of names headed by Jilotepec, as in the Matrícula de Tributos, except that the rest of the page is blank; there are no tributary elements.

The pictogram is drawn with black lines. The body of the hill is bell-shaped, as it is in most representations. The similarity ends when we see that the lateral adornments appear toward the bottom of the hill and, instead of the usual solid green color, the body of the hill has a lattice of diamond shapes with small circles inside each one. The ears of corn at the top are placed at the extreme left and extreme right of the hill and do not touch. In both representations, the leaves, kernels and cornsilk are visible. However, the greatest difference between this design and the others is found at the bottom: as in other representations, there is one bar which frames another, but in this case three elongated elements emerge from the second of these. These elements seem to sit atop the exit place of five streams of water, which are finished off, alternately, by a circular form and an oval-shaped one. Beginning with Plate XCVII of the Vatican Codex, these last figures may be interpred as conch and snail shells.22 The embellishments to the body of the hill are not unusual. In the Historia Tolteca Chichimeca (folio 33r), a hill having this decoration appears. The glyph is read as Matlatlan.

In the Huichapan Codex itself, the same adornments appear on another hill (Plate 31), as well as in the clothing of Itzcóatl and other important personages (Plate 26). The lattice also appears in the Chiapa de Mota Cave from the Codex Huamantla, where Aguilera interprets it as the skin of a jaguar. In Plate 53 of the Codex Huichapan, the same glyph appears again, with a slight variation. In this case the body of the hill, with the same embellishments, is painted green, and the lateral decoration of half-circles is located at midpoint on the sides of the hill. The bottom part consists of one red bar, from which seven streams of water emerge. As in the last example, an embellishment of conch shells and snail shells alternate with each other to finish off the design. The ears of corn do not touch each other in this variant, either, but in this case they are located at the very top of the hill. The ears -painted red, as is the silk- emerge from a small green stalk which also has leaves. There is a third representation of Jilotepec in the same codex. In Plate 34, the toponym is almost the same as the one just described, with slight differences. The hill has the same shape, color and embellishments, but inside it a person is seated on a yellow throne adorned with black spots reminiscent of a jaguar skin. The person’s clothing is red, and is decorated with a network of diamond shapes containing dots and the head is dressed, as well.


Another difference is that on top of the hill there is a split-tongued serpent with a rattle and elements forming borders which are reminiscent of the representation of Itzcóatl. The person and the serpent are interpreted by Reyes as an account of the domination of Jilotepec by Itzcóatl and the ensuing imposition of a ruler.23 At the bottom there is a red bar from which ten streams of water emerge, all with the same sort of decoration on their ends. This representation is found in the lower left-hand corner of the page, above a box containing the date “three cane” and the year 1443. At the top of the page there is an inscription in Otomí which reads

At that time the lord uniter [Tlacaelel] came to the place where the jilotes bloom [Jilotepec] [toponym]. When he arrived, he was brought by his servants. Among these were his macehuales, his men for walking [tamemes], among them those of the flint, among them the healers.They were four who volunteered to take him to Jilotepec [toponym]. After he had been back for eleven years, he was struck, he fell. When he was no longer a dignitary, he traveled under the name of the Benefactor [proper name] to his home in the district of harvested corn [toponym], he was brought there because upon his death he was to be buried at the watering place under the quarry in Jilotepec [toponym].24


A representation very similar to this one is found on the first page of the Codex Jilotepec edited by Oscar Reyes R.,25 in the top left-hand corner. The glyph is drawn in black ink on European paper. The body of the hill has lateral embellishment reminiscent of the fleur-de-lys. The person is seated and the serpent is at the top. A lattice is present, but with no circles. The ears of corn have the same characteristics as those in the other glyphs, except that they show no kernels. At the bottom, the bar is decorated with a finer lattice and there are seven streams of water, of which the leftmost three have been damaged. In this case, the glyph is the first representation in the codex and across from it there is a hand-written paragraph in Spanish. Although it is accepted that this is a toponymic glyph, Reyes R.26 considers that it only has value as a decoration and an illustration. In the town of Amealco, Hidalgo, there is a quarrystone plaque on the façade of the church containing a glyph with a tepetl with a lattice and a serpent with a border similar to the one mentioned above.27 The last graphic representation I would like to mention is the one that comes from an engraved stone located in the storage area of the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City which, according to Felipe Solís,28 could have been a decorative element in the tecpan of Jilotepec. In this case, the body of the hill has more the shape of a sphere with lateral embellishment and the diamond shapes containing circles. There is no bar at the bottom but water is represented. The ears of corn are at the top; the right one is damaged.


There graphic expressions may divided into two groups: a) those with representations of the xilotes and the hill, decorated with latticework and dots, from which water emerges and is finished off by snails and seashells, and b) those in which the hill in different colors and corn are found. This grouping corresponds to the distinction which Perla Valle makes between tepetl, ‘hill’, ‘mountain’ or ‘sierra’ and altépetl, ‘town’. This variant, says the author, “is identifiable by the formal aspect of the graphic components of the hill, where sometimes the representation of water is included next to a red-yellow base”.29 The proposal of Jilotepec as an altépetl gains credit when we take into account that in the Codex García Granados, the hill appears as does cornsilk, but instead of water, there is a gloss which says altépetl. This distinction makes it possible to conceive of a double territorial meaning associated with the toponym of Jilotepec.

Notes on territorial meaning

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that a toponym makes a place stand out, as well as locating it in space and time. In this case the Nahuatl name Jilotepec, applied to the northern part of the the State of Mexico, west of Hidalgo and south of Querétaro, may be read as altépetl or seat.

With the word altépetl, the Nahua reflect precise knowledge of the demarcation of a particular political space, “so that its use is quite common, always referring to those spaces organized at different levels”.30 Thus, altépetl has been defined as the basic political and territorial unit of central Mexico (Carrasco 1996, Lockhart 1999)31 related to the social division of work, both economically and politicallly. This unit was made up, on one hand, of one or several more-or-less compact civic and ceremonial centers, which included the temples and palaces where the governing body resided and, on the other hand, of a series of rural settlements mostly populated by tributary peasants. Sahagún said that ancient inhabitants of this land called the towns where people lived by the name of altépetl, which means ‘water mountain’ or ‘mountain full of water’.32 An altépetl was a political unit governed by a tlatoani.

The altépetl was sometimes an independent unit, but in general several altepeme united in higher political entities with varying degree of complexity, although each one of them maintained its own government. In these cases, the king of the dominant city was called the huey tlatoani, the great king, and his city was known as a huey altépetl, united under a dominating city and dynasty.33

Lockhart points out the ethnic aspect of the altépetl and affirms that the term “refers in the first instance to a territory, but it principally means a group of people who rule over a certain territory. Any sovereign or potentially sovereign entity, whatever its size, could consider itself an altépetl”.34

One important idea, valid both before and after the Conquest, was that an altépetl only existed if there was a tlatoani. García Martínez goes more deeply into this concept when he places it in a historical context. He suggests that the Indian concept of pueblo is the colonial derivation of the Prehispanic altépetl and “must be understood as a fundamental element in the indigenous political organization throughout Mesoamerica, or at least in the Nahua pueblos and those influenced by them”.35 It is undeniable that “pueblo refers not only to a place but also to the group of inhabitants of a place, and, in this sense, the Spanish term was perfect, because each altépetl imagined itself to be a perfectly separate town”,36 without the need of a nucleus to hold it together. Lockhart himself calls this kind of organization cellular or modular, in opposition the hierarchical mode of territorial organization. We may complete this idea with the proposal of García Martínez:

If each altepetl [sic] had a center, undoubtedly linked to the person and lineage of its tlahtoani [sic], there is nothing to indicate that this center had a spatial expression equivalent to that of a modern seat or capital. It seems plausible to suppose that the center was wherever the tlahtoani [sic] and his court was to be found at a given moment, and that could happen in may different palces within the altepetl [sic]. In addition to this, whatever the center of the altepetl [sic] was, a place associated with ritual and political functions would be found within it, but not necessarily a center of exchange or population, especially if the pattern of scattered settlement which prevailed in Mesoamerica is taken into account”.37

In fact, the modular system and the concept of altépetl allow us to approach the corresponding minimum territorial unit: 1) the productive unit that allows us to define the space of power, taking into account more complex units than tose of lineage, and 2) the political organization that holds group membershipand identity together, even when it is necessary to migrate or change residence. Each altépetl possessed a center, linked to the lineage of the Tlahtoani [sic] and the center was located wherever the the Tlahtoani [sic] was located physically.38 These units were often obscured by the scattered settlement pattern which predominated in Mesoamerica.


The historical sources which name Jilotepec as a political-territorial unit with its own identity, except for the Codex García Granados, are documents which apperently come from the greater Jilotepec region. This observation obliges us to analyze each document more deeply and to ask about what motivated their authors to underline the its character as an altépetl. We might tentatively propose that these representations identify the boundaries of a politically integrated group, an articulated space based on a set of spatial relationships accepted by those who participated in them.

Barlow had the idea that the glyph covers an extended territory when he saw that the Matrícula de Tributos named a province with the hill-plus-corn glyph of Jilotepec. This author advances the duality of meaning, which at the same time denotes an extended space and the town which was the seat where tribute for the Triple Alliance was collected. This is the possible meaning of the second group of glyphic representations. This group, which lacks the water component, varies greatly interally, so that it becomes indispensable to view the context in which the glyph occurs. It appears at the head of a list of towns, both within the tributary pages of the Matrícula and also in the Codex Mendoza, so that, as in other provinces, it might be thought to be the seat of a tributary group and that the imperial elements in the center gave the name to the whole group. The glyph appears in the Codex Mendoza among the Moctezuma’s conquests as a temple which has been destroyed, the temple being an element which may also be interpreted as representing the principal town of the region.

To make headway with this first approximation it would be necessary to analyze the chronology of the sources. The time difference may be trivial. However, we need to ask about its causes, especially if we take into account the fact that after the Conquest the altépetl took on even more importance by way of the concept of pueblos indios. Was Jilotepec not recognized as an altépetl in Prehispanic or early colonial representations? Did those who produced later documents reconstruct the concept of altépetl? What for? Or rather, upon consideration of the place of origin of the documents, did the inhabitants of the area wish to give the region political and territorial importance and, in so doing, confer on it the status of a kingdom? On the other hand, did those who wrote the histories of the Valley of Mexico not recognize the presence of a proper lord in the region or did they prefer to ignore him? And, more to the point, who so? Finally, one must not forget the religious aspect of indigenous society. Along these lines, it would be necessary to ask about the sacred meaning of the altépetl. The hill-corn etymology synthesizes the economic and cosmological thought of a society which rests on agriculture. The sacred character of the altépetl of Jilotepec and its place as a collection point for tribute make us think that, in situations of dependence, it would be easy to find two sorts of simultaneous organization, one peculiar to the Otomí of Jilotepec and one imposed by the Triple Alliance.


Aguilera, Carmen, Códice Huamantla, Mexico City, Government of the State of Tlaxcala, 1984.

Alvarado Guinchar, Manuel, El Códice Huichapa. I. Relato otomí del México prehispánico y colonial, Mexico City, INAH (Científica, 48), 1976.

Barlow, Robert H., The extent of the empire Culhua-Mexica, Los Angeles, University of California Press (Iberoamericana, 28), 1962.

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  1. Dirección de Etnohistoria/INAH. English translation by Marianna Pool Westgaard, Centro de Estudios Lingüísticos y Literarios, El Colegio de México. This article is part of the Provincia de Jilotepec project, sponsored by the Dirección de Ethnohistoria/INAH with support from Conacyt. I am grateful to Perla Valle and Eduardo Corona for their comments. []
  2. Ignacio Guzmán Betancourt, “La toponimia. Introducción general al estudio de nombres de lugar”, in De toponimia… y topónimos, 1987, p. 15. []
  3. Ibid., p. 17. []
  4. François Zonabend, “Pourquoi nommer?”, in Claude Lévi-Strauss (ed.), L’identite, 1977. []
  5. Antonio García Cubas, Diccionario geográfico, histórico y biográfico de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, vol. 3, 1889, p. 311. []
  6. Pedro Carrasco, Los otomíes. Cultura e historia prehispánica de los pueblos mesoamericanos de habla otomiana, 1979, and Jacques Soustelle, La familia-otomí pame del México central, 1993. []
  7. Cecilio A. Robelo, Nombres geográficos indígenas del Estado de México, 1974. []
  8. Leonardo Manrique, “Los nombres de lugar en el Códice Mendocino”, in Ignacio Guzmán Betancourt (coord.), De toponimia… y topónimos, 1987, p. 185; José Corona Núñez, La Matrícula de Tributos, 1968; Antonio García Cubas, op. cit., vol. 3, 1889, p. 311. []
  9. Antonio Peñafiel, Etimologías de los nombres de lugar. Correspondientes a los principales idiomas que se hablan en la República, 1897, p. 150. []
  10. Cecilio Robelo, op. cit., 1974, p. 25. []
  11. Paul Kirchhoff, Lina Odena Güemes and Luis Reyes García (eds.), Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca, 1976, pp. 280, 283, 285, 291, 295, 333. []
  12. Manuel Alvarado Guinchar, El Códice Huichapa. I. Relato otomí del México prehispánico y colonial, 1976, p. 74. []
  13. Rafael García Granados, Diccionario biográfico de historia antigua de Méjico, vol. II, 1953, pp. 454-457. []
  14. Robert H. Barlow, “Diccionario de elementos fonéticos en escritura jeroglífica (Códice Mendocino)”, in J. Monjarás-Ruiz, E. Limón and M. C. Paillés (eds.), Obras completas de R.H. Barlow, vol. 5, 1994. []
  15. Leonardo Manrique, “Hay que andarse por los cerros (comentario en torno al grafema N15)”, in J. Monjarás-Ruiz, Emma Pérez-Rocha and Perla Valle Pérez (comps.), Segundo y tercer coloquios de documentos pictográficos de tradición náhuatl, 1996, p. 103. []
  16. Antonio Peñafiel, op. cit., 1897. []
  17. Charles E. Dibble, Códice Xolotl, 1951. []
  18. Robert H. Barlow, The extent of the empire Culhua-Mexica, 1962. []
  19. Paul Kirchhoff, Lina Odena Güemes and Luis Reyes García, op. cit., 1976, p. 193. []
  20. Idem. []
  21. Óscar Reyes Retana (ed.), El Códice Huichapan, 1992, p. 36. []
  22. María de Lourdes Suárez Díez, “Presencia de los objetos de concha en códices de tradición náhuatl”, in Primer coloquio de documentos pictográficos de tradición náhuatl, 1989. []
  23. Óscar Reyes Retana (ed.), op. cit., 1992, p. 26. []
  24. Manuel Alvarado Guinchar, op. cit., 1976, p. 115. []
  25. Óscar Reyes Retana (ed.), El códice Jilotepec, 1990. []
  26. Óscar Reyes Retana (ed.), op. cit., 1992, p. 26. []
  27. Eduardo Yamil Gelo del Toro and Fernando López Aguilar, “Hualtepec, Nono-hual-ca-tepec y Cohuatepec. Lecturas a un cerro mítico”, in Arqueología, no. 20, 1998, pp. 65-78. []
  28. Felipe Solís O., “Andrés Molina Enríquez y la arqueología de Jilotepec”, in Expresión Antropológica, no. 4, 1997, pp. 43-47. []
  29. Perla Valle, “Un pueblo entre las cuevas. Los topónimos de Tepetlaoztoc en el Códice Kingsborough”, in Amerindia, 1998, p. 57. []
  30. Ana María Crespo, “Unidades político territoriales”, in B. Bohem de Lameiras and Ph. Weigand (coords.), Origen y desarrollo en el Occidente de México, 1992, p. 162. []
  31. Pedro Carrasco, Estructura político-territorial del Imperio tenochca. La Triple Alianza de Tenochtitlan, Tetzcoco y Tlacopan, 1996, and James Lockhart, Los nahuas después de la Conquista. Historia social y cultural de la población indígena del México central, siglos XVI-XVIII, 1999. []
  32. Fray Bernardino de Shagún, Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España, book XI, ch. XIII, 1988. []
  33. Pedro Carrasco, op. cit., 1996, p. 585. []
  34. James Lockhart, op. cit., 1999, p. 27. []
  35. Bernardo García Martínez, Los pueblos de la Sierra. El poder y el espacio entre los indios del norte de Puebla hasta 1700, 1987, p. 21. []
  36. James Lockhart, op. cit., 1994, p. 27. []
  37. Bernardo García Martínez, op. cit., 1987, pp. 75-76. []
  38. Luis Reyes García, Cuauhtinchan del siglo XII al XVI. Formación y desarrollo histórico de un señorío prehispánico, 1980. []

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