The “Histories” of Lord 8-Deer: Discourses of Legitimation depicted on Mixtec Codices (10th-16th centuries AD)
Affiliation: Institute of Historical Research, National Autonomus University of Mexico

One of the most famous kings and conquerors known from the Pre-Colonial period in Central Mexico was Lord 8-Deer, (1063-1115 A. D.). His history can be traced by the scenes depicted on the traditional Mixtec codices. These ancient objects are complex historical documents, which shed some light over the life and politics of the Mixtecs (and neighbor groups), who settled in parts of the modern state of Oaxaca, in Mexico, in the region known as the Mixteca.

Mixtec codices are extremely valuable epic sources, because most of them are visually explicit; they tell us about the marriages, rituals, wars, murders, and political intrigues of the royal genealogies, which could be partially understood even if we do not speak Mixtec language. To read these documents is necessary to know some of the traditional graphic conventions, we can identify gender, name, political range of the personages and names of places, too. Many of the motifs can be understood taking on count the oral traditions and language dynamics. Unfortunately there is information that can not be reconstructed yet, but the scholars are developing methodologies for improving our understanding of these items.

Lord 8-Deer is an intriguing character, not only because he “unified” (at least artificially) many kingdoms under his political control, nor because he was a great conqueror, an usurper, or a shrewd politician, but because he had no royal lineages to support his access to the throne —and so could not easily legitimize the continuity of his dynastic lineage. Despite his lack of prestigious origins, there is evidence of his fame all across Central and South Mexico: from Puebla to the Soconusco region, in Chiapas. His name and glory appear in codices from the Pre-Colonial period and into the 16th century.

The pictorial sources tell us that Lord 8-Deer obtained control over an ample region (ca. the 12th century). He settled as the king of Tilantongo, in the High Mixtec mountains, and apparently he also articulated alliances with powerful foreigners, like the Toltecs, who then ruled over part of the Central Mexican Plateau. But these actions were not enough to legitimize him, because they could not justify his right to rule. He had no place in the socio-political structure he tried to access; so he needed to create a past.

Although rewriting history is not an uncommon practice for powerful sovereigns, the problem comes when the efforts to control the authorized versions of a biography become exceeded by the multiple interests of the authors. In this paper I want to discuss a part of the personal records of Lord 8-Deer registered in different documents. This is an interesting exercise because there are many questions that have not been resolved about his biography and the story of his offspring.

The coexistence of multiple stories could be explained in terms of political dynamics. With his actions, 8-Deer destabilized the rhythm of the Mixtec, a region which was not conceived as a unified empire, but as a net of relatively autonomous kingdoms linked by strict genealogical relations. During his life, in order to gain political control, Lord 8-deer married different women from diverse places and families, bringing instability to the ruling channels. For this reason, if the conquests of 8-Deer affected the roots of the High Mixtec political order, his death brought genealogical disturbances which ended in internal disputes.

The different versions of the story of Lord 8-Deer depend on the traditions in which the codices were produced, as they belong to different regions and periods. What is significant to the discussion is that, even when it is not possible to reconstruct his real story, we can follow some traces on the way he influenced the regional history. In my paper I want to analyze some of his most famous episodes, as well as some of the contradictions behind this emblematic figure.