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Oaxaca´s Zapotec Civilization

Monte Alban, Oaxaca
Monte Alban, Oaxaca

The Zapotecs were once one of the most dominant ethnic groups in the region now known as Oaxaca.

The early Zapotecs were a sedentary group, relying mostly on agricultural means to survive. They worshipped a pantheon of gods, the foremost of which was Cosijo, the rain god, symbolized by the jaguar and the snake, symbols common in Mesoamerican cultures. Religious rites sometimes included human sacrifice. Aside from the gods, Zapotecs also worshipped their ancestors and emphasized the concept of death.

The splendid city of Monte Alban was the Zapotecs' main cultural center, the place in which their rich and fascinating civilization flourished for about 2,000 years. Today, Monte Alban is considered one of the most majestic cultural centers in all of Middle America. Monte Alban is a complex array of pyramids and platforms built on a mountain range overlooking the valleys. It was built in honor of the Zapotec gods and in celebration of the military victories of the Zapotec people. By 700 A.D., Monte Alban had become the capital of the Zapotec land and home to some 250,000 people.

The Zapotecs struggled against another mighty group, the Mixtecs, for control over their vast lands. By the 15th century, both these groups faced another worthy adversary, the Aztecs, who were trying to dominate the trade routes of Chiapas and Guatemala. The Zapotecs managed to maintain political autonomy, thanks mostly to their greatest king, Cosijoeza. When the Spanish arrived, however, the whole region became subject to the their forces

Today, the Zapotecs are composed mostly of two groups, those in the Southern mountains, and those residing in the southern half of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Many elements of Zapotec culture are still ingrained in Oaxacan life, influencing customs, dress, songs, and literature.