Tlaloc vessel

Tlaloc vessel, c. 1440–70, found Templo Mayor, Tenochtitlan, ceramic (Museo del Templo Mayor, Mexico City)

[0:00] [music]

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:05] We’re in the Templo Mayor Museum here in Mexico City. The Templo Mayor refers to the main temple of the Aztec people that was located right next door, and one of the two gods that were honored at that temple was Tlaloc. We’re looking at a fabulous ceramic sculpture of Tlaloc’s head.

Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:25] Tlaloc was a deity associated with rain and agriculture, and as we look at this pot we see that it’s painted in this beautiful turquoise blue with accents in red and yellow. That beautiful Maya blue color is really key in its relationship to Tlaloc because it has these connotations with preciousness, with water, with vegetation.

Dr. Harris: [0:47] One of the ways that we can identify that this is Tlaloc, in addition to the blue, which is the color that was valued across many Mesoamerican cultures, is those goggle eyes, those big circles for eyes.

Dr. Killroy-Ewbank: [0:58] And the fanged mouth, too. These are the key features of Tlaloc. As we look around the galleries that we’re in right now we can see a number of other objects displaying these goggle eyes and fangs. We can identify them as Tlaloc.

Dr. Harris: [1:12] Tlaloc was not just a god that was important to the Aztecs, but he was a god who was important to many Mesoamerican cultures.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [1:18] He is this very ancient deity. In other cultures, he had different names, of course, but these goggle eyes and the fangs are pretty consistent in the iconography of cultures as diverse as, say, the Maya and the Mixtec.

Dr. Harris: [1:30] He was part of an offering. He was found buried with many other objects.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [1:34] This particular vessel was found on the Tlaloc side of the Templo Mayor. It was one of many offerings that have since been found, and included other types of objects, like seashells, coral, the skeletons of aquatic animals, things that we associate with bodies of water, and Tlaloc, that was his domain.

[1:55] What we see here [is] the Aztecs bringing representative types of things back from the parts of the empire that they controlled and burying them at key points during the construction phases of their main temple.

Dr. Harris: [2:08] It’s interesting to think about the fact that the empire was founded on an island in the middle of a lake, because when we look out of the window of the museum, we see this vast city. This once was an island on a lake that has since been filled in, but was very fertile.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [2:22] Rain and agriculture being so key, it makes sense that he would be one of the major deities and one of two here at the Templo Mayor. We know that people were making pilgrimages or processing to, say, Mount Tlaloc, which is on the edge of the lake. We know that the Aztecs were using what’s called chinampa agriculture, essentially making raised beds on the edge of the lake to grow crops and provide food.

[2:46] Here at the Templo Mayor, if we’re talking about the temple side devoted to Tlaloc, the various things that have been found affiliated with that side make it into this creation of what’s called Tonacatepetl, this mountain of sustenance, which when paired with the other side devoted to the Aztec patron god of war and the sun, Huitzilopochtli, created this ultimate symbol of warfare.

[3:10] Water and fire when paired together meant “burnt water,” which was the symbol of war.

Dr. Harris: [3:15] And which was so central a part of the culture of the Aztecs.

[3:19] [music]

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

[flickr_tags user_id=”82032880@N00″ tags=”TlalocVessel,”]

More Smarthistory images…

Terms and key ideas

– the importance of Tlaloc in Mexica culture

– the color known as Maya blue

– Tlaloc’s basic iconography and connection to water

– offerings associated with the Templo Mayor

Cite this page as: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank, "Tlaloc vessel," in Smarthistory, February 21, 2017, accessed July 18, 2024,