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Rotation of Alcaldes in the Indian Cabildo of Mexico City

Author(s): Charles Gibson

Source: The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 33, No. 2 (May, 1953), pp. 212-223
Published by: Duke University Press
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That the "fondness ... for a system of rotation in office,"'
evidenced in Spanish communal government of the high Middle
Ages and early Renaissance, should have been transmitted to the
Hispanic colonies of the New World will occasion no surprise.
A standard rule of municipal governments in the colonies, ex-
pressed in the laws of the Indies, forbade immediate reelection
of officeholders and established two and three-year intervals (de-
pending on the circumstances) between years of incumbency by
the same alcalde or regidor. The rule of rotation in office applied
specifically to the ayuntamientos of Spanish cities and was ob-
served in America with fair consistency long before the Recopila-
cion ordinance of 1609.2 Roughly similar rotation is to be found
in the institution of viceroyalty in the limitation (not always ob-
served) of viceregal tenure to periods of three, five, or six years
and in the frequent transfers of incumbents from one viceroyalty
to another.3 Again, in the visita procedure oidores were instructed
to undertake their duties "por su turno, comenzando por el ma's
antiguo."4 Many additional instances of alternation in office and
in other functions will occur to the student of Hispanic-American
institutions.' The phenomenon is in keeping with the general
atmosphere of bureaucratic mistrust; it allowed for an equitable
distribution of administrative labor among qualified officials; and
it recurs with sufficient frequency to justify its characterization
as one of the standard operational procedures of Hispanic im-
The purpose of the following paper is to identify a systematic
periodicity in the Indian cabildo in Mexico City, consistent witb
*The author is associate professor of history at the State University of Iowa-Ed-
'The quotation is from Roger B. Merriman, The Rise of the Spanish Empire in the
Old World and the New (4 vols., New York, 1918-1934), I, 187.
2 Recopilaci6n de eyes de los reysnos de las Indias (Edici6n facsimilar de la cuarta im-
presi6n hecha en Madrid el aiio 1791) (3 vols., Madrid, 1943), II, 31 (Lib. IV, tit. ix, ley
ILillian Estelle Fisher, Viceregal Administration in the Spanish-American Colonies
(University of California Publications in History, XV) (Berkeley, 1926), pp. 7-9.
4Recopilaci6n de leyes, I, 482 (Lib. II, tit. xxxi,
5 Rotation in the discharge of labor obligations was a fundamental principle of the
repariimiento, in which groups of Indians alternated in the performance of work.
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these more widespread practices. The aboriginal area of the
former Tenochtitlan was organized politically into a subordinate
government closely analogous to those of lesser Indian communi-
ties and not to be confused with the better-known Spanish cabildo
in the same city. Local native governments depended upon the
two great traditions whose convergence informs and gives mean-
ing to early colonial Mexico: the elaborate ritualistic social heri-
tage of Aztec times and the humanistic Catholic imperialism of
sixteenth-century Spain with its objectives of education and con-
version. For present purposes the political hispanization only is
relevant. That it existed, that colonial officials took the task
seriously, and that Indian governments were created in local com-
munities are incontrovertible facts. Seemingly without excep-
tion these governments retained elements of pre-conquest political
organizations-e.g., the vigesimal classifications, the office of te-
quitlato-and subtle harmonies of Spanish and Indian institu-
tions were repeatedly realized.6 This also was in accordance with
imperial policy, which insisted that Indian practices were to be
preserved so long as they did not conflict with Hispanic ethical,
social, or religious preconceptions.7
The original intention of Charles V had been that Indians
were to be introduced gradually into the Spanish cabildo of Mexico
City in order that they might gain political experience through
observation and imitation.8 In July, 1530, cedulas were sent in
blank to the Mexican audiencia so that the names of native
officeholders might be inserted "para que los indios se entiendan
mas con los espafioles y se aficionen a la manera de su gobierno."9
Although an instance is known in Puebla in 1561,10 direct ap-
pointment of Indians to the cabildos of Spanish towns was rare
in sixteenth-century New Spain, for the Spanish officeholders
failed to share fully the humane attitude toward the Indians.
Direct association of the two races in a single governing body
Chevalier, "Les municipalities indiennes en Nouvelle Espagne 1520-1620,"
Anuario de Historia del Derecho Espanol, XV (1944), 352-386.
* "Los Gobernadores, y Justicias reconozean con particular atencion la 6rden y forma
de vivir de los Indios, policia, y disposicion en los mantenimientos, y avisen a los Vireyes
6 Audiencias, y guarden sus buenos usos, y costumbres en lo que no fueren contra nuestra
Sagrada Religion . . ," Recopilaci6n de leyes, II, 120 (Lib. V, tit. ii, ley
8 Vasco de Puga, Prouisiones, cedulas instrucciones de Su Magestad, ordenangas
difuntos y audiencia para la buena expedici6n de los
negocios y administraci6n de justicia
y gouernaci6n de esta Nueua Espana, y para el buen tratamiento y
conseruaci6n de los indios
dende el ano de 1525 hasta este presente de 63 (2 vols., Mexico, 1878-1879), I, 164-166.
9 Colecci6n de documentos ineditos relativos al descubrimiento, conquista y organizaci6n
de las antiguas posesiones espanolas de ultramar (25 vols., Madrid, 1885-1932), XXI, 322.
Archivo Municipal, Puebla. "Cartilla vieja" (MS), fol. 54.
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in the manner contemplated by Charles V was moreover con-
sidered impracticable in most communities because Spaniards
were so few in number. In the great Indian towns no Spanish
cabildos appeared. Rather the cabildos that came into existence
in these places were operated exclusively by Indians, and it was
the boast of Viceroy Mendoza that he had ordered the creation
of a cabildo in every Indian town."
The normal Indian cabildo consisted of one gobernador, two
alcaldes, and two or four regidores.'2 An examination of the re-
sponses to the royal questionnaires of the late sixteenth and early
seventeenth centuries will reveal some but not many exceptions
to this customary ordering of Indian government.13 Single alcaldes
and three regidores are occasionally to be discovered, but rarely
(so far as our information goes) was the number of alcaldes more
than two or the number of regidores more than four. The special
instance of the Mexico City government, with its two alcaldes
and twelve regidores (reduced to eight in 1559),14 was one of the
very few that exceeded the ordinary number. In the literature
of the Relaciones
geogrdficas one also finds sporadic references to
rotational systems in the communities of New Spain, as in Ama-
tlan where the cacique of 1609, Don Fernando de la Cueba, "y
algunos deudos suyos alternatiuamente gouiernan el Pueblo."15
The composition of the cabildos was fixed by Philip III in 1618
according to the population size of the communities, measured
vigesimally. The maximum cabildo established in the early seven-
teenth century contained two alcaldes and four regidores, and
these officers "han de elegir por afio nuevo otros, como se practica
en Pueblos de Espafioles."16 The legislation of 1618 thus pro-
"Fragmento de la visita hecha a Don Antonio de Mendoza," Joaquin Garcia Icaz-
balceta, ed., Colecci6n de documentos para la historia de Mexico (2 vols., Mexico, 1858-
1866), II, 139.
12 Two alcaldes and four regidores were customary also in Spanish cabildos in New Spain.
Cf. Cortes' ordenanzas of 1525, Ap6ndice al tomo primero, Documentos raros o indditos
relatives a la historia de Mejico (Biblioteca de autores mexicanos, XXXV) (Mexico, 1901),
13 The question respecting the form of Indian government was asked directly only in
the later interrogation. Hence the responses of 1579-1580 often fail to provide informa-
tion on this subject. See Francisco del Paso y Troncoso, ed., Papeles de Nueva Espaha
(9 vols., Mexico, 1905-1948) IV, 1 ff., 273 ff.
14 Luis Chavez Orozco, ed., C6dice Osuna, Reproducci6n facsimilar de la obra del mismo
titulo, editada en Madrid, 1878 (Mexico, 1947), pp. 130-131 (hereinafter cited as C6dice
Paso y Troncoso, op. cit., IV, 317-318.
Recopilaci6n de eyes, II, 210-211 (Lib. VI, tit. iii, ley xv).
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hibited the retention of office by an Indian alcalde or regidor for
longer than one year.
A number of problems arise respecting the system of election
of the alcaldes and their relation to the barrios of the towns.
Notices of systems of election reveal variant procedures. In
Miahuatlan the new cabildo officers were chosen by the old and
the choice was
to the confirmation of the Spanish co-
rregidor.17 In Ameca the Spanish alcalde mayor"8 selected the two
Indian alcaldes directly.19 In the very interesting instance of
Toluca three alcaldes were chosen so that the three Indian lan-
guages, Nahuatl, Matlatzinca, and Otomi, might each be repre-
sented by one alcalde.20 Elsewhere, traditional elections by the
"naturales" were interfered with and illegally influenced by co-
rrcgidores and other Spaniards.21 In Tecamnachalco an interval of
was fixed prior to which Indian officers might not be
reflected.22 In Ahuatepec the interval was fixed at two years.23
These notices expressly or tacitly assume a rotation in office, but
in most instances they fail to indicate the systematic procedure
whereby rotation was to be achieved.
In this respect Mexico City manifests characteristic problems.
The Indian portion of the metropolitan capital was divided into
four barrios, Sant.-, Maria, San Sebastian, San Juan, and San
Pablo. The number of alcaldes in the mid-sixteenth century was
two. Several notices provide information on the manner of their
election. (1) "Los dichos alcaldes y regidores tienen de costum-
bre cada afio, al tiempo de elegir los alcaldes nuevos que an de
ser de aquel afio, y regidores y alguaziles, los escogen entre ellos
secretamnente, sin entrar sobre ello en cabildo, y escogen los que
son de la condici6n dellos, ombres que saben beber... ." (2)
I. ... antes que se haga la elecci6n, los regidores andan por los
barrios persuadiendo
a los naturales dellos, para que nombren
para aquel afio, a los yndios que tienen entre si acordado, que
Paso y Troncoso, op. cit., IV, 294.
Consistent with a common practice in sixteenth-century Hispanic political termi-
nology, the word alcalde is used in this paper in reference to the alcalde ordinario, whether
Indian or Spaniard. The alcalde mayor, a Spaniard, occupied a totally different office.
19 Jesds Amaya, Ameca, protofundaci6n mexicana, el origen de su propiedad rural (Mexico,
1951), pp. 4849.
20 The Otomi alcalde appears to have been added ca. 1575. Archivo General de la
Naci6n, Mexico, Ramo de General de Parte, I, fol. 90.
Ibid., I, fol. 88; II, fol. 83. Ramo de Indios, II, exp. 61, fol. 15; IV, exp. 183, fol. 56.
Ibid., Ramro de General de Parte, VI, fol. 370.
Ibid., Rarno de Indios, IV, exp. 182, fol. 56.
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sean alcaldes o alguaciles o regidores aquel afio."24 These state-
ments, which are accusations of illegal election methods, are in-
formative but imprecise; mention is made of the barrios, but noth-
ing is suggested respecting a formal patterned rotational system
involving alcaldes and their barrios.
Another notice of the 1560's states, however, that the four
barrios began "to have order and system in the election of gover-
nor, alcaldes, and regidores" in 1555.25 Of the offices mentioned,
one, that of gobernador (or juez), had a continuous existence in
the succession following the death of Montezuma.26 The election
of judges alcaldess) and regidores (as well as of alguaciles, escri-
banos, and other officers) was ordered by a royal cedula of 1549
which thus implied that a full cabildo institution was to be or-
ganized.27 Indian alcaldes in Mexico City are known by name
at least from 1550 and regidores at least from 1555. Probably
the full functioning cabildo should be dated first in the latter year,
when "order and system" began. The names of known alcaldes
in the period 1550-1554 appear to be totally lacking in order or
system, and in any case the barrio affiliations of most of the
officeholders are not recorded.28
But for a decade after 1555 the complete, or almost complete,
list of Indian alcaldes in Mexico City is available in a document
in the Archivo General de la Naci6n, Ramo de Civil, Volume 644.
The document has been published by Luis Chavez Orozco in con-
nection with the C6dice Osuna29 and used by him as the principal
basis for an important and pioneering study, Las Instituciones
democracticas de los indigenas mexicanos en la epoca colonial (Mexi-
co, 1943). It is the thesis of the present paper that this docu-
ment contains information warranting further conclusions respect-
ing the office of alcalde and strongly suggesting the existence of a
systematic rotational office related to the barrio affiliations of the
native officials.
The Ramo de Civil manuscript indicates the following persons
as alcaldes during the period 1555-1565:
C6dice Osuna, pp. 15, 19.
Luis Chavez Orozco, Las instituciones democreiticas de los
mexicanos en la
6poca colonial (Mexico, 1943), p. 6.
J.-M.-A. Aubin, ed., Histoire de la nation mexicaine depuis le depart d'Aztlan jusqu'4
l'arriv& des conqudrants espagnols (et au dei& 1607) (Paris, 1893), pp. 148 if. This is the
Codex of 1576.
27 See Juan de Sol6rzano y Pereyra, Politica indiana (2 vols., Madrid, 1776), I, 200, 202.
On the other hand, for Mexico City, this order may have authorized an already effective
institution, without creating any new body.
Aubin, op. cit., p. 92: (C6dibe Osuna, p. S1.
See note 14.
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1555 Miguel Diaz, alias* Miguel Cuautli, Miguel Quauhtli, Miguel Diaz
Alonso de San Miguel, alias Alonso Temuc
1556 Don Crist6bal de Guzman (?) t
Miguel Sanchez Yscatl, alias Miguel Ytzcatl, Miguel Yscac
1557 Don Luis de Santa Maria, alias Don Luis Zipac
Tomas de Aquino Yspopulac, alias Tomas Huixtopulcatl
1558 Don Pedro de la Cruz, alias Don Pedro Tlapaltecatl, Don Pedro
Martin Cano
1559 Don Lucas Cortes Tenamaz
Pedro Garcia Tenylotl, alias Pedro Temilotli
1560 Miguel Sanchez Ystecal, alias Miguel Itzac
Melchior Diaz Suchipepena
1561 Don Luis de Paz, alias Luis Huehuezaca
Toribio B:asquez, alias Toribio Tlacuscalcal
1562 Martin Cano
Don Pedro Tlapaltecal, alias Talpaltecal de Myguel
1563 Lucas Cortes, alias Lucas Tenamaz
Tomas de Aquino, alias Toma's Huixtopolcatl, Tomas Ytztopulcatl
1564 Don Antonio de Santa Maria, alias Antonio Mexicaytoa, Antonio
Don Martin de San Juan, alias Martin Ezmalin, Martin Tezmali
1565 Don Pedro Dionisio
Toribio Vasquez
*The alternative names are samples only. No effort has been made to list all aliases
or spelling forms.
tSee Note 33.
The names as given reveal the common orthographic irregu-
larities of sixteenth-century nomenclature both in their Spanish
and in their Nahuatl versions. It was entirely customary for
individuals of sixteenth-century Mexico to bear names in both
languages: the Christian first names served as evidence of Chris-
tianization and baptism, the Christian surnames gave evidence
of a degree of hispanization, and the native surnames preserved
the record of noble Indian families, an important criterion for
Indian social status and officeholding. Variations in the written
forms of the names may of course be ignored: Toribio Ba'squez
Toribio Vasquez are versions of the same name and represent a
single individual. Similarly the names Miguel Sanchez Yscatl,
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Miguel Ytzeatl, Miguel Yscac, Miguel Sanchez Ystecal, and
Miguel Itzac all refer to the same person, alcalde in 1556 and 1560.
Six of the persons occur as alcaldes twice in this period: Martin
Cano (1558, 1562), Miguel Sanchez Yscatl (1556, 1560), Tomas
de Aquino Yspopulac (1557, 1563), Lucas Cortes Tenamaz (1559,
1563), Pedro de la Cruz Tlapaltecatl (1558, 1562), and Toribio
Basquez Tlacuscalcal (1561, 1565). The Spanish honorific title
Don, as would be expected, is attached to some of the names but
not to all.
Elsewhere in the same document, where certain of these indi-
viduals appear as witness or in other connections, their barrio
affiliations are sometimes indicated. Of the sixteen individuals
who served as Indian alcaldes in the years 1555-1565 the affilia-
tions of thirteen may be ascertained as follows:
Name Affiliation Page*
Alonso de San Miguel "del barrio de San Pablo" 88
Miguel Sanchez Yscatl "vecino de San Sebastian," 42, 45
"del barrio de San Sebastian"
Luis de Santa Maria "vecino de San Joan" 43
Tomas de Aquino Yspopulac "del barrio de San Pablo" 46
Pedro de la Cruz "del barrio de Santa Maria" 43
Martin Cano "del barrio de San Sebastian" 43, 46
Lucas Cortes Tenamaz "vecino de San Joan," 44, 46, 86
"del barrio de San Joan"
Pedro Garcia Tenylotl "vecino de San Pablo," "de la 44, 92
parte de los indios de San
Melchior Diaz Suchipepena "del barrio de Nuestra Sefiora 45
la rredonda"
Luis de Paz (Huebuezaca) "vecino de San Pablo" 45
Toribio (Basquez) "vecino de San Joan" 45
Antonio de Santa Maria "del barrio de Santa Maria," 101
(Mexicaytoa) "alcalde de la parte de los
indios de San Juan"
Martin de San Juan "de la parte de San Sebastian" 100
*Page references are to the published edition of the Ramo de Civil document, Codice
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These notices seem for the most part sufficiently straight-
forward. There appears to be no significant difference between
the forms "vecino de" and "del barrio de," for both indicate a
relationship to the barrio given. The barrio noted as Nuestra
Sefiora de la Redonda (Nuestra Sefiora la rredonda) in the in-
stance of Melchior Diaz Suchipepena is simply Santa Maria
under another name.30 Only in the instances where double affilia-
tion is indicated does a question arise: Pedro Garcia Tenylotl and
Antonio de Santa Maria (Mexicaytoa), respectively "vecino de
San Pablo" and "del barrio de Santa Marla," are both indicated
also as "de la parte de los indios de San Juan." At first glance
each of these two individuals appears to represent two barrios,
San Pablo and San Juan in the one case, and Santa Maria and
San Juan in the other. A correct reading of this text, however,
reveals quite another situation. The parte (partido or parcialidad)
of San Juan was not the same as the barrio of San Juan. The
parte was so called to distinguish Tenochtitlan-Mexico from the
parte (partido or parcialidad) of Santiago (Tlatelolco) on the same
island.31 Tlatelolco had a separate Indian government, and the
references here to San Juan simply identify these persons ad-
ditionally as belonging to Tenochtitlan-Mexico rather than to
The collection of all pertinent information in a single chart
yields the following:
See, for example, Diego Dur6n, Historia de las Indias de Nueva-Espafa y islas de tierra
firme (2 vols., Mexico, 1867-1880), I, 42. The name is sometimes written Santa Maria
de la O.
31 It is true that in loose usage both Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco were frequently termed
barrios of the same city. See, for example, Juan de Torquemada, Prirnera (Segunda,
Tercera) parte de los veinte i vn libros rituales i monarchia indiana (3 vols., Madrid, 1723),
I, 93 (". . . hasta que se dividieron, en los dos Barrios, que aora son Mexico, y Tlatilulco"),
or Francisco Cervantes de Salazar, Cr6nica de la Nueva Espafa (Madrid, 1914), p. 300
("Estaba la ciudad repartida en solos los dos barrios que dixe, que al uno liamaban Tate-
lulco y al otro Mexico"). Loose usage was responsible at other times for references to
the barrios as partes. See for example C6dice Osuna, p. 100.
32 Silvio Zavala and Maria Castelo, eds., Fuentes para la historia del irabajo en Nueva
Espafia (8 vols., Mexico, 1939-1948), I, 94-95, refers to the "gobernador, alcaldes, y
regidores de la . . . parte de Santiago" (1576). See also C6dice Osuna, p. 303, and Jos6
Antonio de Villa-Sefnor y Sanchez, Theatro americano, descripci6n general de los reynos,
y provincias de la Nueva-Espania, y sus jurisdicciones (2 vols., Mexico, 1746-1748), I, 58,
which comments upon the continued separation of the Tlatelolco from the Tenochtitlan-
Mexico Indian government in the eighteenth century. Villa-Sefnor refers to the former
as the parcialidad of Santiago and to the latter as the parcialidad of San Juan.
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San San Sebas- Santa
Date Alcalde Pablo Juan tidn Maria
1555 Miguel Diaz
Alonso de San Miguel X
1556 Cristobal de Guzman (?)*
Miguel Sanchez Yscatl X
1557 Luis de Santa Maria X
Tomas de Aquino Yspopulac X
1558 Pedro de la Cruz (Tlapaltecatl) X
Martin Cano X
1559 Lucas Cortes Tenamaz X
Pedro Garcia Tenylotl X
1560 Miguel Sainchez Yscatl X
Melchior Diaz Suchipepena X
1561 Luis de Paz (Huehuezaca) X
Toribio Basquez (Tlacuscalcal) X
1562 Martin Cano X
Pedro (de la Cruz) Tlapaltecatl X
1563 Lucas Cortes (Tenemaz) X
Tomas de Aquino Yspopulac X
1564 Antonio de Santa Maria (Mexicaytoa) X
Martin de San Juan (Ezmalin) X
1565 Pedro Dionisio
Toribio Basquez (Tlacuscalcal) X
*See Note 33.
Placed in this form, the barrio affiliations appear to provide
testimony that a rotational system of alcalde officeholding by
barrios was in effect in the Indian cabildo of Mexico City. The
pairs of barrios emerge as San Pablo and San Juan on the one
hand, and San Sebastian and Santa Maria on the other in annual
alternation. At no time, so far as these indications go, did an
alcalde from San Pablo or San Juan serve simultaneously with
an alcalde from San Sebastian or Santa Maria. Two alcaldes,
one each from San Pablo and San Juan, served regularly in odd-
numbered years; two others, respectively from San Sebastian and
Santa Marla, served in even-numbered years. The lack of in-
formation respecting three persons appears insufficient to dis-
prove the system, given the perfect regularity of the thirteen for
whom the barrio connection is ascertainable. One may postulate
with a fair degree of certainty the affiliations of two of these three:
Miguel Diaz of San Juan, and Pedro Dionisio of San Pablo. Con-
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cerning the third, whose name is given as Crist6bal de Guzman,
proper identification of the man and office remains problematic.33
Several significant conclusions may be drawn from this po-
litical system. It is possible, perhaps even probable, that the
regidores of the cabildo were also affiliated with the barrios in a
systematic way. One may hazard the guess that three regidores
from each of the four barrios composed the annual complement
of twelve regidores.34 The hypothesis remains unproved, for re-
gidores were normally persons of less consequence than alcaldes;
hence less is known of their individual biographies, and although
the barrio connections of many are known the sum of this infor-
mation is still insufficient to indicate equality of representation.
The hypothesis is supported, however, by comparison with the
practice in sixteenth-century Tlaxcala, where each of four cabe-
ceras contributed three regidores to form an annual cabildo of
A second conclusion relates to the order in which the two
alcaldes of a given year were listed in the sixteenth-century rec-
ord. This order seemingly bore no relation to a rotational form.36
In odd-numbered years, as seen in the above tables, the name of
the alcalde from San Juan preceded that of his colleague from San
Pablo on four of six occasions. In even-numbered years the name
of the alcalde from Santa Maria appeared before the name of
the alcalde from San Sebastian on two of four occasions. These
positions seem arbitrary and their unsystematic character is con-
sistent also with regidor lists of the same (and other) periods,
where no uniformity may be discerned. In fact alternative list-
ings of the alcaldes themselves occasionally transpose the order.
Finally the question may be asked whether the political so-
phistication evidenced in this rotational cabildo was derived from
Spanish municipal procedures or whether it derived from pre-
conquest Indian political history. The question does not admit
of a simple or absolute solution. With the Indian governments
13 Our texts give the names Don Cristobal and Don Crist6bal de Guzmdn for one of
the alcaldes of 1556 (C6dice Osuna, pp. 42, 82, 93, 124). He is identified as del barrio de
San Juan. The identification may be an error, may represent an exception to the system
in this year, or may refer to the parte. It is contradicted by the Codex of 1576, which
names Crist6bal de Guzm~n as
beginning January 6, 1556 (Aubin, op. cit., p.
3 The hypothesis assumes that when eight
formed the cabildo, as in 1559,
two were chosen from each barrio.
35 Charles Gibson, Tlaxcala in the Sixteenth Century (Yale Historical Publications, Mis-
cellany, LVI.) (New Haven, 1952), pp. 111 ff.
36 The order appears to be arbitrary. It may, of course, reflect some now unknown
system of seniority or priority.
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the student is confronted with a composite institution the com-
bined elements of which stem from both sources.
The terminology of the main offices of the
alcaldes, regidores-was of course Spanish. The judicial functions
of the alcaldes were likewise Spanish, although the judicial sys-
tems of Aztec society37 undoubtedly facilitated the transition to
Spanish forms. The principle of rotation in office was, as has
been suggested, a common one in Spanish and Spanish colonial
administration. That the systematic rotation of alcaldes by their
barrios derived directly from procedures in the mother country is
evident from a number of documents of medieval Spanish munici-
palities. An example is the thirteenth-century
of Soria in
Castile. Here the sub divisions (colaciones) of the municipality
numbered thirty-five, of which one (Santa Cruz) was privileged
to provide an alcalde every year. The remaining thirty-four,
divided into two equal groups of seventeen each, alternated an-
nually so that in one year one group of seventeen colaciones
furnished seventeen alcaldes whereas in the next year the other
group of seventeen colaciones furnished another seventeen al-
caldes.38 In the Mexico City system no barrio was privileged,
as was the colacion of Santa Cruz in Soria, to provide an alcalde
every year. Rather all four of the barrios of Mexieo City were
functionally comparable to the thirty-four lesser colaciones of
Soria, for each one provided one alcalde for a term of one year
every other year.39
It has sometimes been asserted that the division of the Indian
area of Mexico City into four barrios, a division persisting through
colonial times, was an act of the post-conquest Spaniards for
37 Carlos H. Alba, Estudio comparado entre el derecho azteca y el derecho positive mexicano
(Ediciones especiales del Instituto Indigenista Interamericano, III.) (Mexico, 1949), pp.
38 Section 51 of the fuero of Soria reads as follows: "Los alcaldes deuen sseer dize ocho
con el juez, por que la collation Sancta Cruz cadanno ha de auer un alcalde, & delas
otras treynta & quatro collatjones, las XVII collationes dan un anno sendos las otras
dize siete el otro anno sendos alcaldes. Et por esta gracia que ha la collation de Sancta
Crux demas delas otras, non ha derecho njnguno
enel yudgado." See Galo Sdnches,
ed., Fueros castellanos de Soria y Alcala de Henares (Madrid, 1919), p. 22.
Equally precise instances of rotation in office are difficult to discover in pre-conquest
Mexican society. The many examples of dual governorship in aboriginal political life
appear not to be historically related to the dual office of alcalde in colonial times. Atten-
tion may be called, however, to the system employed in Mixtec officeholding, as described
by Herrera. A Mixtec priest rose in rank, occupying each position for a period of four
years, and then "se salia del Monasterio, porque no le quedaba otro Oficio que servir, i el
Cacique lo tenia por bien, i era de su consejo, y si se queria casar, podia" (Antonio de
Herrera, Historia general de los hechos de los castellanos en las islas y tierra
del mar
oceano [4 vols., 8 decades; Madrid,
1726-1730], Dec. III, lib. iii, p. 99).
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purposes of religious conversion. It is true at least that Santa
Maria, San Sebastian, and San Pablo were parroquias of the
regular clergy in the sixteenth century.40 But the four-part divi-
sion of the city is to be found also in texts relating to the pre-
conquest period, and there can be little doubt that as in Cholula,
Tlaxcala, and other Mexican areas the four parts of Tenochtitlan
antedated the coming of the Spaniards. Their Nahuatl names-
Cuepopan or Tlaquechiucan (Santa Maria), Atzacualco (San Se-
bastian), Teopan or Zoquipan (San Pablo), and Moyotlan (San
Juan)-suggest at least a pre-conquest origin. Textual sources
close to sixteenth-century Indian informants and reflecting oral
or written Indian traditions, speak of the division into these four
quarters as an event of the period immediately following the
foundation of Tenochtitlan.41 Indications are numerous, further-
more, that in the socio-political life of the pre-conquest capital
these barrios, as calpulli, served important administrative, reli-
gious, and political functions.42 Thus the exact number of urban
barrios participating in the rotational office of alcalde may prob-
ably be identified as an Aztec survival.43 The number four, as is
well known, had many applications in Aztec pre-conquest society.
It fit precisely the Spanish dictum that two alcaldes were to serve
annually in Indian (as in Spanish) municipal governments in
America. The adjustment of Indian to Spanish number was
achieved through the equal division of barrios and the annual
alternation of barrio groups as in the thirteenth-century fuero of
Manuel Carrera Stampa, "Planos de la ciudad de M6xico," Boletin de la Sociedad
Mexicana de Geografia y Estadistica, LXVII (1949), 318. For a list of metropolitan
parroquias, see Jos6 Bravo Ugarte, S. J., "La parroquia del sagrario metropolitano y su
compafifa de cocheros y lacayos del santfsimo sacramento," Memorias de la Academia
Mexicana de la Historia, VIII (1949), 51.
41 Duran, op. cit., I, 42; Hernando Alvarado Tezozomoc, Cr6nica mexicana, Manuel
Orozco y Berra, ed. (Mexico, 1944), pp. 17, 19, 260.
42 Agustin de Vetancurt, Teatro mexicano, descripci6n breve de los svcessos exemplares,
hist6ricos, politicos, militares, y religiosos del nuevo mundo occidental de las Indias (2 vols.,
4 parts; Mexico, 1697-1698), II, Part IV (Chr6nica de la provincia del santo evangelio de
Mexico), p. 40. Joaquin Garcia Icazbalceta, Oputsculos varios (Biblioteca de autores
mexicanos, I) (Mexico, 1896), p. 369; Manuel Orozco y Berra, Historia antigua y de la
conquista de Mexico (4 vols. and atlas, Mexico, 1880), III, 163-165; atlas, P1. 19; Tor-
quemada, op. cit., I, 295.
The four-part division of a city is, of course, a widespread and not a uniquely Aztec
form. The English word quarter defines both a section of a city and a fourth part.
On the four-part division of Tenochtitlan-Mexico, prior to the conquest and in colonial
times, see S. Linne, El valle y la ciudad de Mexico en 1550, relaci6n hist6rica fundada
sobre un mapa
que se conserva en la universidad de Uppsala, Suecia (Stockholm,
1948), pp. 33-34.
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