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Child Brides and Patriarchy in Ancient Mexico

Child marriage among the Aztecs (Spanish version published in Historia Mexicana, no. 181, 1996)

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Source: The Book of Tributes by S.L. Cline (INAH, v. 549)

Museo de Antropología, Mexico City: “Here is the house of someone named...”

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Debate #1: Age at marriage

Marriageways of the nahuas

Marriageways of the nahuas. conyugal unions

Evidence of precocious marriage among the Nahuas:

Proofs in the text itself (continued):

Evidence of precocious marriage among the Nahuas:

The problem of sex: 6 most common names for each

Demography, sex ratios:

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Demography, percents and averages:

Other evidence of precocious marriage among the Nahua

The Codex Mendoza: life at age 13 and 14 years

Marriage (at 15)

Other texts pointing to precocious marriage


Average age of union in 1540 compared with 1826: (note great increase)

“Debate” #2: meaning of the “child”/couple ratio?

“Child”/Couple index in 1540 compared with 1930

Test: Apply 1540 marriage rates to 1930

The answer: half as many children/others (and almost twice as many couples)

Applying 1540s precocious marriage pattern to 1930 shows that 4/5 of difference is due to marriage

Conclusions, the Amerindian mode of reproduction

Debate #3: the nuclear family in the past

Nuclear versus complex (extended) family

Eurocentric theory (Laslett and Wall) versus Amerindian reality (Nahuas)

Cemithualtin (those around a patio): the importance of kin

Household H-38 9 people, 3 generations

Rules of household formation (inferred). The head is:

Household Composition

5 complete conjugal families 4 generations, 3 married brothers

Seven of the most frequent kin ties

4 lateral extensions, 2 complete conjugal families 2 incomplete (widows+children)

Conclusions, households:

Conclusions, social flexibility:

The future of marriage in Mexico?

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