Member of an ancient American Indian people who ruled much of Mexico and Central America in the 10th–12th centuries, with their capital and religious centre at Tula or Tollán, northeast of Mexico City. They also occupied and extended the ancient Maya city of Chichen Itzá in Yucatán. After the fall of the Toltecs the Aztecs took over much of their former territory, except for the regions regained by the Maya.
The Aztecs and Maya ascribed many examples of pre-Columbian architecture, monuments, and arts to these semi-legendary peoples, including the pyramids of the Sun and Moon, and the temple of the serpent god Quetzalcoatl at Teotihuacán. The origins of the Toltecs are uncertain, but they are believed to have migrated along the Mexican plateau from the north after the decline of Teotihuacán in around 700, and were reputedly the conquerors of the Maya. They subdued the indigenous peoples of the basin of Mexico and founded their own capital, calling the land Anahuac, ‘edge of the water’, because of its many lakes.
The Toltecs reached the height of their power between 900 and 1100, conquering many neighbouring peoples and extending their empire as far north as the Tropic of Cancer and southwards to the southern border of Guatemala. According to tradition a legendary Toltec priest-king named Quetzalcoatl or Kukulcan (Feathered Serpent), who was expelled from Tula in about 1000, invaded the Maya city-states, forcing them to cease their internecine warfare and accept his rule. The legend was bound with the Toltecs' worship of the snake god Quetzalcoatl who was exiled from Tula by Tezcatlipoca, god of the night sky, and disappeared across the eastern sea.
When the power of the Toltecs declined the Mayas resumed their mutual strife which resulted in the abandonment of the ceremonial centres in northwest Yucatán.
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