(1) Most residents lived in a form of housing that is unique among early cities of the world: the apartment compound.
My first article (Smith 2014) reviews the forms of urban housing used around the world before the Industrial Revolution. The various forms of housing are shown in the following typology:
|Urban housing typology (Smith 2014)|
(2) Apartment compounds were luxurious and well-built.The Teotihuacan apartment buildings are unusual (compared to Roman and Ottoman apartments) in
|Aztec commoner houses|
In Aztec times, for example, there were a number of forms of commoner house (see the graphic, from the Florentine Codex by Sahagun), and I have excavated many of these structures. If I uncovered a Teotaihuacan-style apartment compound in an Aztec site I was excavating (and if it was indeed an Aztec structure, not an older pre-Aztec structure), I would call it an elite residence. The only Aztec houses this large, with this many rooms, and rooms this large, are elite residences. So while the overall form of a Teotihuacan apartment compound is not unique, it is very strange for a commoner house. Or was it an elite house? But you can't have most of the population as the elite? Or perhaps commoner and elite are not the best labels to use for the residents of Teotihuacan. This, again, is just plain bizarre for a Mesoamerican society. At just about all Mesoamerican urban sites, there are elite and commoner houses (typically at a ratio of ca. 50 commoner houses for every elite house), and it is rarely difficult to distinguish them.
(3) The apartment compounds appear to have been built in a single episode of urban renewal around A.D. 200.
(4) The level of social inequality was very low at Teotihuacan.
The Gini index for Teotihuacan is 0.12, a very very low level for an urban settlement. This means that the level of inequality was quite low. All of the Aztec cities have higher values; the only site with a comparable value is a peasant village (Capilco). There are several reasons for such a low Gini index for Teotihuacan: (1) most houses were of a similar size; (2) there are a few smaller structures (probably adobe huts), and a few larger structures, but no huge royal palace. Yes, I know, some colleagues don't agree, and they have tried to identify a royal palace at Teotihuacan. But they can't agree with one another, and if you can't agree about the royal palace, then there probably wasn't one. No one has to scrounge around to find the royal palace at Maya or Aztec cities; they are quite obvious, huge structures that are many times larger than the typical house.
Nevertheless, it seems clear that most people at Teotihuacan had large, spacious dwelling to live in. They had access to a wide range of household goods, for cooking, ritual, crafts, and other activities. There doesn't seem to have been a strong autocratic king ruling things, yet someone has enough clout to carry out a major urban renewal project. We can't find much evidence for a definite elite class. And people lived in a type of housing that was unique in the premodern world. What was going on at Teotihuacan? These facts remain disconnected and tantalizing, and we desperately need more research to figure things out. But I think we can conclude that people there were living the good life as part of the wide urban world.
Some links (ADDED Oct 24):
Prior post: Teotihuacan: Ancient Mesoamerican Metropolis
Prior post: Teotihuacan and the Origins of Market Economies
Project: Urbanism, Neighborhood Organization and Domestic Economy at the Tlajinga District, Teotihuacan. (current project by David Carballo, Luis Barba, and Kenneth Hirth)
The Teotihuacan Research Laboratory, Arizona State University
Carballo, David M.
2013 The Social Organization of Craft Production and Interregional Exchange at Teotihuacan. In Merchants, Markets, and Exchange in the Pre-Columbian World, edited by Kenneth G. Hirth and Joanne Pillsbury, pp. 113-140. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC.
Cowgill, George L.
1997 State and Society at Teotihuacan, Mexico. Annual Review of Anthropology 26: 129-161.
Cowgill, George L.
2008 An Update on Teotihuacan. Antiquity 82: 962-975.
1976 Social Relations in Ancient Teotihuacan. In The Valley of Mexico: Studies of Pre-Hispanic Ecology and Society, edited by Eric R. Wolf, pp. 205-248. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.
1997 Teotihuacan: An Experiment in Living. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
Smith, Michael E.
2014 Housing in Premodern Cities: Patterns of Social and Spatial Variation. International Journal of Architectural Research 8 (3): in press.
Smith, Michael E., Timothy Dennehy, April Kamp-Whittaker, Emily Colon, and Rebecca Harkness
2014 Quantitative Measures of Wealth Inequality in Ancient Central Mexican Communities. Advances in Archaeological Practice 2 (4): ___.
Sugiyama, Nawa, Saburo Sugiyama, and Alejandro Sarabia G.
2013 Inside the Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacan, Mexico: 2008-2011 Excavations and Preliminary Results. Latin American Antiquity 24 (4): 403-432.