They danced with the princess’ skin – then the massacre ensued

They danced with the princess' skin - then the massacre ensued

The Mesoamerican fertility god Xipe Tótec thirsted for human blood. That his grisly cult was cultivated not only in the Aztec empire, shows a new spectacular find.

The hard man Schindens (Tlacaxipehualiztli) was considered one of the most important in the annual festival calendar of the Aztecs. The Franciscan Bernardino de Sahagún described it in detail in his twelve-volume “General History of Conditions in New Spain” (1569):

They danced with the princess' skin - then the massacre ensued

“All those who are seized, all prisoners, all prey, men, women (and) all children die on him.” Already 40 days before, a slave had been disguised as god Xipe Tótec (Our Skinned Lord). Then he was worshiped as the incarnation of the god, until he was led together with representatives of other gods on the main pyramid of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) to the sacrificial stone. “The (priests) put them up with their br##sts and cut them open with a thick, wide flint knife … Then they rolled them down, down them (the steps of the temple). They rattle, they just pumpkins … until they arrive at the front terrace. “

Scientists at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in Mexico were now able to prove that this gruesome ritual was by no means confined to the Aztec empire . In the ruins of Ndachjian-Tehuacán in the state of Puebla, they opened a place of worship for the god Xipe Tótec. In addition to two sacrificial altars, the researchers hid two skinned skull sculptures. A torso covered with a sacrificial skin probably represented the god Xipe Tótec, says excavation leader Noemí Castillo Tejero .

They danced with the princess' skin - then the massacre ensued

Surprising is the dating of the place of worship, since it was apparently used between 1000 and 1260 AD, long before the Aztecs set out to build their empire at the end of the 14th century. Although there were indications that the bloody cult was cultivated earlier on the Gulf Coast, in the center and in the west of Mexico. But now, for the first time, a temple for “Our Skinned Lord” has been discovered, according to a statement by INAH.

The cult place is about twelve meters long and 3.5 meters high and lies in the basement of the temple pyramid. This does not match the description of Sahagún, who locates the sacrificial stone on the pyramid tip . But the iconography of the skull and the divine torso makes the interpretation plausible. Apparently the victims were killed in Ndachjian-Tehuacán on the first altar in gladiatorial fights or with arrows and then skinned on the second altar. The priests wore the skin of the victims during the ritual like clothing.

As fertility god Xipe Tótec belonged to the most important deities of the Mesoamerican Pantheon. The belief that the cycle of the year and the harvest must be kept alive with human blood had many cultures in common. It became particularly tangible with the Aztecs, whose empire was conquered in 1521 by Hernán Cortés and incorporated into the Spanish Empire. The work of Sahagún, which has been listed on Unesco’s world document list since 2015, is one of the most important testimonies of its culture.


In a late Aztec chronicle, the custom of skinning is associated with one of the central events of Aztec history. By the mid-thirteenth century, as the Aztecs called themselves, Mexicans still lived under the rule of the Culhuahkaner. One day they seized the daughter of their ruler and killed her. A priest had put on the skin of the princess and arranged a feast, during which the king had recognized the shell of his daughter. The following massacre then gave the impetus to the great migration of the Mexicans, which eventually led them to Tenochtitlan.

They danced with the princess' skin - then the massacre ensued

There, the festival of human instability, which they celebrated here for the first time, has become an integral part of the festival calendar, writes the Bonner Altamerikanist Berthold Riese . In order to receive enough sacrifices for their rituals, the Aztecs led so-called flower wars against their neighbors, who served exclusively to bring in prisoners. Because with the first dead, the thing was not done.

After their ritual feeding, their clothes and skins were put on other prisoners who marched through Tenochtitlan in a pageant. Then they had to face the warriors of the Jaguar Guard in a bloodless duel. Only when they ran out of power, they were sacrificed to the usual way Xipe Tótec. Their hearts were held up against the sun, their blood soaked in the stone statues. The skins, cut into strips, were coveted awards. With them done, the poor and sick went through the streets asking for gifts. “So he deserves something with his skin,” wrote Sahagún.