Kuskatan/Cuzcatan (Cuzcatlan)

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The polity of Cuzcatlan in Mesoamérica
Capital Kuskatan
Official language Nawat
Ethnicity Nahuas of Kuskatan
Government Monarchy tributary
The seal of Kuskatan based on the "Lienzo de Tlaxcala" with the symbol of an altepetl

Cuzcatan (Nawat: Kuskatan) (Nahuatl: Cuzcatlan) was a pre-Columbian Nahua state confederation of the postclassical period that extended from the Paz river to the Lempa river (covering most of western El Salvador); this was the nation that Spanish chroniclers came to call the Pipils or Cuzcatlecos. No codices survive that shed light on this confederation except the Annals of the Cakchiquels, although Spanish chroniclers such as Domingo Juarros, Palaces, Lozano, and others claim that some codices did exist but have since disappeared. Their Nawat language, art and temples revealed that they had significant Mayan and Toltec influence from the ties they had with the Itza in Yucatan. It is believed that the first settlers to arrive came from the Toltec people in central Mexico, mostly Puebla during the Chichimeca-Toltec civil wars in the 10th century AD.

The people of Cuzcatan came to be called Pipiles in the historical chronicles, a term that today is usually translated as "boys" or less likely as "young nobles." This was due to the perception of the Central Nahuatl-speaking Tlaxcala and Mexica allies of the Spanish that the Nahuas of Cuzcatan were speaking a corrupted version of their language in those regions. An alternative theory is that it meant "nobles," from the Nahuas social class "Pipiltin" and the Nawat Pipil origin story that they are descendants of Nanahuatzin.


The name Kuskatan (place of jewel necklaces) possibly comes from the Náwat words "kuskat" (necklace) and Kuzti (jewel) meaning "jewel necklace", and "tan", meaning “among/in/near/place of/with.”. In Nahuatl its cognate term is Cuzcat(l)an.[1]


Map of El Salvador's indigenous peoples

The Nawat Pipil arrived in El Salvador around the year 900. On arrival, they had to fight their way to the new land due to the fact of the Mayan civil wars that were taking place as well but with the treaty or "cult" of Quetzalcoatl, Qʼuqʼumatz and Kukulkan the Pipil had many Mayan allies. City states such as Tehuacán, Chalchuapa and Cihuatán eventually became absorbed into the Cuzcatlan polity confederation. According to legend, the city of Cuzcatlán (the capital city of Cuzcatan, was founded by the exiled Toltec Ce Acatl Topiltzin around the year 1054. In the 13th century the Pipil city states were most likely unified, and by 1400, a hereditary monarchy had been established.

Political organizationEdit

The area of Cuzcatan was divided into different regions:

  • Cuzcatlán
  • Izalco
  • Panchimalco
  • Apaneca
  • Ahuachapán
  • Guacotecti
  • Ixtepetl
  • Apastepeque
  • Tehuacán
  • Metapan

The Lordship did not form a unified political system and were at first independent, and were obligated to pay tribute/taxes to the polity of Cuzcatán although the four Pipil tribes became a loose confederation, unifying in times of war or natural disasters. With time, they were all annexed by the chiefdom of Cuzcatán, today the modern city of Antiguo Cuscatlan a city and municipality that is part of the San Salvador Metropolitan Area (AMSS).


The leader of Cuzcatan was the head of state; below him the state elders and priests who advised the ruling family; then a caste of commoners. Upon the death of a Lord, the succession was hereditary starting with the eldest son and so on. In case there were no sons available, the closest male family member was chosen by the counsel of elders and priests.

At the time of the Spanish conquest, Cuzcatan had developed into a powerful state that maintained a strong standing army. It had successfully resisted Mayan invasions and was the strongest military force in the region.

Lords of CuzcatanEdit

There were many Lords of Cuzcatan; most have been forgotten with time, but historical writings by Spanish chroniclers, including Domingo Juarros, mention some that may have existed:[2]

  • Cuachimicín: Governed before the Spanish conquest, he was overthrown and executed by the priests.
  • Tutecotzimit: Successor of the previous one, restored the hereditary system.
  • Pilguanzimit
  • Atunal Tut of Izalco, Atecozol: He is said to have won the Battle of Acajutla that took place during first contact with Pedro De Alvarado and his tribal allies, wounding Alvarado with Atunal's lance.
  • Atlacatl or Atacat: He is said to have killed off many of Diego de Alvarado's horses and horsemen during the last stand for Cuzcatlan at the Cinacantan stone masonry fort.

Over time, a legend developed that the last leader of Cuzcatan was named Atacat,[3] some authors say this is a mistake originating from a misreading of a few Spanish accounts. Historical accounts of the Annals of the Cakchiquels called the Pipil coastal people Panatacat (place of the water man); this could have been a name or a title for a person as well. After the collapse of the Nawat standing warriors in the first two battles with Alvarado's forces, Alvarado entered the capital of Cuzcatan without resistance. Initially the people had to accept this conquest, offering gifts and service. Alvarado then enslaved those Nawat Pipil that they could capture. The Lenca people in the eastern zone maintained a guerrilla resistance for a further decade with Lord Lempira.

Warrior SocietyEdit

Warrior service was obligatory for men from about age 15 or 20 until they were unable to serve due to age. The warrior's attire consisted of a breastplate, a corselete or vest (made of cotton) and a mashte (species of loin cloth) and each painted their faces and bodies with unique colored abstract shapes and forms. The warriors were organized in teams or platoons bearing distinctive names, such as:

  • The Jaguars
  • The Eagles
  • The Brave Owls

The warriors of Cuzcatan had a variety of weapons, most made of wood and volcanic rock shards. Pedro de Alvarado reported that they also wore thick cotton armor, which were evidently designed to repel the caliber of throwing weapons they themselves had (see list below) as it could not repel Spanish lances. So heavy was this cotton when it became wet, Alvarado reported, that the Nahuat soldiers could not rise from the ground when thrown down. No pictorial depiction of this armor has survived. Some of the documented weapons are described below.

  • Tecuz (Lance): there were two types, a long spear that according to the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado it was 6.3 metres (20.6 feet). The second one was a more maneuverable shorter spear.
  • Macuáhuit (mallet): made out of strong wood with sharpened obsidian at the end.
  • Tahuítul (bow) and Mit (arrows):
  • Malacate (disc): Most likely made of sharpened rock and used in the hand-to-hand combat.


The Lordship of Cuzcatan covered an area of approximately 10,000 km² covering a large part of the central and western areas of present-day El Salvador and covering different varieties of environments with a total of 7 plant formations between the coast and elevations greater than 2,000 meters.


The economy was based on the barter or exchange of agriculture and handcrafted goods such as multicolored textiles.

Cocoa bean and Indigo dye was a major export crop that was carefully cultivated in the Izalcos area and traded throughout the isthmus. Its production involved the construction of an elaborate irrigation network, parts of which can still be seen today. Cacao served in the region as currency.

Other agricultural products grown by the Pipil were cotton, squash, corn, beans, fruits, balsam, some peppers, and chocolate; but chocolate could only be prepared and served to the ruling class. There was modest mining of gold and silver, although these were not used as currency but as offering to their many gods. Only the priests and the ruling family could use gold and silver as ornaments.


Through Spanish chroniclers (cronistas) and archaeological investigations we know that the Señorío de Cuzcatlán was well organized with respect to its "Creator" or "Divine energy of life" Tiyut/Teotl, its priesthood, first ancestors, religious rites, etc. One of the pilgrimage sites was the sanctuary dedicated to the ancestor goddess Nuictlán constructed by Cē Ācatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl and located on Lake Güija.[4] Human sacrifice was practiced during war time as part of a warrior code of honor.

Deities/Spirits associated with the Nahuas of CuzcatanEdit

The people living in the ancient Cuzcatlán possibly attributed cosmic power to the following: Xipe Totec, Quetzalcoatl, Ehécatl, Tláloc, Chacmool, Tonatiuh, Chalchiuhtlicue and others. In addition there were some deities identified with the Señorío of Cuzcatlán like Itzqueye. Téotl, Quetzalcoatl and Itzqueye were three of the most important to the people's spiritual beliefs.}

Fall of CuzcatanEdit

After the fall of the Aztec Empire, Hernán Cortés sent Pedro de Alvarado to conquer the native city states further south. After subduing or striking alliances with the Mayan peoples in the highlands, on June 6, 1524, Pedro de Alvarado crossed the Paz river with a few hundred soldiers and thousands of Kaqchikel Mayan allies and subdued the Cacique of Izalco (the first major city state en route to Cuzcatlan). Fierce battles were fought in defense of Izalco in Acaxual (today Acajutla in the Spanish version) and Tacuzcalco. On June 17, de Alvarado arrived in Cuzcatan. Some of the population acquiesced to his rule; others fled to the mountains.

After the fall of Cuzcatan in 1525, Pedro de Alvarado's cousin Diego de Alvarado established the Villa De San Salvador. Over the next three years, various attempts by the Nahuas of Cuzcatan to destroy the newly founded town resulted in the decision to move the town a few kilometers south to its present location, to the valley commonly known as "the valley of the hammocks" (due to significant seismic activity) next to the Quezaltepeque (San Salvador) volcano.


Archeological sites in El Salvador include the Tazumal complex, which has Mesoamerican masonry, including truncated pyramids resembling those of Toltec temple sites. resembling those of Toltec temple sites. Other sites include San Andres, Cara Sucia, Joya de Ceren and Cihuatan. Otherwise, Kuskatan is not known for the kind of monumental architecture used by the Classical Maya because its later Spanish rulers dismantled must of the palaces and temples over the centuries to build walls and roads. El Salvador is one of the must looted archeological places in the western hemisphere, with many artifacts being looted in recent years, including the Izalco Jaguar heads and artifacts in museums.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Judith M. Maxwell; Robert M. Hill, II (1 July 2006). Kaqchikel Chronicles: The Definitive Edition. University of Texas Press. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-292-71270-6.
  2. ^ Francis Polo Sifontes (1974). Los cakchiqueles en la conquista de Guatemala. Editorial Cultura. p. 70.
  3. ^ Francisco Hernández Arana Xajilá; Francisco Díaz Gebuta Quej; Daniel Garrison Brinton (1885). The Annals of the Cakchiquels: The Original Text, with a Translation, Notes and Introduction. D. G. Brinton. p. 181.
  4. ^ Jorge Lardé y Larín (1977). Toponimia autóctona de El Salvador occidental. Ediciones del Ministerio del Interior. p. 202.

Consulted Web SitesEdit

Sites in Spanish:

Coordinates: 13°40′00″N 89°14′00″W / 13.6667°N 89.2333°W / 13.6667; -89.2333