Subject: pochtecatl merchant/spy
Setting: Aztec empire, central Mexico 15thc
Context (Period Sources, Event Photos)
* Hassig 1988 p49-50
"The pochtecah (merchants; sing. pochtecatl) traded in a wide range of commodities throughout a vast geographical expanse. Not only did they travel throughout the Aztec Empire, they also went beyond it to trade with independent groups owing no allegiance to Tenochtitlan. In both areas the merchants brought back specific information for the state as well as general assessments of the local political climate, based on the way they had been received.
"Much of the merchants' intelligence gathering was incidental to their primary trading functions, but they were sometimes given intelligence duties to perform for the state. ... On at least some occasions when entering hostile areas beyond the Aztec Empire, the merchants disguised themselves as natives of other areas, cutting their hair in the local manner and learning the language, because if they had been discovered, they would have been killed."
* Hassig 1988 p162-163
"Aztec merchants traded over a wide area and were repeatedly the objects of attack, possibly because they dominated the markets and were detrimental to other merchants, but more probably because of their intelligence functions.
"Traveling throughout Mesoamerica, ... Aztec merchants were a prime source of information about such matters as roads, defenses, and political conditions, so their presence could easily have inspired hostility. Moreover, their political role was such that they may have been sent into areas as deliberate acts of provocation by the Aztecs to create an excuse for war. Such incidents were used by the Aztecs so often and over such a wide area that they cannot be understood as reasons for war but as pretexts. On the other side, what better way to signal a breach in relations than by killing these handy symbols of Aztec might, so even the innocent appearance of Aztec merchants may have stimulated hostile responses. In this instance, as in so many others, the killing of Aztec merchants prompted a military response."
* Matos Moctezuma 1988 p51
"Merchants played a particularly important role within Aztec society. Although they had to pay tribute to the tlatoani, they enjoyed privileges such as owning land or even their own armed forces. Furthermore, if one of them committed a felony, he was judged by a group of his merchant peers. These men also acted as spies while on long-distance trading expeditions, they disguised themselves as locals and gathered information about other groups -- such as defense measures and numbers of soldiers. As well as selling the products of their ruler and the state, merchants also traded their own goods in distant lands, thus monopolizing the market."
* Aguilar-Moreno 2006 p118
"The uniform of the interregional tradesmen, spies, and ambassadors consisted of luxurious clothing, including a maxtlatl, a timatli (cape), and elaborate jewelry."
*Pohl ill. McBride 1991 p43
"Although sumptuary laws were strictly enforced, with cotton mantles and jewellery being restricted as rewards for specific services, the pochteca pushed these restrictions to their limits."
* Hassig 1988 p50
"... [T]he killing of a merchant was a just cause of war in Mesoamerica, and such incidents initiated many wars. The merchants often acted as provocateurs. By demanding to trade or requesting materials for some domsetic or religious purpose, they left independent cities little alternative but to expel or kill them or to become subjects of the Aztecs.
"On other occasions the merchants passed through enemy lands armed with shields and swords, as if prepared for war. They met with some success when battle was thrust upon them and were rewarded by the king in the same manner as valiant warriors. If the merchants were openly attacked or were beseiged, the king sent warriors to their aid. Although flight was not honored among warriors, it was rewarded among merchants because of the emphasis on obtaining their information."