Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Trade, commerce and the merchant guild in Itza

The pochtecatl is a strong person indeed, a long distance trader, a wealthy man, sometimes a warrior, sometimes a priest and at other times a spy. He will travel the vast expanse of Itza, going from one city to another and bringing back wealth and information to his king, taking his fair share of the deal and enlarging his wealth and power in the process. He is part of the pochteca class and member of one of the most powerful guilds in the empire. This is his story.

The pochteca are a very elite class of merchants in the realms of Itza. They travel to distant lands, take great risks in the thick jungles and high mountains to obtain the wealth of distant realms so these may increase the might of their emperor and lord. They bring gold and jade artwork and jewelry, beautiful and sometimes magical animals from distant lands, strange and exotic magic components, strange artifacts of power and why not, slaves and prisoners as well.

They are a social class composed of many character classes, these may be warriors, priests, magic users, scribes, and even thieves and spies. Many times they are multiclassed, since more than one skill set is sometimes needed to survive in the demanding wilderness of Itza. They all know how to read and write as well as do numbers, and aside from this they will know two to three additional languages. Many or their porters or tameme are experienced fighters, some are hired mercenaries and some are enslaved men defeated in battle. The pochteca should not be confused with the tlanecuilo, or local traders, the later being traders of lesser social standing and considerably lesser wealth and power.

There are various types of pochteca:

The Oztomeca, the oztomecatl (singular of oztomeca) is the typical long distance trader working to bring great wealth from far away lands and explore new commercial routes.

The Tlaquixtiani, these are the wholesalers. They arrange trade between the travelling caravans and the local markets in a city-state.

The Tlanecuilo, the retailers. They handle the day to day business of selling goods to the locals in the tianquiztli or local markets.

The Teucnehnenqueh, these pochteca specialized in trading on behalf of nobility. They quest for goods of greater value and power.

The Teyahualonime, these are a warrior type pochteca whose caravans are led by a merchant-general known as the Acxotecatl. Usually the arrival of the teyahualonime meant only one thing, invasion.

The Tecouanime, the slave merchants and quite often the riches of their class due to their direct links to priests, rituals and sacrifice.

The Iyahqueh, pochteca stationed in very distant and outlying trade stations. The help open new trade routes as well as warn of impending danger that might close in on the empire's borders.

The Tlanamacani, representatives of a pochteca guild. These are usually scribes and lawmakers that see matters of price, justice, theft, and taxation.

The Naualoztomeca, the disguised-merchant, or spies. They traveled with great wealth and resources to obtain the best products of foreign lands and bring the best possible information about distant city-states.

The patron god of the pochteca is Yacatecuhtli "The Lord Who Guides", also the lord of the nose or lord of the long nose. He is the god of commerce, trade and travel and his symbol is a bundle of sticks. Usually seen with his walking stick, Yacatecuhtli paints his face black and white and wears great blue quetzal feather tassels on his head. He wears a matching blue coat beautifully decorated with feathers and covered with a black mesh. He wears gold cactlis (sandals) and adorns his ankles with small sea shells made out of gold and his ears with gold ear gauges. The image to the left depicts Yacatecuhtli with a pochteca.

The pochteca priests are proficient in all types of protection magic. As you can imagine travelling long trade routes in Itza is extremely dangerous and requires all the protection magic one can obtain. A very common spell cast nightly when travelling is the kauitlojtli, the "calmed path" or "calm road" spell. This is performed by bundling all the pochteca's walking sticks (otatl) at night and sprinkling them with blood from their tongues, ears and noses as copal (ceremonial resin) is burned at its center. This spell will grant the traveling caravan a protection from wandering creatures and thieves, reducing the odds of such encounters by one half and also making them less dangerous if they do happen to occur.  It is not uncommon for the pochteca to have annual celebrations and rituals which will further protect them during the year as well as ceremonies upon their safe arrival back home. A very common home welcoming ceremony is the "feet washing" ritual. During this ceremony the pochteca place their walking sticks (otatl) in the guilds temple, offer flowers, food and acayetl (incense) to the god Yacatecuhtli, and they have their feet ceremoniously washed by the priests. This is meant to please the god as well as ward off evil collected on the travel so this may not enter the city nor "build up" for future trips.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Money and trade in Itza

As you probably guessed by now the currency is cacao beans. So yes, your character pays for things with chocolate.

Cacao beans is the common everyday currency with which things are paid for in Itza. Things from basic items like corn, chile, avocado and beans, to services like farm hand and porter. The average fee for a porter to carry goods to a neighboring kingdom is in the order of 20 to 30 cacao beans.

There are other currencies as well. Currencies which allow for the carry of higher sums of "money" in a more compact form. These are the quachtli, or cotton mantle or cape, copper axe head and gold filled quill.
There were various qualities of quachtli, ranging from poor at 65 cacao beans per mantle, good at 100 cacao beans per mangle (this is the standard game exchange rate) and then exceptional quality at 300 beans per mantle. As a reference the average yearly income of a commoner is 20 good quality quachtli. The following table gives a reference of exchange values. It is important to note that these values are not "written in stone" and fluctuate from city to city, market to market and even week to week.

Cacao Bean
Copper axe head
Gold powder quill
Cacao Bean 1 1/100 1/1000 1/5000
Quachtli 100 1 1/10 1/50
Copper axe head 1000 10 1 1/5
Gold powder quill 5000 50 5 1

Alongside quachtli, copper axe heads and gold powder filled quills are also used as currency. Jewelry and common gold items found in other cultures are an exclusive right of the noble class in Itza and getting caught with such items can mean imperial punishment to the transgresor.
This has lead to the rise the pochteca, a social class specialized in trade, commerce and spying, the later performed by a group close to the tlatoani (emperor or king) know as the naualoztomeca. These traders lead caravans of tamemes (porters  who carried goods on their backs ) to distant lands to bring exotic goods and items desired by the nobility. Except for Coamixtitlan, the cloud city and home of the a feathered lizard race, no city state has burden animals such as horses, mules or donkeys. They simply do not exist.

The pochteca trade in huge markets known as tianguis. A tianguis in a large city can have as much as 60,000 people doing business on any given day. Large cities usually have a tianguis move across town day after day. Moving from district to district depending on the day of the 13 day week called trecena.

Modern day tianguis in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Image sources