Sunday, November 29, 2015

Aztec Garrisons

The husband and wife team of Arlen F. and Diane Z. Chase of the University of Central Florida have spent much of their professional lives investigating the site of Caracol, Belize. In a 1998 paper entitled "Late Classic Maya Political Structure, Polity Size, and Warfare Arenas" they posit "the 60 kilometer rule" that armies supplied from various late classic Maya capitals were effective within a 60 kilometer radius of their home. They marshall data from several lines of inquiry to support their idea that because of logistical limitations, Maya armies did not venture much past this hypothetical limit around their capitals.
Late Classic Maya Capitals with 60 Kilometer Circles
If armies on the march in this part of the world really did stay this close to home, it has profound implications for potential Book of Mormon correlations. It means the capital cities Nephi and Zarahemla were probably located within 100 - 150 air kilometers of each other. I am indebted to Dave Gray of Queensland, Australia for sharing the Chase's paper with me.

There is another way to look at things, though. We know the post-classic Aztec Empire maintained military garrisons throughout their territory. This is a map showing known Aztec military outposts at contact.
Aztec Troop Garrisons AD 1518
The distance from Oztoman in the Aztec NW to Xoconochco in the SE is approximately 900 air kilometers. From their capital at Tenochtitlan, the Aztecs supplied armies deployed throughout their vast realm. They also used their garrisons as forward operating bases to project force and maintain supply lines.

The Aztecs fought a lengthy, well-documented battle at the site we now call Tehuantepec, Oaxaca. A sizable Aztec force laid siege to the town for several months.The blog article "Isthmuses" has details about this famous battle. Tehuantepec is 160 air kilometers from the nearest Aztec military base at Huaxyacac and 535 air kilometers from the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan.
Aztec Battle Site - Tehuantepec
The Aztecs clearly operated much further afield than a 60 mile radius from their capital.

The text of the Book of Mormon makes it clear the Nephite military also had a tiered logistical system with multiple sources of resupply. In his epistle to Captain Moroni, Helaman describes his army operating on the SW front being resupplied from both Melek and Zarahemla Alma 56:27-28. The Nephites also opportunistically resupplied Judea from Cumeni Alma 57:11. So, the Nephite military operated like the documented Aztec model rather than the Chases' hypothetical Maya model. This means the Nephites could have projected force and maintained supply lines throughout territory hundreds of kilometers distant from their capital at Zarahemla.

In a 2009 Ancient Mesoamerica article entitled "States and Empires in Ancient Mesoamerica," the Chases and Michael E. Smith provide more nuanced context behind their "60 kilometer rule." They derive a sixty kilometer radius from the distance they believe an army could march in 3 days at the rate of 20 air kilometers per day. This metric compares favorably with our derived value - 15 air kilometers per day - for the Nephite standard unit of distance measure "one day's journey." See the blog article "Land Southward Travel Times." They also recount known conquests of Tikal documented both epigraphically and archaeologically.
Neighboring Sites that Invaded and Conquered Tikal
Calakmul (100 air kilometers), Caracol (73 air kilometers) and Dos Pilas (112 air kilometers) all conquered Tikal militarily at various times in its turbulent history.

In addition, Tikal is known to have had very strong trade and political relationships at times with distant Copan (268 air kilometers) and Kaminaljuyu (304 air kilometers).
Relationships between Tikal and Distant Copan, Kaminaljuyu
These data points make our proposed Nephi - Zarahemla distance (326 air kilometers from Kaminaljuyu to Boca del Cerro) seem plausible.
Proposed Distance Nephi to Lesser Land of Zarahemla
The Chases and Smith also make a strong point about "hegemonic" states being very different from "territorial" polities. A territorial state exercises exclusive sovereignty over the land within its borders via centralized political and military power. A hegemonic state is a looser, more decentralized alliance of polities. According to their analysis, most state-level cultures in Mesoamerica were hegemonic rather than territorial. This is good news for the Book of Mormon because it explicitly describes a relatively loose, decentralized alliance where city-states took themselves out of the confederation at will Alma 2:9, Alma 43:4.