Nahua rulers, nobles, and warriors of the late postclassic and early colonial periods used feathers and elaborate feather costumes in a variety of political and sacred rituals. They acquired these prestige items through gift exchange, trade, conquest, and tribute. This article explores a series of meanings that Nahuas attached to birds, plumes, and feather objects when worn on the body, exchanged in rituals, and discussed in historical accounts. It argues that while Nahuas clearly appreciated feathers for their aesthetic value, they also used them to tell histories of Nahua people’s origins, their feats, and their expansion through commerce and conquest. This article finds that the association between plumes, political authority, and personal and state histories made feathers especially potent symbols in narratives and images of the rise of the Mexica and their fall in 1521.

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