The Moche Culture: an unknown ancient gem of Peru

The Moche Culture: an unknown ancient gem of Peru

Culture can be a greater unifying factor than politics itself. Ancient classical Greece was made up of polis in constant struggle, however, language equality and the existence of other similar cultural samples give the world the notion of a superior unity. It is precisely in this same way that the Moche culture was organized. Without a unified unit of command, but with impressive momentum and wealth.

The so-called Moche culture, or mochica, developed on the north coast of present-day Peru, between the 1st and 9th centuries AD. Although this civilization never formed a centralized political-administrative center, its multiple sites of cultural diffusion spread throughout a region that starts from Trujillo for hundreds of kilometers around.

Currently, its important civilization is being rediscovered by archaeologists, who since the beginning of the 20th century have been working to reconstruct the identity of these Native Americans.

Origin of the Moche Culture

Moche culture was born in the Santa Catalina Valley, formerly Valle Moche, located in the department of Libertad in Peru. During their primary formation as a society they had to confront the Virú for the supremacy of the region and they were victorious in this encounter. They forcibly assimilated the Virú and made their success as a civilization.

What we know about the Moche culture is changing daily, with the help of archaeologists. They had no writing and are located in protohistory, so everything is immersed in a cloak of mystery that fuels the perpetual debate among scholars on this topic. The first to systematize the data collected on this town was the Peruvian Rafael Larco Hoyle.

Socio-political organization

Basically, there were two different Mochica states divided by the Pampa de Paiján: the moches of the north and those of the south. In both, the same cultural characteristics are found, although sometimes there is a perceptible difference in the level of material development of both segments of the Moche culture.

The Moche Culture: an unknown ancient gem of Peru

The Mochica people was ruled by militaristic states and with a clear tendency towards war expansionism. At the top of the social pyramid was the cie-quich or king / priest who combines the attributions of temporal power and extratemporal power. Beneath this unquestionable power were members of the nobility and the coriec.

The coriec was a conquered sovereign and subjected to the condition of vassalage. He had to command his natural region without disobeying the instructions of the Moche sovereign and the advice of the noble or “well dressed” officials. Then come the priests of different degrees, including the female priestesses.

Still below these privileged groups are bureaucrats and rank and file soldiers. The middle positions are completed by those specialized artisans. Lower down were those who made the system work with their workforce: farmers, fishermen and ranchers. And, finally, the yanas or indigenous servants enslaved in the war to work for the other classes.

Economic characteristics

Mochica agriculture was perhaps one of the most advanced in pre-Hispanic America. This was a reaction to the hostility of nature, since the region they originally inhabited is arid and very unfavorable for crops. However, the Mochica culture managed to obtain annual crops that allowed them to keep their upper classes idle and dominate an increasing number of human beings.

Its hydraulic engineering was characterized by canals and dams. This last construction kept water tanks for the most adverse seasons and allowed the supply of this liquid to be dosed for longer periods of time. They planted potatoes, purple corn, yucca and fruits.

By having an important presence on the coasts of Peru, they became competent navigators and skilled fishermen. They made Totora horses with Totora stems and leaves made to make a canoe, where a person could go comfortably with their tackle and fishing tools. This boat is so practical and useful that it continues to be used in the coastal regions of Peru. They fished for rays and soles.

The Moche culture also used the sea to transport goods and to wage war. Special Totora horses were used to transport several men with weapons. In addition, these boats facilitated the transfer of prisoners.


Religion played a determining role in maintaining social cohesion and propagating a worldview adjusted to the interests of the ruling classes. His main God was Aiapaec, which is represented by an anthropomorphic figure with tiger characteristics in its mouth and fangs. They also worshiped the Sun and the Moon.

One aspect of their rituals that fascinates and horrifies in equal parts are human sacrifices. These bloody offerings began with a ritual combat between two groups, the vanquished was given up for sacrifice and his blood was given to the local leaders. It is now known that hallucinogenic plants such as Jimson weed and the San Pedro Cactus were used in this process.


For the researcher Rafael Larco Hoyle, the Mochicas could have a very rudimentary writing system focused on the transmission of numerical information. This was pointed out after verifying that the vessels and other typical utensils of the Mochicas had geometric patterns and series of points carved in the clay.

Currently, some historians debate this theory. But the secret of an eventual common code carved in clay is vital to understanding the world of the Mochicas. However, any possibility of interpretation also disappeared along with the vestiges of the Moche culture.


Researchers have not yet formulated a definitive theory to explain the demise of the Moche culture around the 9th century AD There is still a passionate debate on this issue. There are three important hypotheses about what could have happened and we review them here.

Ideological problem

Some point out that the Moche culture depended excessively on the mental alienation of the subaltern classes, through religion and liturgy. Therefore, the introduction of new cultural elements within the Moche culture could play against the justification of the rulers and, therefore, against their ability to preserve order.

These changes came hypothetically from the surrounding regions of the Moche culture or from among the subjugated human groups. The important thing is to emphasize that any difference in religious discourse may have mobilized peasants and small producers to adhere to other cultures, rebel, or simply go to other places.

Climatic variations

A new group of historians believes that it was the droughts and the El Niño phenomenon that caused the Mochicas to collapse. For this sector, the region was already scarce in resources and a continuous cycle of rains would have made the drainage and storage system available at that time collapse.

Internal conflicts

As the area of ​​diffusion of the Moche culture was divided into territorial units, a contest could arise between the parties. This theory points to civil wars constant as a factor that left the Mochicas defenseless to resist the onslaught of any other human group in the vicinity.

Continue reading about the Tiahuanaco Culture.

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