What Ancient Civilization Lived in Oaxaca?

Oaxaca, a state in southern Mexico, is home to several ancient civilizations. Among these are the Zapotecs and Mixtecs, who thrived in the region long before the Spanish conquest.

The Zapotecs

The Zapotec civilization was one of the earliest civilizations in Mesoamerica, dating back to around 500 BC. They were known for their advanced writing system and impressive architecture. One of their most famous cities is Monte Albán, which was built on a mountain and served as their political and religious center.

The Zapotecs were also skilled farmers and traders. They developed an irrigation system that allowed them to grow crops such as maize, beans, and squash. Their trade network extended as far as Guatemala and the Gulf of Mexico.


The Zapotecs believed in a pantheon of gods and goddesses that governed various aspects of life. One of their most important deities was Cocijo, the god of rain and lightning. They also practiced human sacrifice, especially during times of war or natural disasters.

The Mixtecs

The Mixtec civilization emerged around 1000 AD in the Oaxaca region. They were known for their exquisite craftsmanship, particularly in goldsmithing and pottery. They also had a complex writing system that used pictograms to record historical events.

One of their most famous cities is Mitla, which is known for its intricate stone mosaics. The Mixtecs believed that the dead could communicate with the living through these mosaics.

The Mixtecs worshipped a pantheon of gods similar to the Zapotecs but with different names. One notable deity was Eight Deer Jaguar Claw, a legendary warrior who became divine after defeating his enemies in battle.


The ancient civilizations of the Zapotecs and Mixtecs left an indelible mark on the Oaxaca region. Their legacy can still be seen in the impressive ruins of Monte Albán and Mitla, as well as in the vibrant culture of modern-day Oaxaca.

  • Key Takeaways:
  • The Zapotecs were one of the earliest civilizations in Mesoamerica, dating back to around 500 BC.
  • The Mixtecs emerged around 1000 AD and were known for their exquisite craftsmanship.
  • Both civilizations had complex writing systems and practiced polytheistic religions.


– “Zapotec Civilization.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 14 Aug. 2020, www.ancient.eu/Zapotec_Civilization/.

– “Mixtec Civilization.eu/Mixtec_Civilization/.