The Olmecs were the earliest known major civilization in Mesoamerica following a progressive development in Soconusco. They lived in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, in the present-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco, it has been speculated that the Olmecs derive in part from neighboring Mixe -- Zoque. The Olmecs flourished during Mesoamerica's formative period, dating from as early as 1500 BCE to about 400 BCE. Pre-Olmec cultures had flourished in the area since about 2500 BCE, but by 1600–1500 BCE, early Olmec culture had emerged, centered on the San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán site near the coast in southeast Veracruz, they were the first Mesoamerican civilization, laid many of the foundations for the civilizations that followed. Among other "firsts", the Olmec appeared to practice ritual bloodletting and played the Mesoamerican ballgame, hallmarks of nearly all subsequent Mesoamerican societies; the aspect of the Olmecs most familiar now is their artwork the aptly named "colossal heads".
The Olmec civilization was first defined through artifacts which collectors purchased on the pre-Columbian art market in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Olmec artworks are considered among ancient America's most striking; the name'Olmec' comes from the Nahuatl word for the Olmecs: Ōlmēcah. This word is composed of the two words ōlli, meaning "rubber", mēcatl, meaning "people", so the word means "rubber people"; the Olmec heartland is the area in the Gulf lowlands where it expanded after early development in Soconusco, Veracruz. This area is characterized by swampy lowlands punctuated by low hills and volcanoes; the Tuxtlas Mountains rise in the north, along the Gulf of Mexico's Bay of Campeche. Here, the Olmec constructed permanent city-temple complexes at San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, La Venta, Tres Zapotes, Laguna de los Cerros. In this region, the first Mesoamerican civilization emerged and reigned from c. 1400–400 BCE. The beginnings of Olmec civilization have traditionally been placed between 1400 and 1200 BCE.
Past finds of Olmec remains ritually deposited at El Manati shrine moved this back to "at least" 1600–1500 BCE. It seems that the Olmec had their roots in early farming cultures of Tabasco, which began between 5100 BCE and 4600 BCE; these shared the same basic food crops and technologies of the Olmec civilization. What is today called Olmec first appeared within the city of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, where distinctive Olmec features occurred around 1400 BCE; the rise of civilization was assisted by the local ecology of well-watered alluvial soil, as well as by the transportation network provided by the Coatzacoalcos River basin. This environment may be compared to that of other ancient centers of civilization: the Nile and Yellow River valleys, Mesopotamia; this productive environment encouraged a densely concentrated population, which in turn triggered the rise of an elite class. The elite class created the demand for the production of the symbolic and sophisticated luxury artifacts that define Olmec culture.
Many of these luxury artifacts were made from materials such as jade and magnetite, which came from distant locations and suggest that early Olmec elites had access to an extensive trading network in Mesoamerica. The source of the most valued jade was the Motagua River valley in eastern Guatemala, Olmec obsidian has been traced to sources in the Guatemala highlands, such as El Chayal and San Martín Jilotepeque, or in Puebla, distances ranging from 200 to 400 km away, respectively; the state of Guerrero, in particular its early Mezcala culture, seem to have played an important role in the early history of Olmec culture. Olmec-style artifacts tend to appear earlier in some parts of Guerrero than in the Veracruz-Tabasco area. In particular, the relevant objects from the Amuco-Abelino site in Guerrero reveal dates as early as 1530 BCE; the city of Teopantecuanitlan in Guerrero is relevant in this regard. The first Olmec center, San Lorenzo, was all but abandoned around 900 BCE at about the same time that La Venta rose to prominence.
A wholesale destruction of many San Lorenzo monuments occurred circa 950 BCE, which may indicate an internal uprising or, less an invasion. The latest thinking, however, is that environmental changes may have been responsible for this shift in Olmec centers, with certain important rivers changing course. In any case, following the decline of San Lorenzo, La Venta became the most prominent Olmec center, lasting from 900 BCE until its abandonment around 400 BCE. La Venta sustained the Olmec cultural traditions with spectacular displays of power and wealth; the Great Pyramid was the largest Mesoamerican structure of its time. Today, after 2500 years of erosion, it rises 34 m above the flat landscape. Buried deep within La Venta lay opulent, labor-intensive "offerings" – 1000 tons of smooth serpentine blocks, large mosaic pavements, at least 48 separate deposits of polished jade celts, pottery and hematite mirrors. Scholars have yet to determine the cause of the eventual extinction of the Olmec culture.
Between 400 and 350 BCE, the population in the eastern half of the Olmec heartland dropped precipitously, the area was sparsely inhabited until the 19th century. According to archaeologists, this depopulation was the result of "very serious environmental changes that rendered the region unsuited for large groups of farmers", in particular changes to the riverine environment that the Olmec depended upon for agriculture and gathering, transportation; these changes may have been triggered by tectonic upheavals or subsidence, or the silting up of ri
Human sacrifice in Aztec culture
Human sacrifice was common to many parts of Mesoamerica. Thus the rite was nothing new to the Aztecs when they arrived at the Valley of Mexico, nor was it something unique to pre-Columbian Mexico. Other Mesoamerican cultures, such as the Purépechas and Toltecs, performed sacrifices as well and from archaeological evidence, it existed since the time of the Olmecs, even throughout the early farming cultures of the region. Although the extent of human sacrifice is unknown among several Mesoamerican civilizations, such as Teotihuacán, what distinguished Maya and Aztec human sacrifice was the importance with which it was embedded in everyday life. In 1521, Spanish explorers such as Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan and made observations of and wrote reports about the practice of human sacrifice. Bernal Díaz del Castillo, who participated in the Cortés expedition, made frequent mention of human sacrifice in his memoir True History of the Conquest of New Spain. There are a number of second-hand accounts of human sacrifices written by Spanish friars, that relate to the testimonies of native eyewitnesses.
The literary accounts have been supported by archeological research. Since the late 1970s, excavations of the offerings in the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan, other archaeological sites, have provided physical evidence of human sacrifice among the Mesoamerican peoples. A wide variety of interpretations of the Aztec practice of human sacrifice have been proposed by modern scholars. Many scholars now believe. Most scholars of Pre-Columbian civilization see human sacrifice among the Aztecs as a part of the long cultural tradition of human sacrifice in Mesoamerica. Sacrifice was a common theme in the Aztec culture. In the Aztec "Legend of the Five Suns", all the gods sacrificed themselves so that mankind could live; some years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico, a body of Franciscans confronted the remaining Aztec priesthood and demanded, under threat of death, that they desist from this traditional practice. The Aztec priests defended themselves as follows: Life is because of the gods, they produce our sustenance....
What the Aztec priests were referring to was a central Mesoamerican belief: that a great, continuing sacrifice of the gods sustains the Universe. A strong sense of indebtedness was connected with this worldview. Indeed, nextlahualli was a used metaphor for human sacrifice, and, as Bernardino de Sahagún reported, it was said that the victim was someone who "gave his service". Human sacrifice was in this sense the highest level of an entire panoply of offerings through which the Aztecs sought to repay their debt to the gods. Both Sahagún and Toribio de Benavente observed; the "stage" for human sacrifice, the massive temple-pyramids, was an offering mound: crammed with the land's finest art and victims buried underneath for the deities. Additionally, the sacrifice of animals was a common practice, for which the Aztecs bred dogs, eagles and deer; the cult of Quetzalcoatl required the sacrifice of hummingbirds. Self-sacrifice was quite common. Blood held a central place in Mesoamerican cultures; the 16th-century Florentine Codex by Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún reports that in one of the creation myths, Quetzalcóatl offered blood extracted from a wound in his own genitals to give life to humanity.
There are several other myths. It is debated; some scholars argue that the role of sacrifice was to assist the gods in maintaining the cosmos, not as an act of propitiation. Aztec society viewed the slightest tlatlacolli as an malevolent supernatural force. To avoid such calamities befalling their community, those who had erred punished themselves by extreme measures such as slitting their tongues for vices of speech or their ears for vices of listening. Other methods of atoning wrongdoings included hanging themselves, or throwing themselves down precipices. What has been gleaned from all of this is that the sacrificial role entailed a great deal of social expectation and a certain degree of acquiescence. According to Diego Durán's History of the Indies of New Spain, a few other sources that are based on the Crónica X, the Flower Wars were an act of ritual between the cities of Aztec Triple Alliance and Tlaxcala and Cholula; this form of ritual was motivated by the Mesoamerican cultures in 1450 after a series of droughts and famine caused many deaths within the Mexican highlands.
The droughts and damage to the crops were believed to be punishment by the gods for feeling disvalued instead of being honored properly. Therefore, the Flower Wars became a way to obtain human sacrifices in a structured and ceremonial manner which were used as offerings; this type of warfare differed from regular political warfare, as the Flower war was used for combat training and as first exposure to war for new military members. In addition, regular warfare included the use of long range weapons such as atlatl darts and sling shots to damage the enemy from afar. During Flower wars, warriors were expected to fight up close and exhibit their combat abilities while aiming to injure the enemy, rather than kill them; the main objective of Aztec Flower warfare was to capture victims alive for use as human sacrifice, offerings to the
The were-jaguar was both an Olmec motif and a supernatural entity a deity. The were-jaguar motif is characterized by almond-shaped eyes, a downturned open mouth, a cleft head, it appears in the Olmec archaeological record, in many cases, under the principle of pars pro toto, the were-jaguar motif represents the were-jaguar supernatural. The were-jaguar supernatural incorporates the were-jaguar motif as well as other features, although various academics define the were-jaguar supernatural differently; the were-jaguar supernatural was once considered to be the primary deity of the Olmec culture but is now thought to be only one of many. Many scholars believed that the were-jaguar was tied to a myth concerning a copulation between a jaguar and a woman. Although this hypothesis is still recognized as viable by many researchers, other explanations for the were-jaguar motif have since been put forward, several questioning whether the motif represents a jaguar at all; the term is derived from Old English were, meaning "man", jaguar, a large member of the cat family in the Olmec heartland, on analogy with werewolf.
The basic were-jaguar motif combines a cleft head, slanting almond-shaped eyes with round irises, a downturned open mouth with a flared upper lip and toothless gums. This motif was first described in print by Marshall Saville in 1929 and expanded upon by artist and archaeologist Miguel Covarrubias in his 1946 and 1957 books. In this latter book, Indian Art of Mexico & Central America, Covarrubias included a family tree showing the "jaguar mask" as ancestral to all Mesoamerican rain gods. At about this time, in 1955, Matthew Stirling set forward what has since become known as the Stirling Hypothesis, proposing that the were-jaguar was the outcome of a mating between a jaguar and a woman. In response to this groundwork, the were-jaguar became the reigning linchpin of Olmec iconography. Nearly any representation showing a downturned mouth or cleft head was described as a "were-jaguar". A major 1965 Olmec-oriented exhibition was entitled "The Jaguar's Children" and referred to the were-jaguar as "the divine power of the Olmec civilization".
This paradigm was undermined, however, by the discovery that same year of Las Limas Monument 1, a greenstone sculpture that displayed not only a were-jaguar baby, but four other supernaturals, each of whom had a cleft head. Based on analyses of this sculpture, in 1976, Peter David Joralemon proposed definitions for eight Olmec supernaturals, each characterised by specific iconographic combinations. Through this and subsequent research, it became apparent that not every cleft head nor every downturned mouth represented a were-jaguar; some researchers have therefore refined the were-jaguar supernatural equating it with the Olmec rain deity, a proposition that artist and ethnographer Miguel Covarrubias had made as early as 1946 in Mexico South. The Olmec rain supernatural not only displays the characteristic almond-shaped eyes, cleft head, downturned mouth—that is, the were-jaguar motif—but has several other defining attributes, including a headband and a headdress, the latter cleft; the headband is divided horizontally and decorated with spaced ornaments.
In addition to, or as an extension of, the headdress, the supernatural sports earbars running down the sides of its face, a "crossed-bars" icon on the chest and/or navel. Some academics have attempted to move away from the term "were-jaguar". For example, in his 1996 monograph, rather than "were-jaguar", Anatole Pohorilenko uses the term "composite anthropomorph", in their 1993 book and Taube state that: An overarching theory cannot explain the diversity and complexity of Olmec supernaturals. Only one, the Rain Baby seems to be a human-jaguar blend." Although they are "strangely absent" from ceramics, three-dimensional representations of the Olmec were-jaguar supernatural appear in a wide variety of stonework, from small greenstone figurines to basalt statues to larger monuments. Inert were-jaguar babies are shown held by stoic adults, as if the infant were being presented; this scene is depicted in a wide range of materials, from small portable carvings to nearly life-size greenstone statuettes, to multi-tonne altars, although it is not known with any clarity what this act represents.
Two-dimensional representations of the were-jaguar were incised onto greenstone celts, painted on pottery, carved onto four multi-tonne monoliths at Teopantecuanitlan. Lively were-jaguar babies are depicted in bas-relief on the sides of La Venta Altar 5. According to archaeologist Peter Furst, were-jaguar figurines were used as household gods for many people and as spirit helpers or familiars for priests or shamans, aiding in transformative acts and other rituals; as the major predator of Mesoamerica, the jaguar was revered by pre-Columbian societies, adoption of jaguar motifs by the ruling elite was used to reinforce or validate leadership. However, this does not explain the were-jaguar motif in and of itself, the possible origins of the motif have engaged scholars for over a half century. Matthew Stirling, who made many of the initial Olmec discoveries in the mid-20th century, proposed that the were-jaguar motif was derived from the story of copulation between a male jaguar and a female human based on: Potrero Nuevo Monument 3, Tenochititlán Monument 1, Laguna de los Cerros Monument 20, Murals from Chalcatzingo.
This so-called Stirling hypothesis won guarded support from archaeologists, including Michael
The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican culture that flourished in central Mexico in the post-classic period from 1300 to 1521. The Aztec peoples included different ethnic groups of central Mexico those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica from the 14th to the 16th centuries. Aztec culture was organized into city-states, some of which joined to form alliances, political confederations, or empires; the Aztec empire was a confederation of three city-states established in 1427, city-state of the Mexica or Tenochca. Although the term Aztecs is narrowly restricted to the Mexica of Tenochtitlan, it is broadly used to refer to Nahua polities or peoples of central Mexico in the prehispanic era, as well as the Spanish colonial era; the definitions of Aztec and Aztecs have long been the topic of scholarly discussion since German scientist Alexander von Humboldt established its common usage in the early nineteenth century. Most ethnic groups of central Mexico in the post-classic period shared basic cultural traits of Mesoamerica, so many of the traits that characterize Aztec culture cannot be said to be exclusive to the Aztecs.
For the same reason, the notion of "Aztec civilization" is best understood as a particular horizon of a general Mesoamerican civilization. The culture of central Mexico includes maize cultivation, the social division between nobility and commoners, a pantheon, the calendric system of a xiuhpohualli of 365 days intercalated with a tonalpohualli of 260 days. Particular to the Mexica of Tenochtitlan was the patron God Huitzilopochtli, twin pyramids, the ceramic ware known as Aztec I to IV. From the 13th century, the Valley of Mexico was the heart of dense population and the rise of city-states; the Mexica were late-comers to the Valley of Mexico, founded the city-state of Tenochtitlan on unpromising islets in Lake Texcoco becoming the dominant power of the Aztec Triple Alliance or Aztec Empire. It was a tributary empire that expanded its political hegemony far beyond the Valley of Mexico, conquering other city states throughout Mesoamerica in the late post-classic period, it originated in 1427 as an alliance between the city-states Tenochtitlan and Tlacopan.
Soon Texcoco and Tlacopan were relegated to junior partnership in the alliance, with Tenochtitlan the dominant power. The empire extended its reach by a combination of trade and military conquest, it was never a true territorial empire controlling a territory by large military garrisons in conquered provinces, but rather dominated its client city-states by installing friendly rulers in conquered territories, by constructing marriage alliances between the ruling dynasties, by extending an imperial ideology to its client city-states. Client city-states paid tribute to the Aztec emperor, the Huey Tlatoani, in an economic strategy limiting communication and trade between outlying polities, making them dependent on the imperial center for the acquisition of luxury goods; the political clout of the empire reached far south into Mesoamerica conquering polities as far south as Chiapas and Guatemala and spanning Mesoamerica from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans. The empire reached its maximal extent in 1519, just prior to the arrival of a small group of Spanish conquistadors led by Hernán Cortés.
Cortés allied with city-states opposed to the Mexica the Nahuatl-speaking Tlaxcalteca as well as other central Mexican polities, including Texcoco, its former ally in the Triple Alliance. After the fall of Tenochtitlan on August 13, 1521 and the capture of the emperor Cuauhtemoc, the Spanish founded Mexico City on the ruins of Tenochtitlan. From there they proceeded with the process of conquest and incorporation of Mesoamerican peoples into the Spanish Empire. With the destruction of the superstructure of the Aztec Empire in 1521, the Spanish utilized the city-states on which the Aztec Empire had been built, to rule the indigenous populations via their local nobles; those nobles pledged loyalty to the Spanish crown and converted, at least nominally, to Christianity, in return were recognized as nobles by the Spanish crown. Nobles acted as intermediaries to convey tribute and mobilize labor for their new overlords, facilitating the establishment of Spanish colonial rule. Aztec culture and history is known through archaeological evidence found in excavations such as that of the renowned Templo Mayor in Mexico City.
Important for knowledge of post-conquest Nahuas was the training of indigenous scribes to write alphabetic texts in Nahuatl for local purposes under Spanish colonial rule. At its height, Aztec culture had rich and complex mythological and religious traditions, as well as achieving remarkable architectural and artistic accomplishments; the Nahuatl words and mean "people from Aztlan," a mythical place of origin for several ethnic groups in central Mexico. The term was not used as an endonym by Aztecs themselves, but it is
Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more humans as an offering to a deity, as part of a ritual. Human sacrifice has been practiced in various cultures throughout history. Victims were ritually killed in a manner, supposed to please or appease gods, spirits or the deceased, for example, as a propitiatory offering or as a retainer sacrifice when a king's servants are killed in order for them to continue to serve their master in the next life. Related practices found in some tribal societies are cannibalism and headhunting. By the Iron Age, with the associated developments in religion, human sacrifice was becoming less common throughout the Old World, came to be looked down upon as barbaric in classical antiquity. In the New World, human sacrifice continued to be widespread to varying degrees until the European colonization of the Americas. In modern times the practice of animal sacrifice has disappeared from many religions, human sacrifice has become rare. Most religions condemn the practice, modern secular laws treat it as murder.
In a society which condemns human sacrifice, the term ritual murder is used. The idea of human sacrifice has its roots in the evolution of human behaviour. From its historical occurrences it seems associated with neolithic or nomadic cultures, on the emergent edge of civilization. Human sacrifice has been practiced on a number of different occasions and in many different cultures; the various rationales behind human sacrifice are the same that motivate religious sacrifice in general. Human sacrifice is intended to bring good fortune and to pacify the gods, for example in the context of the dedication of a completed building like a temple or bridge. In ancient Japan, legends talk about hitobashira, in which maidens were buried alive at the base or near some constructions to protect the buildings against disasters or enemy attacks, identical myths appear in the Balkans. For the re-consecration of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs reported that they killed about 80,400 prisoners over the course of four days.
According to Ross Hassig, author of Aztec Warfare, "between 10,000 and 80,400 persons" were sacrificed in the ceremony. Human sacrifice can have the intention of winning the gods' favour in warfare. In Homeric legend, Iphigeneia was to be sacrificed by her father Agamemnon to appease Artemis so she would allow the Greeks to wage the Trojan War. In some notions of an afterlife, the deceased will benefit from victims killed at his funeral. Mongols, early Egyptians and various Mesoamerican chiefs could take most of their household, including servants and concubines, with them to the next world; this is sometimes called a "retainer sacrifice", as the leader's retainers would be sacrificed along with their master, so that they could continue to serve him in the afterlife. Another purpose is divination from the body parts of the victim. According to Strabo, Celts stabbed a victim with a sword and divined the future from his death spasms. Headhunting is the practice of taking the head of a killed adversary, for ceremonial or magical purposes, or for reasons of prestige.
It was found in many pre-modern tribal societies. Human sacrifice may be a ritual practiced in a stable society, may be conducive to enhance societal bonds, both by creating a bond unifying the sacrificing community, in combining human sacrifice and capital punishment, by removing individuals that have a negative effect on societal stability. However, outside of civil religion, human sacrifice may result in outbursts of "blood frenzy" and mass killings that destabilize society; the bursts of human sacrifice during European witch-hunts, or during the French Revolutionary Reign of Terror, show similar sociological patterns. Many cultures show traces of prehistoric human sacrifice in their mythologies and religious texts, but ceased the practice before the onset of historical records; some see the story of Abraham and Isaac as an example of an etiological myth explaining the abolition of human sacrifice. The Vedic Purushamedha is a purely symbolic act in its earliest attestation. According to Pliny the Elder, human sacrifice in Ancient Rome was abolished by a senatorial decree in 97 BCE, although by this time the practice had become so rare that the decree was a symbolic act.
Human sacrifice once abolished is replaced by either animal sacrifice, or by the "mock-sacrifice" of effigies, such as the Argei in ancient Rome. There may be evidence of retainer sacrifice in the early dynastic period at Abydos, when on the death of a King he would be accompanied with servants, high officials, who would continue to serve him in eternal life; the skeletons that were found had no obvious signs of trauma, leading to speculation that the giving up of life to serve the King may have been a voluntary act carried out in a drug induced state. At about 2800 BCE any possible evidence of such practices disappeared, though echoes are to be seen in the burial of statues of servants in Old Kingdom tombs. Retainer sacrifice was practised within the royal tombs of ancient Mesopotamia. Courtiers, musicians and grooms were presumed to have committed ritual suicide by taking poison. A new examination of skulls from the royal cemetery at Ur, discovered in Iraq a century ago, appears to support a more grisly interpretation of human sacrifices associated with elite burials in ancient Mesopotamia than had been recognized, say archae
Codex Ríos is an Italian translation and augmentation of a Spanish colonial-era manuscript, Codex Telleriano-Remensis, attributed to Pedro de los Ríos, a Dominican friar working in Oaxaca and Puebla between 1547 and 1562. The codex itself was written and drawn in Italy after 1566; the manuscript is focused on the Tolteca-Chichimeca culture in the Tehuacan Valley in modern-day Puebla and Oaxaca. It can be divided into seven sections: Cosmological and mythological traditions with emphasis on the four epochs. An almanac, or tonalamatl, for the 260-day divinatory year common in Mesoamerica. Calendar tables for the years 1558 through 1619, without drawings. An 18-month festival calendar, with drawings of the gods of each period. Ritual customs, with portraits of Indians. Pictorial chronicles for the years 1195-1549 beginning with the migration from Chicomoztoc and covering events in the Valley of Mexico. Glyphs for the years 1556 through 1562, without drawings or text. Codex Ríos consists of 101 pages of European paper, accordion-folded.
It is held in the Vatican Library, is variously known as Codex Vatican A, Codex Vaticanus A, Codex Vaticanus 3738. Facsimile: Codex Vaticanus A, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, around 1580. Colour reproduction for studies of the manuscript in possession of the Bibliotèca Apostolica Vaticana, reduced to 7/10 of the original size, i.e. to 340 x 260 mm. Miniature paintings with Italian notes. Half leather binding. Introduction: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt. 14 pp. and 192 plates. CODICES SELECTI, Vol. LXV Codex Vaticanus B Mesoamerican codices Aztec codices Aztec calendar
Dumbarton Oaks is a historic estate in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D. C, it was the garden of Robert Woods Bliss and his wife Mildred Barnes Bliss. The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection was founded here by the Bliss couple, who gave the property to Harvard University in 1940; the research institute that has emerged from this bequest is dedicated to supporting scholarship in the fields of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian studies, as well as garden design and landscape architecture through its research fellowships, meetings and publications. Dumbarton Oaks opens its garden and museum collections to the public, hosts public lectures and a concert series; the land of Dumbarton Oaks was part of the Rock of Dumbarton grant that Queen Anne made in 1702 to Colonel Ninian Beall. Around 1801, William Hammond Dorsey built the first house on the property and an orangery, in the mid-nineteenth century, Edward Magruder Linthicum enlarged the residence and named it The Oaks; the Oaks was the Washington residence of U.
S. Senator and Vice President John C. Calhoun between 1822 and 1829. In 1846, Edward Linthicum bought the house, enlarged it. In 1891, Henry F. Blount bought the house. Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss acquired the property in 1920, in 1933 they gave it the name of Dumbarton Oaks, combining its two historic names; the Blisses engaged the architect Frederick H. Brooke to renovate and enlarge the house, thereby creating a Colonial Revival residence from the existing Linthicum-era Italianate structure. Over time, the Blisses increased the grounds to 54 acres and engaged the landscape architect Beatrix Farrand to design a series of terraced gardens and a wilderness on this acreage, in collaboration with Mildred Bliss; the Blisses’ architectural additions to the estate included four service court buildings and a music room, designed by Lawrence Grant White of the New York City architectural firm of McKim and White, the superintendent's dwelling, designed by Farrand. Renamed the Fellows Building, this building is now known as the Guest House.
After retiring to Dumbarton Oaks in 1933, the Blisses began laying the groundwork for the creation of a research institute. They increased their considerable collection of artworks and reference books, forming the nucleus of what would become the Research Library and Collection. In 1938 they engaged the architect Thomas T. Waterman to build two pavilions to house their Byzantine Collection and an 8,000-volume library, in 1940 gave Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard University, Robert Bliss's alma mater. At the same time they gave a portion of the grounds—some 27 acres—to the National Park Service to establish the Dumbarton Oaks Park. In 1941, the administrative structure of Dumbarton Oaks, now owned by Harvard University, was modeled according to the following design: the Trustees for Harvard University, composed of the President and Fellows of Harvard College, made all appointments, including those to the Administrative Committee, which in turn would supervise the entire operation and refer to the Trustees such recommendations as may require their action.
This committee was first chaired by Paul J. Sachs, Harvard Professor and Associate Director of the Fogg Art Museum, but by 1953 it was chaired by the Dean or Provost and, beginning in 1961 and thereafter, by the President of Harvard University. In early years the Administrative Committee appointed a Board of Scholars to make recommendations in regard to all scholarly activities; the Board of Scholars was first organized in 1942. In 1952, this board was titled the Board for Scholars in Byzantine Studies. In 1953, a Garden Advisory Committee was created to make recommendations in regard to the garden and to the Garden Library and its Fellows, in 1963 an Advisory Committee for Pre-Columbian Art was created; the Administrative Committee historically appointed a Visiting Committee consisting of persons interested in the welfare and broad aims of Dumbarton Oaks. This committee was abolished in 1960. Wishing to increase the scholarly mission of Dumbarton Oaks, in the early 1960s the Blisses sponsored the construction of two new wings, one designed by Philip Johnson to house the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art and its research library and, the other, a garden library designed by Frederic Rhinelander King, of the New York City architectural firm Wyeth and King, to house the botanical and garden architecture rare books and garden history reference materials that Mildred Bliss had collected.
In 1937, Mildred Bliss commissioned Igor Stravinsky to compose a concerto in the tradition of Bach's Brandenburg concertos to celebrate the Blisses' thirtieth wedding anniversary. Nadia Boulanger conducted its premiere on May 8, 1938 in the Dumbarton Oaks music room, due to the composer's indisposition from tuberculosis. At Mildred Bliss's request, the Concerto in E-flat was subtitled “Dumbarton Oaks 8-v-1938,” and the work is now known as The Dumbarton Oaks Concerto. Igor Stravinsky conducted the concerto in the Dumbarton Oaks music room on April 25, 1947 and again for the Bliss's golden wedding anniversary, on May 8, 1958, he conducted the first performance of his Septet, dedicated to the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library a