Moche Civilization

A forerunner in exquisite art form of Ancient Civilizations


The Moche Civilization flourished along the fertile valley on the coast of ancient Peru from 100 to 800 BCE, particularly in the Chicama and Trujillo valleys. The Moche territory can be broadly divided into two separate areas of two different languages and slightly different art and architecture trends. The Moche was famous owing to their magnificent ceramic art, exquisite craftsmanship, and complex architecture. With the conquest of the surrounding territory, the Moches were able to accumulate a large amount of wealth and power to establish them as an important early Andean culture.

The Capital city of Moche

The capital city of Moche was founded at the foot of the Cerro Blanca Mountain and covered an area of around 300 hectares. The city was a complex organization of tightly knit residential area, plazas, storehouses and public buildings. The city also had two pyramids like mounds made of adobe bricks. Typical Moche architecture included multiple levels, an access ramp, and slant roofing.

Huaca Del Sol, the larger pyramid stood over 50 m high that covered an area of 340 X 160m. The bricks that were used for the pyramid was marked with a marker’s mark. These pyramids were believed to be used as a tomb. Large residential buildings with courtyards were also present near the pyramids. Fields were laid out in a grid pattern that was believed to be controlled by the upper class.

Religion in Moche and its influence in art

Many of studies related to Moche have been derived from studies of iconography. Al Paec, the sky god, and the Moon Goddess were the key god. Al Paec is depicted in Moche art usually with a jaguar headdress and was considered to reside in the mountains. Human sacrifice was also prevalent that was performed to appease Al Paec which was also depicted in art. Rituals were carried out to imitate divine example with the priests assuming the role of the supreme god. However, the emphasis on the art was mostly on human affair and not celestial prototypes. Priests and priestesses were dressed as gods

Si, or the moon god was the supreme deity that controlled all the seasons which in turn played an important role in agriculture. Moon was considered more important than the Sun since it appears both during the day as well as in the night. Some murals also depicted that woman played a prominent role in the society. Human sacrifices were also performed to avert environmental disasters. A Certain amount of superstition and religious beliefs was involved in agriculture activities too. It is believed that every huerta or farmland had a serpent guardian.

The power of the gods in the form of priests clearly exercise great force at various times and places by convincing people, or driving them to believe, that lives of the people and fortunes were dependent upon forces that were beyond their everyday experiences.

Art and Architecture

The imperial capital was located at the site now known as Chan Chan. The monumental core of Chan Chan is estimated to cover an area of about 6 sq km with an extension of about 12 to 14 sq km that had the associated buildings to the core area. The core consisted of 9 monumental structures or ciudadelas, platform structures known as huacas, elite compounds, and small irregular rooms.

Moche Valley also had some compounds of about 204 to 950 sq m with plazas with an area ranging from 45 to 100 sq m. Most of these compounds had restricted entry. On the other hand, compounds of the lower order lacked storerooms, burial platforms, and habitable areas.

Earlier architectural complexes of Moche contain evidence of activities that matches with the function of a palace. These complexes were also associated strongly with a particular sacred place. Such structures were formed over a number of remodeling and rebuilding rather that building new palaces. The tradition of large, brightly painted friezes present on the exteriors of monuments later became an interior characteristic of ornamentation.

Moches were known as skilled potters and were excellent metalworkers. They crafted exclusive gold headdresses, chest plates, jewelry of various metals, textiles, utensils etc. Pottery which is one of the most famous art forms of Moche was decorated exquisitely. These vessels were rendered with a high degree of realism relating to the everyday life of Moche people or war scenes. The painted iconography on Moche vessels became increasingly finer and more complex over time. Animals were also portrayed realistically on many Moche ceramics. Apart from pottery, decorations were present on wall paintings, friezes and metal objects

End of the Moche civilization

In the year around 550 BCE, the canal systems and agriculture fields were covered in sand. This tragedy led the people to resettle at Sipan and Pampa Grande. Huaca Grande, a very large pyramid was located within a securely walled enclosure at Pampa Grande. Many historians believe that a palatial residence was present on its summit which was approached by a long and complex ramp. Pampa Grande covered an area of about 600 hectares. However, this resettled sites of Sipan and Pampa Grande was abandoned yet again after almost 150 years.


  • Quilter Jeffrey, Moche Politics, Religion, and Warfare, Journal of World Prehistory, Vol.16, No.2, June 2002
  • Gregory S. Aldrete, History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective, The Great Courses, 2011
  • Susan Toby Evans and Joanne Pillsbury, Palaces of the Ancient New World, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection Washington, D.C, 2004
  • Gillin John, Moche: A Peruvian Coastal Community, Smithsonian Institution, Institute of Social Anthropology, Publication no.3, 1945


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