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The Aztec Empire History
The center of the Aztec civilization was the Valley of Mexico, a huge, oval
basin about 7,500 feet above sea level. The Aztecs were formed after the Toltec
civilization occurred when hundreds of civilians came towards Lake Texcoco. In
the swamplands there was only one piece of land to farm on and it was totally
surrounded by more marshes. The Aztec families somehow converted these
disadvantages to a mighty empire known as the Aztec Empire. People say the
empire was partially formed by a deeply believed legend. As the legend went, it
said that Aztec people would create an empire in a swampy place where they would
see an eagle eating a snake, while perched on a cactus, which was growing out of
a rock in the swamplands. This is what priests claimed they saw when entering
the new land. By the year 1325 their capital city was finished. They called it
Tenochtitlan. In the capital city, aqueducts were constructed, bridges were
built, and chinapas were made. Chinapas were little islands formed by pilled up
mud. On these chinapas Aztecs grew their food. The Aztec Empire included many
cities and towns, especially in the Valley of Mexico. The early settlers built
log rafts, then covered them with mud and planted seeds to create roots and
develop more solid land for building homes in this marshy land. Canals were also
cut out through the marsh so that a typical Aztec home had its back to a canal
with a canoe tied at the door. In the early 1400s, Tenochtitlan joined with
Texcoco and Tlacopan, two other major cities in the Valley of Mexico.
Tenochtitlan became the most powerful member of the alliance. Montezuma I ruled
from 1440 to 1469 and conquered large areas to the east and to the south.
Montezuma's successors expanded the empire until it extended between what is now
Guatemala and the Mexican State of San Luis Potosi. Montezuma II became emperor
in 1502 when the Aztec Empire was at the height of its power. In 1519, the
Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes landed on the East Coast of Mexico and marched
inland to Tenochtitlan. The Spaniards were joined by many of the Indians who
were conquered and forced to pay high taxes to the emperor. Montezuma did not
oppose Cortes because he thought that he was the God Quetzalcoatl. An Aztec
legend said that Quetzalcoatl was driven away by another rival god and had
sailed across the sea and would return some day. His return was predicted to
come in the year Ce Acatl on the Aztec Calendar. This corresponded to the year
1519. Due to this prediction, Montezuma II thought Quetzalcoatl had returned
when Cortes and his troops invaded. He did not resist and was taken prisoner by
Cortes and his troops. In 1520, the Aztecs rebelled and drove the Spaniards from
Tenochtitlan, but Montezuma II was killed in the battle. Cortes reorganized his
troops and resurged into the city. Montezuma's successor, Cuauhtemoc,
surrendered in August of 1520. The Spaniards, being strong Christians, felt it
was their duty to wipe out the temples and all other traces of the Aztec
religion. They destroyed Tenochtitlan and built Mexico City on the ruins.
However, archaeologists have excavated a few sites and have uncovered many
remnants of this society. Language: The Aztec spoke a language called Nahuatl
(pronounced NAH waht l). It belongs to a large group of Indian languages, which
also include the languages spoken by the Comanche, Pima, Shoshone and other
tribes of western North America. The Aztec used pictographs to communicate
through writing. Some of the pictures symbolized ideas and others represented
the sounds of the syllables. Food: The principal food of the Aztec was a thin
cornmeal pancake called a tlaxcalli. (In Spanish, it is called a tortilla.) They
used the tlaxcallis to scoop up foods while they ate or they wrapped the foods
in the tlaxcalli to form what is now known as a taco. They hunted for most of
the meat in their diet and the chief game animals were deer, rabbits, ducks and
geese. The only animals they raised for meat were turkeys, rabbits, and dogs.
Arts and Crafts: The Aztec sculptures, which adorned their temples and other
buildings, were among the most elaborate in all of the Americas. Their purpose
was to please the gods and they attempted to do that in everything they did.
Many of the sculptures reflected their perception of their gods and how they
interacted in their lives. The most famous surviving Aztec sculpture is the
large circular Calendar Stone, which represents the Aztec universe. Religion:
Religion was extremely important in Aztec life. They worshipped hundreds of gods
and goddesses, each of whom ruled one or more human activities or aspects of
nature. The people had many agricultural gods because their culture was based
heavily on farming. The Aztecs made many sacrifices to their gods.
When victims reached the altar they were stretched across a sacrificial stone. A
priest with an obsidian knife cut open the victim's chest and tore out his heart.
The heart was placed in a bowl called a chacmool. This heart was used as an
offer to the gods. If they were in dire need, a warrior would be sacrificed, but
for any other sacrifice a normal person would be deemed sufficient. It was a
great honor to be chosen for a sacrifice to the gods. The Aztec held many
religious ceremonies to ensure good crops by winning the favor of the gods and
then to thank them for the harvest. Every 52 years, the Aztec held a great
celebration called the Binding up of the Years. Prior to the celebration, the
people would let their hearth fires go out and then re-light them from the new
fire of the celebration and feast. A partial list of the Aztec gods: CENTEOTL,
The corn god. COATLICUE, She of the Serpent Skirt. EHECATL, The god of wind.
HUEHUETEOTL, The fire god. HUITZILOPOCHTLI, The war/sun god and special guardian
of Tenochtitlan. MICTLANTECUHTLE, The god of the dead. OMETECUHLTI and his wife
OMECIHUATL, They created all life in the world. QUETZALCOATL, The god of
civilization and learning. TEZCATLIPOCA, The god of Night and Sorcery. TLALOC,
The rain god. TONATIUH, The sun god. TONANTZIN, The honored grandmother. XILONEN,
"Young maize ear," Maize represents a chief staple of the Aztecs. XIPE TOTEC,
The god of springtime and re-growth. Aztec dances: The Aztec Dance is known for
its special way of expressing reverence and prayer to the supernatural gods of
the sun, earth, sky, and water. Originally, the resources accessible to the
native Indians were limited, yet they were able to create lively music with the
howling of the sea conch, and with rhythms produced by drums and by dried seeds
which were usually tied to the feet of the dancers. Summary: Overall, I feel
that the Aztec civilization was very advanced. It had a very complex structure
in which there were lower class, middle class and upper class peoples. They had
a good system of transportation and irrigation through the use of canals. They
had a strong warfare system, which was seen by their conquering of many lands.
They also had their own language, and their own mathematical system. Their
scholars were also very intelligent, they had developed their own system of time
measurement and a calendar system that was very accurate.
1) Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia Version 7.0.5 CD-ROM Grolier Inc.1995
2) Microsoft Encarta 96 CD-ROM Microsoft, 1996
3) Internet Addresses:
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10 Most-Asked Questions About the Aztecs
1. Who Were the Aztecs?
The Aztecs were a group of people who lived over 700 years ago in what we now call central Mexico. They were a well-established society that spoke a language called Nahuatl, and developed advanced education, law and order and infrastructures. The Aztecs were fierce warriors and made enemies of tribes that lived close to them, this was compounded by their most famous of rituals — human sacrifice. They killed people in a sacrificial and ceremonial manor to appease their gods, which they believed to be hungry for human blood.
2. What Did the Aztecs Eat?
The Aztecs ate a rich and varied diet. Maize was the main food product they produced; it was turned into tortillas (flat bread) and tacos (crisp fried shells) which were filled with meat and vegetables. The Aztecs also used maize to make drinks.
They grew vegetables, including beans and squash, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, limes and chilies. For meat they kept turkeys, dogs and ducks. They also ate insects such as grasshoppers and worms.
The Aztecs are also famous for their love of chocolate. It was mostly consumed as a drink and would have been bitter in comparison to the sweet chocolate we enjoy today.
Globally, people now enjoy much of the Aztec diet and it is known as Mexican food, especially the tortillas and tacos.
3. What Did the Aztecs Wear?
The Aztecs’ clothes were an important symbol of status within society. The higher up the social ladder you were, the more material, colors and extravagance you could afford. Those who were extremely rich and well-respected were able to wear clothes made out of feathers.
The poorer people in the Aztec society wore little more than a loincloth; even this could make a statement, though. A loin cloth with any color or stitching added was an illustration that the wearer was not the poorest in society.
4. Where Were the Aztecs From?
It is believed that the Aztec people originally came from a legendary place called Aztlan, although its exact location is debated by historians. It is thought likely to have been in northwest Mexico or the southwest US. It is estimated that the first time Nahuatl was spoken in central Mexico was as far back as the 6th century. The people known as the Mexica traveled as nomads around Mexico until they settled down.
5. Where Was the Aztec Civilization Located?
The nomad Aztec culture had a legend that stated their destined place to settle would be where an eagle was seen sitting on a cactus while holding a snake. An Aztec priest saw this vision alongside Lake Texcoco. This was therefore where the Aztecs finally settled and built their first city.
The Aztec empire eventually spread over three main cities, which became known as the Triple Alliance. These included the Mexica of Tenochtitlán, Acolhua of Texcoco and the Tepaneca of Tlacopan.
6. What Was the Name of the Aztecs’ Capital City?
The capital city of the Aztecs was the first city that they built on Lake Texcoco. It was called Tenochtitlán. After many years of living as nomads and having to adapt to different environments, the Aztec people knew how to work with their surroundings to succeed. The swamp that they built their city on was not technically ideal and provided many challenges. The land in which they lived was very boggy and wet and they had to build infrastructure to hold back, channel and control the water.
The conditions were, however, perfect for growing horticulture and the Aztecs took advantage of this. They grew plants that they used for medicine and had an abundance of fruit and vegetables. They built canoes so that the fishermen could make the most of the rich availability of food within the waters of the lake.
Today, the capital of Mexico is called Mexico City and is built on the ruins of this ancient Aztec city.
7. Who Ruled the Aztecs?
Once the Aztecs settled, they developed a complex social class system and government. It was similar to the monarchy with a king or emperor at the top of the hierarchy. The Aztecs called their king the Huey Tlatoani. It was believed that their leader was selected by the gods. A new emperor would always be related to his predecessor and would be chosen by high-level nobles.
8. When Were the Aztecs the Dominant Civilization?
After they settled, the Aztecs’ empire and power grew. In 1440, their fifth emperor was appointed; he was called Montezuma I. His rule marked the beginning of what historians see as the height of the Aztec civilization. From this time until 1510, four more kings reigned, including Moctezuma II, who was the ninth ruler and is the king most associated with the Aztecs. He ruled from 1502 to 1520.
9. Who Conquered the Aztecs?
In 1519, the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico, and after a two-year war they eventually defeated the Aztecs. Their leader was called Cortés. The conquistadors were greedy men who wanted money and power. There were many different factors that led to the Spanish victory; one of the main reasons was that the Aztecs became unwell after being exposed to the smallpox virus and lost many of their people. The Spanish came with superior weapons and horses and made alliances with the Aztecs’ enemies. The Aztecs’ fate was sealed and by 1520 the Aztec Empire had been conquered.
10. What Happened to the Aztecs?
After the Aztec society had been destroyed, the Aztecs were taken as slaves by the Spanish. They were treated very badly and many died of disease, malnutrition and mistreatment.
The Spanish wanted to change the native religion of Mexico, and built Christian cathedrals in the place of the Aztec temples. They also built a monastery where priests and monks would actively convert the natives. By working together with the Aztecs, the priests created books (called codexes) which recorded the lives and beliefs of the Aztec people. These have served as wonderful historical sources to help us understand the great Aztec culture.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE AZTECS:
AZTECS! Video Playlist.
A detailed playlist of the videos is listed below.
- Speedy Summary of the Aztecs – Aztec Essentials in under 2 minutes by IP Factly
- 10 Aztec Sacrifice Facts – Aztec Human Sacrifice Essentials in 120 Seconds by IP Factly
- The Aztec Empire Summary – by Sandra Alvarez
- Aztec Empire & Culture Interesting Facts, Anthropology 1 by PsycheTruth
- Aztec Empire & Culture Interesting Facts, Anthropology 2 by PsycheTruth
- Aztec Civilization by LearningHelp
- Tenochtitlan (The Impossible City) by John Fitz