Around 1168 AD, a Nahua tribe called the Aztecs left their mysterious homeland known as Aztln and migrated south to Central Valley. At first the Aztecs were practically enslaved by the other Nahua tribe, but they continued to struggle for power. By the 1300’s the Aztecs had founded two different settlements on Islands in lakes. These places are known as Tlaltetalco and Tenochtitln. By the 15th century Tenochtitln was the center of the Aztec world. By the 16th century Tenochtitln dominated all the other cities in Central Valley. The middle of the Aztec Empire was near the Lerma River.
This plateau is made up of five different sections; the volcanic axis lies across the southern part of the plateau. This area still has active volcanoes; they receive a lot of rain and have fertile soil. The bajio is located just north of the volcanic axis; it has an average elevation of 7,000 feet. This is where the Aztec capital Tenochtitln was located. Accounting for more than half of the plateau is the Mesa Del notre. The Mesa Del notre has an average elevation of 9,000 feet. Along the western ridge of the plateau is the Sierra Madre Occidental.
The Sierra Madre Occidental is a long mountain chain that protected the Aztecs from outside invaders. Along the eastern side of the plateau is the Sierra Madre Oriental. The Aztec capital receives anywhere between 30 – 50 cm. Temperatures range from 10 – 15 degrees centigrade in winter, to 20 – 25 degrees centigrade in summer. Aztec society was divided into three classes, the slaves, the common people, and the nobility. The Slave class was mostly made up of criminals and POW’s. Slaves could obtain freedom in two ways. The first was to buy it. The second way was to try to escape from their masters.
If they reached the royal palace without being caught, they were immediately given their freedom. The commoners, also known as the Maceualtin were given ownership of a plot of land to build a house. The tlalmaitl were the lowest group of the commoners, and weren’t allowed to own any land Instead they were inhabit farmers. The nobility was made of people who were born nobles, priests, and warriors who earned their rank. The nobles served as officials, judges, and governors of conquered provinces. Nobility enjoyed special privileges like nice feather cloaks and gold jewelry. Family Life was very important to the Aztecs.
The man of the house built the house and was a farmer of a craftsman. The woman prepared food, cared for children, made clothing, and looked after livestock. Barren women were looked down upon. At birth the midwife would give a speech while cutting the umbilical cord. She told the baby that he was going to be a warrior and feed enemies blood to the sun. Four days after birth the father called an astrologer, who told him the day that they should have the naming ceremony. Education was also very important to Aztecs. As children boys received instructions from the elders. They were taught the names of the things in the baskets they carried.
They were also taught how to carry things for their mother and go to the market with their father. Girls were trained for marriage. They were shown how to weave a loom, how to make cloth to support the family. Self-control and discipline were taught at home and punishments were very severe. Children were sometimes beaten, or held over fire and made to inhale bitter smoke. Sometimes they were tied up naked and left of the wet ground for an entire day. A ruler’s daughter had to walk around without picking up her head. Young unmarried woman needed permission to see their fathers.
The parents of two families arranged weddings. The punishment for adultery was death by stoning or strangulation. The head of the Aztecs was known as the great speaker. A council of wise men in a democratic fashion decided his heir. The great speaker was the head of the government and the main priest. Aztec tribes were divided into families and clans. Each clan had elected officials and sent representatives to the council of the tribe. The council elected officials to govern the four quarters, or phratries that the city was organized in. The council elected the supreme chief who led the tribe in wars and alliances.
A second chief was in charge of internal affairs. The chiefs were selected from powerful families. The Aztec government was an autocracy. The Aztec’s ate mostly corn, which was ground into flour and made into tortillas. They also ate sage seeds, very spicy peepers, eggs, turkey, rabbit, dog, lizards, snails, and fish eggs. They drank mostly water, but on occasion they had beer. Nobility drank chocolate that was sweetened with honey. Mexicans today also include a lot of corn in their diets. Clothing indicated what class people belonged to. The rich had clothing made out of cotton, while the poorer had cheaper maguey fibers.
The men wore a cloak that was tied on one shoulder, almost like a toga, and cloth on their hips. The woman wore sleeveless shirts and wraparound skirts. The Aztecs were warriors. In some ways it was connected to their religion. During was they captured prisoners for sacrifice, punish tributary tribes, and gain new land. Failure in battle was a disgrace and usually led to their sacrifice. Farmers grew corn, beans, avocados, squashes, potatoes and tomatoes. In the lowlands they grew cotton, papayas, and cacao. The Aztecs used the slash and burn method of farming. Farmers made huge irrigation systems.
The marketplace was in the middle of Aztec life. The market Tlatelolco was the largest in the Americas. As many as 60,000 people visited the market in a single day. Everything was bought and sold in the market. The Aztecs bartered, and some believe that they used cacao as a form of money. The Aztecs invented the wheel but they didn’t use it for transportation. Wheels were used in toys. They carried most things on their backs. Religion dominated Aztec life. The Aztecs were cannibals, and ate the flesh of their victims of war. They believed that they would absorb the virtues of the slain victims. The Aztecs performed human sacrifice.
The most important form of sacrifice was tearing out the heart of the victim with a knife made of obsidian, volcanic glass. The sacrificed victims were thought to win a high place in paradise. Aztecs went after prisoners in war, rather than killing the enemy, because it allowed them to make more sacrifices. The Aztecs were polytheistic and worshiped gods who personified the forces of nature. The get help from the gods the Aztecs performed rituals and ceremonies. The head of all the Aztec gods was Huitzilopochtli, the god of the sun and war. The Aztecs believed that if he fought the forces of darkness and regenerated in the morning.
This is where the need for human sacrifice plays a role. The Aztecs believed that in order for Huitzilopochtli to continue fighting the forces of darkness, he needed human sacrifices. Human sacrifice was very important because it kept the favor of the gods. Since life was mans most important possession, logically it would be the best gift for the gods. At the dedication of the great pyramid temple in Tenochtitln 20,000 POW’s were sacrificed. The priests slid open the body and tore out the victim’s hearts. Some other gods were Taloc the god of rain, Tezcatlipoca the god of wind, and Quetzalcoatl.
All the gods had their own ceremonies, prayers, sacrifices, and holidays. In the 16th century the Aztec Empire was at its peak. Under the rule of Montezuma the second, the Aztecs welcomed in the Spanish, led by Cortes. Later Montezuma plotted against Cortes and Cortes had him thrown in jail. The Aztecs revolted against the Spanish and during the revolt Montezuma was killed. In 1521 Cortes, with the aid of 1,000 Spanish soldiers and thousands of Indian allies defeated the Aztecs, and the Aztec Empire collapsed immediately. A myth tells us that the Aztecs only lost to the Spanish because the white people were gods.