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 afterthe 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.
In addition, The mother of the Aztec creation story was called "Coatlique", the Lady of the Skirt of Snakes. She was created in the image of the unknown, decorated with skulls, snakes, and lacerated hands. There are no cracks in her body and she is a perfect monolith (a totality of intensity and self-containment, yet her features were sqaure and decapitated).
Coatlique was first impregnated by an obsidian knife and gave birth to Coyolxanuhqui, goddess of the moon, and to a group of male offspring, who became the stars. Then one day Coatlique found a ball of feathers, which she tucked into her bosom. Whe she looked for it later, it was gone, at which time she realized that she was again pregnant. Her children, the moon and stars did not believe her story. Ashamed of their mother, they resolved to kill her. A goddess could only give birth once, to the original litter of divinity and no more. During the time that they were plotting her demise, Coatlicue gave birth to the fiery god of war, Huitzilopochtli. With the help of a fire serpent, he destroyed his brothers and sister, murdering them in a rage. He beheaded Coyolxauhqui and threw her body into a deep gorge in a mountain, where it lies dismembered forever.
By the year 1325 their capital city was finished. They called it Tenochtitlan. - At its height, the Aztec Empire included millions of people. Even though no one knows exactly how many people there were, it seems clear that the Aztec Empire had a population equal to the large European countries at the time! Tenochtitlfin alone, which may have had as many as 200,000 people, was larger than any European city. Along the shores of Lake Texcoco were other cities. These cities were connected to Tenochtitlfin by a system of causeways, or raised earthen roads, built across the lake. Bridges on the causeways allowed canoes to go from one part of the lake to another. 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. Good farming practices helped to support the large population of Tenochtitlán. For example, the Aztecs built irrigation systems, constructed terraces on nearby hillsides, and enriched the soil with fertilizer. They developed a completely new agricultural technique for making more farmland out of the swampy land around the city by creating artificial islands, called chinampas, or "floating gardens". The chinampas were made by piling rich earth from the bottom of Lake Texcoco onto rafts made of weeds. After awhile, the roots of plants and trees grew down to the lake bottom, anchoring the rafts. These island gardens covered most of the southern part of the lake and were planted with crops that produced large amounts of food. Their crops included corn, which was their principal crop, various kinds of vegetables (such as beans, squash, tomatoes, and peppers), and flowers. The Aztecs also planted corn and other crops in the irrigated fields around Lake Texcoco. They raised ducks, geese and turkeys, which were eaten by the rich nobles and merchants. They had dogs, but did not use work animals or plows. Instead, they used pointed sticks to poke holes for planting seeds in the soft soil
Tenochtitlan became the most powerful member of the alliance. The Aztec Conquerors - The Aztecs carried on constant wars with neighboring peoples. They fought with wooden swords that had sharp stone blades. They also used bows and arrows as well as spears. Their armor was padded cotton made into suits fitted to the body. This armor worked well against the weapons of other Indians. However, it was little protection against the steel swords, arrows, muskets, and cannons of the Spaniards. The main purpose of the Aztec wars was to capture enemy soldiers so that thousands could be sacrificed, or offered, to the gods. Captives were brought to. There they were led up the steps of a great pyramid on the top of which stood a temple. In front of the temple stood the sacrificial altar. While drums boomed, each unlucky captive was held down on the altar. The sharp knife of an Aztec priest flashed in the sun, and in an instant the victim's chest was opened. The priest then reached in, grabbed the heart, and held it aloft for all to see. In this manner, the Aztecs sacrificed thousands of people each year.
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 Quetzalcoatlwas 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 Cortez and his troops invaded. He did not resist and was taken prisoner by Cortez 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 sculptureis the large circular Calendar Stone, which represents the Aztec universe
Aztec priests are an example of specialization. The priests were supported by the efforts of other people. They did not grow their own food or make their own clothes. Priests enjoyed power and privilege. The priests formed part of the upper class.
Aztec society, like all complex societies, had different social classes. People at the top - nobles, high priests, and people important in the military and government - had lives of luxury, with fine houses, clothing, and jewelry. The largest class was made up of commoners, such as farmers, servants, and craftspeople. In Aztec society, commoners were organized into clans, or groups, made up of many different families. Each clan joined people together throughout their lives. Members of a clan all lived in the same district. Merchants formed yet another class in Aztec society, separate from the commoners.
The Aztecs carried on a great deal of trade with other Indian nations. Traders, or pochtecas (pohch TAY kahs), also acted as spies when they went to other Indian cities. They brought back not only goods but also valuable information, such as any signs of unrest in the Empire or possible danger to the Aztec traders. Like the commoners, traders lived in their own district. However, traders were prosperous.
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 theirculture was based heavily on farming. The Aztecs made many sacrifices to their gods. When victims reached the altar they were stretched across asacrificial 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. Furthermore, Religion was ever present Each place and each trade had its patron deity: each day, and each division of the day, was watched over by its own god. Priests were expected to live in chastity, to mortify their flesh, and to understand astronomy, astrology, the complex rituals and ceremonies, and the art of picture writing. Games also formed part of the religious ritual. A popular ball game was lachtli, in which a small rubber ball had to be struck by the hips or thighs and knocked across a special court In another ritual game, men attired as birds and attached to ropes were slung in a wide circle around a pole. The official state religion of the soldiers and noblemen was concerned primarily with the great and powerful gods: the creators, the solar deities, the patrons of the warrior orders. By contrast, the common people seem to have preferred the lesser, more accessible gods: the patrons of the craft guilds, the protectors of local shrines, and the deities who looked after the things of everyday life. For everyone, however, rich or poor, each month of the Aztec calendar had its festival, with music, dancing, processions, and sacrifices. All this came to an end with the Spanish conquest and the introduction of the Christian religion.
Aztecs believed that the world had been created and destroyed several times. Ultimately, they believed their world would again end in disaster. The Aztecs thought that their special purpose in life was to delay that destruction. They sacrificed to the god of war and the sun to keep the sun in the sky and avoid destruction for as long as possible. Many other Aztec gods controlled natural forces. For example, there was a god of rain and a god of wind. These gods also required attention, although they might not have demanded human sacrifice. Life was very insecure, since the gods could cause all sorts of problems if they became unhappy. It was important, therefore, to know what the gods wanted. The priests supposedly had the ability to interpret signs of the gods' pleasure or unhappiness. Priests had enormous power in the Aztec society.The priests also understood the great ceremonial calendar. It told of holy days that called for happy celebrations with song and dance. It also told of other days that were solemn and required fasting. The Aztecs believed that the calendar, if properly understood, could foretell the future.
Like all the Mexican peoples, the Aztecs worshipped a multitude of gods, each of whom demanded offerings and sacrifices. Above all, the Aztecs considered themselves the chosen people of HUITZILOPOCHTLI, the sun and war god, in whose name they were destined to conquer all rival nations. Huitzilopochtli shared the main temple at Tenochtitlan with TIaloc, the rain god, important to the farmers in a land where drought was a constant threat Another important god was QUETZALCOATL, the feathered serpent, patron of arts and crafts and the god of self-sacrifice.
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 grand mother. 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.
Archeologists have learned about the Aztec gods and religious ceremonies from the artwork found in the ruins of their cities. The images of the gods are represented in stone sculptures and carved wall scuptures on the walls of the temples. The inside walls of the buildings have remains of brilliantly colored paintings showing ceremonial events, such as the human sacrifices. An especially famous Aztec sculpture is the enormous calendar stone, a carved stone circle 12 ft. in diameter. The calendar represents the Aztec universe with the face of the sun god in the center. He is surrounded by designs that symbolize the days and months and the locations of heavenly bodies at different times of the year.
The Aztec developed a writing and counting system based on pictographs in which each picture represented an object or the sound of a syllable. Their counting system was based on the number 20, in which one picture represented 20 items, another 20 x 20 ( = 400) items and so on. Archaelogists have learned to decode some of their writings, which talk about historical events and provide records of supplies and items for trade.
The Aztecs produced a variety of goods, some for the ruler and his noblemen, and some that were sold in markets. Gold ornaments, brightly colored woven cloth and salt harvested from the lake bed were luxury items that were traded with distant peoples to the south. They were traded for other luxury items, such as tropical bird feathers and jaguar skins (used for ceremonial garments), cotton, rubber, and cacao beans (for making chocolate). Trading goods were carried by canoe and by long caravans of porters, since the Aztecs had no wheeled vehicles or pack animals. Aztec warriors traveled with the caravans and the merchants who led them to protect them in dangerous areas.
Aztec culter 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.
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