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Aztec History

What was ancient Aztec art and culture like? religion? And the legendary Aztec sacrifices? What about the Aztec

The Aztec Empire was peopled by a group that was once nomadic, the Mexicas. Their chroniclers told them that after their long journey from Aztln, they found themselves to be outcasts, until they found the sign sent to them by their god Huitzilopochtli, and began to build their city. And so the Mexica peoples continued, and the Aztec Empire began. The city of Tenochitlan was soon to become one of the largest cities in the world. The power of the Mexica peoples became more consolidated, and they began to form alliances. Their military power grew as well, and they began to conquer peoples in the surrounding areas. At the height of its power, the Aztec Empire was organized and strong, but ruled with fear. In 1519, a clash of cultures was to take place, unlike anything before it. Although there was much tragedy in both the Spanish and Aztec empires before this, the meeting of the two civilizations was disastrous. In a few short years, the culture and structure of one of histories greatest empires would have virtually vanished.

Did you know...

It was against the law to be drunk in public in the Aztec empire, unless you were over 70 years old! Each Aztec home had a steam bath! It is said that the major Aztec weapon could chop off the head of a horse with one blow!


Are there any Aztec inventions that are still in use in the world today? It's actually a tricky question, and it depends on what you mean by "invention". The truth is that the empire of the Aztecs introduced many things to the world. But they weren't so much unique innovations as they were things they took from the peoples that they had conquered - things that had been around for hundreds even thousands of years. When the Aztecs met the Spanish, the two cultures introduced a lot to each other. In this new era, the peoples of Mexico were introduced to things like onions and horses, and the Europeans were introduced to... well, that's what we're going to talk about.

Mandatory, universal education

Fathers take their children to school You might not think of this when you think about Aztec inventions, but the empire was one of the first places in the world to have mandatory education for everyone. In the years ahead, education was going to become more and more important around the world - but the peoples of the Aztec empire were on the cutting edge. Many countries had education for the upper classes, but for the Aztec education was important no matter what your gender, rank or station. Read more about growing up Aztec here.


This "Aztec invention" really came along long before the time of the Aztecs. However, it was the Aztecs that introduced it to the rest of the world. Groups such as the Zapotec (of Mexico) and Moche (of Peru) popped their own corn long before the days of the Aztecs. But when the Spanish arrived, Hernan Cortes saw popcorn for the first time. It was used as an ornament on headdresses, and to adorn their god Tlaloc, the god of maize and fertility. The Spanish wrote that the Aztecs had "a kind of corn that bursts when parched and discloses its contents and makes itself look like a very white flower". Read more about this one of the Aztec inventions (again, not really invented by the Aztecs, but popularized!).

The Aztecs and chocolate

We can thank Mexico for introducing chocolate to the world. I'm very thankful. Chocolate was highly valued in the Mayan culture - it was actually used as currency. The Aztecs valued the cacao bean as well, and demanded it be a part of tribute. Then they created something that would really make history - xocoatl (a word meaning bitter water), which was similar to drinks the Mayans had made before them. This was a spicy hot chocolate drink that was popular among the upper classes. It was actually a mix of cacoa beans, corn flour, water and chillies! This would evolve into a number of hot chocolate drinks. When the Spanish came, they introduced the wonders of sugar. And so this evolved into the hot chocolates and mochachinos that are enjoyed around the world today. Now that's an Aztec invention worth noticing!

Chewing gum?

The bane of every school janitor was discovered by more than one culture in the new world. The Mayans, for one, discovered that they could take the thick milky liquid from the sapodilla tree (an evergreen) and harden it into gum. The liquid was "chicle", a word you can still hear on street corners in Mexico from vendors selling chewing gum. When the Spanish arrived, they found Aztec prostitutes on street corners chewing gum. The Aztecs had chicle trading routes in place, which were promptly destroyed by the Spanish. The gum became a memory, until it started coming back 350 years later.

Antispasmodic medication

The Aztecs practised advanced medicine. They used a type of antispasmodic medication - medicine that could prevent muscle spasms and relax muscles, which may have been helpful during surgery. The Passion flower was used for this purpose, a flower which still grows in Mexico today. The passion flower is still used today as an herbal remedy, believed to help with insomnia, epilepsy, and high blood pressure.

10 FASCINATING FACTS ABOUT THE AZTECS The Aztecs are best known for eating chocolate, killing boatloads of people in sacrifice to their heathen gods and eventually getting beaten by the Spaniards. They are known by most as a warlike, barbaric race, mostly due to the incredible amount of people they killed. However, contrary to popular belief, they were not without culture. The Aztecs had an incredibly complex system social structure and believed strongly in education, family and art. Even their system of slavery was very detailed and not at all like what you would expect slavery to be. In short, while they may have been extremely psychopathic, there is much more to the Aztecs than first meets the eye. Listed below are ten interesting facts about the Aztecs, many of which will challenge the popular ideas in regards to their history. 10. Artistic Fact: The Aztecs played sports and were a very artistic people. Despite the idea in the popular mind of Aztecs being savages, they were a very artistic people. Aztecs were into pottery and sculpting and created many different artistic drawings as well. They designed art for their warriors that were then often applied as tattoos to honor them for their accomplishments; they also had a love for poetry. The Aztecs also played team sports, specifically a game very popular among them called Ullamaliztli. The game utilized a rubber ball, which was a fairly advanced concept for their time and was played on a court called a Tlachtli. The object of the game was to get the ball through a small stone ring; however, it was an extremely difficult game to play. The ball was not supposed to hit the ground, and players could only touch it with their head, elbows, knees and hips ( 9. Mandatory Schooling Fact: The Aztecs had mandatory schools separated between boys and girls. While the Aztecs put strong emphasis on parents teaching their children properly, they also had mandatory public schooling for all children. Those of a noble class had different schools to attend and schools were also separated by gender. Boys of nobility would be sent to the Calmecac School where they learned from the priests about history, astronomy, art, and how to govern and lead. Boys of lower caste were sent to the Cuicacalli School,

which was much more focused on preparing them for possible service in the military as warriors. Girls were sent to separate schools and much more of their education was focused at home where they were taught domestic duties such as cooking and weaving. 8. Defeated by Disease Fact: Most Aztecs were actually defeated by disease, not war. While many may attempt to claim that the Spaniards beat the Aztecs through military brilliance, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, the original attacks of the Spanish were thoroughly rebuffed and they had to beat a hasty retreat. The Aztecs actually had a fairly good chance at beating the Spanish and the overall war was a fairly close one. It can be easily said that if not for the smallpox contracted from the Europeans that wiped out so many of them, especially their leaders, that it is extremely unlikely they would have fallen to the Spanish. The amount of harm caused by European diseases was tremendous, it is estimated that over twenty million Mexicans died in a period of just five years due to the diseases brought over by the Spanish. 7. Wrong Name Fact: The name Aztecs was given to them after the fact. We all know the Aztecs by that name, but it was not actually a name that they ever called themselves. The Westerners who came up with the name Aztecs likely took it from one of the original places that the Aztecs lived around the twelve century, called Aztlan, which was in the Northern part of Mexico. However, the Aztecs themselves actually referred to themselves as Mexica, which is actually where the name for the country of Mexico originally came from. 6. Advanced Record Keeping Fact: They had an advanced system for writing and keeping records. The Aztecs had their own language and it was called Nahuatl, the alphabet for this language was a form of picture writing. Knowledge on how to write things down was very specialized and was mostly performed by learned scribes and priests, who had the needed training. Records were kept on paper made of bark, or deer skin. The writing was usually performed using charcoal and then colored with vegetables and other substances. They kept

tax records, historical records, kept information written down in regards to the religious sacrifices and other ceremonies and even wrote poetry. Sometimes they put their writings together in a sort of makeshift book that they called a codice. 5. Burial Customs Fact: The Aztecs had very strange burial customs. We have all heard the legends in regards to building on top of an Indian graveyard, but the Aztecs cared little about having things built on top of their graves. In fact, the Aztecs made a habit of burying their ancestors right under and around their houses. If an Aztec was of very high stature, then they were generally cremated instead. The Aztecs believed that the cremation would change the soul of the dead warrior or ruler and send them straight to their version of heaven. Sometimes the Aztecs would also kill a dog and bury or cremate it with the person so that it could guide them on their journey through the afterlife. 4. Sell Children Fact: They would often sell their own children into slavery. It was not at all uncommon in Aztec society for someone who was poor to sell their own children into slavery. Not only that, but many Aztecs would also sell themselves into slavery. In many cases someone would go bankrupt and feel that they had no way out, selling themselves or their children into slavery would give them some income and if they worked hard they might eventually be able to buy their way back out again. Some remained slaves most of their lives, which isnt surprising because being a slave among the Aztecs was not that bad. You could get married, have children and own your own land. 3. Polygamy Fact: Aztec men were allowed to practice polygamy. Aztec men were allowed to have more than one wife, however, there were certain strict rules governing these relationships. The first wife the man took was considered his principal wife, and was the only one he went through marriage ceremonies with. The other wives were only secondary but still recognized in the official records. While the first wife was considered the most important, the man was still expected to treat all of his

wives with equal respect. While the man was the head of the household, women still had a lot of power in the relationship and were well treated in Aztec society. Extra wives contributed to the wealth of the family and were considered a mark of great status, this afforded them a high position in the culture. The Aztecs allowed divorce in some situations, but adultery by either party was punishable by death. 2. Slavery Fact: The Aztecs had a unique system for slavery. Slavery among the Aztecs was much different than that of the Europeans and followed much different rules. Slaves children were not automatically property, and slaves could own possessions and even own other slaves. If a slave could present themselves in a temple, they would be freed, or if they could break away from their master and step on human excretion outside the market. If a slave tried to run away, only the master or his relatives were allowed to chase after them. Slaves were even able to buy their own freedom. The system for slavery among the Aztecs was quite unique, and much more like indentured servitude than most modern ideas of slavery. 1. Human Sacrifice Fact: Some historians believe the sacrifices and cannibalism may have been due to a protein deficiency. While the most popular theory in regards to Aztec sacrifices is that they were simply performing rituals to their heathen gods and keeping people under control, an anthropologist named Michael Harner has a completely different idea. Harner estimated that roughly 20,000 people were ritually sacrificed by the Aztecs every year. The people who were sacrificed were often eaten, as part of the sacrificial ritual. Harner proposed the theory that the whole thing was cannibalism disguised as sacrifice because the Aztecs did not have enough meat in their diet. While it is not certain that the Aztecs ate each other due to a protein deficiency as Harner proposes, the evidence of cannibalism is very hard to ignore.

Aztec Temples
Aztec temples were called, by the Mexica people of the empire, Teocalli - God houses. The priests of the Aztec religion went to these temples to worship and pray, and make offerings to the gods to keep them strong and in balance. Identifying the Aztec temples has been a tricky job at times. It's been easy to simply assume that large, monumental structures such as pyramids are all either palaces or temples, but that may not be the case. Still, we do have a good understanding of what happened in the religious areas and how the many of the buildings looked hundreds of years ago. Often a whole area of a city would be dedicated to religious activities. Some monuments would be made to specific gods. Some were built for specific celebrations. The buildings you probably associate with the Aztec religion are the great pyramids. These were four sided, stable structures that can withstand the earthquakes that are common in the area. These would have stairs up one side, and a flat top, often with a shrine on the top. Let's take a look at some of the Aztec temples specifically:

Templo Mayor
Height: The gods: Huitzilopochtli and Distinctives: A double Completed: Materials: Built of stone and covered with stucco and polychrome paint 60m/197ft Tlaloc temple 1497

Templo Mayor was a part of the sacred area of the city of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City. It was only one of perhaps 75-80 buildings which included other pyramids, ornamental walls, gathering places, shops and, of course, bathrooms. Since the city was build on swampy ground, the temples would often sink and needed to be repaired and built up over the years. The temple itself was the main religious building of the capitol city, and it had two shrines on the top - one to Huitzilopochtli and one to Tlaloc. Huitzilopochtli (Hummingbird of the South) was the patron god of the Mexica people, the one who led them to Tenochtitlan in the first place. He was the god of the sun and war. Tlaloc was the god of rain and fertility. Both gods required constant human sacrifice. During the final phase of construction, thousands were sacrificed. Many, many rituals were done at the temple - human sacrifice, of course, is the most well known. But there were many more, such as the private ritual blood-letting, burning of copal (a tree resin), and the music of worship. This Aztec temple represented the Hill of Coatepec, where the Mexicas believed Huitzilopochtli was born.

The Pyramids of the Sun and Moon (Teotihuacn)

Height: 65m/215ft (sun) 42m/138ft (moon) The gods: Tlaloc and Chalchihuitlicue (or the Sun and the Moon) Distinctives: The pyramid of the sun is the 3rd largest in the world Covering: At their peak, it's believed the pyramids were plastered and painted bright red Teotihuacn was not originally built by the Aztecs. In fact, it's height of power had been almost 1000 years earlier, and may have been built another 1000 years or more before that. The Mexicas were in awe of the ancient people and their city, although they knew very little about it. They believed this to be the birthplace of the most recent creation, where the new sun had been born. The pyramid to the sun was built on a lava tube cave (a shrine here may be the original reason for the settlement). Chalchihuitlicue was the goddess of lakes and streams, and Tlaloc was the god of fertility and rain. Though built as temples, a burial site has been found as a part of one. Though not built by the Aztecs, it was considered a sacred site. The Aztecs used ideas from the architecture here, and used objects from the city in their rituals.

Other Aztec Temples

There are numerous Aztec temples, both in these cities and others. The Great Pyramid of Cholula is the largest pyramid by volume in the world, and the largest monument ever constructed. Inside 8km/5mi of tunnels have been dug to investigate its secrets.

Another temple featured on this site is the great pyramid (temple) of Teopanzolco. The ruins at Teotenango also contain temples. Temples were built in each region of a city, and there were also mountain temples - often carved right out of the side of the mountain. It is believed that as late as the 19th century a child was sacrificed at one of these Aztec temples. Of course, many of the so-called Aztec temples were temples that existed before the Aztec empire did. Many peoples and cities were conquered and forced to pay tribute, becoming a part of the empire. One city like this was Xochicalco - a pyramid at the top of this page is from Xochicalco. The Aztec temples are still major religious destinations today. Some now have Roman Catholic Churches built over top, others are still just pyramids where people come to pray to the gods, or come, they believe, to gain some special power.