The Aztec Empire that we are familiar with was in Central Mexico. However, the people actually traveled all throughout Mexico for nearing 200 years before they decided to settle in 1400 in the central Mexican region around Lake Texcoco.
They were an ingenious people that became engineers of their environment, learning to make use of the natural elements around them, they built huge cities, created dams, and farmed the land for food.
Where once the Aztecs had originally settled peacefully, this changed as they began to conquer the tribes around them. As they grew more powerful they required other tribes to pay tribute by giving them clothing, goods, food, and even captives and slaves for the gods that they worshipped.
The Aztecs were feared because they believed in human sacrifice and as their civilization grew, so did their demand for more land and power.
Religion and Power was the Aztec Way
The Aztecs had lives that were centered around their gods and their religion. They constructed temples and large pyramids to honor their gods and when they warred against other tribes those that they captured were sacrificed to make their gods happy.
They created a capital city of Tenochtitlan that became the heart of the empire and is believed to have been home to around 200,000 people. The very center of the complex was filled with pyramids and the king’s palace.
They planned their city with a grid-like pattern and each area was divided into specific districts. This was unheard of in many of the cultures around the world and proved how organized the Aztecs were.
They expanded the city with aqueducts designed to bring the city the fresh water that it needed and causeways to navigate to and from the mainland.
The Rulers, their Value System, and Trade
The ruler of the Aztecs was called Tlatoani and as each Empire grew, so did the demands to support their cities. The Aztecs adored gold and silver for decorative and art purposes only.
They believed that these were metals from their gods and they honored them by creating art and outerwear. The Aztecs placed value on brightly colored feathers and made elaborate costumes from them.
Other things that they highly prized were jewels such as turquoise and jade, and clothing made of cotton. These were displayed to show power and it was not uncommon for Montezuma to wear four cotton tunics in a single day and then throw them away after wearing them one time.
Aztecs were incredible traders and merchants and they would use the cacao beans as a kind of currency in trade for the things that they felt were precious.
The Ruler and the Priests
They had invaded and conquered large areas of Central Mexico and when the ruler Tlatoani Montezuma met with his priests in 1517, the priests began to tell him of bad omens.
It seems that the priests were correct because in 1519 Hernando Cortes, the Spanish Conquistador, arrived in Mexico and only two years later had conquered the Aztecs. Cortes’ crew ripped down almost all of the city of Tenochtitlan and built their own on the same location called Mexico City.
One of the downfalls that happened in many areas that Europeans invaded was that they brought diseases that the natives couldn’t fight off. A large portion of the natives died of these diseases.
All the Gold
To try to make Cortes happy Montezuma gave him all of their gold. After all, the Aztecs didn’t hold the same value on the metal as the Europeans did. Montezuma also gave them barrels filled with finely designed jewelry, including mother-of-pearl.
Finally, Cortes wanted to know where the Aztecs mined the gold and Montezuma told them of the locations all over Mexico.
Facts about the Aztecs:
- The name “Aztec” is a title that was given by Westerners. It’s believed that they took the name from one of the locations where the Aztecs lived called “Aztlan”. The Aztec people called themselves Tenochca or Mexica.
- The cocoa plant grew in the Central Mexican climate and the Aztecs learned to harvest the beans and make a drink out of it. It’s not the sweetened chocolate drink that we think of, but instead, was rather bitter and they often blended it with other herbs and substances.
- Almost all of the Aztec gods had two faces as well as two sides to represent their good and bad personalities.
- To satisfy their gods, the Aztecs killed from 500-700 people each year; most were captured prisoners.
- The Aztecs constructed their temples with huge stones. The average stone weighed 44 tons.
- The Aztec solar calendar proved that they were masters of astronomy and the earth. It had 365 calendar days