The Aztec Civilization

The Aztec empire was one of the first places in the world to have mandatory education for everyone. As education was becoming more and more important around the world the people of the Aztec empire were already way ahead. Many countries had education for the upper classes, but Aztec education was important no matter your gender, rank or age. The Aztecs built a huge city over over a lake and was called Texcoco, which is now Mexico City.

Throughout the Aztec empire they built temples and pyramids of stone. They built pyramids to get closer to their gods, they were built based on astronomy in shape and size. The Aztecs were also good at making tools to make work easier, they used wood and metal for farming tools and used volcano rocks for blades. The Aztecs had no iron or bronze with which to make their tools and weapons.

They had to develop a means for creating effective tools and weapons without the benefit of these metals. Many Aztec tools were made with obsidian and chert. Near the time they were overcome by Spanish conquistadors, advances in Aztec technology had lead to the making tools with copper. Axe blades were being made with either stone or copper. Aztec technology was so advanced that they even made drills that were made of reed or bone. The Aztecs came up with their own calendar Xiuhpohualli that had 365 days and it divided the days and rituals between the gods.

The Aztecs made pottery of all shapes and sizes depicted a variety of designs that were meaningful to the Aztec culture and religion. The designs typically placed on the pottery were meant to depict or pay respect to specific Aztec gods or to represent an Aztec tribe. In addition to the pottery made of clay, the Aztecs showed their religion through a variety of sculptures made of stones. They spent days carving idols as well as wall sculptures to be placed within their temples.

In general, the stone sculptures were created to represent their gods or the sacrificial victims. The Aztecs carved small but realistic figures of animals and people out of jade, obsidian, and quartz. A famous form of Aztec art is the ancient pictographs. Pictographs were small pictures that represented objects or sounds. These Aztec drawings were used within their counting system. The Aztec counting system was based on 20. A picture of a flag was used to represent this number. A picture of a fir tree was used to represent 400 and a picture of a pouch represented 8000. This highly advanced form of Aztec art was also used to record their history and to do business.

The exact origins of the Aztec people are unknown, but are believed to have begun as a northern tribe of hunter gatherers whose name came from their homeland, Aztlan. The Aztecs were also known as the Tenochca, which is the name for their capital city, Tenochtitlan, but would later be replaced with Mexica. The Aztecs appeared in Mesoamerica as the south-central region of pre Columbian Mexico is known in the early 13th century.

Their arrival came just after the fall of the previously dominant Mesoamerican civilization, the Toltecs. When the Aztecs saw an eagle perched on a cactus on the marshy land near the southwest border of Lake Texcoco, they took it as a sign to build their civilization there. They emptied the swampy land and constructed artificial islands on which they could plant gardens and established the foundations of their capital city, Tenochtitlán.

In 1325 AD typical Aztec crops included maize,corn, along with beans, squashes, potatoes, tomatoes and avocados they also supported themselves through fishing and hunting local animals such as rabbits, armadillos, snakes, coyotes and wild turkey. Their relatively sophisticated system of agriculture including intensive cultivation of land and irrigation methods and a powerful military tradition would enable the Aztecs to build a successful empire.

Aztec rituals and religious symbols fill the civilization’s life with religious meaning throughout the year. Every month had at least one major religious ceremony honoring the gods. Most of the ceremonies were related to the agricultural season for the sowing of corn or the harvest of fruits. In almost all major ceremonies an individual was chosen to impersonate a god and dress as him or her. This person would be treated as if he was the god until the time of sacrifice.

Depending on if the ceremonies celebrated or invoked fertility, sacred mountains, planting, renewal, trade or hunting, people fasted and feasted, dressed in their finest and danced to music in the great public plazas of Aztec cities. The priesthood organized and guided all the religious ceremonies, arranging for every necessary component and making sure they ran smoothly. Human sacrifice was the important, even vital, to the Aztecs.

They embraced human sacrifice because their gods, all the gods, had sacrificed their blood and lives in creating the world and everything in it, including humans. To honor the sacrifice of the gods, man had to sacrifice his blood and life. To this end, most Mesoamerican cultures featured human sacrifice, and most Aztecs went to the sacrifice willingly. We will discuss this in greater detail in another article.

In November 1519, Cortes and his men arrived in Tenochtitlan, where Montezuma, and the Aztec people greeted them as honored guests according to Aztec custom. Though the Aztecs had large numbers, their weapons were inferior, and Cortes was able to immediately take Montezuma and his lords hostage, gaining control of Tenochtitlan. The Spaniards then killed thousands of Aztec nobles during a ritual dance ceremony, and Montezuma died under while he was imprisoned.

Cuauhtemoc, Montezuma’s young nephew, took over as emperor, and the Aztecs tried to drive the Spaniards from the city. With the help of the Aztecs’ native rivals, Cortes mounted an army against Tenochtitlan, finally defeating Cuauhtemoc’s resistance on August 13, 1521. In all, about 240,000 people were believed to have died in the city’s conquest, which finally ended the Aztec civilization. After his victory, Cortes razed Tenochtitlan and built Mexico City on its ruins, it quickly became the premier European center in the New World.

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