are a MesoAmerican people
of central Mexico tribe with a rich mythology and cultural heritage. In
Nahuatl, the native language of the Aztecs, "Aztec" means "someone who
comes from Aztlán". The Aztec also referred to themselves as the
, the origin of the name "Mexico". The
modern usage of the name Aztec was suggested by Alexander von Humboldt.
Aztecs creation myth describes four great ages preceding the present world
which ended in catastrophes. Fifth age lived due to sacrifice of a hero
that was transformed into the Sun.
According to legend, they traveled to the Lago de Texcoco in Central
Mexico from a place to the north called Aztlán. They were said
to be guided by their god Huitzilopochtli. When they arrived at an island
in the lake they saw an eagle eating a snake while perched on a nopal cactus,
which was taken as a sign that they should found their new home on that
spot. The Aztec built their city of Tenochtitlan on that site, which
today is in the center of Mexico City. The legendary eagle is pictured
on the Mexican flag.
Rise of Aztecs
There were twelve rulers of Tenochtitlan:
Legendary Founder: Ténoch
1440: Moctezuma I
1486: Auítzotl (sometimes spelled "Ahuitzotl")
1502: Moctezuma II (the famous "Montezuma")
Initially Mexica hired themselves as mercenaries in wars between Toltecs.
Eventually they gained enough to glory to receive royal marriages. Mexica
rulers Acamapichtili, Huitzilíhuitl and Chimalpopoca were vassals of Tepanec
lord Tezozomoc in 1372-1427.
When Tezozomoc died, his son Maxtla assassinated Chimalpopoca whose
uncle Itzcoatl allied with ex-ruler of Texcoco, Nezhualcouyotl and besieged
Maxtla?s capital Azcapotzalco. Maxtla surrendered after 100 days and went
to exile. Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlapocan formed an alliance that came
to dominate the Valley of Mexico, and then extend its power beyond. Tenochtitlan
gradually became the dominant power in the alliance.
Itzcoatl's nephew Motecuhzoma I inherited the throne in 1449 and expanded
the realm. His son Axayacatl (1469) surrounded the kingdom oa Axayacatl
and took control of Mixtechs and Zapotecs. In 1481 his son Tizoc ruled
briefly before he was replaced by his younger brother Ahuitzol who reorganized
the army. The empire was in its largest during his reign. His successor
was Motecuhzoma II (better know as Moctezuma II)
The Aztec Empire
is not completely accurate analogy to the empires
of European history. It was ethnically very diverse. The most important
official of Tenochtitlan government is often called The Aztec Emperor
His title huey tlatoque
translates as Chief Speaker
office gradually took on more power with the rise of Tenochtitlan, and
by the time of Auitzotl "Emperor" is an appropriate analogy.
Aztec military had a equivalent to military service with a core of professional
warriors. Once an Aztec warrior had captured 4-5 of captives, he could
attain a rank of Eagle of Jaguar warrior.
Aztecs staple foods included maize, beans and squash. They also used
maguey extensively. Use of cotton and jewelry was restricted to the use
of the elite. Cocoa grains were used as money. Subjugated cities paid annual
tribute in form of luxury goods like feathers and adorned suits.
The Aztecs created artificial islands or chinampas on the Tenochtitlan
lake on which they cultivated.
Aztecs are notorious for their religious human sacrifice that they performed
in great numbers. Aztecs waged "flower wars" to capture prisoners to sacrifices
they called nextlaualli
, "debt payment to the gods" so that the
sun could rise every morning. Harvard professor David Carrasco has compared
this practice to "bringing home the war" in modern television.
Materialist anthropologist Marvin Harris has suggested that the flesh
of the victims was a part of aristocratic diet as reward, since the Aztec
diet was lacking in proteins. Accordin to him, the Aztec economy couldn't
support feeding them as slaves, so the columns of prisoners were "marching
meat". Most other historians of Mesoamerica believe that while there was
ritual cannibalism related to human sacrifices, human flesh was never a
significant portion of the Aztec diet.
The Aztec were conquered by Spain in 1521, when after long battle Cuautemoc
surrendered to Hernan Cortes. Cortes with his up to 500 men did not fight
alone but with maybe up to 150.000-200.000 allies from Tlaxcala and eventually
from Texcoco that resisted Aztec rule. He defeated Tenochtitlan's forces
in August 13 1521. Afterwards European-brought epidemies of smallpox and
typhus killed up to 75% of population. Mexico City was built on the ruins
Information about Aztecs survives in contemporary sources like Codex
Mendoza collected in 1541.
Nahuatl is still spoken by Mexican Indians.