According to their own history, the Aztecs, who called themselves the Tenochca or Mexica, started as a small nomadic tribe originating from a place called Aztlan.
Aztlan existed somewhere in the southern part of California or the north west of Mexico. At this time they were Nahuatl speaking. During the twelfth century they started a period of wandering and in the thirteenth century they came across Mexico’s central valley. There they decided to settle.
The reason for this is a prophecy. The prophecy said that when they saw an eagle sitting on a cactus with a snake in its mouth that was where they were to build their great civilization. For that reason they called it Tenochtitlan, meaning place of the cactus. Since the prophecy was filled upon an island in the middle of a small lake, called Lake Texcoco, land became short. They built Tenochtitlan in the year thirteen twenty five BC. They started as a small struggling village continually fighting with other Mexican city-states.
Tenochtitlan acted as a place of refuge.
Aztec Empire At first the Aztecs where ruled by the mightiest of the city-states in central Mexico known as Azcapotzlaco. They helped Azcapotzlaco to conquer surrounding territory in the early fourteen hundreds. By fourteen twenty-eight they had Azcopotzlaco itself with the help of neighboring allies. Tenochtitlan, by the year fourteen thirty-one, with an alliance with the neighboring city-states of Texcoco and Tlacopan had become and independent city-state itself. This triple alliance of three city-states soon controlled all of Mexico’s central valley. Tenochtitlan, as the dominate city-state in this alliance, became a base for a program of military expansion and conquest. However the program was left incomplete even when the empire fell to the Spaniards. To connect the Capitol to the mainland the Aztecs built a network of canals, bridges and three stone causeways. Aztecs didn’t rule directly over the lands they concord. Instead they demanded tribute such as food, clothing, woven blankets, precious stones, furs, feathers, fine woods and slaves or captives.
As a result these products became available in the marketplace and common in people’s homes. The emperor’s power came from his control of the military, wich was exceedingly large. Under him was his chief deputy, who would communicate with the gods and relate the gods wishes to the Emperor.
Below him there was a council of four noble princes and three honored classes of warriors who managed day to day affairs in the empire. Below them were four social classes, nobles, commoners, serfs and slaves. Nobles: the nobles owned private plots of land or shared land with other families. Commoners: The commoners were the largest group who included priests, merchants, artisans, and farmers who held land in common with the nobles. Serfs: The majority of the serfs farmed the nobles land. Slaves: The slaves were the lowest class of people. They were socially equal with the criminals and people who could not pay debts. Also woman and children who were prisoners of war worked as slaves for the nobles.
Aztec culture For one hundred years the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan held the greatest amount of power in all of Mexico. Following the model of established town dwellers, who had been living there for over one thousand years, they became civilized and sophisticated.
The Aztec civilization was made up of many loosely connected urban communities. Each local group of citizens owned a piece of land. Those groups of people were called a capulli. Each capulli consisted of a few families that jointly owned a piece of land. Since the people were generally farmers, a part of the annual crop that was harvested from the land was given to the state as a kind of tax. As the empire started to grow land for farming became tight. One of the Aztecs greatest innovations was the chinampas, witch were rafts on witch mud from the bottom of the lake, wich was extremely fertile, was piled and crops grew from that. With this innovation the Aztec empire surged to near three hundred thousand people. This resent growth made it bigger than any European city at that time. Tenochtitalan became large and many open plazas and market places. In these market places were products being sold by merchants that traveled all over mesoamerica thus resulting in rare commodities becoming commonplace. Aztec technology was dependant upon human skills rather than upon mechanical equipment. Although the wheel was known to the Aztecs it wasn’t utilized. It was only used for childrens pull-along toys. No vehicles incorporated the wheel, and machines didn’t use rotary motion. Iron was unknown to the Aztecs as was steel. Copper and bronze were known however, and they were used in tools. Aztec jewelers made beautiful jewelry out of gold, silver and other known alloys. Glass, glazes, gunpowder, plows and alphabetic writing, wich were common among Spaniards, didn’t exist in Mexico. However lack of these seemingly precious items didn’t stop the Aztecs from making art and architecture that was amazing to the Europeans. Wheat, barley, cattle, horses, sheep, and goats were absent from Mexico until they were introduced by the Europeans. Without these things the Aztecs were surprisingly efficient farmers who fully utilized the use of irrigation, terracing, and fertilization of the fields.
As the Spanish invaders soon found and became appreciative of, Aztec Mexico was very rich and civilized although it’s customs and technology differed greatly from that of Europe. The state controlled almost every aspect of the Aztecs life. Another thing that amazed the spaniards was the Aztecs complex calendar. It consisted of twenty named days, with symbols for each day, that was based on the motion of the sun. The Aztec calendar has been proven incredibly accurate by today’s scientists, in fact it has been proven more accurate than our own. It was not uncommon for the name of an Aztec child to have the name of the day on which it was born. All of the Aztecs boys and girls were required to attend school. Schooling for boys mainly consisted of the martial arts and warfare as the main area of study for girls was homemaking and weaving. Both boys and girls could learn how to read, interpret the calendar, use machinery, make prophecies and debate. Both boys and girls were required to learn about Aztec history as well as religion. Aztec Religion As most of Mexico, the Aztecs worshiped many gods, each of which demanded sacrifices and offerings. The Aztecs considered themselves the chosen people of HUITZILOPOCHTLI, the sun and war god, for who they conquered all surrounding lands. Huitzilopochtli shared the main temple, a pyramid at the center of Tenochtitlan, with Tlaloc, the rain god. Who was very important to farmers in a land where they were always threatened with drought. Another god of importance was QUETZALCOATL, the feathered serpent, patron of the arts and crafts and the god of self sacrifice. In fact this god was so important that in a year the Aztecs were said to have sacrificed twenty thousand prisoners. This was because it was the custom to sacrifice every male prisoner. The woman and children prisoners were sold into slavery to live a life of service to the nobles. Sacrifice was also important because the Aztecs believed that the sun ran off blood.