History of the Aztec Empire

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History of the Aztec Empire


The center of the Aztec civilization was the Valley of Mexico, a
huge, oval basin about 7,500 feet above sea level. The Aztecs were formed
after the Toltec civilization occurred when hundreds of civilians came
towards Lake Texcoco. In the swamplands there was only one piece of land
to farm on and it was totally surrounded by more marshes. The Aztec
families somehow converted these disadvantages to a mighty empire known as
the Aztec Empire. People say the empire was partially formed by a deeply
believed legend. As the legend went, it said that Aztec people would
create an empire in a swampy place where they would see an eagle eating a
snake, while perched on a cactus, which was growing out of a rock in the
swamplands. This is what priests claimed they saw when entering the new
land.

By the year 1325 their capital city was finished. They called it
Tenochtitlan. In the capital city, aqueducts were constructed, bridges
were built, and chinapas were made. Chinapas were little islands formed by
pilled up mud. On these chinapas Aztecs grew their food. The Aztec Empire
included many cities and towns, especially in the Valley of Mexico. The
early settlers built log rafts, then covered them with mud and planted
seeds to create roots and develop more solid land for building homes in
this marshy land. Canals were also cut out through the marsh so that a
typical Aztec home had its back to a canal with a canoe tied at the door.
In the early 1400s, Tenochtitlan joined with Texcoco and Tlacopan, two
other major cities in the Valley of Mexico. Tenochtitlan became the most
powerful member of the alliance. Montezuma I ruled from 1440 to 1469 and
conquered large areas to the east and to the south. Montezuma's successors
expanded the empire until it extended between what is now Guatemala and
the Mexican State of San Luis Potosi. Montezuma II became emperor in 1502
when the Aztec Empire was at the height of its power. In 1519, the Spanish
explorer Hernando Cortes landed on the East Coast of Mexico and marched
inland to Tenochtitlan. The Spaniards were joined by many of the Indians
who were conquered and forced to pay high taxes to the emperor. Montezuma
did not oppose Cortes because he thought that he was the God Quetzalcoatl.
An Aztec legend said that Quetzalcoatl was driven away by another rival
god and had sailed across the sea and would return some day. His return
was predicted to come in the year Ce Acatl on the Aztec Calendar.

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This
corresponded to the year 1519. Due to this prediction, Montezuma II
thought Quetzalcoatl had returned when Cortes and his troops invaded. He
did not resist and was taken prisoner by Cortes and his troops. In 1520,
the Aztecs rebelled and drove the Spaniards from Tenochtitlan, but
Montezuma II was killed in the battle. Cortes reorganized his troops and
resurged into the city. Montezuma's successor, Cuauhtemoc, surrendered in
August of 1520. The Spaniards, being strong Christians, felt it was their
duty to wipe out the temples and all other traces of the Aztec religion.
They destroyed Tenochtitlan and built Mexico City on the ruins. However,
archaeologists have excavated a few sites and have uncovered many remnants
of this society. Language: The Aztec spoke a language called Nahuatl
(pronounced NAH waht l). It belongs to a large group of Indian languages,
which also include the languages spoken by the Comanche, Pima, Shoshone
and other tribes of western North America. The Aztec used pictographs to
communicate through writing. Some of the pictures symbolized ideas and
others represented the sounds of the syllables.

Food:

The principal food
of the Aztec was a thin cornmeal pancake called a tlaxcalli. (In Spanish,
it is called a tortilla.) They used the tlaxcallis to scoop up foods while
they ate or they wrapped the foods in the tlaxcalli to form what is now
known as a taco. They hunted for most of the meat in their diet and the
chief game animals were deer, rabbits, ducks and geese. The only animals
they raised for meat were turkeys, rabbits, and dogs. Arts and Crafts: The
Aztec sculptures, which adorned their temples and other buildings, were
among the most elaborate in all of the Americas. Their purpose was to
please the gods and they attempted to do that in everything they did. Many
of the sculptures reflected their perception of their gods and how they
interacted in their lives. The most famous surviving Aztec sculpture is
the large circular Calendar Stone, which represents the Aztec universe.
Religion: Religion was extremely important in Aztec life. They worshipped
hundreds of gods and goddesses, each of whom ruled one or more human
activities or aspects of nature. The people had many agricultural gods
because their culture was based heavily on farming. The Aztecs made many
sacrifices to their gods. When victims reached the altar they were
stretched across a sacrificial stone. A priest with an obsidian knife cut
open the victim's chest and tore out his heart. The heart was placed in a
bowl called a chacmool. This heart was used as an offer to the gods. If
they were in dire need, a warrior would be sacrificed, but for any other
sacrifice a normal person would be deemed sufficient. It was a great honor
to be chosen for a sacrifice to the gods. The Aztec held many religious
ceremonies to ensure good crops by winning the favor of the gods and then
to thank them for the harvest. Every 52 years, the Aztec held a great
celebration called the Binding up of the Years. Prior to the celebration,
the people would let their hearth fires go out and then re-light them from
the new fire of the celebration and feast. A partial list of the Aztec
gods: CENTEOTL, The corn god. COATLICUE, She of the Serpent Skirt, EHECATL,
The god of wind. HUEHUETEOTL, The fire god. HUITZILOPOCHTLI, The war/sun
god and special guardian of Tenochtitlan. MICTLANTECUHTLE, The god of the
dead. OMETECUHLTI and his wife OMECIHUATL, They created all life in the
world. QUETZALCOATL, The god of civilization and learning. TEZCATLIPOCA,
The god of Night and Sorcery. TLALOC, The rain god. TONATIUH, The sun god.
TONANTZIN, The honored grandmother. XILONEN, "Young maize ear," Maize
represents a chief staple of the Aztecs. XIPE TOTEC, The god of springtime
and re-growth. Aztec dances: The Aztec Dance is known for its special way
of expressing reverence and prayer to the supernatural gods of the sun,
earth, sky, and water. Originally, the resources accessible to the native
Indians were limited, yet they were able to create lively music with the
howling of the sea conch, and with rhythms produced by drums and by dried
seeds which were usually tied to the feet of the dancers.

Summary:

Overall,
I feel that the Aztec civilization was very advanced. It had a very
complex structure in which there were lower class, middle class and upper
class peoples. They had a good system of transportation and irrigation
through the use of canals. They had a strong warfare system, which was
seen by their conquering of many lands. They also had their own language,
and their own mathematical system. Their scholars were also very
intelligent, they had developed their own system of time measurement and a
calendar system that was very accurate.

References: 1) Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia Version 7.0.5 CD-ROM
Grolier Inc.1995 2) Microsoft Encarta 96 CD-ROM Microsoft, 1996

3) Internet Addresses: http://www.mexicana.com/english/community/29nf-
aztec.shtml
http://udgftp.cencar.udg.mx/ingles/Precolombina/Azteca/mexintro.h tml
http://www.rmplc.co.uk/eduweb/sites/wickham/topics/aztecs/aztecs. html


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