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Aztecs (continued)

by Michael Sones

The Aztec tribe had arrived in the Valley of Mexico sometime in the early twelfth century. Their legendary homeland was Atzlan. It is the Sacrificial obsidian knivessource of their name and means 'people of heron place.' In the early 1400s they began the military and economic conquest of the region. Terror and human sacrifice were political instruments through which they kept the conquered territories subjugated.

The Aztecs were a very warlike people with a rigid class-based society of nobles, common people, serfs and slaves. Many of the slaves were captured in the almost perpetual warfare the Aztecs waged upon their neighbours. People who could not pay their debts were also enslaved. Religion was very important in their daily lives. One of the main reasons the Aztecs waged war was to ensure an adequate supply of sacrificial victims for their numerous gods especially the bloodthirsty hummingbird god of war, Huitzilopochtli [Weets-ee-loh-Poche-tlee], and the rain god, Tlaloc, to whom they also sacrificed infants. Despite their small size, hummingbirds are notoriously territorial and aggressive and it has been suggested that is why one of their war-gods was linked with such a delicate looking bird. Spaniards at the time of the conquest estimated that they sacrificed at least 20,000 victims a year. Aztec nobles also practiced cannibalism. The Aztecs had ritualized 'flower wars' [xochiyaotl-combining the words 'flower' and 'war' or 'enemy']with their neighbours at mutually agreed times. The purpose of these wars was to capture prisoners for sacrifice.

However, these undoubtedly savage people also had a system of schools and education. Despite the blood thirsty aspects of their culture there were also poets and philosophers among them. Flowers-and-song was their term for poetry, art and symbolism.

The Aztec economy was agriculture based and corn was the most important crop. However, the Aztecs also used the innovative chinampas which were floating islands of mud, held together by stakes, on lakes. This was an extremely effective method of farming.

Within approximately two years of the arrival of the Cortes and his Spanish conquistadors in 1519 the Aztec empire was destroyed. Their marvelous capital was reduced to ruins in a terrible battle in 1521. Many of the tribes that they had previously conquered had joined with the Spaniards against the Aztecs.

The Aztecs believed that the world had gone through a sequence of five creations. In Aztec mythology the first world was destroyed when Quetzalcoatl, the "Feathered Serpent", threw his brother Tezcatlipoca, "Lord of the Smoking Mirror", into the water and jaguars devoured the world. The second world was destroyed by Tezcatlipoca when he revenged himself upon Quetzalcoatl, throwing him off his throne, and destroying the world with hurricanes. The third world was destroyed by a fiery rain sent by Quetzalcoatl and the fourth world destroyed by a flood. The fifth world, the world in which the Aztecs lived, was as a result of the two brothers becoming trees and lifting the sky up over the earth. Quetzalcoatl took the bones of people drowned in the flood which destroyed the fourth world and mixed them with the blood of the gods to create people. Light was created when a god threw himself into a fire and became the sun.

The Aztecs believed that human sacrifice and their bloodletting rituals in which they pierced various parts of the body were necessary to stop the world from being destroyed.

The photos above are copyright Edgar Martin del Campo and used with his kind permission.

Aztec Sun Wheel

There is a good selection of books about the Aztecs here.

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