~Arrived as a clan based organization, then adapted political and social behaviors from neighboring agriculturalists of the valley.
~Strength of their military allowed growth of their empire, as they acquired more fertile land for agriculture they were able to support more people. From the 14 th century through the 16 th century they dominated most of Mesoamerica.
~War was a large part of their society, and their religion. They practiced human sacrifices t6 please their gods, and to reflect the cycle of life and death. They thought bloodshed would nourish the soil and believed that from death would come new life.
~Their Empire fell in the 16 th century when Mexico was conquered by the Spaniards. ~
Teotihuacán Place of the gods Before the Aztecs came to the valley of Mexico, ancient Indians built this huge city. At its peak, in the year 600 C.E., around 200,000 people lived here. The Aztecs found the place in ruins, but they were impressed with the buildings, and gave it the name Teotihuacán meaning place of the gods.
Aztec Architecture Click the following link to watch a short film on Aztec Architecture: http://www.clipblast.com/clip/2807834560/play/89b6a49894410ce2027edc6b147acc94
The main city Tenochtitlan was built on a island in Lake Texcoco. The city was divided into four sections:
Cuepopan- place where the flowers bloomed.
Moyotla- place of mosquitoes.
Atzacoalco- place of heron.
Teopan- place of the gods.
The Aztecs built a great temple dedicated to their gods which was located in the center of their main city, Tenochtitlan. Over time, the Aztecs rebuilt the main temple four times. Each new temple was built over the previous temple and every new temple was dated with the completion date engraved on the walls.
At the top of the temple, there were two shrines dedicated to the gods Huitzilopochtli, god of war and the sun, and Tlaloc, the god of rain.
The final height of the last temple stood over 200 feet high.
After the Spanish had conquered the Aztecs, the great temple of Tenochtitlan was knocked down and the stones were used to build a Christian church, which was later replaced by the Cathedral of Mexico City. It is estimated that some of the Aztec Empire and temples are buried 23 feet to 26 feet below ground.
Aside from the great temples of Tenochtitlan, the biggest building in the city were the palaces of the Aztec rulers. They were big buildings with hundreds of rooms which included workshops, libraries and market rooms. Each palace had a god and most buildings were surrounded by gardens canals, lakes, and bathing pools. Only Noble men were allowed to own two-story houses.
Most Aztec people lived in small one room houses built of mud- bricks and branches. Almost all houses had bath houses and furnace. Children from families that happen to die from many different causes, were sometimes buried under their family’s house. Aztec families were organized into groups or communities called Capulli. The Capulli became a work force housing area. They also had their own military school for young men.
Preserving the Past
Due to high demand of Aztec artifacts by rich private collectors, looters are breaking into tombs and burial chambers taking pottery, carvings, sculptures and many other findings. To this day, many archaeological sites are being robbed.
The pollution also affects the sits because of the acid from the rain eats away at the stonework of the temples. However, most temples still lay buried beneath Mexico City .
There are two Aztec calendars, the sacred calendar (Tonalpohualli), which is a 260 day ritual day count.
The Xiuhpohualli, which is a 365 day, 18 month calendar. Also known as Long Count
Each day sign is dedicated to a God and ruled by that God, dividing time up among the Gods. There are 20 day signs.
Nbr Day Sign God
Cuahtli Xipe Totec
WRITING Much of Aztec writings were drawings and symbols, each symbol depicting a word. Certain combinations of symbols or pictures would represent name of towns.
Colors were extremely important also, some of the symbols and pictures were so similar that they could only be distinguished from one another by color.
Paper was made out of fig trees, strips of bark were taken from the trees then pounded on hard pieces of wood.
The Aztecs were good record keepers. Merchants kept records of their goods and profits, each temple had its own library of religious and astrological works, records were also kept of taxes collected, lawsuits, maps, birth and death records.
The Aztec Painted Manuscript, known as Codex Mendoza, was written by an Aztec painted book artist by order of Don Antonio de Mendoza shortly after the Spanish conquest. A Spanish priest familiar with the Aztec language, Nauatl, was asked to write a detailed explanation of the contents, so that the Spanish emperor, Charles V, would be able to read it. As soon as it was finished, it was sent to Hispaniola (Santo Domingo) to join the fleet which was about to return to Europe. The Manuscript never made it to Charles V, the ship carrying it was seized by French men of war, and the manuscript was then in possession of Andr é Thevet, geographer to King Henri II of France (note his name at the top of this page of the manuscript). In 1583 Richard Hakluy, chaplain to the English ambassador of Paris, bought the book from Thevet. When Hakluy Died in 1616 the manuscript was passed to Samuel Purchas, a writer of books on travel. When Purchas died the book was passed to John Selden, and when he died it was given to the Bodleian Library in Oxford, where it still remains.
The manuscript consists of 71 folio pages divided in three parts.
The first is a copy of an ancient Mexican chronicle, which has not survived, of the “history from year to year” of the lords of Tenochtitlan, together with the lists of towns they subdued. It covers from 1325-1521.
This page tells us about four places. The most famous of the four is Xochimilco. Located near Mexico City, it is famous for its chinampas, or floating gardens. Living on an island, the Aztecs found land for agriculture hard to come by: they therefore devised these ingenious islands of mud held together with reeds, to grow their food. The place-names on this page are, from the top: “beside the woods”, “in the trees”, “in the place of the dung water” and “flowers on arable land” (Xochimilco). A little to the left, and there they are again, this time attached to a severed head. The text reads “the four heads mean those who were captured in the wars over these four towns, and whose heads were chopped off.”
The second part is a copy of an ancient document known as the Tribute Roll of Moctezuma , which has survived and is now located in the National Museum of Mexico, but it is not in as good of condition as the Codex Mendoza. This part tells of the tribute paid by over 400 towns to the last ruler of Ancient Mexico.
From the top: two large strings of jadeite beads: 2,400 handfuls of rich colored feathers as shown: two lots of 80 whole skins of the bird shown: 1,600 handfuls of rich feathers: 2 labrets of clear amber set in gold: forty tiger-skins; two hundred loads of cacao beans; 800 tecomates , or cups for drinking cocoa; lastly two pieces of clear amber, each the size of a brick.
The third part is the only original part of the Codex Mendoza, and describes life year to year of the Aztecs.
11 year old being held over foul smoke of burning axi fruit.
14 year old boy out fishing in his canoe on the lake.
An Aztec wedding; the bride is carried at night on the back of the match-maker into the bridegroom’s house, accompanied by four women lighting the way with pine torches.
An aged merry maker closing in on the pulque pot, (Aztec elders were allowed to drink liquor). The scribes text reads: “Old woman, wife of the old man in the drawing shown previously, who therefore had the privilege and liberty to get drunk like her husband, and because she had children and grandchildren; drunkenness was not prohibited to persons of that age.”
Aztec Religion The Aztecs had a god for almost everything in there lives. They had gods for children, maize (corn), wind, fire, and so on.
The Aztec life completely revolved around religion and it was the responsibility of a group of educated noblemen and powerful high priest to organize the festivals and carry out the sacrifices. The Aztec people believed that only these priests were capable of communicating with the gods.
It is estimated that over 100,000 people had been sacrificed to the Aztec Gods. Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain, kept their farm lands out of drought, while Huizilopochitli, the god of the sun and war, kept the world from ending.
The Aztecs believed that the gods fed off the blood of those who were sacrificed and without their blood, the gods would die and so would everything that they represented.
The Aztecs also believed that there had been four different time periods of the world. Each period had been destroyed by jaguars, wind, fire and water. They further believed that they lived during the fifth period and to keep the world from being destroyed by earthquakes, they sacrificed humans and animals to keep the sun rising everyday
They also believed in life after death, but the most important part of death was how you died and not the behavior in life. The way you died could promise you life after death..
Sacrifices usually involved the cutting out of hearts and beheadings, with their bodies being tossed down the temple steps. Bodies were also cut into pieces and eaten by warriors. Heads were placed on a head pole or racks for display. The most gift that could be given to the gods was life and was considered a noble thing to do.
The Aztec believed that the person being sacrificed automatically gained eternal life.
Aztecs believed that human sacrifice was necessary to keep the sun in motion. Flint knives were carried by warriors, they were also used for human sacrifices performed at the temples.
According to Aztec and Spanish writings, many children were drowned, and beheaded at maize festivals with hopes that their blood would bring good crops. The tears of a child were also considered a good omen for rain.
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WARRIORS Warriors were an important part of the Aztec era. At the age of 17 young men would join the army, they were always fighting their neighbors either to increase the size of their empire or to take captives, who were usually later sacrificed.
Sometimes prearranged battles called “Wars of the Flowers” were fought because men were needed for sacrifice. During battle, men were not meant to be killed but to be captured or forced to surrender. These captives were treated with respect and sometimes treated as well as family members until it came time to be sacrificed.
When warriors took captives they were awarded with distinctively designed costumes, the more captives the more elaborate the costumes.
Eagle and jaguar costumes were the most famous (and feared) among warriors, tunics and shields were very expensive, made of feather covered material or of animal pelts. A warrior’s insignia and protection was his helmet, depending on his costume the helmet would be in the shape of an eagle or a jaguar.
Warriors of course carried weapons, war clubs (maquahuitl) and spears, usually made of wood and obsidian. Shields were also carried, often made of jaguars skin with feathers (such as turkey or duck feathers), woolen slings to fire stones and bows and arrows. Aztec Weapons
CLOTHING Ancient Aztec clothing varied among the different social classes, the clothing did not completely cover the body and was generally loose fitting. Clothing was made from ayate fiber or cotton which women were taught how to weave together as young teenagers.
A simple loincloth was worn by slaves, for the men a triangular cloth (tilmatli or tilma) would also be worn as either a cloak or an apron used to carry things. The women would wear skirts and either short sleeved shirt or sleeve less blouse.
The upper class ancient Aztecs wore more prestigious clothing that was brightly colored, a lot of times with head dresses.
JEWELRY Aztec art and jewelry was usually owned and worn by the upper class. Emperors would often wear earrings and necklaces.
Materials used to make jewelry included; copper, gold, silver, clay, shells, wood, rock (such as obsidian), feathers, jade, opal, amethyst, turquoise and moonstone.
Most gold work from the Aztec era was melted down by the time of the Spanish conquest. An octopus fisherman found some Aztec gold in 1975, which is now on display in Veracruz, its known as Fishermans treasure.
PIERCINGS Body piercing was a regular part of ancient Aztec life. As with today the Aztecs would pierce lips, ears, noses and tongues.
Tongue piercing was performed in ritual form, this was done to draw blood and create and altered state of consciousness so that the Shaman or priest could communicate more effectively with the Gods.
Aztec Sculptures and Wood Work
Aztec stone sculptures used a variety of different stones for their sculptures from ordinary volcanic rock to high prized precious stone such as jade. Some stone sculptures were as small as religious shrines kept in houses, to objects as large as monuments of all sorts. Aztec carvers used simple stones and hardwood tools, fiber cords, water, and sand to carve the hard stones in to sculptures.
They also carved impressive images of gods, goddesses and animals such as serpents, for display in temples and public spaces in the city of Tenochtitlan and other prescient.
Sculptures of females are usually shown kneeling with their hands placed on their knees, while male figures are often sitting with their knees faced up and their arms crossed. Attributes, often including animal features such as fangs and claws, and attire specific to each deity such as headdresses, pectorals, and facial ornaments, which made them recognizable to the worshippers.
Many sculptures still exist despite massive destruction by the Spaniards, who considered them to be evil or associated with the devil. Many sacred temples displayed large scale stone decorations such as giant heads of serpents. The snake is the most common animal in Aztec art and was the most sacred. Some stone carvings were very life-like, while others were more symbolic which were displayed out side temple walls and stairways.
Drums, drum sticks, rattles, masks and wood statues are just some of the things that the Aztecs made from wood. Since the glory was to the gods and not man, many artists did not engrave or sign their work .
The Aztecs preferred to make sculptures out of stone, so terracotta sculptures are less common among Aztec artifacts. Except for a few hallow large pieces, most terracotta sculptures are small and solid, mold-made sculptures. Molds are used when mass producing an object, so there is reason to believe they were producing many of the same sculpture. Most likely for the home shrines of the common people. The main subjects are deities of nature and fertility, especially a mother holding a child.
The Aztecs made functional and ceremonial objects out of clay: Incense burners, dishes, stamps and spindle whorls. Many Aztec ceramic artifacts have decorations, but most are not as elaborate as the decorations in manuscripts or stone carvings.
Four major types of Aztec pottery are known, black designs on orange ground, black designs on red ground, black and white and sometimes yellow on a red ground, and designs with graphite paint.
Basic Aztec shapes are bowls, plates, cups, and pictures, the bowls and plates were often suported on three legs. (As shown below)
Aztec Music and Dancing
~Like most art, Aztec music and dance were preformed to please the gods.
~“Aztec music was a combination of dance, ritual, instruments, and vocals. Even whistling was incorporated into the music”
~Mistakes made while playing instruments were thought to be offensive to the gods
~Music was a way of life and used for a multitude of things including enjoyment, passing on culture, sharing and understanding religion, and for making an emotional connection with the events of life.
~Students between ages 12 – 15 would take music classes in school. They would learn important songs to their culture and how to play instruments.
~Nobles would sometimes have their own band, songwriters and dancers in their homes.
~Aztec dance was considered to be a prayer like ritual. It also expressed political, social, and cultural issues.
Types of Aztec Music
Sacred Hymns ~ To honor gods or deeds of great rulers. The gods Ometeotl, Tlaloc, Huitzilopochtli, and Tezcatlipoca were all honored by song. These hymns would often tell stories about gods, ask gods for rain or success in battle or to thank gods for gifts. Special ritual dances would often accompany these songs.
Cantares ~ These songs would often recount great deeds from the past, but had more mystical purpose than sacred songs. They were specifically sung at times of battle, specially trained singers, dancers and actors would take part in the ritual ceremony.
Songs of Everyday Life ~ Love songs, songs of energy and excitement.
Aztecs would symbolically portray the spirit world and get themselves into a trance as they sang and danced for hours on end. They believed there was a special connection with ancestors and gods at this time.
Drums The teponaztli, a sacred Aztec horizontal drum, played with mallets as shown above. Drums played a large part in Aztec Music. They would be played together with other instruments or alone, to lead warriors out to battle, for example. Both the teponaztli and the huehuetl drums were considered sacred. The huehuetl, a sacred upright skin drum The ayotl, drum made from turtle shell
Ayacachtlis These shakers played an important part in Aztec music. The Ayacachtli is a gourd shaped rattle, usually filled with beads or pebbles, with an attached handle, very similar to the maraca. . Coyolli Percussion Instruments The head of the shaker was often made to look like a flower and sometimes had feathers or tassels attached at the top. Jingles of various types. Clay, nutshells, dried fruit, gold, copper, or cocoons filled with sand. Strung together and worn by dancers around their necks, wrists, or ankles.
Flutes and Whistles Click Sound Icons to Hear Instrument T- Shaped Whistle Skull Shaped Whistle Small Whistle Double Pipe > <Single Pipe Bird Shaped Ocarina Turtle Shaped Ocarina
Aztec Art in the Modern World
As well as being on display in museums and at architectural ruin sites, ancient Aztec art can be seen today in the form of body art (tattoos).
Why do you think the Aztecs worshiped so many gods with such devotion? What is your favorite form of Aztec art and why? List at least 3 reasons. What did you like the most about our presentation and what could we have done to make it better?
Pasztory, Esther. Aztec Art. New York: Oklahoma Press, 1983
Sonneborn, Liz. The Ancient Aztecs New York: Scholastic, 2005
Odijk, Pamela, The Ancient World, The Aztecs. N.J.: The Mac million Company of Australia., 1989
Thomson, Ruth, Craft Topics, Aztecs. New York: Franklin Watts, 1992
Defrates, Joanna, What do we know about The Aztecs? New York, Peter Bedrick Books, 1992