Objective: To examine the formation and expansion of the Aztec empire.
The Aztecs were a nomadic tribe. Their god Huitzilopochtli had commanded them to find an eagle devouring a snake, perched atop a cactus. After two hundred years of wandering, they found the promised sign on a small island in the swampy Lake Texcoco . It was there they founded their new capital, Tenochtitlan .
Mexican flag and coat of arms
By 1500, the Aztecs ruled millions of people
1400's - The Aztecs conquered neighboring peoples, becoming an empire.
Empire - a large group or government that controls other groups or governments
People revolted against high taxes and human sacrifices, only to lose to the powerful Aztec army.
Thousands of prisoners were sacrificed to the Aztec gods. Aztec Religion Religion was central to Aztec life. The sun god was especially important. An Aztec tzompantli, as illustrated in 1596. A tzompantli is a type of wooden rack used for the public display of human skulls, typically those of war captives or other sacrificial victims.
Typical Aztec Temple
The Aztecs believed that the sun god needed daily "nourishment" - that is, human blood and hearts - and that they, as the "people of the sun," were required to provide the sun god with his victims. Warriors who died in battle or on the sacrificial stone were called quauhteca ("the eagle's people"). It was believed that after their death the warriors first formed part of the sun's brilliance; then, after four years, they went to live forever in the bodies of hummingbirds.
The main attributes of the Aztec sun god, Huitzilopochtli, were a helmet in the form of a hummingbird head; a turquoise or fire serpent called xiuhcoatl , his magic weapon, in one hand; in the other, a shield with five feather ornaments; and a ritual paper flag complements his attributes.
Aztec historians recorded that in 1487, at the great pyramid of Tenochitilan, executioners sacrificed four lines of prisoners, each two miles long. But before they were ritualistically killed, the victims were forced to climb up the pyramid's two hundred and thirty seven steps. At the top were two killing rooms, with priests wielding sacrificial knives. Sacrifices were necessary to satisfy their hungry sun-god who demanded blood as payment for creating the world. The limbs of a victim would be given as a reward to the victim’s captor to be eaten. According to Aztec beliefs, the sacrifices were necessary to satisfy their hungry sun-god who demanded blood as payment for creating the world. If his gory fee were not paid, the sun would go out. Video: Human sacrifice at the pyramid at Tenochtitlan
Gladitorial combat sacrifice
Ancient Aztecs tending to chinampas
By the early 1500’s, the city of Tenochtitlan has a population of 200,000 and over 1 million in the Basin of Mexico (5 times larger than London at the time)
Autosacrifice was an indication of humility and an act of purification for whoever undertook it as an act of penitence. Widespread throughout the entire population, this practice was performed by perforating certain fleshy parts of the body, such as the earlobes, lips, tongue, chest, calves, et cetera, with obsidian blades, agave thorns or bone perforators made from eagle bones. Once the implement was covered with blood, it was inserted in straw balls called Zacatapayoli. The entirety was probably placed in ceremonial boxes called Tepetlacalli, as an offering to the gods.
The Aztec calendar consisted of a 365 day calendar cycle called xiuhpohualli (year count) and a 260 day ritual cycle called tonalpohualli (day count). These two cycles together formed a 52 year "century", sometimes called the " Calendar Round ".