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While the Mayan civilization was expanding to the south, other high cultures were evolving in central Mexico. The greatest empire of Mesoamerica, the Aztec, was on the rise. J.M. S.T. A.F.
The Valley of Mexico, a mountain basin 7,000 feet above sea level, served as the home base of the Aztecs. The valley contained many shallow lakes, volcanic mountains, available resources, and fertile soil. Due to these advantages, the Valley of Mexico attracted many settlers such as the Toltecs and the people of Teotihuacan who arrived before the Aztecs. The Aztecs, who were then called Mexica, were poor, nomadic people from the harsh deserts of northern Mexico. They first arrived and settled in the Valley of Mexico in A.D. 1200. By then, it was home to numerous small city-states that had survived the fall of the previous rulers, the Toltecs. These fierce and ambitious travelers quickly adapted to native ways. According to legend, the Aztecs’ sun god, Huitzilopichtli, told them to find a city of their own. They found such a place on a small island in Lake Texcoco, at the center of the valley. In 1325, they founded their city named Tenochtitlan. Like the early Egyptians on the Nile River, the swampy yet rich grounds allowed for suitable farming. Maize, corn, cocoa beans, and cotton were their main means of prosperity. In order to feed such a large population and to gain wealth, the Aztec’s built chinampas , or farm plots. This location would be key to the way in which their city flourishes. A.F.
By the early 1500s, Tenochtitlan had become a thriving urban center. With an impressive population of over 200,000 people, it was larger than any other European capital of the time. In order to connect with other lands for business, the Aztec engineers built three raised roads called causeways over the water and marshland in 1350 .However, many cities surrounded the lake that Tenochtitlan was located on; therefore, it created a tightly packed concentration of people in the Valley of Mexico. The Aztecs controlled a broad trading network which brought many products from faraway regions to the capital in Tenochtitlan. The market of Tlatelolco was the economic heart of the city. The market sold many products produced by the chinampas. Palaces, temples, markets, and residential districts were connected by streets and avenues of Tenochtitlan. The center of the city was made up of a giant walled complex filled with palaces, temples, and government buildings. The main structure in the complex was the Great Temple, a huge pyramid with twin temples at the top serving as the Aztec religious center. Canals divided the city which allowed canoes to transport people and goods directly into the center of the city. Aqueducts and irrigation systems allowed for fresh water in from the mainland. A.F.
Stone workers- carved statues from rocks and objects made of green jade, black obsidian, and transparent crystals. Stone-workers were educated at youth and the skills they learned were passed on from worker to worker. To create a statue, the Aztecs would use simple tools made out of wood, rock and bones.
Scribes - painted pictograms using their language of N’ahuatle to record events. The Aztecs used vegetables, insects, shells, and raw materials to create colors. To enhance the colors, oil was added to the paintings.
Potters - made clay pots with their hands or carved it. The Aztecs would design the inside of the pot and then paint it. Only used two colors were usually used. These elaborately designed pots were
created for the ruler or the wealthy.
Feather workers – created beautiful head dresses made from tropical birds which were worked into designs. These workers would make clothing for nobility and royalty.
FUN FACT: Montezuma 2’s headdress was made from the feathers of over 250 birds!
In general, there were only two social classes in the Aztec empire, the nobles and the commoners. In those two classes, many positions occurred that worked like sub-classes. Military leaders, government officials, and priests made up the noble class. Nobles had many privileges, they were allowed to extend their education to a far extent, to dress in fancy clothes, decorate their houses, and to hold important government offices. Commoners were merchants, artisans, soldiers and farmers who owned their own land. Slaves were captives who did many jobs. As for the highest class, the emperor was at the top and was treated as a god. Common people were called the macehualli . Macehualli could be people who worked land or tenants, and some slaves. Unlike other civilizations, slavery was not hereditary and there were ways for a slave to gain freedom. Someone could sell them self as a slave if they were facing economic difficulty. The status of positions sometimes changed in society, as the culture got more efficient. For example, as farming became more efficient, less people were needed to farm and jobs like craftsman and merchants made a higher social status in society. In the Aztec society, classes were not hereditary, but in ruling positions preference was given to those on the royal families. There were ways for commoners and nobles to move up or down in sub-class or class. For instance, if a warrior captured many prisoners they could be knighted. This would be a major step up the social ladder. J.M.
Religon was very important to the Aztecs. They were mainly influenced by Mesoamerican peoples, especially the ToltecsAztec religion was primarily focused on the god Huizilopochtlid who was the god of the sun and war. The Aztecs built large temples that resembled pyramids. These temples were large and tall to be closer to the sun god in the sky. They preformed human sacrifices because they believed they owed a “blood-dept” to the gods which they paid back by giving up lives. In order to carry out such sacrifices, they depended on a steady supply of war captives to kill which they did on God’s Feast Day. Also, they carried out elaborate public ceremonies designed to communicate and win over the gods.The Aztecs had a religious calendar which was a 260 day cycle called tonalpohualli. Tonalpohualli means “the count of days”. Their calendar was filled with religious festivals.
In Aztec life piests and religious officials where important and held higher positions in society
By 1596 A.D. the Aztec empire controlled fifteen million people who lived in thirty-eight different provinces in 800,000 square miles of land in what is now central Mexico. The Aztecs formed an alliance with Texcoco and the Tlacopan to become a major powers in central Mexico. They were called the Triple Alliance. As a source of income, they depended on tributes paid by conquered people. To conquer neighboring regions, the Aztecs had different types of weapon. Among them were the bow and arrow, slings, atlatls, spears, clubs, and macuahuitl. The atlatls was almost like hand held spears or dart launchers. The macuahuitl was a long piece of wood with blades made of obsidian or flint on each side. Aztec warfare was complex, organized, and ritualistic. Warriors were important in Aztec society. Young men would be initiated into the army after the made their first capture. Warriors would be given lip plugs made of polished stone that would change as the soldier got higher up in ranks, showing others that he was "mighty in battle However, life expectancy of an Aztec soldier was short, but they would live a rich life they could own tax free land and eat food that was normally reserved for nobles S.T.
As like many other empires, it takes a lot of factors that build up to cause an empire to fall. The unfortunate events in categories like war, disease, religion, invasions and bad rulers are the types of things that caused the Aztec Empire to fall. One thing that helped cause the empire to fall was the ritual Aztec sacrifice. This killed thousands of people and that is not good for a society. Disease also had an impact on the fall of this empire. Smallpox was brought to the civilization from slaves of a Spanish army and spread among the population. There was no knowledge about this disease or an idea how to treat it. By 1520, during the siege of Tenochtitlan the population was not only low on food but dying of smallpox.It is said that smallpox killed 25% of the empire. Problems first started occurring badly when in 1502 a new emperor, Montezuna II took the throne. He tried to control the population of Tenochitlan by calling for even more tribute and sacrifice, but that only started a period of rebellion that the military had to fight. As these problems simmered, more threats occurred such as the arrival of the Spanish and another empire developing only a little further south in the mountain valleys of the Andes. This was the Inca that would transcend the Aztec Empire in land area, power, and wealth. J.M.
Schmal, John P.. "History of Mexico - The Aztec Empire." Houston Institute for Culture . N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2011. <http://www.houstonculture.org/mexico