Teacher’s notes: The Aztecs created more useable land by filling in marshlands and swamps. They created even more by building dikes to hold back the water.
The Awesome Aztecs
Introduction The Aztec tribe lived in ancient Mexico for about 400 years. For the first 200 years, the Aztecs were constantly on the move. No one wanted the Aztecs as neighbors. The Aztecs practiced human sacrifice. They believed that if their gods were not fed, they would not do their jobs. The sun god would not bring up the sun, and everyone would die.
Introduction To keep their gods happy, the Aztecs believed that human sacrifice was necessary. They used people to feed their hungry gods. Some of the people they sacrificed were Aztecs. However, most of the people they sacrificed were captured from neighboring tribes. This did not make them popular with their neighbors. Sooner or later, their neighbors would band together to chase the Aztecs away.
Settlement When the Aztecs first arrived in the Valley of Mexico, other tribes were already living on the best land in the area. This time, rather than fight for the best land or for captives to feed their hungry gods, the Aztecs quietly settled along the swampy shores of Lake Texcoco. They built canoes so they could fish, hunt waterfowl, and trade with other tribes for the building materials they needed.
Free School for Everyone To build the city they wanted, they knew that they would need many engineers, builders, and traders. This required an educated population. To solve this problem, the Aztecs set up a system of public schools. Attendance was mandatory for all Aztec children, even girls and slaves. The Aztecs were the only people up to that time in history to have free schools that every child had to attend.
All-Girls School There were three different schools: one for girls, and two for boys. Girls learned about religion and were trained to be good wives and mothers. They learned how to cook, sew, and how to care for their children. They also learned how to make beautiful woven textiles.
Sons of the Upper Class Sons of the upper class went to the nobles’ school. Sons of wealthy traders and merchants also went to this school. They studied law, writing (hieroglyphics), medicine, engineering and building, interpretation of dreams and omens, and self-expression. They also learned about their history and religious beliefs. It was a tough school. The boys were humiliated and tormented to toughen them up.
Sons of Commoners and Slaves The other boys’ school was for sons of commoners. Its main goal was to train warriors and farmers. Boys had to sleep under skimpy blankets. They were given hard bread to eat. The commoners’ school also taught history, religion, manners, correct behavior, and important rituals, along with singing and dancing.
Specialized Professions No matter which school an Aztec boy attended, he was trained to be a specialist. Boys studied how to be farmers, traders, engineers, builders, astronomers, and doctors. Students who became builders and engineers designed and built the amazing Aztec cities, including the capital city of Tenochtitlan, located on the swampy shores of Lake Texcoco.
Floating Gardens As the Aztec population grew, more food was needed. To solve this problem, Aztec engineers created “floating” gardens. They built a series of rafts, which they anchored to the lake bed. They piled on dirt and grew crops. They made walkways out of mud and reeds to connect the floating rafts. The gardens were quite successful. The Aztecs grew chili peppers, squash, corn, tomatoes, and beans.