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Aztec Civilization

Aztec Civilization - The Aztecs and Their Region
Most believe the Aztec civilization originated in the area of present day Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado. Historic accounts commonly begin in the late 12th century as they migrated to what is now central Mexico. Modern day Mexicans are of mixed Spanish and indigenous ancestry, descendants of the Mexicas (Aztecs) or of other indigenous peoples of the Aztec Empire and Mesoamerica. Mexico City now stands on the site of the Aztec’s most elaborate and capitol city.

The Aztecs were an advanced and prosperous civilization who built beautiful and sophisticated cities. At their peak, the Aztec civilization had about 15 million people who lived in nearly 500 communities. The Aztecs were culturally developed in music, arts, crafts, and the sciences. Music played an important role in Aztec religious rituals for worshiping their many gods. About 300,000 people lived in Tenochtitlan, their capitol. In this famous city, the government controlled and was responsible for punishment, agriculture, and all aspects of the civilization’s economy.

Aztec Civilization - The Aztec Economy
The early Aztec economy consisted of a type of barter system as this was a pre-capitalist society. Minor purchases were made with cacao beans imported from lowlands. In the marketplaces, a small rabbit might have been worth 30 beans, an egg cost 3 beans while larger purchases of cloth could range from 65 to 300 cacao beans.

The highly developed empire had an elaborate leadership and society that consisted of four classes.

  • Nobles (highest in power)
  • Commoners (the majority of population, were mostly farmers)
  • Serfs (worked land for the nobles)
  • Slaves (consisted of those captured and indebted who couldn’t pay)
Governmental office positions were usually inherited, but one could be awarded an office through exemplary service to the emperor. Slavery was quite common.

Aztec communities were heavily dependent upon agriculture with corn being the central crop; though they also relied somewhat on hunting and gathering. Crop surpluses were stored and used during hard times. The Aztec also had sophisticated irrigation systems, allowing them to farm otherwise dry lands. They farmed shallow lakes by scooping up mud and forming islands called chinampas. These islands provided very fertile land that was profitable for growing crops.

Aztec Civilization - The Aztec Life and Religion
The Aztec religion included human sacrifices in rich ceremonies to the gods. Dress was also important in all parts of Aztec life. The Aztecs worshiped hundreds of gods and goddesses; each represented a different aspect of life. Designing clothes, mainly in the upper class, was one form of art in the Aztec culture. Women usually made the clothing, and they richly decorated them with beads, flowers, and precious metals. Gold was often used and was abundant in the Aztec empire. In fact, the pursuit of gold was the main reason Cortez traveled to Mexico in 1519 (eventually leading to the Aztec demise).

Ceremonies were very important during the agricultural seasons to ensure good crops as well as for Coronations. During these ceremonies human sacrifices were given to the gods. Many of the sacrifices were war prisoners or children. They felt that human hearts and blood gave the gods strength and appeased them when they were angry. Large temples were built to celebrate the offering of sacrifices. The famous Sunstone Calendar, which was twelve feet in diameter, represented the Aztec universe. It is thought that the hearts of human sacrifices were placed on this stone and presented to the gods. The Aztecs believed in many gods, to whom they paid tribute daily. It is estimated that over a quarter of a million people were sacrificed each year by the Aztecs.

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