The Aztec Civilization
What is Aztec civilization?
Around 1300 CE, a nomadic tribe of Indians wandered into the Valley of Mexico. These people were called the Aztecs. By 1325 CE, the Aztecs arrived and settled in present day Mexico City, and erected a big and immensely powerful city on a small island known as Tenochtitlan.
Floating islands at Aztecs
As the population of the Aztecs grew, the island became too small for them. So, they took a conscious decision to make the island bigger by building large wooden rafts. These rafts were then covered with mud and fastened to the lakebed with sturdy stakes. The people slowly started inhabiting these innovative floating pockets of land.
The Aztecs quickly adapted to their environment. They built wooden canoes and started fishing and hunting the birds that lived near the water. They fashioned floating farming areas for growing food. They created more agricultural land by filling in the marshes. The main food crops of their time were maize and beans.
Aztec’s religion and worship
Once the Aztecs were fully settled, they began to conquer the neighbouring tribes. It was mandatory for each vanquished tribe to pay tribute to the Aztecs in the form of food, precious stones, animals, clothing and of course, some men for sacrificing before the gods. In the Aztec society, a lot of emphasis was placed on religion and worship of gods. Aztecs worshipped a large number of gods, including a rain god, fire god, earth goddess and the sun. Aztecs believed that it was imperative for them to offer ‘human payment’—the sacrifice of a human being—to their gods.They constructed huge pyramid type structures for their gods and offered human sacrifices to their gods.
Important ruler for Aztec
The Aztecs called their ruler the ‘Tlatoani’. The Aztec Empire reached the acme of glory and prosperity under the rule of Tlatoani Montezuma I.
The Aztecs used a barter system to make their purchases; small purchases were made with cacao beans and bigger purchases were made with a special type of cotton cloth known as ‘Quachtli’.
Parenting in Aztec civilization
Aztec children were finely groomed by their parents. The children were motivated to shoulder their responsibilities and learn basic life skills by their parents. The parents warned their children to refrain from the vices of gambling, theft and drinking. If children disobeyed the parents, they were severely punished. One type of punishment was to force them to inhale the spicy smoke produced from chilly and pepper. Now, that was indeed very harsh on the part of Aztec parents!
Education and occupations in Aztec civilization
Children of the noble class of Aztecs attended ‘Calmecac’ (an educational institute) and the children of the workers’ class attended ‘Telpochcalli’ (vocational training institutes) where they were taught various occupational skills. The boys were also trained in warfare, good citizenship, culture and religion. The girls were trained to do household chores and were married at the age of fifteen. The Aztec men mainly engaged in farming, soldiering and trades like carpentry and metalwork. The womenfolk took care of the home, children, cooked food, wove cloth, and sometimes practiced medicine.
Collapse of Aztec empire
Around 1500 CE, Spanish soldiers happened to arrive in the Valley of Mexico. They were amazed to see the flourishing and prosperous Aztec civilization and decided to bring it under their command.
Though the Aztecs were fierce and valiant warriors, they had a slim chance of survival against the modern guns, cavalry and diseases that came along with the Spanish. By the mid-1500s, the Aztec Empire collapsed, and the Spanish took control over the entire region.
Even today, there are more than one million descendants of the ancient Aztecs living and working in Mexico. Thankfully, human sacrifice is no longer part of their rituals!
10 Interesting facts about Aztec civilization
- Aztec culture has a deep influence on the present day Mexican foods and recipes. Avocado, chocolate, chili and tomato are all Aztec words. Guacamole, tacos, and tamales that are widely used in Mexican cuisine date back to Aztec times.
- When a girl was born in an Aztec household, she was gifted with a small sewing kit. Baby boys were given a miniature shield and four small arrows.
- Aztec children played an interesting game known as ‘Tlachtli’. It was a ball game for teams much like a combination of basketball and soccer. Adult Aztecs engaged themselves in ‘Patolli’, a kind of gambling game played with pebbles and dried beans.
- The principle food of the Aztecs was tortillas.
- When a man tied the end of his dress to that of a woman, they were considered to be married. The woman could marry only once, while the men could marry a number of times.
- The Aztecs used to bury their dead. Women were buried with a sewing basket and men were buried with an assortment of weapons.
- It is believed that Aztecs sacrificed roughly 20,000 people every year. They often ate the people who were sacrificed as part of the sacrificial ritual.
- The Aztec calendar was divided into 18 months. Each month had 20 days. The last five days of the year, were considered as unlucky and the people preferred to stay indoors.
- The contemporary Aztec language is known as Nahuatl or Mexicano and is still spoken in various parts of Mexico.
- Aztec art is recognized as an integral part of Mexico’s heritage. Aztec painting and sculpture deeply influenced the modern Mexican artists.
Aztec civilization will always be remembered for its extensive religious life, intricate social organization, refined literature, and colossal works of sculpture.