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When used to describe ethnic groups , the term "Aztec" refers to several Nahuatl-speaking peoples of central Mexico in the postclassic period of Mesoamerican chronology, especially the Mexica, the ethnic group that had a leading role in establishing the hegemonic empire based at Tenochtitlan.
The term extends to further ethnic groups associated with the Aztec empire, such as the Acolhua, the Tepanec and others that were incorporated into the empire.
In older usage the term was commonly used about modern Nahuatl-speaking ethnic groups, as Nahuatl was previously referred to as the "Aztec language".
In recent usage, these ethnic groups are referred to as the Nahua peoples. To the Aztecs themselves the word "aztec" was not an endonym for any particular ethnic group.
Rather, it was an umbrella term used to refer to several ethnic groups, not all of them Nahuatl-speaking, that claimed heritage from the mythic place of origin, Aztlan.
In the Nahuatl language " aztecatl " means "person from Aztlan". Alexander von Humboldt originated the modern usage of "Aztec" in , as a collective term applied to all the people linked by trade, custom, religion, and language to the Mexica state and the Triple Alliance.
In , with the publication of the work of William H. Prescott on the history of the conquest of Mexico, the term was adopted by most of the world, including 19th-century Mexican scholars who saw it as a way to distinguish present-day Mexicans from pre-conquest Mexicans.
This usage has been the subject of debate in more recent years, but the term "Aztec" is still more common. Knowledge of Aztec society rests on several different sources: The many archeological remains of everything from temple pyramids to thatched huts, can be used to understand many of the aspects of what the Aztec world was like.
However, archeologists often must rely on knowledge from other sources to interpret the historical context of artifacts. There are many written texts by indigenous and Spaniards of the early colonial period that contain invaluable information about precolonial Aztec history.
These texts provide insight into the political histories of various Aztec city-states, and their ruling lineages. Such histories were produced as well in pictorial codices.
Some of these manuscripts were entirely pictorial, often with glyphs. In the postconquest era many other texts were written in Latin script by either literate Aztecs or by Spanish friars who interviewed the native people about their customs and stories.
An important pictorial and alphabetic text produced in the early sixteenth century was Codex Mendoza , named after the first viceroy of Mexico and perhaps commissioned by him, to inform the Spanish crown about the political and economic structure of the Aztec empire.
These annals used pictorial histories and were subsequently transformed into alphabetic annals in Latin script.
Spanish friars also produced documentation in chronicles and other types of accounts. Of key importance is Toribio de Benavente Motolinia , one of the first twelve Franciscans arriving in Mexico in Scholarly study of Aztec civilization is most often based on scientific and multidisciplinary methodologies, combining archeological knowledge with ethnohistorical and ethnographic information.
It is a matter of debate whether the enormous city of Teotihuacan was inhabited by speakers of Nahuatl, or whether Nahuas had not yet arrived in central Mexico in the classic period.
It is generally agreed that the Nahua peoples were not indigenous to the highlands of central Mexico, but that they gradually migrated into the region from somewhere in northwestern Mexico.
At the fall of Teotihuacan in the 6th century CE, a number of city states rose to power in central Mexico, some of them, including Cholula and Xochicalco, probably inhabited by Nahuatl speakers.
As the former nomadic hunter-gatherer peoples mixed with the complex civilizations of Mesoamerica, adopting religious and cultural practices, the foundation for later Aztec culture was laid.
After CE, during the postclassic period, a number of sites almost certainly inhabited by Nahuatl speakers became powerful. Among them the site of Tula, Hidalgo , and also city states such as Tenayuca , and Colhuacan in the valley of Mexico and Cuauhnahuac in Morelos.
In the ethnohistorical sources from the colonial period, the Mexica themselves describe their arrival in the Valley of Mexico.
Hence the term applied to all those peoples who claimed to carry the heritage from this mythical place. The most powerful were Colhuacan to the south and Azcapotzalco to the west.
The Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco soon expelled the Mexica from Chapultepec. In , Colhuacan ruler Cocoxtli gave them permission to settle in the empty barrens of Tizapan, where they were eventually assimilated into Culhuacan culture.
After living in Colhuacan, the Mexica were again expelled and were forced to moved. According to Aztec legend, in , the Mexica were shown a vision of an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus , eating a snake.
The vision indicated the location where they were to build their settlement. The year of foundation is usually given as In the Mexica royal dynasty was founded when Acamapichtli , son of a Mexica father and a Colhua mother, was elected as the first Huey Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan.
In the first 50 years after the founding of the Mexica dynasty, the Mexica were a tributary of Azcapotzalco, which had become a major regional power under the ruler Tezozomoc.
The Mexica supplied the Tepaneca with warriors for their successful conquest campaigns in the region and received part of the tribute from the conquered city states.
In this way, the political standing and economy of Tenochtitlan gradually grew. In , at Acamapichtli's death, his son Huitzilihhuitl lit.
In , Azcapotzalco initiated a war against the Acolhua of Texcoco and killed their ruler Ixtlilxochitl. Even though Ixtlilxochitl was married to Chimalpopoca's daughter, the Mexica ruler continued to support Tezozomoc.
Tezozomoc died in , and his sons began a struggle for rulership of Azcapotzalco. During this struggle for power, Chimalpopoca died, probably killed by Tezozomoc's son Maxtla who saw him as a competitor.
The Mexica were now in open war with Azcapotzalco and Itzcoatl petitioned for an alliance with Nezahualcoyotl , son of the slain Texcocan ruler Ixtlilxochitl against Maxtla.
Itzcoatl also allied with Maxtla's brother Totoquihuaztli ruler of the Tepanec city of Tlacopan. The Triple Alliance of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan besieged Azcapotzalco, and in they destroyed the city and sacrificed Maxtla.
Through this victory Tenochtitlan became the dominant city state in the Valley of Mexico, and the alliance between the three city-states provided the basis on which the Aztec Empire was built.
Itzcoatl proceeded by securing a power basis for Tenochtitlan, by conquering the city-states on the southern lake — including Culhuacan , Xochimilco , Cuitlahuac and Mizquic.
These states had an economy based on highly productive chinampa agriculture, cultivating human-made extensions of rich soil in the shallow lake Xochimilco.
Itzcoatl then undertook further conquests in the valley of Morelos , subjecting the city state of Cuauhnahuac today Cuernavaca. In , Motecuzoma I Ilhuicamina [nb 4] lit.
The accession of a new ruler in the dominant city state was often an occasion for subjected cities to rebel by refusing to pay tribute.
This meant that new rulers began their rule with a coronation campaign, often against rebellious tributaries, but also sometimes demonstrating their military might by making new conquests.
Motecuzoma tested the attitudes of the cities around the valley by requesting laborers for the enlargement of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan.
Only the city of Chalco refused to provide laborers, and hostilities between Chalco and Tenochtitlan would persist until the s. Motecuzoma therefore initiated a state of low-intensity warfare against these three cities, staging minor skirmishes called "Flower Wars" Nahuatl xochiyaoyotl against them, perhaps as a strategy of exhaustion.
Motecuzoma also consolidated the political structure of the Triple Alliance, and the internal political organization of Tenochtitlan. His brother Tlacaelel served as his main advisor Nahuatl languages: Cihuacoatl and he is considered the architect of major political reforms in this period, consolidating the power of the noble class Nahuatl languages: In , the next ruler became Axayacatl lit.
Axayacatl also conquered the independent Mexica city of Tlatelolco, located on the northern part of the island where Tenochtitlan was also located.
The Tlatelolca ruler Moquihuix was married to Axayacatl's sister, and his alleged mistreatment of her was used as an excuse to incorporate Tlatelolco and its important market directly under the control of the tlatoani of Tenochtitlan.
Axayacatl then conquered areas in Central Guerrero, the Puebla Valley, on the gulf coast and against the Otomi and Matlatzinca in the Toluca valley.
The Toluca valley was a buffer zone against the powerful Tarascan state in Michoacan , against which Axayacatl turned next.
In the major campaign against the Tarascans Nahuatl languages: Michhuahqueh in —79 the Aztec forces were repelled by a well organized defense.
Axayacatl was soundly defeated in a battle at Tlaximaloyan today Tajimaroa , losing most of his 32, men and only barely escaping back to Tenochtitlan with the remnants of his army.
In at Axayacatls death, his older brother Tizoc was elected ruler. Tizoc's coronation campaign against the Otomi of Metztitlan failed as he lost the major battle and only managed to secure 40 prisoners to be sacrificed for his coronation ceremony.
Having shown weakness, many of the tributary towns rebelled and consequently most of Tizoc's short reign was spent attempting to quell rebellions and maintain control of areas conquered by his predecessors.
Tizoc died suddenly in , and it has been suggested that he was poisoned by his brother and war leader Ahuitzotl who became the next tlatoani.
Tizoc is mostly known as the namesake of the Stone of Tizoc a monumental sculpture Nahuatl temalacatl , decorated with representation of Tizoc's conquests.
The next ruler was Ahuitzotl lit. His successful coronation campaign suppressed rebellions in the Toluca valley and conquered Jilotepec and several communities in the northern Valley of Mexico.
A second campaign to the gulf coast was also highly successful. He began an enlargement of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan, inaugurating the new temple in For the inauguration ceremony the Mexica invited the rulers of all their subject cities, who participated as spectators in the ceremony in which an unprecedented number of war captives were sacrificed — some sources giving a figure of 84, prisoners sacrificed over four days.
Probably the actual figure of sacrifices was much smaller, but still numbering several thousands. Ahuitzotl also constructed monumental architecture in sites such as Calixtlahuaca, Malinalco and Tepoztlan.
After a rebellion in the towns of Alahuiztlan and Oztoticpac in Northern Guerrero he ordered the entire population executed, and repopulated with people from the valley of Mexico.
He also constructed a fortified garrison at Oztuma defending the border against the Tarascan state. Moctezuma II Xocoyotzin is known to world history as the Aztec ruler when the Spanish invaders and their indigenous allies began their conquest of the empire in a two-year-long campaign — His early rule did not hint at his future fame.
He succeeded to the rulership after the death of Ahuitzotl. He began his rule in standard fashion, conducting a coronation campaign to demonstrate his skills as a leader.
He attacked the fortified city of Nopallan in Oaxaca and subjected the adjacent region to the empire. An effective warrior, Moctezuma maintained the pace of conquest set by his predecessor and subjected large areas in Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla and even far south along the Pacific and Gulf coasts, conquering the province of Xoconochco in Chiapas.
He also consolidated the class structure of Aztec society, by making it harder for commoners Nahuatl languages: He also instituted a strict sumptuary code limiting the types of luxury goods that could be consumed by commoners.
In , Moctezuma received the first news of ships with strange warriors having landed on the Gulf Coast near Cempoallan and he dispatched messengers to greet them and find out what was happening, and he ordered his subjects in the area to keep him informed of any new arrivals.
At this point the power balance had shifted towards the Spaniards who now held Motecuzoma as a prisoner in his own palace. As this shift in power became clear to Motecuzoma's subjects the Spaniards became increasingly unwelcome guests in the capital city, and in June , hostilities broke out, culminating in the massacre in the Great Temple , and a major uprising of the Mexica against the Spanish.
During the fighting Moctezuma was killed, either by the Spaniards who killed him as they fled the city or by the Mexica themselves who considered him a traitor.
He ruled only 80 days, perhaps dying in the smallpox epidemic, although early sources do not give the cause. After the siege and complete destruction of the Aztec capital, he was captured on 13 August , and marked the start of Spanish hegemony in central Mexico.
His death marked the end of a tumultuous era in Aztec political history. The most powerful nobles were called lords Nahuatl languages: Eduardo Noguera , p.
Their works were an important source of income for the city. Some macehualtin were landless and worked directly for a lord Nahuatl languages: Commoners were able to obtain privileges similar to those of the nobles by demonstrating prowess in warfare.
When a warrior took a captive he accrued the right to use certain emblems, weapons or garments, and as he took more captives his rank and prestige increased.
The Aztec family pattern was bilateral, counting relatives on the fathers and mothers side of the family equally, and inheritance was also passed both to sons and daughters.
This meant that women could own property just as men, and that women therefore had a good deal of economic freedom from their spouses.
Nevertheless, Aztec society was highly gendered with separate gender roles for men and women. Men were expected to work outside of the house, as farmers, traders, craftsmen and warriors, whereas women were expected to take the responsibility of the domestic sphere.
Women could however also work outside of the home as small-scale merchants, doctors, priests and midwives. Warfare was highly valued and a source of high prestige, but women's work was metaphorically conceived of as equivalent to warfare, and as equally important in maintaining the equilibrium of the world and pleasing the gods.
This situation has led some scholars to describe Aztec gender ideology as an ideology not of a gender hierarchy, but of gender complementarity, with gender roles being separate but equal.
Among the nobles, marriage alliances were often used as a political strategy with lesser nobles marrying daughters from more prestigious lineages whose status was then inherited by their children.
Nobles were also often polygamous, with lords having many wives. Polygamy was not very common among the commoners and some sources describe it as being prohibited.
The main unit of Aztec political organization was the city state, in Nahuatl called the altepetl , meaning "water-mountain".
Each altepetl was led by a ruler, a tlatoani , with authority over a group of nobles and a population of commoners. The altepetl included a capital which served as a religious center, the hub of distribution and organization of a local population which often lived spread out in minor settlements surrounding the capital.
Altepetl were also the main source of ethnic identity for the inhabitants, even though Altepetl were frequently composed of groups speaking different languages.
Each altepetl would see itself as standing in a political contrast to other altepetl polities, and war was waged between altepetl states. In this way Nahuatl speaking Aztecs of one Altepetl would be solidary with speakers of other languages belonging to the same altepetl, but enemies of Nahuatl speakers belonging to other competing altepetl states.
In the basin of Mexico, altepetl was composed of subdivisions called calpolli , which served as the main organizational unit for commoners.
In Tlaxcala and the Puebla valley, the altepetl was organized into teccalli units headed by a lord Nahuatl languages: A calpolli was at once a territorial unit where commoners organized labor and land use, since land was not in private property, and also often a kinship unit as a network of families that were related through intermarriage.
Calpolli leaders might be or become members of the nobility, in which case they could represent their calpollis interests in the altepetl government.
In the valley of Morelos, archeologist Michael E. Smith estimates that a typical altepetl had from 10, to 15, inhabitants, and covered an area between 70 and square kilometers.
In the Morelos valley, altepetl sizes were somewhat smaller. Smith argues that the altepetl was primarily a political unit, made up of the population with allegiance to a lord, rather than as a territorial unit.
He makes this distinction because in some areas minor settlements with different altepetl allegiances were interspersed.
The Aztec Empire was ruled by indirect means. Like most European empires, it was ethnically very diverse, but unlike most European empires, it was more of a system of tribute than a single system of government.
Ethnohistorian Ross Hassig has argued that Aztec empire is best understood as an informal or hegemonic empire because it did not exert supreme authority over the conquered lands; it merely expected tributes to be paid and exerted force only to the degree it was necessary to ensure the payment of tribute.
The hegemonic nature of the Aztec empire can be seen in the fact that generally local rulers were restored to their positions once their city-state was conquered, and the Aztecs did not generally interfere in local affairs as long as the tribute payments were made and the local elites participated willingly.
Such compliance was secured by establishing and maintaining a network of elites, related through intermarriage and different forms of exchange.
Nevertheless, the expansion of the empire was accomplished through military control of frontier zones, in strategic provinces where a much more direct approach to conquest and control was taken.
Such strategic provinces were often exempt from tributary demands. The Aztecs even invested in those areas, by maintaining a permanent military presence, installing puppet-rulers, or even moving entire populations from the center to maintain a loyal base of support.
Some provinces were treated as tributary provinces, which provided the basis for economic stability for the empire, and strategic provinces, which were the basis for further expansion.
Although the form of government is often referred to as an empire, in fact most areas within the empire were organized as city-states, known as altepetl in Nahuatl.
These were small polities ruled by a hereditary leader tlatoani from a legitimate noble dynasty. The Early Aztec period was a time of growth and competition among altepetl.
Even after the confederation of the Triple Alliance was formed in and began its expansion through conquest, the altepetl remained the dominant form of organization at the local level.
The efficient role of the altepetl as a regional political unit was largely responsible for the success of the empire's hegemonic form of control.
As all Mesoamerican peoples, Aztec society was organized around maize agriculture. The humid environment in the Valley of Mexico with its many lakes and swamps permitted intensive agriculture.
The main crops in addition to maize were beans, squashes, chilies and amaranth. Particularly important for agricultural production in the valley was the construction of chinampas on the lake, artificial islands that allowed the conversion of the shallow waters into highly fertile gardens that could be cultivated year round.
Chinampas are human-made extensions of agricultural land, created from alternating layers of mud from the bottom of the lake, and plant matter and other vegetation.
These raised beds were separated by narrow canals, which allowed farmers to move between them by canoe. Chinampas were extremely fertile pieces of land, and yielded, on average, seven crops annually.
On the basis of current chinampa yields, it has been estimated that one hectare 2. The Aztecs further intensified agricultural production by constructing systems of artificial irrigation.
While most of the farming occurred outside the densely populated areas, within the cities there was another method of small-scale farming.
Each family had their own garden plot where they grew maize, fruits, herbs, medicines and other important plants. When the city of Tenochtitlan became a major urban center, water was supplied to the city through aqueducts from springs on the banks of the lake, and they organized a system that collected human waste for use as fertilizer.
Through intensive agriculture the Aztecs were able to sustain a large urbanized population. The lake was also a rich source of proteins in the form of aquatic animals such as fish, amphibians, shrimp, insects and insect eggs, and water fowl.
The presence of such varied sources of protein meant that there was little use for domestic animals for meat only turkeys and dogs were kept , and scholars have calculated that there was no shortage of protein among the inhabitants of the Valley of Mexico.
The excess supply of food products allowed a significant portion of the Aztec population to dedicate themselves to trades other than food production.
Apart from taking care of domestic food production, women weaved textiles from agave fibers and cotton. Men also engaged in craft specializations such as the production of ceramics and of obsidian and flint tools , and of luxury goods such as beadwork , featherwork and the elaboration of tools and musical instruments.
Sometimes entire calpollis specialized in a single craft, and in some archeological sites large neighborhoods have been found where apparently only a single craft speciality was practiced.
The Aztecs did not produce much metal work, but did have knowledge of basic smelting technology for gold , and they combined gold with precious stones such as jade and turquoise.
Copper products were generally imported from the Tarascans of Michoacan. Products were distributed through a network of markets; some markets specialized in a single commodity for example the dog market of Acolman and other general markets with presence of many different goods.
Markets were highly organized with a system of supervisors taking care that only authorized merchants were permitted to sell their goods, and punishing those who cheated their customers or sold substandard or counterfeit goods.
A typical town would have a weekly market every five days , while larger cities held markets every day. Some sellers in the markets were petty vendors; farmers might sell some of their produce, potters sold their vessels, and so on.
Other vendors were professional merchants who traveled from market to market seeking profits. The pochteca were specialized long distance merchants organized into exclusive guilds.
They made long expeditions to all parts of Mesoamerica bringing back exotic luxury goods, and they served as the judges and supervisors of the Tlatelolco market.
Although the economy of Aztec Mexico was commercialized in its use of money, markets, and merchants , land and labor were not generally commodities for sale, though some types of land could be sold between nobles.
In Aztec marketplaces, a small rabbit was worth 30 beans, a turkey egg cost 3 beans, and a tamal cost a single bean. For larger purchases, standardized lengths of cotton cloth, called quachtli, were used.
There were different grades of quachtli, ranging in value from 65 to cacao beans. About 20 quachtli could support a commoner for one year in Tenochtitlan.
Another form of distribution of goods was through the payment of tribute. When an altepetl was conquered, the victor imposed a yearly tribute, usually paid in the form of whichever local product was most valuable or treasured.
Several pages from the Codex Mendoza list tributary towns along with the goods they supplied, which included not only luxuries such as feathers, adorned suits, and greenstone beads, but more practical goods such as cloth, firewood, and food.
Tribute was usually paid twice or four times a year at differing times. Archaeological excavations in the Aztec-ruled provinces show that incorporation into the empire had both costs and benefits for provincial peoples.
On the positive side, the empire promoted commerce and trade, and exotic goods from obsidian to bronze managed to reach the houses of both commoners and nobles.
On the negative side, imperial tribute imposed a burden on commoner households, who had to increase their work to pay their share of tribute.
Nobles, on the other hand, often made out well under imperial rule because of the indirect nature of imperial organization. The empire had to rely on local kings and nobles and offered them privileges for their help in maintaining order and keeping the tribute flowing.
Aztec society combined a relatively simple agrarian rural tradition with the development of truly urbanized society with a complex system of institutions, specializations and hierarchies.
The urban tradition in Mesoamerica was developed during the classic period with major urban centers such as Teotihuacan with a population well above ,, and at the rise of the Aztec the urban tradition was ingrained in Mesoamerican society, with urban centers serving major religious, political and economic functions for the entire population.
The capital city of the Aztec empire was Tenochtitlan , now the site of modern-day Mexico City. Built on a series of islets in Lake Texcoco , the city plan was based on a symmetrical layout that was divided into four city sections called campan directions.
Houses were made of wood and loam , roofs were made of reed, although pyramids, temples and palaces were generally made of stone.
The city was interlaced with canals, which were useful for transportation. Anthropologist Eduardo Noguera estimated the population at , based on the house count and merging the population of Tlatelolco once an independent city, but later became a suburb of Tenochtitlan.
Smith gives a somewhat smaller figure of , inhabitants of Tenochtitlan based on an area of 1, hectares 3, acres and a population density of inhabitants per hectare.
The second largest city in the valley of Mexico in the Aztec period was Texcoco with some 25, inhabitants dispersed over hectares 1, acres.
The center of Tenochtitlan was the sacred precinct, a walled-off square area which housed the Great Temple, temples for other deities, the ballcourt , the calmecac a school for nobles , a skull rack tzompantli , displaying the skulls of sacrificial victims, houses of the warrior orders, a penitential palace of the tlatoani and a merchants palace.
Around the sacred precinct were the royal palaces of the rulers. The centerpiece of Tenochtitlan was the Templo Mayor , the Great Temple, a large stepped pyramid with a double staircase leading up to two twin shrines — one dedicated to Tlaloc , the other to Huitzilopochtli.
This was where most of the human sacrifices were carried out during the ritual festivals and the bodies of sacrificial victims were thrown down the stairs.
The temple was enlarged in several stages, and most of the Aztec rulers made a point of adding a further stage, each with a new dedication and inauguration.
The temple has been excavated in the center of Mexico City and the rich dedicatory offerings are displayed in the Museum of the Templo Mayor.
Archaeologist Eduardo Matos Moctezuma , in his essay Symbolism of the Templo Mayor , posits that the orientation of the temple is indicative of the totality of the vision the Mexica had of the universe cosmovision.
He states that the "principal center, or navel, where the horizontal and vertical planes intersect, that is, the point from which the heavenly or upper plane and the plane of the Underworld begin and the four directions of the universe originate, is the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan.
Other major Aztec cities were some of the previous city state centers around the lake including Tenayuca , Azcapotzalco , Texcoco , Colhuacan , Tlacopan , Chapultepec , Coyoacan , Xochimilco , and Chalco.
In the Puebla valley, Cholula was the largest city with the largest pyramid temple in Mesoamerica, while the confederacy of Tlaxcala consisted of four smaller cities.
In Morelos, Cuahnahuac was a major city of the Nahuatl speaking Tlahuica tribe, and Tollocan in the Toluca valley was the capital of the Matlatzinca tribe which included Nahuatl speakers as well as speakers of Otomi and the language today called Matlatzinca.
Most Aztec cities had a similar layout with a central plaza with a major pyramid with two staircases and a double temple oriented towards the west.
Aztec religion was organized around the practice of calendar rituals dedicated to a pantheon of different deities. Similar to other Mesoamerican religious systems, it has generally been understood as a polytheist agriculturalist religion with elements of animism.
Central in the religious practice was the offering of sacrifices to the deities, as a way of thanking or paying for the continuation of the cycle of life.
The main deities worshipped by the Aztecs were Tlaloc , a rain and storm deity , Huitzilopochtli a solar and martial deity and the tutelary deity of the Mexica tribe, Quetzalcoatl , a wind , sky and star deity and cultural hero, Tezcatlipoca , a deity of the night, magic, prophecy and fate.
The Great Temple in Tenochtitlan had two shrines on its top, one dedicated to Tlaloc, the other to Huitzilopochtli. In some regions, particularly Tlaxcala, Mixcoatl or Camaxtli was the main tribal deity.
A few sources mention a deity Ometeotl who may have been a god of the duality between life and death, male and female and who may have incorporated Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl.
Additionally the major gods had many alternative manifestations or aspects, creating small families of gods with related aspects. Aztec mythology is known from a number of sources written down in the colonial period.
One set of myths, called Legend of the Suns, describe the creation of four successive suns, or periods, each ruled by a different deity and inhabited by a different group of beings.
Each period ends in a cataclysmic destruction that sets the stage for the next period to begin. In this process, the deities Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl appear as adversaries, each destroying the creations of the other.
The current Sun, the fifth, was created when a minor deity sacrificed himself on a bonfire and turned into the sun, but the sun only begins to move once the other deities sacrifice themselves and offers it their life force.
In another myth of how the earth was created , Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl appear as allies, defeating a giant crocodile Cipactli and requiring her to become the earth, allowing humans to carve into her flesh and plant their seeds, on the condition that in return they will offer blood to her.
And in the story of the creation of humanity, Quetzalcoatl travels with his twin Xolotl to the underworld and brings back bones which are then ground like corn on a metate by the goddess Cihuacoatl, the resulting dough is given human form and comes to life when Quetzalcoatl imbues it with his own blood.
Huitzilopochtli is the deity tied to the Mexica tribe and he figures in the story of the origin and migrations of the tribe. On their journey, Huitzilopochtli, in the form of a deity bundle carried by the Mexica priest, continuously spurs the tribe on by pushing them into conflict with their neighbors whenever they are settled in a place.
In another myth, Huitzilopochtli defeats and dismembers his sister the lunar deity Coyolxauhqui and her four hundred brothers at the hill of Coatepetl.
The southern side of the Great Temple, also called Coatepetl, was a representation of this myth and at the foot of the stairs lay a large stone monolith carved with a representation of the dismembered goddess.
Aztec religious life was organized around the calendars. As most Mesoamerican people, the Aztecs used two calendars simultaneously: Each day had a name and number in both calendars, and the combination of two dates were unique within a period of 52 years.
The tonalpohualli was mostly used for divinatory purposes and it consisted of 20 day signs and number coefficients of 1—13 that cycled in a fixed order.
Each day month was named after the specific ritual festival that began the month, many of which contained a relation to the agricultural cycle. Whether, and how, the Aztec calendar corrected for leap year is a matter of discussion among specialists.
The monthly rituals involved the entire population as rituals were performed in each household, in the calpolli temples and in the main sacred precinct.
Many festivals involved different forms of dancing, as well as the reenactment of mythical narratives by deity impersonators and the offering of sacrifice, in the form of food, animals and human victims.
Every 52 years, the two calendars reached their shared starting point and a new calendar cycle began. This calendar event was celebrated with a ritual known as Xiuhmolpilli or the New Fire Ceremony.
In this ceremony, old pottery was broken in all homes and all fires in the Aztec realm were put out. Then a new fire was drilled over the breast of a sacrificial victim and runners brought the new fire to the different calpolli communities where fire was redistributed to each home.
The night without fire was associated with the fear that star demons, tzitzimime , might descend and devour the earth — ending the fifth period of the sun.
To the Aztecs, death was instrumental in the perpetuation of creation, and gods and humans alike had the responsibility of sacrificing themselves in order to allow life to continue.
As described in the myth of creation above, humans were understood as responsible for the sun's continued revival, as well as for the paying the earth for its continued fertility.
Blood sacrifice in various forms were conducted. Both humans and animals were sacrificed, depending on the god to be placated and the ceremony being conducted, and priests of some gods were sometimes required to provide their own blood through self-mutilation.
It is known that some rituals included acts of cannibalism , with the captor and his family consuming part of the flesh of their sacrificed captives, but it is not known how widespread this practice was.
While human sacrifice was practiced throughout Mesoamerica, the Aztecs, according to their own accounts, brought this practice to an unprecedented level.
For example, for the reconsecration of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in , the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed 80, prisoners over the course of four days, reportedly by Ahuitzotl , the Great Speaker himself.
This number, however, is not universally accepted and may have been exaggerated. The scale of Aztec human sacrifice has provoked many scholars to consider what may have been the driving factor behind this aspect of Aztec religion.
In the s, Michael Harner and Marvin Harris argued that the motivation behind human sacrifice among the Aztecs was actually the cannibalization of the sacrificial victims , depicted for example in Codex Magliabechiano.
Harner claimed that very high population pressure and an emphasis on maize agriculture, without domesticated herbivores, led to a deficiency of essential amino acids among the Aztecs.
Harris, author of Cannibals and Kings , has propagated the claim, originally proposed by Harner, that the flesh of the victims was a part of an aristocratic diet as a reward, since the Aztec diet was lacking in proteins.
Ortiz also points to the preponderance of human sacrifice during periods of food abundance following harvests compared to periods of food scarcity, the insignificant quantity of human protein available from sacrifices and the fact that aristocrats already had easy access to animal protein.
The Aztecs greatly appreciated the arts and fine craftsmanship which they called toltecayotl which referred to the Toltecs , who had inhabited central Mexico prior to the rise of the Aztec city states in the Basin of Mexico and whom the Aztecs considered to represent the finest state of culture.
The fine arts included writing and painting, singing and composing poetry, carving sculptures and producing mosaic, making fine ceramics, producing complex featherwork, and working metals, including copper and gold.
All artisans of these fine arts were referred to collectively as tolteca "Toltecs". The Aztecs did not have a fully developed writing system like the Maya did, but like the Maya and Zapotec they did use a writing system that combined logographic signs with phonetic syllable signs.
Logograms would for example be the use of an image of a mountain to signify the word tepetl "mountain", whereas a phonetic syllable sign would be the use of an image of a tooth tlantli to signify the syllable tla in words unrelated to teeth.
The combination of these principles allowed the Aztecs to represent the sounds of names of persons and places. Narratives tended to be represented through sequences of images, using different iconographic conventions such as footprints to show paths, temples on fire to show conquest events etc.
Epigrapher Alfonso Lacadena has demonstrated that the different syllable signs used by the Aztecs almost enabled the representation of all the most frequent syllables of the Nahuatl language with some notable exceptions ,  but some scholars have argued that such a high degree of phoneticity was only achieved after the conquest when the Aztecs had been introduced to the principles of phonetic writing by the Spanish.
The image to right demonstrates the use of phonetic signs for writing place names in the colonial Aztec Codex Mendoza. Song and poetry were highly regarded; there were presentations and poetry contests at most of the Aztec festivals.
There were also dramatic presentations that included players, musicians and acrobats. There were several different genres of cuicatl song: Yaocuicatl was devoted to war and the god s of war, Teocuicatl to the gods and creation myths and to adoration of said figures, xochicuicatl to flowers a symbol of poetry itself and indicative of the highly metaphorical nature of a poetry that often utilized duality to convey multiple layers of meaning.
A key aspect of Aztec poetics was the use of parallelism, using a structure of embedded couplets to express different perspectives on the same element.
For example, the Nahuatl expression for "poetry" was in xochitl in cuicatl a dual term meaning "the flower, the song". A remarkable amount of this poetry survives, having been collected during the era of the conquest.
In some cases poetry is attributed to individual authors, such as Nezahualcoyotl , tlatoani of Texcoco, and Cuacuauhtzin , Lord of Tepechpan, but whether these attributions reflect actual authorship is a matter of opinion.
The Aztecs produced ceramics of different types. Common are orange wares, which are orange or buff burnished ceramics with no slip.
Red wares are ceramics with a reddish slip. Very common is "black on orange" ware which is orange ware decorated with painted designs in black.
Aztec black on orange ceramics are chronologically classified into four phases: Aztec I is characterized by floral designs and day- name glyphs; Aztec II is characterized by a stylized grass design above calligraphic designs such as s-curves or scrolls; Aztec III is characterized by very simple line designs; Aztec four continues some pre-Columbian designs but adds European influenced floral designs.
There were local variations on each of these styles, and archeologists continue to refine the ceramic sequence. Typical vessels for everyday use were clay griddles for cooking comalli , bowls and plates for eating caxitl , pots for cooking comitl molcajetes or mortar-type vessels with slashed bases for grinding chilli molcaxitl , and different kinds of braziers, tripod dishes and biconical goblets.
Vessels were fired in simple updraft kilns or even in open firing in pit kilns at low temperatures. Aztec painted art was produced on animal skin mostly deer , on cotton lienzos and on amate paper made from bark e.
The surface of the material was often first treated with gesso to make the images stand out more clearly.
The art of painting and writing was known in Nahuatl by the metaphor in tlilli, in tlapalli - meaning "the black ink, the red pigment".
There are few extant Aztec painted books. Of these none are conclusively confirmed to have been created before the conquest, but several codices must have been painted either right before the conquest or very soon after - before traditions for producing them were much disturbed.
Even if some codices may have been produced after the conquest, there is good reason to think that they may have been copied from pre-Columbian originals by scribes.
The Codex Borbonicus is considered by some to be the only extant Aztec codex produced before the conquest - it is a calendric codex describing the day and month counts indicating the patron deities of the different time periods.
After the conquest, codices with calendric or religious information were sought out and systematically destroyed by the church - whereas other types of painted books, particularly historical narratives and tribute lists continued to be produced.
Sculptures were carved in stone and wood, but few wood carvings have survived. In Aztec artwork a number of monumental stone sculptures have been preserved, such sculptures usually functioned as adornments for religious architecture.
The Coyolxauhqui Stone representing the dismembered goddess Coyolxauhqui , found in , was at the foot of the staircase leading up to the Great Temple in Tenochtitlan.
The most well known examples of this type of sculpture are the Stone of Tizoc and the Stone of Motecuzoma I , both carved with images of warfare and conquest by specific Aztec rulers.
Many smaller stone sculptures depicting deities also exist. The style used in religious sculpture was rigid stances likely meant to create a powerful experience in the onlooker.
An especially prized art form among the Aztecs was featherwork - the creation of intricate and colorful mosaics of feathers, and their use in garments as well as decoration on weaponry, war banners, and warrior suits.
The class of highly skilled and honored craftsmen who created feather objects was called the amanteca ,  named after the Amantla neighborhood in Tenochtitlan where they lived and worked.
The Florentine Codex gives information about how feather works were created. The amanteca had two ways of creating their works.
One was to secure the feathers in place using agave cord for three-dimensional objects such as fly whisks, fans, bracelets, headgear and other objects.
The second and more difficult was a mosaic type technique, which the Spanish also called "feather painting.
Feather mosaics were arrangements of minute fragments of feathers from a wide variety of birds, generally worked on a paper base, made from cotton and paste, then itself backed with amate paper, but bases of other types of paper and directly on amate were done as well.
These works were done in layers with "common" feathers, dyed feathers and precious feathers. First a model was made with lower quality feathers and the precious feathers found only on the top layer.
The adhesive for the feathers in the Mesoamerican period was made from orchid bulbs. Feathers from local and faraway sources were used, especially in the Aztec Empire.
The feathers were obtained from wild birds as well as from domesticated turkeys and ducks, with the finest quetzal feathers coming from Chiapas, Guatemala and Honduras.
These feathers were obtained through trade and tribute. The Aztecs were an impoverished, uprooted people who had been living by hunting and gathering.
They were without writing, with an oral history. According to their legend they were from somewhere in the north called Aztlan and had been led to the Valley of Mexico by a magician-priest.
In the Valley of Mexico, the Aztecs found all land adequate for farming occupied, and they settled onto an infertile hilly region named for grasshoppers — today the glorious Chapultapec region of Mexico City.
Their neighbors despised them for what they saw as their barbaric ways and drove them from Chapultapec to an area where they were forced to live off snakes and lizards.
Then they were driven away again, to a swampy region within the valley. This hardship proved a blessing for them.
The swamps provided them with wild plants and fish, frogs and ducks to eat. And similar to so-called barbarians who had come upon civilization in Mesopotamia, the Aztecs were resourceful and learned quickly.
The contempt that others had for them appeared misplaced. The Aztecs built terraces on hills that were previously not farmable.
Copying the agriculture that was traditional in the Valley of Mexico they constructed dikes. Aztec success was built upon new opportunities in agriculture.
They built chinampas, floating gardens on a swamp. Mud from canals was put on mats. Trees were planted at the corners, and the roots of the trees anchored the chinampa in place.
On the chinampas the Aztecs grew corn, avocados, beans, chili peppers, squash and tomatoes. They saw themselves as having done well.
They built for themselves a community called Tenochtitlan , surrounded by lush green cultivated fields and water, which they traversed with canoes.
With their new prosperity, the Mexica rapidly increased in number, and their success impressed their neighbors. The Aztecs entered regional politics and allied themselves with neighbors who had been expanding against others.
The Mexica had not forgotten their warrior tradition. They were skilled soldiers and became skilled diplomats. They allied themselves with the dominant power in the region, the Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco , a little to the northwest of Tenochtitlan.
As members of this alliance they were participants in the first significant empire in south-central Mexico since Teotihuacan. In , the Aztecs fought and defeated their former ally, the Tepanecs.
Between and , with its two remaining allies the Aztecs conquered most of the Valley of Mexico and beyond, including Xochicalco , sixty kilometers 37 miles to the south of Tenochtitlan.
Nature intervened — more bad weather. From to famine dominated the Valley of Mexico, which stimulated an effort at greater food production, and the Mexica expanded their power to the rich food-producing areas along the Atlantic Coast and to the Pacific Coast.
The Mexica method of expansion was not much different from that of other conquerors. Representatives of the Mexica would approach the ruler of a town and announce that the town should pay tribute to the Mexica and their allies.
If the ruler accepted, he maintained local power under the Mexica. If he refused, war was declared. And where the Mexica fought they would demand food.
Local people, seeing the Mexica and their allies arrayed just outside of their village, were often eager to provide food and whatever else would please the army.
But if displeased by the response of the village, the army would plunder and kill. The Mexica had become divided by class. A few of them were nobles, the same logic of power and wealth that had appeared elsewhere in the world.
The nobles controlled much land and the labor of commoners and slaves. Several kinds of money were in use. Cacao beans were used as money for small purchases, and standardized lengths of cotton cloth called quachtli were also used as money.
There was ranking within the nobility, but, regardless of rank, the nobles were unified in defense of their status against threats from commoners.
Nobles married those from other noble families. They used marriage to link themselves into a kinship network and reinforced the network by exchanging luxury goods.
Nobles were concerned with appearing serious, serene rather than haughty and as having good manners — a sign, they thought, of good breeding. They viewed the common Aztec as unnecessarily loud, as too demonstrative and as insufficient in self-restraint and dignity.