The Aztec Calendar

The Aztec Calendar

The Aztecs of ancient Mexico measured time with a sophisticated and interconnected triple calendar system which followed the movements of the celestial bodies and provided a comprehensive list of important religious festivals and sacred dates. Each day in the calendar was given a unique combination of a name and a number.

In addition, both individual days and periods of days were given their own gods in the calendar, highlighting the Aztec view that time and daily life was inseparable from religious beliefs. The date, every 52 years, when the calendars coincided exactly was regarded as particularly significant and auspicious.

The Aztec View of Time

In the modern world, time is often imagined as a straight line running from a distant past to an infinite future but not so for the Aztecs. As the historian R.F. Townsend describes,

Time for the Aztecs was full of energy and motion, the harbinger of change, and always charged with a potent sense of miraculous happening. The cosmogenic myths reveal a preoccupation with the process of creation, destruction and recreation, and the calendrical system reflected these notions about the character of time. (127)

For the Aztecs, specific times, dates and periods, such as one's birthday for example, could have an auspicious (or opposite) effect on one's personality, the success of harvests, the prosperity of a ruler's reign, and so on. Time was to be kept, measured, and recorded. It is significant that most major Aztec monuments and artworks conspicuously carry a date of some kind.

Tonalpohualli – 'Counting of the Days'

The Aztecs used a sacred calendar known as the tonalpohualli or 'counting of the days'. This went back to great antiquity in Mesoamerica, perhaps to the Olmec civilization of the 1st millennium BCE. It formed a 260-day cycle, in all probability originally based on astronomical observations. The calendar was broken down into units (sometimes referred to as trecenas) of 20 days with each day having its own name, symbol, patron deity and augury:

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  1. cipactli - crocodile - Tonacatecuhtli - good
  2. ehecatl - wind - Quetzalcoatl - evil
  3. calli - house - Tepeyolohtli - good
  4. cuetzpallin - lizard - Huehuecoyotl - good
  5. coatl- snake - Chalchiutlicue - good
  6. miquiztli - death - Tecciztecatl / Meztli - evil
  7. mazatl - deer - Tlaloc - good
  8. tochtli - rabbit - Mayahuel - good
  9. atl- water - Xiuhtecuhtli - evil
  10. itzcuintli - dog - Mictlantecuhtli - good
  11. ozomatli - monkey - Xochipilli - neutral
  12. malinalli - dead grass - Patecatl - evil
  13. acatl - reed - Tezcatlipoca / Itztlacoliuhqui - evil
  14. ocelotl - ocelot / jaguar - Tlazolteotl - evil
  15. quauhtli - eagle - Xipe Totec - evil
  16. cozcaquauhtli - vulture - Itzpapalotl - good
  17. ollin - earthquake - Xolotl - neutral
  18. tecpatl - flint knife - Tezcatlipoca / Chalchiuhtotolin - good
  19. quiahuitl - rain - Tonatiuh / Chantico - evil
  20. xochitl - flower - Xochiquetzal - neutral

The 20-day group ran simultaneously with another group of 13 numbered days (perhaps not coincidentally the Aztec heaven had 13 layers). This meant that each day had both a name and a number (e.g.: 4-Rabbit), with the latter changing as the calendar rotated. After all possible combinations of names and numbers had been achieved, 260 days had passed. The number 260 has multiple significances: it is the approximate human gestation period, the period between the appearance of Venus, and the length of the Mesoamerican agricultural cycle.

In addition to names and numbers, each day was also given its own deity – one of thirteen day-lords (the levels of heaven) and one from nine night-lords (the levels of the underworld). These were taken from the Aztec pantheon and included Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, Tlaloc, Xiuhtecuhtli, and Mictlantecuhtli. Daylight hours also had their own patron birds such as the hummingbird, owl, turkey, and quetzal, and one day had a butterfly patron. On top of that, each group of 13 days was ascribed its own god too. Finally, in yet another layer of meaning, the 20 days were divided into four groups based on the cardinal points: acatl (east), tecpatl (north), calli (west), and tochtli (south).

Every single day of the year had its own unique name and number combination and so could not be confused with any other.

This all seems rather complicated compared to a modern 7-day week of repeating names but it did have the advantage that every single day of the year had its own unique name and number combination and so could not be confused with any other. For this reason, it was possible for Aztec children to be given the name of the day on which they were born. Records were kept of the days in a book made of bark paper, called a tonalamatl. There was also a class of official diviners who interpreted which dates were the most auspicious for certain events such as marriages, and agricultural chores such as planting particular crops, and which days should be avoided.

Xiuhpohualli – 'Counting of the Years'

The second Aztec calendar was the xiuhpohualli or 'counting of the years' which was based on a 365-day solar cycle. It was this calendar which signified when particular religious ceremonies and festivals should be held. This calendar was divided into 18 groups of 20 days (each with its own festival). These 'months' were:

  1. Atlcahualo – stopping of the water
  2. Tlacaxipeualiztli – flaying of men
  3. Tozoztontli – lesser vigil
  4. Hueytozoztli – great vigil
  5. Toxcatl– drought
  6. Etzalqualiztli – eating maize and beans
  7. Tecuilhuitontli – lesser feast of the lords
  8. Hueytecuilhuitl – great feast of the lords
  9. Tlaxochimaco – offering of flowers
  10. Xocotlhuetzi – the fruit falls
  11. Ochpaniztli – sweeping
  12. Teotleco – return of the gods
  13. Tepeilhuitl– feast of the mountains
  14. Quecholli – a bird
  15. Panquetzaliztli– raising of the quetzal-feather banners
  16. Atemoztli– falling of water
  17. Tititl– unknown significance
  18. Izcalli - growth

Some scholars begin the sequence with Izcalli and so Atlcahualo becomes the second 'month' and so on. There was also an extra period, the nemontemi (literally, 'nameless' days) tagged onto the end of the year which lasted 5 days. These still did not ensure a complete solar accuracy (achieved by our leap-year) and so the calendar did eventually slip out of synch with the seasons, which necessitated the moving of festivals and even re-naming of days. The nemontemi was a strange period of limbo when nobody dared do anything significant but waited for the renewal of the calendar proper. The whole year had a name, one of four possibilities in sequence: Rabbit, Reed, Flint Knife, and House. To distinguish between repeating years they were each given one of 13 numbers, e.g. 1-House was followed by 2-Rabbit. Thus, when all four names had been used 13 times, one full 52-year cycle had passed.

The Calendars in Unison

The tonalpohualli and xiuhpohualli calendars ran simultaneously, as Townsend describes,

They have often been explained as two engaged, rotating gears, in which the beginning day of the larger 365-day wheel would align with the beginning day of the smaller 260-day cycle every 52 years. This 52-year period constituted a Mesoamerican “century”. (127)

The passing of one 52-year cycle (xiuhmolpilli) to another was marked by the most important religious event of the Aztec world, the New Fire Ceremony, also known, appropriately enough, as the 'Binding of the Years' ceremony. This was when a human sacrifice was made to ensure the renewal of the sun. If the gods were displeased, then there would be no new sun and the world would end.

Every second 52-year cycle was even more important to the Aztecs as this was when the tonalpohualli and the 52-year cycle coincided exactly. Curiously, although the 52-year periods were important blocks in Aztec history, they were never given an individual name and all dates started afresh at the beginning of a new cycle. This, no doubt, reflected the Aztec cosmos mythology where the world and humanity were being constantly renewed in perpetual cycles of change.


Aztec Symbols

Most of us know only a little about the Aztec symbols that were used in the empire centuries ago. Religious symbols, symbols of war, and many other rich traditions of art can be found in what was one of the world's greatest civilizations. Let's take a look at these mysterious symbols.

Overview of Aztec symbols

Symbolism was a part of every day life for the people of central Mexico. Symbols were used in writing, in keeping time and dates, in names and titles, on buildings and in artwork, and even in clothing. It identified and explained the gods, showed social level, and foretold good and bad fortune.

In keeping with the culture of the Aztecs, much symbolism was focused around religion and war. The gods were portrayed, as were warriors and battles.

These things were portrayed using realistic human forms, as well as forms of nature. For example, jaguars, snakes (rattlesnakes were a favourite), dogs, birds and even insects were common. The human forms have come to be known as a defining characteristic of the Late Postclassical period in central Mexico.

Of course, these things often had various meanings intertwined. There were basic meanings for animals, for example, that would grow in complexity as they came to represent gods or a warrior class. The frog represented joy. Butterflies symbolized transformation. The monkey represented dance and celebration. Combined with other symbols, a rich story could be told.


The tonalpohualli calendar

The 260 day system was called the tonalpohualli. It was broken up into 20 periods of 13 days each, which was reflected in two interlocking wheels. It originated by ancient peoples observing that the sun crossed a certain zenith point near the Mayan city of Copan, every 260 days. The Aztecs weren't concerned whether the years (or 260 days) coincided with the seasons, their years "wandered".

The number 20 was based on the digits of a "whole man" (i.e. fingers and toes) and the thirteen numbers represented their philosophy of thirteen directions in space. The early Central Americans believed that this ritualistic calendar represented an archetypal state of human and cosmic harmony .

Each rotation through the thirteen numbers represents one "week" in this system. The first, sixth, eleventh, and sixteenth weeks were considered important because they created the four divisions of their year. Each of the twenty days was associated with tangible objects or animals and a deity. For example, the first day (‘Cipactili’) was represented by an alligator and was ruled by the god of feasts, while the second day (‘Ehecatl’) was represented by the wind and was ruled by the god of fire, life and spirit. This created a sort of permanent fortune-telling machine and guided their destinies. They used it to plan various activities, such as sowing crops, building houses, and going to war, based on what were considered to be ‘lucky’ and ‘unlucky’ days.

The tonalpohualli calendar with two interlocking wheels. Smith College Museum

More importantly, the tonalpohualli divided the days and rituals between the gods. For the Aztecs, this was extremely important - without it the world would soon come to an end. According to Aztec cosmology, the universe is in a very delicate equilibrium in which opposing divine forces compete for power. To prevent one god becoming more powerful than another, the gods were given their own their own time, and their own day to rule over. To the Aztecs, it was very important that the power struggle could not be won by any god.


Aztec Calendar Interesting Facts:

Aztec calendar cycles: The Aztec calendar comprised of two cycles. One was a 365-day solar cycle which the Aztecs called the Year Count. The other was a 260-day cycle which was called the Day Count. Together, these cycles aligned after every 52 years which the Aztecs called a century.

Aztec 365-day cycle: The Aztec calendar had 20 days in a month, so it counted 18 months. Since the calendar was tied to the solar cycle, it added up to a total of 365 days. Out of these, 360 days had a specific name.

Monthly celebrations: Each 20-day “month” began with celebrations at a festival. Moreover, symbols were ascribed to each of these 20-day periods in the 365-day cycle.

Unlucky days: The end of each 365-day cycle in the Aztec calendar was marked by 360 named days and 5 nameless days. The Aztecs considered these last five days as unlucky days.

260-day ritual cycle: The 260-day cycle on the Aztec calendar was called the ritual cycle. This cycle had immense religious significance for the Aztecs and they used it to mark different religious ceremonies and rituals. Priests also used this calendar to perform divination and predict future events.

Divisions of 260-day cycle: This cycle was divided into twenty periods of 13 days each. In a way, it comprised of a 13-day weeks. Each week in this cycle was associated with a specific Aztec deity. The second week, for instance, was associated with Quetzalcoatl, one of chief Aztec deities.

The Sun-stone: A stone-carved Aztec calendar, called Sun Stone, was recovered from the Aztec Empire and is extant. This calendar provides a detailed conception of the Aztec notions of time and space.

The Sun Stone is divided into five portions, or five eras which are associated with five different Suns. This is in compliance with the Aztec mythology which says that mankind has perished at the end of four previous Sun cycles and that we are currently living in the fifth cycle of the Sun.

Sun Stone symbolism: At the centre of the Aztec Sun stone is the Sun god, Tonatiuh. He is shown with his tongue drawn out as a knife, to show that he required sacrifice. Tonatiuh is immediately surrounded by four symbols on the Sun Stone.

Each of these symbols represent the previous four Eras of the Sun, as believed in Aztec mythology.

52-year cycle: Cycles are a prominent feature of Aztec mythology as well as their notions about time and space. The Aztec calendar comprises of several cycles. Among these is the 52-year cycle which marks the end of the Year Count and Day Count.

Aztecs believed that every new 52 year cycle starts at the same day. So they performed rituals and sacrifices to ensure that the transition from one cycle to another happened without any catastrophes.

Aztec Calendar signs: Aztecs used many interesting signs to denote different days. Most of these signs made use of animal symbolism. One of the days, for instance, was marked by Crocodile, another by the Serpent, yet others were denoted by Rabbit, Dog, Monkey, Jaguar and a whole range of other animals.

Four Directions: Every day in the Aztec calendar was also associated with one of the four cardinal directions. Apart from the animal or object symbol associated to each day, it was also associated with North, South, East or West.

The 6th day in the Aztec calendar, for instance, was assigned the symbol of death and it was associated with the North. The 20th day on the calendar, which was the final day of the month, was represented by a flower and associated with the South.

End of the World: Unlike the Mayans, Aztecs did not make any definite predictions regarding the end of the world. However, they did believe that at the end of every 52-year cycle of their calendar, gods could decide to destroy the Earth.

This prediction was based on the alignment of the Year Count on the Aztec Calendar with the Day Count. This was considered unusual and ominous by the Aztecs. This is why they offered sacrifices and performed rituals at end of each 52-year cycle, hoping to secure another 52 years.

New Fire Ceremony: At the end of the 52-year cycle, Aztecs performed the New Fire ceremony. This ceremony was performed during the last five days of the final year of the cycle. In these five days, Aztecs observed fasting, performed sacrifices, abstained from different acts and observed silence.

During the final hours of the fifth day, a sacrifice was performed at the formerly-volcanic summit of a mountain near Tenochtitlan. At this time, all fires were extinguished among Aztec populations and they looked to the summit for a sign.

When the stars aligned to mark the beginning of the next day, the priests lit a fire at the mountain and this marked the beginning of the new 52-year cycle.

End of the fifth Sun: As depicted on the Aztec calendar, the Aztec mythology states that we are living in the reign of the fifth Sun. And that this Sun will also end in destruction, like all previous Sun Eras. The end of this Sun, according to the Aztec calendar, will come as a result of earthquakes.

Corresponding modern dates: Over the years, researchers have tried to map the Aztec dates and the beginning and end of the years and cycles in terms of the Gregorian calendar.

In light of these researches, it has been found out that February 23 marked the first day of the Aztec calendar. Correspondingly, the date of the Fire Ceremony was February 22, a day before the beginning of the New Year.


Aztec Designs Artist tools

Aztec artists made use of different tools to create the designs which then ornamented head-ornaments, walls of the temples, small statues and objects meant to appease the gods. Feather-workers created designs in feather-mosaics and were an indigenous form of artists in the Aztec Empire.

Aztec Designs – Sun Aztec Tattoo


Contents

The Nahuatl words (aztecatl [asˈtekat͡ɬ] , singular) [9] and (aztecah [asˈtekaʔ] , plural) [9] mean "people from Aztlan," [10] a mythical place of origin for several ethnic groups in central Mexico. The term was not used as an endonym by Aztecs themselves, but it is found in the different migration accounts of the Mexica, where it describes the different tribes who left Aztlan together. In one account of the journey from Aztlan, Huitzilopochtli, the tutelary deity of the Mexica tribe, tells his followers on the journey that "now, no longer is your name Azteca, you are now Mexitin [Mexica]". [11]

In today's usage, the term "Aztec" often refers exclusively to the Mexica people of Tenochtitlan (now the location of Mexico City), situated on an island in Lake Texcoco, who referred to themselves as Mēxihcah (Nahuatl pronunciation: [meːˈʃiʔkaʔ] , a tribal designation that included the Tlatelolco), Tenochcah (Nahuatl pronunciation: [teˈnot͡ʃkaʔ] , referring only to the Mexica of Tenochtitlan, excluding Tlatelolco) or Cōlhuah (Nahuatl pronunciation: [ˈkoːlwaʔ] , referring to their royal genealogy tying them to Culhuacan). [12] [13] [nb 1] [nb 2]

Sometimes the term also includes the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan's two principal allied city-states, the Acolhuas of Texcoco and the Tepanecs of Tlacopan, who together with the Mexica formed the Aztec Triple Alliance that controlled what is often known as the "Aztec Empire." The usage of the term "Aztec" in describing the empire centered in Tenochtitlan, has been criticized by Robert H. Barlow who preferred the term "Culhua-Mexica", [12] [14] and by Pedro Carrasco who prefers the term "Tenochca empire." [15] Carrasco writes about the term "Aztec" that "it is of no use for understanding the ethnic complexity of ancient Mexico and for identifying the dominant element in the political entity we are studying." [15]

In other contexts, Aztec may refer to all the various city states and their peoples, who shared large parts of their ethnic history and cultural traits with the Mexica, Acolhua and Tepanecs, and who often also used the Nahuatl language as a lingua franca. An example is Jerome A. Offner's Law and Politics in Aztec Texcoco. [16] In this meaning, it is possible to talk about an "Aztec civilization" including all the particular cultural patterns common for most of the peoples inhabiting central Mexico in the late postclassic period. [17] Such a usage may also extend the term "Aztec" to all the groups in Central Mexico that were incorporated culturally or politically into the sphere of dominance of the Aztec empire. [18] [nb 3]

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. Charles Gibson enumerates a number of groups in central Mexico that he includes in his study The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule (1964). These include the Culhuaque, Cuitlahuaque, Mixquica, Xochimilca, Chalca, Tepaneca, Acolhuaque, and Mexica. [19]

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. [20] [21] Linguistically, the term "Aztecan" is still used about the branch of the Uto-Aztecan languages (also sometimes called the yuto-nahuan languages) that includes the Nahuatl language and its closest relatives Pochutec and Pipil. [22]

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. Alexander von Humboldt originated the modern usage of "Aztec" in 1810, 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 1843, 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. [13]

Sources of knowledge

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 the indigenous people 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. It has information naming the polities that the Triple Alliance conquered, the types of tribute rendered to the Aztec Empire, and the class/gender structure of their society. [23] Many written annals exist, written by local Nahua historians recording the histories of their polity. These annals used pictorial histories and were subsequently transformed into alphabetic annals in Latin script. [24] Well-known native chroniclers and annalists are Chimalpahin of Amecameca-Chalco Fernando Alvarado Tezozomoc of Tenochtitlan Alva Ixtlilxochitl of Texcoco, Juan Bautista Pomar of Texcoco, and Diego Muñoz Camargo of Tlaxcala. There are also many accounts by Spanish conquerors who participated in Spanish invasion, such as Bernal Díaz del Castillo who wrote a full history of the conquest.

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 1524. Another Franciscan of great importance was Fray Juan de Torquemada, author of Monarquia Indiana. Dominican Diego Durán also wrote extensively about prehispanic religion as well as a history of the Mexica. [25] An invaluable source of information about many aspects of Aztec religious thought, political and social structure, as well as history of the Spanish conquest from the Mexica viewpoint is the Florentine Codex. Produced between 1545 and 1576 in the form of an ethnographic encyclopedia written bilingually in Spanish and Nahuatl, by Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún and indigenous informants and scribes, it contains knowledge about many aspects of precolonial society from religion, calendrics, botany, zoology, trades and crafts and history. [26] [27] Another source of knowledge is the cultures and customs of the contemporary Nahuatl speakers who can often provide insights into what prehispanic ways of life may have been like. Scholarly study of Aztec civilization is most often based on scientific and multidisciplinary methodologies, combining archeological knowledge with ethnohistorical and ethnographic information. [28]

Central Mexico in the classic and postclassic

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. One study has suggested that Nahuas originally inhabited the Bajío area around Guanajuato which reached a population peak in the 6th century, after which the population quickly diminished during a subsequent dry period. This depopulation of the Bajío coincided with an incursion of new populations into the Valley of Mexico, which suggests that this marks the influx of Nahuatl speakers into the region. [29] These people populated central Mexico, dislocating speakers of Oto-Manguean languages as they spread their political influence south. 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 900 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. [30]

Mexica migration and foundation of Tenochtitlan

In the ethnohistorical sources from the colonial period, the Mexica themselves describe their arrival in the Valley of Mexico. The ethnonym Aztec (Nahuatl Aztecah) means "people from Aztlan", Aztlan being a mythical place of origin toward the north. Hence the term applied to all those peoples who claimed to carry the heritage from this mythical place. The migration stories of the Mexica tribe tell how they traveled with other tribes, including the Tlaxcalteca, Tepaneca and Acolhua, but that eventually their tribal deity Huitzilopochtli told them to split from the other Aztec tribes and take on the name "Mexica". [31] At the time of their arrival, there were many Aztec city-states in the region. The most powerful were Colhuacan to the south and Azcapotzalco to the west. The Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco soon expelled the Mexica from Chapultepec. In 1299, Colhuacan ruler Cocoxtli gave them permission to settle in the empty barrens of Tizapan, where they were eventually assimilated into Culhuacan culture. [32] The noble lineage of Colhuacan traced its roots back to the legendary city-state of Tula, and by marrying into Colhua families, the Mexica now appropriated this heritage. After living in Colhuacan, the Mexica were again expelled and were forced to move. [33]

According to Aztec legend, in 1323, 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 Mexica founded Tenochtitlan on a small swampy island in Lake Texcoco, the inland lake of the Basin of Mexico. The year of foundation is usually given as 1325. In 1376 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. [34]

Early Mexica rulers

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. [35]

In 1396, at Acamapichtli's death, his son Huitzilihhuitl (lit. "Hummingbird feather") became ruler married to Tezozomoc's daughter, the relation with Azcapotzalco remained close. Chimalpopoca (lit. "She smokes like a shield"), son of Huitzilihhuitl, became ruler of Tenochtitlan in 1417. In 1418, 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 1426, 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. [36] Itzcoatl, brother of Huitzilihhuitl and uncle of Chimalpopoca, was elected the next Mexica tlatoani. 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 1428 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. [37]

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). [38]

Early rulers of the Aztec Empire

Motecuzoma I Ilhuicamina

In 1440, Motecuzoma I Ilhuicamina [nb 4] (lit. "he frowns like a lord, he shoots the sky" [nb 5] ) was elected tlatoani he was son of Huitzilihhuitl, brother of Chimalpopoca and had served as the war leader of his uncle Itzcoatl in the war against the Tepanecs. 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 1450s. [39] [40] Motecuzoma then reconquered the cities in the valley of Morelos and Guerrero, and then later undertook new conquests in the Huaxtec region of northern Veracruz, and the Mixtec region of Coixtlahuaca and large parts of Oaxaca, and later again in central and southern Veracruz with conquests at Cosamalopan, Ahuilizapan and Cuetlaxtlan. [41] During this period the city states of Tlaxcalan, Cholula and Huexotzinco emerged as major competitors to the imperial expansion, and they supplied warriors to several of the cities conquered. 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. [42] [43]

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: pipiltin) and instituting a set of legal codes, and the practice of reinstating conquered rulers in their cities bound by fealty to the Mexica tlatoani. [44] [45] [42]

Axayacatl and Tizoc

In 1469, the next ruler was Axayacatl (lit. "Water mask"), son of Itzcoatl's son Tezozomoc and Motecuzoma I's daughter Atotoztli. [nb 6] He undertook a successful coronation campaign far south of Tenochtitlan against the Zapotecs in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Axayacatl also conquered the independent Mexica city of Tlatelolco, located on the northern part of the island where Tenochtitlan was also located. The Tlatelolco 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. [46]

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 1478–79 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 32,000 men and only barely escaping back to Tenochtitlan with the remnants of his army. [47]

In 1481 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 1485, 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. [48]

Ahuitzotl

Final Aztec rulers and the Spanish conquest

In 1517, 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. In 1519, he was informed of the arrival of the Spanish fleet of Hernán Cortés, who soon marched towards Tlaxcala where he formed an alliance with the traditional enemies of the Aztecs. On 8 November 1519, Moctezuma II received Cortés and his troops and Tlaxcalan allies on the causeway south of Tenochtitlan, and he invited the Spaniards to stay as his guests in Tenochtitlan. When Aztec troops destroyed a Spanish camp on the gulf coast, Cortés ordered Moctezuma to execute the commanders responsible for the attack, and Moctezuma complied. 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 Moctezuma's subjects, the Spaniards became increasingly unwelcome in the capital city, and in June 1520, 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. [51]

Cuitláhuac, a kinsman and adviser to Moctezuma, succeeded him as tlatoani, mounting the defense of Tenochtitlan against the Spanish invaders and their indigenous allies. He ruled only 80 days, perhaps dying in a smallpox epidemic, although early sources do not give the cause. He was succeeded by Cuauhtémoc, the last independent Mexica tlatoani, who continued the fierce defense of Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs were weakened by disease, and the Spanish enlisted tens of thousands of Indian allies, especially Tlaxcalans, for the assault on Tenochtitlan. After the siege and complete destruction of the Aztec capital, Cuahtémoc was captured on 13 August 1521, marking the beginning of Spanish hegemony in central Mexico. Spaniards held Cuauhtémoc captive until he was tortured and executed on the orders of Cortés, supposedly for treason, during an ill-fated expedition to Honduras in 1525. His death marked the end of a tumultuous era in Aztec political history.

Nobles and commoners

The highest class were the pīpiltin [nb 7] or nobility. The pilli status was hereditary and ascribed certain privileges to its holders, such as the right to wear particularly fine garments and consume luxury goods, as well as to own land and direct corvée labor by commoners. The most powerful nobles were called lords (Nahuatl languages: teuctin) and they owned and controlled noble estates or houses, and could serve in the highest government positions or as military leaders. Nobles made up about 5% of the population. [52]

The second class were the mācehualtin, originally peasants, but later extended to the lower working classes in general. Eduardo Noguera estimates that in later stages only 20% of the population was dedicated to agriculture and food production. [53] The other 80% of society were warriors, artisans and traders. Eventually, most of the mācehuallis were dedicated to arts and crafts. Their works were an important source of income for the city. [54] Macehualtin could become enslaved, (Nahuatl languages: tlacotin) for example if they had to sell themselves into the service of a noble due to debt or poverty, but enslavement was not an inherited status among the Aztecs. Some macehualtin were landless and worked directly for a lord (Nahuatl languages: mayehqueh), whereas the majority of commoners were organized into calpollis which gave them access to land and property. [55]

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. [56]

Family and gender

The Aztec family pattern was bilateral, counting relatives on the father's and mother's 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. [57]

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. [58]

While the Aztecs did have gender roles associated with "men" and "women" they did not live in strictly a two-gendered society. In fact, there were multiple "third gender" identities that existed throughout their society and came with their own gender roles. The term "third gender" isn't the most precise term that can be used. Rather, their native Nahuatl words such as patlache and cuiloni are more accurate since "third gender" is more of a Western concept. The names for these gender identities are deeply connected to the religious customs of the Aztecs, and as such, did play a large role in Aztec society. [59]

Altepetl and calpolli

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: tecutli), who would hold sway over a territory and distribute rights to land among the commoners. 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. [60] [61]

In the valley of Morelos, archeologist Michael E. Smith estimates that a typical altepetl had from 10,000 to 15,000 inhabitants, and covered an area between 70 and 100 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. [62]

Triple Alliance and Aztec Empire

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. [63] [64] It was also a discontinuous empire because not all dominated territories were connected for example, the southern peripheral zones of Xoconochco were not in direct contact with the center. 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. [64]

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. [65] In this way, the Aztec system of government distinguished between different strategies of control in the outer regions of the empire, far from the core in the Valley of Mexico. 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. [66]

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 1427 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. [67]

Agriculture and subsistence

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 (2.5 acres) of chinampa would feed 20 individuals and 9,000 hectares (22,000 acres) of chinampas could feed 180,000. [68]

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. [69]

Crafts and trades

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. [70] [71]

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. [72]

Trade and distribution

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. Cortés reported that the central market of Tlatelolco, Tenochtitlan's sister city, was visited by 60,000 people daily. 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. [73]

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. [74] In the commercial sector of the economy, several types of money were in regular use. [75] Small purchases were made with cacao beans, which had to be imported from lowland areas. 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 300 cacao beans. About 20 quachtli could support a commoner for one year in Tenochtitlan. [76]

Tribute

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. [23]

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. Trade partners also included the enemy Purépecha (also known as Tarascans), a source of bronze tools and jewelry. 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. [77]

Aztec society combined a relatively simple agrarian rural tradition with the development of a 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 100,000, and at the time of 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. [78]

Mexico-Tenochtitlan

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). Tenochtitlan was built according to a fixed plan and centered on the ritual precinct, where the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan rose 50 m (164.04 ft) above the city. 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 200,000 based on the house count and merging the population of Tlatelolco (once an independent city, but later became a suburb of Tenochtitlan). [68] If one includes the surrounding islets and shores surrounding Lake Texcoco, estimates range from 300,000 to 700,000 inhabitants. Michael E. Smith gives a somewhat smaller figure of 212,500 inhabitants of Tenochtitlan based on an area of 1,350 hectares (3,300 acres) and a population density of 157 inhabitants per hectare. The second largest city in the valley of Mexico in the Aztec period was Texcoco with some 25,000 inhabitants dispersed over 450 hectares (1,100 acres). [79]

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 and a merchants palace. Around the sacred precinct were the royal palaces built by the tlatoanis. [80]

The Great Temple

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. [81]

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." Matos Moctezuma supports his supposition by claiming that the temple acts as an embodiment of a living myth where "all sacred power is concentrated and where all the levels intersect." [82] [83]

Other major city-states

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. [78]

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. [84]

Deities

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. Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca each had separate temples within the religious precinct close to the Great Temple, and the high priests of the Great Temple were named "Quetzalcoatl Tlamacazqueh". Other major deities were Tlaltecutli or Coatlicue a female earth deity, the deity couple Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl were associated with life and sustenance, Mictlantecutli and Mictlancihuatl, a male/female couple of deities of the underworld and death, Chalchiutlicue, a female deity of lakes and springs, Xipe Totec, a deity of fertility and the natural cycle, Huehueteotl or Xiuhtecuhtli a fire god, Tlazolteotl a female deity tied to childbirth and sexuality, and a Xochipilli and Xochiquetzal gods of song, dance and games. 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. [85] Apart from the major deities there were dozens of minor deities each associated with an element or concept, and as the Aztec empire grew so did their pantheon because they adopted and incorporated the local deities of conquered people into their own. Additionally the major gods had many alternative manifestations or aspects, creating small families of gods with related aspects. [86]

Mythology and worldview

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. [88]

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. [89]

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. [90]

Calendar

Aztec religious life was organized around the calendars. As most Mesoamerican people, the Aztecs used two calendars simultaneously: a ritual calendar of 260 days called the tonalpohualli and a solar calendar of 365 days called the xiuhpohualli. 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. The xiuhpohualli was made up of 18 "months" of 20 days, and with a remainder of 5 "void" days at the end of a cycle before the new xiuhpohualli cycle began. Each 20-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. [91]

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. [92]

Human sacrifice and cannibalism

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 to be responsible for the sun's continued revival, as well as for paying the earth for its continued fertility. Blood sacrifice in various forms was 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. [93] [94]

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 1487, the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed 80,400 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. [95]

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 1970s, 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. [96] While there is universal agreement that the Aztecs practiced sacrifice, there is a lack of scholarly consensus as to whether cannibalism was widespread. Harris, author of Cannibals and Kings (1977), 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. These claims have been refuted by Bernard Ortíz Montellano who, in his studies of Aztec health, diet, and medicine, demonstrates that while the Aztec diet was low in animal proteins, it was rich in vegetable 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. [97] [95] Today many scholars point to ideological explanations of the practice, noting how the public spectacle of sacrificing warriors from conquered states was a major display of political power, supporting the claim of the ruling classes to divine authority. [98] It also served as an important deterrent against rebellion by subjugated polities against the Aztec state, and such deterrents were crucial in order for the loosely organized empire to cohere. [99]

The Aztec greatly appreciated the toltecayotl (arts and fine craftsmanship) of the Toltec, who predated the Aztec in central Mexico. The Aztec considered Toltec productions 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. Artisans of the fine arts were referred to collectively as tolteca (Toltec). [100]

Urban standard details Mexico-Tenochtitlan remnants in Templo Mayor Museum (Mexico City)

The Mask of Xiuhtecuhtli 1400–1521 cedrela wood, turquoise, pine resin, mother-of-pearl, conch shell, cinnabar height: 16.8 cm, width: 15.2 cm British Museum (London)

The Mask of Tezcatlipoca 1400–1521 turquoise, pyrite, pine, lignite, human bone, deer skin, conch shell and agave height: 19 cm, width: 13.9 cm, length: 12.2 cm British Museum

Double-headed serpent 1450–1521 cedro wood (Cedrela odorata), turquoise, shell, traces of gilding & 2 resins are used as adhesive (pine resin and Bursera resin) height: 20.3 cm, width: 43.3 cm, depth: 5.9 cm British Museum

Page 12 of the Codex Borbonicus, (in the big square): Tezcatlipoca (night and fate) and Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent) before 1500 bast fiber paper height: 38 cm, length of the full manuscript: 142 cm Bibliothèque de l'Assemblée nationale (Paris)

Aztec calendar stone 1502–1521 basalt diameter: 358 cm thick: 98 cm discovered on 17 December 1790 during repairs on the Mexico City Cathedral National Museum of Anthropology (Mexico City)

Tlāloc effigy vessel 1440–1469 painted earthenware height: 35 cm Templo Mayor Museum (Mexico City)

Kneeling female figure 15th–early 16th century painted stone overall: 54.61 x 26.67 cm Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)

Frog-shaped necklace ornaments 15th–early 16th century gold height: 2.1 cm Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)

Writing and iconography

The Aztecs did not have a fully developed writing system like the Maya, however 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 various iconographic conventions such as footprints to show paths, temples on fire to show conquest events, etc. [101]

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), [102] 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. [103] Other scholars, notably Gordon Whittaker, have argued that the syllabic and phonetic aspects of Aztec writing were considerably less systematic and more creative than Lacadena's proposal suggests, arguing that Aztec writing never coalesced into a strictly syllabic system such as the Maya writing, but rather used a wide range of different types of phonetic signs. [104]

The image to right demonstrates the use of phonetic signs for writing place names in the colonial Aztec Codex Mendoza. The uppermost place is "Mapachtepec", meaning literally "On the Hill of the Raccoon ", but the glyph includes the phonetic signs "MA" (hand) and "PACH" (moss) over a mountain "TEPETL" spelling the word "mapach" ("raccoon") phonetically instead of logographically. The other two place names, Mazatlan ("Place of Many Deer") and Huitztlan ("Place of many thorns"), use the phonetic element "TLAN" represented by a tooth (tlantli) combined with a deer head to spell "MAZA" (mazatl = deer) and a thorn (huitztli) to spell "HUITZ". [105]

Music, song and poetry

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). "Prose" was tlahtolli, also with its different categories and divisions. [106] [107]

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. [108] Some such couplets were diphrasisms, conventional metaphors whereby an abstract concept was expressed metaphorically by using two more concrete concepts. For example, the Nahuatl expression for "poetry" was in xochitl in cuicatl a dual term meaning "the flower, the song". [109]

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. Important collection of such poems are Romances de los señores de la Nueva España, collected (Tezcoco 1582), probably by Juan Bautista de Pomar, [nb 8] and the Cantares Mexicanos. [110]

Ceramics

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. And polychrome ware are ceramics with a white or orange slip, with painted designs in orange, red, brown, and/or black. Very common is "black on orange" ware which is orange ware decorated with painted designs in black. [111] [5] [112]

Aztec black on orange ceramics are chronologically classified into four phases: Aztec I and II corresponding to ca, 1100–1350 (early Aztec period), Aztec III ca. (1350–1520), and the last phase Aztec IV was the early colonial period. 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 loops Aztec III is characterized by very simple line designs Aztec IV 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. [5]

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. [5] Polychrome ceramics were imported from the Cholula region (also known as Mixteca-Puebla style), and these wares were highly prized as a luxury ware, whereas the local black on orange styles were also for everyday use. [113]

Painted art

Aztec painted art was produced on animal skin (mostly deer), on cotton lienzos and on amate paper made from bark (e.g. from Trema micrantha or Ficus aurea), it was also produced on ceramics and carved in wood and stone. 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". [114] [115]

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. [25] Others consider it to have stylistic traits suggesting a post-conquest production. [116]

Some codices were produces post-conquest, sometimes commissioned by the colonial government, for example Codex Mendoza, were painted by Aztec tlacuilos (codex creators), but under the control of Spanish authorities, who also sometimes commissioned codices describing pre-colonial religious practices, for example Codex Ríos. 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. [25] Although depicting Aztec deities and describing religious practices also shared by the Aztecs of the Valley of Mexico, the codices produced in Southern Puebla near Cholula, are sometimes not considered to be Aztec codices, because they were produced outside of the Aztec "heartland". [25] Karl Anton Nowotny, nevertheless considered that the Codex Borgia, painted in the area around Cholula and using a Mixtec style, was the "most significant work of art among the extant manuscripts". [117]

The first Aztec murals were from Teotihuacan. [118] Most of our current Aztec murals were found in Templo Mayor. [119] The Aztec capitol was decorated with elaborate murals. In Aztec murals humans are represented like they are represented in the codices. One mural discovered in Tlateloco depicts an old man and an old woman. This may represent the gods Cipactonal and Oxomico.

Sculpture

Sculptures were carved in stone and wood, but few wood carvings have survived. [120] Aztec stone sculptures exist in many sizes from small figurines and masks to large monuments, and are characterized by a high quality of craftsmanship. [121] Many sculptures were carved in highly realistic styles, for example realistic sculpture of animals such as rattlesnakes, dogs, jaguars, frogs, turtle and monkeys. [122]

In Aztec artwork a number of monumental stone sculptures have been preserved, such sculptures usually functioned as adornments for religious architecture. Particularly famous monumental rock sculpture includes the so-called Aztec "Sunstone" or Calendarstone discovered in 1790 also discovered in 1790 excavations of the Zócalo was the 2.7 meter tall Coatlicue statue made of andesite, representing a serpentine chthonic goddess with a skirt made of rattlesnakes. The Coyolxauhqui Stone representing the dismembered goddess Coyolxauhqui, found in 1978, was at the foot of the staircase leading up to the Great Temple in Tenochtitlan. [123] Two important types of sculpture are unique to the Aztecs, and related to the context of ritual sacrifice: the cuauhxicalli or "eagle vessel", large stone bowls often shaped like eagles or jaguars used as a receptacle for extracted human hearts the temalacatl, a monumental carved stone disk to which war captives were tied and sacrificed in a form of gladiatorial combat. 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. [122] Although Aztec stone sculptures are now displayed in museums as unadorned rock, they were originally painted in vivid polychrome color, sometimes covered first with a base coat of plaster. [124] Early Spanish conquistador accounts also describe stone sculptures as having been decorated with precious stones and metal, inserted into the plaster. [122]

Featherwork

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, [125] named after the Amantla neighborhood in Tenochtitlan where they lived and worked. [126] They did not pay tribute nor were required to perform public service. 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." These were done principally on feather shields and cloaks for idols.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. Due to the difficulty of conserving feathers, fewer than ten pieces of original Aztec featherwork exist today. [127]

Mexico City was built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, gradually replacing and covering the lake, the island and the architecture of Aztec Tenochtitlan. [128] [129] [130] After the fall of Tenochtitlan, Aztec warriors were enlisted as auxiliary troops alongside the Spanish Tlaxcalteca allies, and Aztec forces participated in all of the subsequent campaigns of conquest in northern and southern Mesoamerica. This meant that aspects of Aztec culture and the Nahuatl language continued to expand during the early colonial period as Aztec auxiliary forces made permanent settlements in many of the areas that were put under the Spanish crown. [131]

The Aztec ruling dynasty continued to govern the indigenous polity of San Juan Tenochtitlan, a division of the Spanish capital of Mexico City, but the subsequent indigenous rulers were mostly puppets installed by the Spanish. One was Andrés de Tapia Motelchiuh, who was appointed by the Spanish. Other former Aztec city states likewise were established as colonial indigenous towns, governed by a local indigenous gobernador. This office was often initially held by the hereditary indigenous ruling line, with the gobernador being the tlatoani, but the two positions in many Nahua towns became separated over time. Indigenous governors were in charge of the colonial political organization of the Indians. In particular they enabled the continued functioning of the tribute and obligatory labor of commoner Indians to benefit the Spanish holders of encomiendas. Encomiendas were private grants of labor and tribute from particular indigenous communities to particular Spaniards, replacing the Aztec overlords with Spanish. In the early colonial period some indigenous governors became quite rich and influential and were able to maintain positions of power comparable to that of Spanish encomenderos. [132]

Population decline

After the arrival of the Europeans in Mexico and the conquest, indigenous populations declined significantly. This was largely the result of the epidemics of viruses brought to the continent against which the natives had no immunity. In 1520–1521, an outbreak of smallpox swept through the population of Tenochtitlan and was decisive in the fall of the city further significant epidemics struck in 1545 and 1576. [133]

There has been no general consensus about the population size of Mexico at the time of European arrival. Early estimates gave very small population figures for the Valley of Mexico, in 1942 Kubler estimated a figure 200,000. [134] In 1963 Borah and Cook used pre-Conquest tribute lists to calculate the number of tributaries in central Mexico, estimating over 18–30 million . Their very high figure has been highly criticized for relying on unwarranted assumptions. [135] Archeologist William Sanders based an estimate on archeological evidence of dwellings, arriving at an estimate of 1–1.2 million inhabitants in the Valley of Mexico. [136] Whitmore used a computer simulation model based on colonial censuses to arrive at an estimate of 1.5 million for the Basin in 1519, and an estimate of 16 million for all of Mexico. [137] Depending on the estimations of the population in 1519 the scale of the decline in the 16th century, range from around 50% to around 90% – with Sanders's and Whitmore's estimates being around 90%. [135] [138]

Social and political continuity and change

Although the Aztec empire fell, some of its highest elites continued to hold elite status in the colonial era. The principal heirs of Moctezuma II and their descendants retained high status. His son Pedro Moctezuma produced a son, who married into Spanish aristocracy and a further generation saw the creation of the title, Count of Moctezuma. From 1696 to 1701, the Viceroy of Mexico was held the title of count of Moctezuma. In 1766, the holder of the title became a Grandee of Spain. In 1865, (during the Second Mexican Empire) the title, which was held by Antonio María Moctezuma-Marcilla de Teruel y Navarro, 14th Count of Moctezuma de Tultengo, was elevated to that of a Duke, thus becoming Duke of Moctezuma, with de Tultengo again added in 1992 by Juan Carlos I. [139] Two of Moctezuma's daughters, Doña Isabel Moctezuma and her younger sister, Doña Leonor Moctezuma, were granted extensive encomiendas in perpetuity by Hernán Cortes. Doña Leonor Moctezuma married in succession two Spaniards, and left her encomiendas to her daughter by her second husband. [140]

The different Nahua peoples, just as other Mesoamerican indigenous peoples in colonial New Spain, were able to maintain many aspects of their social and political structure under the colonial rule. The basic division the Spanish made was between the indigenous populations, organized under the Republica de indios, which was separate from the Hispanic sphere, the República de españoles. The República de españoles included not just Europeans, but also Africans and mixed-race castas. The Spanish recognized the indigenous elites as nobles in the Spanish colonial system, maintaining the status distinction of the pre-conquest era, and used these noblemen as intermediaries between the Spanish colonial government and their communities. This was contingent on their conversion to Christianity and continuing loyalty to the Spanish crown. Colonial Nahua polities had considerable autonomy to regulate their local affairs. The Spanish rulers did not entirely understand the indigenous political organization, but they recognized the importance of the existing system and their elite rulers. They reshaped the political system utilizing altepetl or city-states as the basic unit of governance. In the colonial era, altepetl were renamed cabeceras or "head towns" (although they often retained the term altepetl in local-level, Nahuatl-language documentation), with outlying settlements governed by the cabeceras named sujetos, subject communities. In cabeceras, the Spanish created Iberian-style town councils, or cabildos, which usually continued to function as the elite ruling group had in the pre-conquest era. [141] [142] Population decline due to epidemic disease resulted in many population shifts in settlement patterns, and the formation of new population centers. These were often forced resettlements under the Spanish policy of congregación. Indigenous populations living in sparsely populated areas were resettled to form new communities, making it easier for them to brought within range of evangelization efforts, and easier for the colonial state to exploit their labor. [143] [144]

Today the legacy of the Aztecs lives on in Mexico in many forms. Archeological sites are excavated and opened to the public and their artifacts are prominently displayed in museums. Place names and loanwords from the Aztec language Nahuatl permeate the Mexican landscape and vocabulary, and Aztec symbols and mythology have been promoted by the Mexican government and integrated into contemporary Mexican nationalism as emblems of the country. [146]

During the 19th century, the image of the Aztecs as uncivilized barbarians was replaced with romanticized visions of the Aztecs as original sons of the soil, with a highly developed culture rivaling the ancient European civilizations. When Mexico became independent from Spain, a romanticized version of the Aztecs became a source of images that could be used to ground the new nation as a unique blend of European and American. [147]

The Aztecs and Mexico's national identity

Aztec culture and history has been central to the formation of a Mexican national identity after Mexican independence in 1821. In 17th and 18th century Europe, the Aztecs were generally described as barbaric, gruesome and culturally inferior. [148] Even before Mexico achieved its independence, American-born Spaniards (criollos) drew on Aztec history to ground their own search for symbols of local pride, separate from that of Spain. Intellectuals utilized Aztec writings, such as those collected by Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, and writings of Hernando Alvarado Tezozomoc, and Chimalpahin to understand Mexico's indigenous past in texts by indigenous writers. This search became the basis for what historian D.A. Brading calls "creole patriotism." Seventeenth-century cleric and scientist, Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora acquired the manuscript collection of Texcocan nobleman Alva Ixtlilxochitl. Creole Jesuit Francisco Javier Clavijero published La Historia Antigua de México (1780–81) in his Italian exile following the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, in which he traces the history of the Aztecs from their migration to the last Aztec ruler, Cuauhtemoc. He wrote it expressly to defend Mexico's indigenous past against the slanders of contemporary writers, such as Pauw, Buffon, Raynal, and William Robertson. [149] Archeological excavations in 1790 in the capital's main square uncovered two massive stone sculptures, buried immediately after the fall of Tenochtitlan in the conquest. Unearthed were the famous calendar stone, as well as a statue of Coatlicue. Antonio de León y Gama’s 1792 Descripción histórico y cronológico de las dos piedras examines the two stone monoliths. A decade later, German scientist Alexander von Humboldt spent a year in Mexico, during his four-year expedition to Spanish America. One of his early publications from that period was Views of the Cordilleras and Monuments of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. [150] Humboldt was important in disseminating images of the Aztecs to scientists and general readers in the Western world. [151]

In the realm of religion, late colonial paintings of the Virgin of Guadalupe have examples of her depicted floating above the iconic nopal cactus of the Aztecs. Juan Diego, the Nahua to whom the apparition was said to appear, links the dark Virgin to Mexico's Aztec past. [152]

When New Spain achieved independence in 1821 and became a monarchy, the First Mexican Empire, its flag had the traditional Aztec eagle on a nopal cactus. The eagle had a crown, symbolizing the new Mexican monarchy. When Mexico became a republic after the overthrow of the first monarch Agustín de Iturbide in 1822, the flag was revised showing the eagle with no crown. In the 1860s, when the French established the Second Mexican Empire under Maximilian of Habsburg, the Mexican flag retained the emblematic eagle and cactus, with elaborate symbols of monarchy. After the defeat of the French and their Mexican collaborators, the Mexican Republic was re-established, and the flag returned to its republican simplicity. [153] This emblem has also been adopted as Mexico's national Coat of Arms, and is emblazoned on official buildings, seals, and signs. [145]

Tensions within post-independence Mexico pitted those rejecting the ancient civilizations of Mexico as source of national pride, the Hispanistas, mostly politically conservative Mexican elites, and those who saw them as a source of pride, the Indigenistas, who were mostly liberal Mexican elites. Although the flag of the Mexican Republic had the symbol of the Aztecs as its central element, conservative elites were generally hostile to the current indigenous populations of Mexico or crediting them with a glorious prehispanic history. Under Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Anna, pro-indigenist Mexican intellectuals did not find a wide audience. With Santa Anna's overthrow in 1854, Mexican liberals and scholars interested in the indigenous past became more active. Liberals were more favorably inclined to the indigenous populations and their history, but considered a pressing matter being the "Indian Problem." Liberals’ commitment to equality before the law meant that for upwardly mobile indigenous, such as Zapotec Benito Juárez, who rose in the ranks of the liberals to become Mexico's first president of indigenous origins, and Nahua intellectual and politician Ignacio Altamirano, a disciple of Ignacio Ramírez, a defender of the rights of the indigenous, liberalism presented a way forward in that era. For investigations of Mexico's indigenous past, however, the role of moderate liberal José Fernando Ramírez is important, serving as director of the National Museum and doing research utilizing codices, while staying out of the fierce conflicts between liberals and conservatives that led to a decade of civil war. Mexican scholars who pursued research on the Aztecs in the late nineteenth century were Francisco Pimentel, Antonio García Cubas, Manuel Orozco y Berra, Joaquín García Icazbalceta, and Francisco del Paso y Troncoso contributing significantly to the nineteenth-century development of Mexican scholarship on the Aztecs. [154]

The late nineteenth century in Mexico was a period in which Aztec civilization became a point of national pride. The era was dominated by liberal military hero, Porfirio Díaz, a mestizo from Oaxaca who was president of Mexico from 1876 to 1911. His policies opening Mexico to foreign investors and modernizing the country under a firm hand controlling unrest, "Order and Progress," undermined Mexico's indigenous populations and their communities. However, for investigations of Mexico's ancient civilizations, his was a benevolent regime, with funds supporting archeological research and for protecting monuments. [155] "Scholars found it more profitable to confine their attention to Indians who had been dead for a number of centuries." [156] His benevolence saw the placement of a monument to Cuauhtemoc in a major traffic roundabout (glorieta) of the wide Paseo de la Reforma, which he inaugurated in 1887. In world's fairs of the late nineteenth century, Mexico's pavilions included a major focus on its indigenous past, especially the Aztecs. Mexican scholars such as Alfredo Chavero helped shape the cultural image of Mexico at these exhibitions. [157]

The Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) and significant participation of indigenous people in the struggle in many regions, ignited a broad government-sponsored political and cultural movement of indigenismo, with symbols of Mexico's Aztec past becoming ubiquitous, most especially in Mexican muralism of Diego Rivera. [158] [159]

In their works, Mexican authors such as Octavio Paz and Agustin Fuentes have analyzed the use Aztec symbols by the modern Mexican state, critiquing the way it adopts and adapts indigenous culture to political ends, yet they have also in their works made use of the symbolic idiom themselves. Paz for example critiqued the architectural layout of the National Museum of Anthropology, which constructs a view of Mexican history as culminating with the Aztecs, as an expression of a nationalist appropriation of Aztec culture. [160]

Aztec history and international scholarship

Scholars in Europe and the United States increasingly wanted investigations into Mexico's ancient civilizations, starting in the nineteenth century. Humboldt had been extremely important bringing ancient Mexico into broader scholarly discussions of ancient civilizations. French Americanist Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg (1814–1874) asserted that "science in our own time has at last effectively studied and rehabilitated America and the Americans from the [previous] viewpoint of history and archeology. It was Humboldt. who woke us from our sleep." [161] Frenchman Jean-Frédéric Waldeck published Voyage pittoresque et archéologique dans la province d'Yucatan pendant les années 1834 et 1836 in 1838. Although not directly connected with the Aztecs, it contributed to the increased interest in ancient Mexican studies in Europe. English aristocrat Lord Kingsborough spent considerable energy in their pursuit of understanding of ancient Mexico. Kingsborough answered Humboldt's call for the publication of all known Mexican codices, publishing nine volumes of Antiquities of Mexico (1831–1846) that were richly illustrated, bankrupting him. He was not directly interested in the Aztecs, but rather in proving that Mexico had been colonized by Jews. [ citation needed ] However, his publication of these valuable primary sources gave others access to them. [ citation needed ]

In the United States in the early nineteenth century, interest in ancient Mexico propelled John Lloyd Stephens to travel to Mexico and then publish well-illustrated accounts in the early 1840s. But the research of a half-blind Bostonian, William Hickling Prescott, into the Spanish conquest of Mexico resulted in his highly popular and deeply researched The Conquest of Mexico (1843). Although not formally trained as a historian, Prescott drew on the obvious Spanish sources, but also Ixtlilxochitl and Sahagún's history of the conquest. His resulting work was a mixture of pro- and anti-Aztec attitudes. It was not only a bestseller in English, it also influenced Mexican intellectuals, including the leading conservative politician, Lucas Alamán. Alamán pushed back against his characterization of the Aztecs. In the assessment of Benjamin Keen, Prescott's history "has survived attacks from every quarter, and still dominates the conceptions of the laymen, if not the specialist, concerning Aztec civilization." [162] In the later nineteenth century, businessman and historian Hubert Howe Bancroft oversaw a huge project, employing writers and researchers, to write the history the "Native Races" of North America, including Mexico, California, and Central America. One entire work was devoted to ancient Mexico, half of which concerned the Aztecs. It was a work of synthesis drawing on Ixtlilxochitl and Brasseur de Bourbourg, among others. [154]

When the International Congress of Americanists was formed in Nancy, France in 1875, Mexican scholars became active participants, and Mexico City has hosted the biennial multidisciplinary meeting six times, starting in 1895. Mexico's ancient civilizations have continued to be the focus of major scholarly investigations by Mexican and international scholars.

Language and placenames

The Nahuatl language is today spoken by 1.5 million people, mostly in mountainous areas in the states of central Mexico. Mexican Spanish today incorporates hundreds of loans from Nahuatl, and many of these words have passed into general Spanish use, and further into other world languages. [163] [164] [165]

In Mexico, Aztec place names are ubiquitous, particularly in central Mexico where the Aztec empire was centered, but also in other regions where many towns, cities and regions were established under their Nahuatl names, as Aztec auxiliary troops accompanied the Spanish colonizers on the early expeditions that mapped New Spain. In this way even towns, that were not originally Nahuatl speaking came to be known by their Nahuatl names. [166] In Mexico City there are commemorations of Aztec rulers, including on the Mexico City Metro, line 1, with stations named for Moctezuma II and Cuauhtemoc.

Cuisine

Mexican cuisine continues to be based on staple elements of Mesoamerican cooking and, particularly, of Aztec cuisine: corn, chili, beans, squash, tomato, avocado. Many of these staple products continue to be known by their Nahuatl names, carrying in this way ties to the Aztec people who introduced these foods to the Spaniards and to the world. Through spread of ancient Mesoamerican food elements, particularly plants, Nahuatl loan words (chocolate, tomato, chili, avocado, tamale, taco, pupusa, chipotle, pozole, atole) have been borrowed through Spanish into other languages around the world. [165] Through the spread and popularity of Mexican cuisine, the culinary legacy of the Aztecs can be said to have a global reach. Today Aztec images and Nahuatl words are often used to lend an air of authenticity or exoticism in the marketing of Mexican cuisine. [167]

In popular culture

The idea of the Aztecs has captivated the imaginations of Europeans since the first encounters, and has provided many iconic symbols to Western popular culture. [168] In his book The Aztec Image in Western Thought, Benjamin Keen argued that Western thinkers have usually viewed Aztec culture through a filter of their own cultural interests. [169]

The Aztecs and figures from Aztec mythology feature in Western culture. [170] The name of Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent god, has been used for a genus of pterosaurs, Quetzalcoatlus, a large flying reptile with a wingspan of as much as 11 metres (36 ft). [171] Quetzalcoatl has appeared as a character in many books, films and video games. D.H. Lawrence gave the name Quetzalcoatl to an early draft of his novel The Plumed Serpent, but his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, insisted on a change of title. [172] American author Gary Jennings wrote two acclaimed historical novels set in Aztec-period Mexico, Aztec (1980) and Aztec Autumn (1997). [173] The novels were so popular that four more novels in the Aztec series were written after his death. [174]

Aztec society has also been depicted in cinema. The Mexican feature film The Other Conquest (Spanish: La Otra Conquista) from 2000 was directed by Salvador Carrasco, and illustrated the colonial aftermath of the 1520s Spanish Conquest of Mexico. It adopted the perspective of an Aztec scribe, Topiltzin, who survived the attack on the temple of Tenochtitlan. [175] The 1989 film Retorno a Aztlán by Juan Mora Catlett is a work of historical fiction set during the rule of Motecuzoma I, filmed in Nahuatl and with the alternative Nahuatl title Necuepaliztli in Aztlan. [176] [177] In Mexican exploitation B movies of the 1970s, a recurring figure was the "Aztec mummy" as well as Aztec ghosts and sorcerers. [178]


Aztec Calendar Stone

The most famous representation of the sacred round is the Aztec Calendar Stone. The twenty-day names are illustrated as pictures around the outside ring.

Each day in the sacred round had a particular fate, and, as in most forms of astrology, an individual's fortune could be determined on the basis of her birth date. Wars, marriages, planting crops, all were planned based on the most propitious days. The constellation Orion is significant, in that around 500 BCE, it disappeared from the sky from April 23 to June 12, its annual disappearance coinciding with the first planting of maize, its reappearance when the maize was sprouting.


Aztec Education: Cuicacalli Schools

Other than the common schools where Aztec education included a diverse range of subjects, there were military schools where the sole emphasis was on military training. At these schools, Aztec education in military tactics was given by seasoned warriors. The reason for there being dedicated military schools was that the empire constantly needed new warriors and soldiers as there were constant battles needed as part of the Aztecs very Culture. Boys of the commoners who graduated from these schools had a chance to become warriors which gave them an opportunity to improve their social standing.

Aztec society attached much importance to education and it was compulsory for all Aztec children to receive education at a reputable school


We have a lot to learn from the ancient Mexicans about time &ndash its measurement, its management and its meaning. In the modern world we tend to relate the passing of time to movement along a straight line (look at history timelines in our classrooms!) and assume automatically that &lsquolatest is best&rsquo - a computer is instantly &lsquoout of date&rsquo the day after we&rsquove bought it. We&rsquore only now beginning to rediscover the &lsquowisdom of the ancients&rsquo and to realise how arrogant we&rsquove been in &lsquowriting off&rsquo - for centuries &ndash their sophisticated knowledge of time, mathematics, astronomy, geometry and music, all of which relate to each other through rhythm patterns at the very heart of our universe. (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Hundreds, if not thousands, of years before us, the Mesoamericans had discovered zero, measured leap years to 4 decimal points of accuracy, allowed for the influence on us not only of the sun but also of the moon and Venus (the 3 brightest bodies in the sky), clocked the motion of Venus to an accuracy of better than two hours in five centuries, played different notes simultaneously in musical performances, and even very likely calculated the Precession of the Equinoxes &ndash a period of 26,000 years.

&lsquoAnniversary wheel&rsquo no. 4 in the 18th. century Codex Veytia - Europeanised but still solidly based on pre-Columbian fate signs (Click on image to enlarge)

Counting in 20s &ndash presumably because we have 20 fingers and toes &ndash they developed complex time rounds that, like wheels, are far more natural in design than our modern Western European calendar with its odd mix of 30-, 31- and 28-day months.

One too many daysigns. (Redriff Primary School) (Click on image to enlarge)

There&rsquos no doubt that, as far as calendars go, the Mesoamericans could literally run rings round us .

The Aztec calendar features strongly in our school programmes. Good friends Steve and Michelle (and pupils) at Little Green Junior School, Croxley Green, Herts., produced this beautiful wall hanging illustrating the Aztec day signs (well, 19 of them anyway. )

Can you spot which calendar sign is missing?! (Little Green Junior School) (Click on image to enlarge)

Whilst in the snap above we took of the daysigns at one of our all-time favourite schools, Redriff Primary, Rotherhithe, we noticed they&rsquod been a bit TOO keen and ended up with 21!

Studying the Sunstone, Cranleigh, Surrey (Click on image to enlarge)

The Aztec Sunstone/Calendar Stone continues to fascinate young and old alike. We recently snapped a group of Year 6 boys at St. Nicolas School in Cranleigh, Surrey, who spontaneously gave up their lunch break to study our large Sunstone model before we packed it away after a workshop. We were just sorry that the copy in their classroom was VERY &lsquocheap-and-nasty&rsquo: follow the link below.

A double-page sequence of 65 day signs - part of the sacred calendar in the Codex Cospi (Click on image to enlarge)

We&rsquore delighted to hear that our downloadable resources on the Sunstone (follow link below) are being used to good effect on the other side of the world: our good friend Eduardo Tocatzin sent us (May 2010) this photo (below) with the message &rsquoThe students and community of Wilson High School in Los Angeles CA are enjoying all that it has to offer. Thanks again.&rsquo

Photo courtesy of Eduardo Tocatzin Sanchez (Click on image to enlarge)

Every day our website shows (top right corner on all pages) the changing names of our days in the Aztec Calendar - using a correlation (match) calculated by the famous Mexican archaeologist Alfonso Caso the same system is used on the Azteccalendar.com website.

Learn more of how the orbits of the earth, moon and Venus were inter-connected by reading our feature on Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (the Morning Star) - follow link below.


Difference Between Mayan Calendar and Aztec Calendar

Mayan calendar and Aztec calendar are two of the ancient calendars of the world that arouse much interest among people because of the dooms day prophecies being made on the basis of these calendars. Mayan and Aztec civilizations were flourishing in the American subcontinent when the Spaniards arrived. While Mayans civilization flourished from 300AD to 900 AD in Mexico and other parts of America, Aztecs arrived much later in 1100 AD and flourished till 1500 AD. There are many similarities in the beliefs, cultures and even in their calendars though there are also some differences that will be talked about in this article.

Mayan Calendar

Mayans were highly skilled people and knew that the Universe moved in cycles which they noticed when they paid attention to movements of stellar objects. They developed a system of three calendars namely the Long Count, the Haab, and the Tzolkin. The Long Count calculated long time periods Haab was primarily the civil calendar while Tzolkin was the religious calendar. Mayan calendar became very popular and was adopted by many other cultures and civilizations of the time. All three calendars contain set number of days, and a new cycle begins only after a certain number of days have passed. Out of these three calendars, it is Haab that corresponds with the modern Christian calendar of 365 days. Long count talked about long time periods. Mayans believed that the world got destroyed and was recreated at the end of a long count.

Aztec Calendar

The Aztec calendar not only recorded time but also kept track of religious festivals. People used to know of the propitious times to plant crops with the help of the calendar while they also knew when to appease Gods to have their blessings. The year of 365 days was divided into 18 months of 20 days each, and the remaining 5 days were accounted by bad luck days at the end of a year. The religious calendar was of 260 days and was referred to as tonalpohualli which means the count of days in English. Though both calendars ran simultaneously, same day fell at the same time in both calendars once every 52 years only.

What is the difference Between Mayan Calendar and Aztec Calendar?

• There are many similarities in the Mayan and the Aztec calendars such as the religious calendar which is of 13 months of 20 days each.

• There are two calendars in Aztecs, whereas there are three calendar systems in Mayans.

• Aztec calendar is an adaptation of Mayan calendar.

• Aztec calendar is simpler than the complex Mayan calendar.

• The dates in Haab in Mayan calendar are comparable to the dates in Xiuhpohuali in Aztec calendar. This is because the two calendars are loosely 365 days calendars.