The Aztec Empire

The greatest empire of Mesoamerica, the Aztecs, developed in the Valley of Mexico where modern-day Mexico City is located. In 1100 CE, the Aztecs moved around Mexico for many years until they founded the capital city of Tenochtitlan in 1325. They were driven out of their previous home in Culhuacan and roamed central Mexico for a place to settle. When they approached the swampy lands they saw an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its mouth. They believed this was a sign from the gods that this is where they would live.

The Aztecs built islands on the water and used the natural resources available to them to grow crops. This proved to be a good location as the water provided a defense against attacks. Tenochtitlan was an incredibly well planned and built city. The Aztecs built causeways, bridges, and canals to travel to and from the city.  At its peak, it housed around 400,000 people. In the city, there were temples, ball game courts, schools, and markets.

The Aztec Empire had city-states that ruled mostly independently and paid tribute to the emperor. In 1498, The Aztecs formed the Triple Alliance with the Acolhua in Texcoco and the Tepaneca in Tlacopan. Combined, the Triple Alliance represented a powerful military and economic force. The alliance was sustained through trade and a shared culture. The Aztecs believed that emperors were chosen by the gods and had divine right. They had a complex code of laws and different levels of courts. Tenochtitlan was the center of the Aztec government where the emperor and most of the nobles lived.

Aztec society was made up of classes with nobles ruling over commoners. Slaves were held and served the wealthy commoners and nobles. The family was important to the Aztecs, and families were grouped together in Calpulli or small tribes. Aztecs had their own language called Nahuatl. Their writing consisted of glyphs or pictographs. The Aztecs developed two calendars, the Tonalpohualli was used to track ceremonies and festivals and the other, the Xiuhpohualli, was to track time. The Aztecs worshiped many gods. Some of the main gods were Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, sun, and sacrifice, and Quetzalcoatl, the god of life and wind. Priests performed ceremonies to make sure that the gods were always pleased. The Aztecs practiced daily human sacrifices to their gods at the top of ziggurats. 

In 1521 the mighty Aztec Empire was conquered by Spanish conquistadors. Believing that he was the god Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec emperor Montezuma II welcomed the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez, who later turned the Triple Alliance against the Aztecs and took over Tenochtitlan.

Back

World History Book Home

US History Book Home

Next