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The Aztec Empire History Essay, Research Paper

The Aztec Empire History

The center of the Aztec civilization was the Valley of Mexico, a huge, oval

basin about 7,500 feet above sea level. The Aztecs were formed after the Toltec

civilization occurred when hundreds of civilians came towards Lake Texcoco. In

the swamplands there was only one piece of land to farm on and it was totally

surrounded by more marshes. The Aztec families somehow converted these

disadvantages to a mighty empire known as the Aztec Empire. People say the

empire was partially formed by a deeply believed legend. As the legend went, it

said that Aztec people would create an empire in a swampy place where they would

see an eagle eating a snake, while perched on a cactus, which was growing out of

a rock in the swamplands. This is what priests claimed they saw when entering

the new land. By the year 1325 their capital city was finished. They called it

Tenochtitlan. In the capital city, aqueducts were constructed, bridges were

built, and chinapas were made. Chinapas were little islands formed by pilled up

mud. On these chinapas Aztecs grew their food. The Aztec Empire included many

cities and towns, especially in the Valley of Mexico. The early settlers built

log rafts, then covered them with mud and planted seeds to create roots and

develop more solid land for building homes in this marshy land. Canals were also

cut out through the marsh so that a typical Aztec home had its back to a canal

with a canoe tied at the door. In the early 1400s, Tenochtitlan joined with

Texcoco and Tlacopan, two other major cities in the Valley of Mexico.

Tenochtitlan became the most powerful member of the alliance. Montezuma I ruled

from 1440 to 1469 and conquered large areas to the east and to the south.

Montezuma’s successors expanded the empire until it extended between what is now

Guatemala and the Mexican State of San Luis Potosi. Montezuma II became emperor

in 1502 when the Aztec Empire was at the height of its power. In 1519, the

Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes landed on the East Coast of Mexico and marched

inland to Tenochtitlan. The Spaniards were joined by many of the Indians who

were conquered and forced to pay high taxes to the emperor. Montezuma did not

oppose Cortes because he thought that he was the God Quetzalcoatl. An Aztec

legend said that Quetzalcoatl was driven away by another rival god and had

sailed across the sea and would return some day. His return was predicted to

come in the year Ce Acatl on the Aztec Calendar. This corresponded to the year

1519. Due to this prediction, Montezuma II thought Quetzalcoatl had returned

when Cortes and his troops invaded. He did not resist and was taken prisoner by

Cortes and his troops. In 1520, the Aztecs rebelled and drove the Spaniards from

Tenochtitlan, but Montezuma II was killed in the battle. Cortes reorganized his

troops and resurged into the city. Montezuma’s successor, Cuauhtemoc,

surrendered in August of 1520. The Spaniards, being strong Christians, felt it

was their duty to wipe out the temples and all other traces of the Aztec

religion. They destroyed Tenochtitlan and built Mexico City on the ruins.

However, archaeologists have excavated a few sites and have uncovered many

remnants of this society. Language: The Aztec spoke a language called Nahuatl

(pronounced NAH waht l). It belongs to a large group of Indian languages, which

also include the languages spoken by the Comanche, Pima, Shoshone and other

tribes of western North America. The Aztec used pictographs to communicate

through writing. Some of the pictures symbolized ideas and others represented

the sounds of the syllables. Food: The principal food of the Aztec was a thin

cornmeal pancake called a tlaxcalli. (In Spanish, it is called a tortilla.) They

used the tlaxcallis to scoop up foods while they ate or they wrapped the foods

in the tlaxcalli to form what is now known as a taco. They hunted for most of

the meat in their diet and the chief game animals were deer, rabbits, ducks and

geese. The only animals they raised for meat were turkeys, rabbits, and dogs.

Arts and Crafts: The Aztec sculptures, which adorned their temples and other

buildings, were among the most elaborate in all of the Americas. Their purpose

was to please the gods and they attempted to do that in everything they did.

Many of the sculptures reflected their perception of their gods and how they

interacted in their lives. The most famous surviving Aztec sculpture is the

large circular Calendar Stone, which represents the Aztec universe. Religion:

Religion was extremely important in Aztec life. They worshipped hundreds of gods

and goddesses, each of whom ruled one or more human activities or aspects of

nature. The people had many agricultural gods because their culture was based

heavily on farming. The Aztecs made many sacrifices to their gods.

When victims reached the altar they were stretched across a sacrificial stone. A

priest with an obsidian knife cut open the victim’s chest and tore out his heart.

The heart was placed in a bowl called a chacmool. This heart was used as an

offer to the gods. If they were in dire need, a warrior would be sacrificed, but

for any other sacrifice a normal person would be deemed sufficient. It was a

great honor to be chosen for a sacrifice to the gods. The Aztec held many

religious ceremonies to ensure good crops by winning the favor of the gods and

then to thank them for the harvest. Every 52 years, the Aztec held a great

celebration called the Binding up of the Years. Prior to the celebration, the

people would let their hearth fires go out and then re-light them from the new

fire of the celebration and feast. A partial list of the Aztec gods: CENTEOTL,

The corn god. COATLICUE, She of the Serpent Skirt. EHECATL, The god of wind.

HUEHUETEOTL, The fire god. HUITZILOPOCHTLI, The war/sun god and special guardian

of Tenochtitlan. MICTLANTECUHTLE, The god of the dead. OMETECUHLTI and his wife

OMECIHUATL, They created all life in the world. QUETZALCOATL, The god of

civilization and learning. TEZCATLIPOCA, The god of Night and Sorcery. TLALOC,

The rain god. TONATIUH, The sun god. TONANTZIN, The honored grandmother. XILONEN,

“Young maize ear,” Maize represents a chief staple of the Aztecs. XIPE TOTEC,

The god of springtime and re-growth. Aztec dances: The Aztec Dance is known for

its special way of expressing reverence and prayer to the supernatural gods of

the sun, earth, sky, and water. Originally, the resources accessible to the

native Indians were limited, yet they were able to create lively music with the

howling of the sea conch, and with rhythms produced by drums and by dried seeds

which were usually tied to the feet of the dancers. Summary: Overall, I feel

that the Aztec civilization was very advanced. It had a very complex structure

in which there were lower class, middle class and upper class peoples. They had

a good system of transportation and irrigation through the use of canals. They

had a strong warfare system, which was seen by their conquering of many lands.

They also had their own language, and their own mathematical system. Their

scholars were also very intelligent, they had developed their own system of time

measurement and a calendar system that was very accurate.

References:

1) Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia Version 7.0.5 CD-ROM Grolier Inc.1995

2) Microsoft Encarta 96 CD-ROM Microsoft, 1996

3) Internet Addresses:

http://www.mexicana.com/english/community/29nf-aztec.shtml

http://udgftp.cencar.udg.mx/ingles/Precolombina/Azteca/mexintro.html

http://www.rmplc.co.uk/eduweb/sites/wickham/topics/aztecs/aztecs.html


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