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Aztec Culture Essay, Research Paper


The Aztecs came from Azatlan. Huizilopochtli, the god of war, told the Aztecs to leave Azatlan and walk around until they saw an eagle on top of a cactus growing out of a rock and eating a snake. The Aztecs traveled many years to find the this and finally found it when they were at Lake Texcoco. Lake Texcoco was ruled by the Toltecs between the 10th and 11th centuries (Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99). Since many other tribes also went to Lake Texcoco at the same time, the Aztecs were pushed out to the westside of the lake to a swampy area. They only had was a little island that was dry surrounded by marshes. After a long time the aztecs built their empire with chinapas. Chinapas were made by piling up mud from the bottom of the lake to make little islands. The Aztecs took over many cities and then all the cities became part of the empire which was between high mountains and surrounded by lakes.


The three classes of the Aztecs, there were slave, commoner, and nobility. The slaves were the lowest class. They were servants, They could buy there way up to freedom or if they escaped from their masters. There were two kinds of commoners maceualtin, and tlalmaitl, commoners are middle class people. The maceualtin were given land so that they can build their houses. The tlalmaitl were farmers. The nobility was the highest class. These people were rulers, chiefs, or nobles. (Aztecs/ Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 98).



The Aztecs house was on a log raft covered with mud and it had plants on it. The house also had a canal in the back with a canoe tied at the door so they could travel.


The Aztec food was a thin pancake called a tortilla. They used the tortilla to scoop up their food and to wrap their food up in it, This is called a taco. The meat that they looked for were deer, rabbits, ducks, and geese. The meat that they raised were turkeys, rabbits, and dogs(Bamford Parkes,Henry,A History of Mexico: boston Houghton Mifflin,1988 p 121). They also ate vegetables liked corn, squash, tomatoes, peppers, beans, jicama, prickly pear cactus, and sweet potatoes. Their favorite drink was chocolate.


Religion was important for the Aztec. They had hundreds of gods. There were ceremonies everyday to sacrifice someone for the gods. For them it was an honor to be sacrificed to the gods. To sacrifice these people, a priest with a sharp knife cuts open the persons chest and take out his heart. Then they take the heart and put it in a bowl called a chacmool. These are some of the gods that the Aztec had

EHECATL, the god of wind.

CENTEOTL, the corn god

MICTLANTECUHTLE, god of the dead.

XIUHTECUHTLE the fire god.



The language of the Aztecs was called Nahuatl. The Aztecs used pictographic writing that were put on paper. Some of the writings called codices still exist.(Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99).

In 1519, Hernando Cortes, a Spanish explorer, landed on the East Coast of Mexico and wanted to conquer Tenchtitlan. The Spaniards were joined by many Indians who were conquered and forced to pay high taxes to the emperor. Montezuma II did not stop Cortes because he thought Cortes was Quetzalcoatl, the god of civilization and learning. An Aztec legend said that Quetzalcoatl was driven away by a rival god and was headed across sea to present day Mexico. Quetzalcoatls return was said to be the year Ceacatl on the Aztec Calendar which is the same as 1519. Due to the legend, Montezuma II thought Cortes was Quetzalcoatl when he invaded the Aztec Empire. Montezuma II was taken prisoner by the Spaniards, but in 1520 he rebelled and drove the Spaniards out of Tenochtitlan. Unfortunately, Montezuma II was killed in this battle and soon on August, 1520 the Aztecs surrendered when Cortes invaded again. The Spaniards wiped out all the temples and all other traces of Aztec civilization. They destroyed Tenochtitlan and built Mexico City on top of it(Aztec Empire History).

Present day Aztecs live in the vicinity of Mexico City and there are well over one million of them. They are the largest aboriginal group in Mexico and their religion is a mix of Aztec and Roman Catholic. Today, to pay contribution to the Aztecs, the cactus, the eagle, and serpent are all on the Mexican paper money(Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia). Today, the Aztecs are “highly respected and remembered for their struggles, devotion, and for the love they showed to their culture.”(Aztec s of Lost Civilizations)


1. Escobedo, Rodolfo. “Los Aztecas”, shrike.depaul.edu/ resobed/, Depaul University, Nov. 12 98, Feb. 26 99.

2. Segarra, Ramon Luis. “Aztec s of Lost Civilization”, www.oswego.edu/ lau/EL

MUNDO/tribes/aztec.html, Lamba Alpha Upsilon Fraternity, Inc., Feb. 20 97,

Feb. 26 99.

3. “The Aztec Empire History”, www.csc.calpoly.edu/ ercarlso/essays/Aztec

Empire.html, Apr. 23 98, Feb. 26 99.

4. Borkovec, Brian; Daane, Angela; Flasch, Janna. “Aztecs”, gbms01.uwgb.edu/ galta/

mrr/aztecs/index.htm, Fall 97, Feb. 26 99.

5. “Aztec”, Microsoft Encarta 96 Encyclopedia, Microsoft Corporation, 1993-1995


7. The Aztecs/Mexicas were the native American people who dominated northern M xico at the time of the Spanish conquest led by Hernan CORTES in the early 16th century. According to their own legends, they originated from a place called Aztlan, somewhere in north or northwest Mexico. At that time the Aztecs (who referred to themselves as the Mexica or Tenochca) were a small, nomadic, Nahuatl-speaking aggregation of tribal peoples living on the margins of civilized Mesoamerica. Sometime in the 12th century they embarked on a period of wandering and in the 13th century settled in the central basin of M xico. Continually dislodged by the small city-states that fought one another in shifting alliances, the Aztecs finally found refuge on small islands in Lake Texcoco where, in 1325, they founded the town of TENOCHTITLAN (modern-day Mexico City). The term Aztec, originally associated with the migrant Mexica, is today a collective term, applied to all the peoples linked by trade, custom, religion, and language to these founders.

Fearless warriors and pragmatic builders, the Aztecs created an empire during the 15th century that was surpassed in size in the Americas only by that of the Incas in Peru. As early texts and modern archaeology continue to reveal, beyond their conquests and many of their religious practices, there were many positive achievements:

the formation of a highly specialized and stratified society and an imperial administration

the expansion of a trading network as well as a tribute system

the development and maintenance of a sophisticated agricultural economy, carefully adjusted to the land


the cultivation of an intellectual and religious outlook that held society to be an integral part of the cosmos.

The yearly round of rites and ceremonies in the cities of Tenochtitlan and neighboring Tetzcoco, and their symbolic art and architecture, gave expression to an ancient awareness of the interdependence of nature and humanity.

The Aztecs remain the most extensively documented of all Amerindian civilizations at the time of European contact in the 16th century. Spanish friars, soldiers, and historians and scholars of Indian or mixed descent left invaluable records of all aspects of life. These ethnohistoric sources, linked to modern archaeological inquiries and studies of ethnologists, linguists, historians, and art historians, portray the formation and flourishing of a complex imperial state.



Clockwise, the days of the Aztec Calendar are as follows:

Twenty Days of the Aztec Month

Snake – Coatl

Lizard – Cuetzpallin

House – Calli

Wind – Ehecatl

Crocodile – Cipactli

Flower – Xochitl

Rain – Quiahuitl

Flint – Tecpatl

Movement – Ollin

Vulture – Cozcacuauhtli

Eagle – Cuauhtle

Jaguar – Ocelotl

Cane – Acatl

Herb – Malinalli

Monkey – Ozomatli

Hairless Dog – Itzquintli

Water – Atl

Rabbit – Tochtli

Deer – Mazatl

Skull – Miquiztli


Aztec Gods

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; also they included natural elements and ancestor-heroes. These gods included:

CENTEOTL, the corn god.

COATLICUE – She of the Serpent Skirt.

EHECATL, the god of wind.

HUEHUETEOTL, “the old, old deity,” was one of the names of the cult of fire, among the oldest in Mesoamerica. The maintenance of fires in the temples was a principal priestly duty, and the renewal of fire was identified with the renewal of time itself.

HUITZILOPOCHTLI, (the war/sun god and special guardian of Tenochtitlan) the deified ancestral warrior-hero, was the Mexica-Aztec patron par excellence. His temple (next to that of Tlaloc) on the Main Pyramid was the focus of fearsome sacrifices of prisoners captured by Aztec warriors. Victims’ heads were strung as trophies on a great rack, the Tzompantli, erected in the precinct below.

MICTLANTECUHTLE, god of the dead.

OMETECUHLTI and his wife OMECIHUATL created all life in the world.

QUETZALCOATL, (the god of civilization and learning) “quetzal (feather) serpent,” had dozens of associations. It was the name of a deity, a royal title, the name of a legendary priest-ruler, a title of high priestly office. But its most fundamental significance as a natural force is symbolized by the sculpture of a coiled plumed serpent rising from a base whose underside is carved with the symbols of the earth deity and Tlaloc. The image of the serpent rising from the earth and bearing water on its tail is explained in the Nahuatl language by a description of Quetzalcoatl in terms of the rise of a powerful thunderstorm sweeping down, with wind raising dust before bringing rain.

TEZCATLIPOCA, (god of Night and Sorcery) “Smoking Mirror” (obsidian), characterized as the most powerful, supreme deity, was associated with the notion of destiny. His cult was particularly identified with royalty, for Tezcatlipoca was the object of the lengthy and reverent prayers in rites of kingship.

TLALOC, the rain deity, belonged to another most memorable and universal cult of ancient Mexico. The name may be Aztec, but the idea of a storm god especially identified with mountaintop shrines and life-giving rain was certainly as old as Teotihuacan. The primary temple of this major deity was located atop Mt. Tlaloc, where human victims were sacrificed to fertilize water-rocks within the sacred enclosure. In Tenochtitlan another Tlaloc temple shared the platform atop the dual Main Pyramid, a symbolic mountain.

TONATIUH, the sun, was perceived as a primary source of life whose special devotees were the warriors. The warriors were charged with the mission to provide the sun with sacrificial victims. A special altar to the sun was used for sacrifices in coronation rites, a fact that signifies the importance of the deity. The east-west path of the sun determined the principal ritual axis in the design of Aztec cities.

TONANTZIN, “honored grandmother,” was among the many names of the female earth-deity.

TEZCATLIPOCA, an all-powerful god; Tonatiuh, the sun god.

XILONEN, “young maize ear,” and Chicomecoatl, “seven serpent,” were principal deities of maize representing the chief staple of Mesoamerican peoples.

XIPE TOTEC, the god of springtime and regrowth.

XIUHTECUHTLE the fire god.


The following is a list of Aztec Emperors:















(He who decends like an eagle.)



Cuauhtemoc, c.1495-1525, became ruler of the AZTECS in 1521, during the siege of TENOCHTITLAN, and led the final desperate resistance of that city against the Spanish conquistadors. After weeks of street fighting, he surrendered to Hernan CORTES. This act marked the end of the Aztec empire and the beginning of Spanish dominion in Mexico.

Cuauhtemoc was first treated kindly by the Spanish, then imprisoned and tortured, and finally hanged during Cortes’s march to Honduras, on a charge of plotting treachery. A tomb below the church at his birthplace, Ixcateopan in Guerrero, is said to contain his remains, but not all scholars accept this attribution.


Aztec Books, Documents, and Writing

Aztec Bibliography

Berdan, Frances F., and Anawalt, Patricia, eds., The Codex Mendoza, 4 vols. (1992)

Berdan, Frances. Aztecs of Central Mexico: An Imperial Society. Holt, 1982. Ethnographic reconstruction of preconquest Aztec culture.

Carrasco, David, ed., To Change Place: Aztec Ceremonial Landscapes (1991)

Caso, Alfonso. The Aztecs, People of the Sun. Oklahoma, 1978. Trans. Lowell Dunham. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1958. Contends that Aztecs were primarily religious people and lived accordingly.

Castillo, Bernal Diaz, The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, trans. by A. P. Maudsley (1956)

Chimalpain’s ” Diferentes Historias Originales de los Reinos de Culhuacan y M xico y de Otras Provincias ”

Clendinnen, Inga. Aztecs: An Interpretation. Cambridge, 1991. Describes the lives of “ordinary” Aztecs.

Cortes, Hernan, Letters from Mexico, trans. by A. R. Pagden (1971)

Cortez, Hernando ‘ “Cartas de Relaci n ” (a series of five letters written by the conqueror to king Charles V, published in Spanish by Porr*a Hermanos and in English by Norton & Co. as translated by J. Bayard Morris)

Davies, Nigel. The Aztecs: A History. Oklahoma, 1980; 1986. Political history spanning 400-year empire before Spanish conquest.

del Castillo, Bern Diaz. Discovery and Conquest of Mexico. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, 1956.

Duran, Diego ’s “Book of the Gods and Rites and the Ancient Calendar ” (translated by Doris Heyden and Fernando Horcasitas in a 1971 edition by the Univ. of Oklahoma Press)

Hassig, Ross. Aztec Warfare: Imperial Expansion and Political Control. Oklahoma, 1988. An examination of the Aztec Empire in terms of its own goals and objectives.

Karen, Ruth. Feathered Serpent: The Rise and Fall of the Aztecs. Four Winds, 1979. The origins of the civilization, brutal cultural organization, and military conquest by Spaniards.

Le , Miguel. The Aztec Image of Self and Society. Ed. J. Jorge Klow de Alva. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1992.

Leon-Portilla, Miguel. Aztec Image of Self and Society. Utah, 1992. “An Introduction to Nahua Culture” (subtitle).

Leon-Portilla, Miguel, ed. The Broken Spears: An Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico. Beacon, 1962. Translations of a selection of indigenous accounts of the conquest.

Leon-Portilla, Miguel’s “Aztec Thought and Culture ” (Univ. Oklahoma Press, 1963; several printings), A classic analysis of the Aztec mind, a translation of the author’s 1956 Spanish original: “La Filosof aNahuatl ” (UNAM, Mexico City).

Matos Moctezuma, Eduardo. Aztecs. Rizzoli, 1989. Draws on both archaeological and ethnohistorical evidence.The Mighty Aztecs. National Geographic, 1981. Illustrated overview of their short-lived glories.

Moctezuma, Eduardo Matos. The Great Temple of the Aztecs. Trans. Doris Heyden. New York: Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 1988.

Soustelle, Jacques’s “La Vida Cotidiana de los Aztecas en V speras de la Conquista ” (1956, Fondo de Cultura Econ mica, Mexico City, many printings), a translation from the original French work published in 1955.

Tezozomoc, Fernando Alvarado ’s “Cr nica Mexicayotl ” (1975, UNAM, Mexico City).

Townsend, Richard F., The Aztecs (1992)

Weaver, Muriel Porter. The Aztecs, Maya, and Their Predecessors Archeology of Mesoamerica. New York: Seminar Press, 1972.

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