, Research Paper
Many people claim that they understand morality, but what is the true meaning of morality? The dictionary states it to mean: The quality of being in accord with the standards of right or good conduct. A system of ideas of right and wrong conduct. Virtuous conduct. A rule or lesson in moral conduct. To understand morality a person must want to be and act moral. The process of being moral infers for a person to be virtuous in their conduct. This would call a person to act in a manner similar to God s plan. Only through acting moral and meditation on the subject can one truly established what the morality of it actually is. This reports the story of the Aztecs; their life, struggles, religion, and eventual confrontation with the Spaniards. This essay will explain the moral issue behind the facts and help the reader to establish a better understanding of the issue.
It is believed that groups of hunter-gatherers, known as the Native Americans, while hunting, crossed a land bridge where the Bearing Strait is, and arrived in North America. Once in the Americas these people migrated throughout the Southern and Northern continents (Macdonald 6).
The Aztecs are thought to have originated in the four corners area of the U.S. and started a migration southward in 1168 A.D. After the Aztecs began their migration from their native land, which the Aztecs called Aztlan, they traveled in search of a new home because Huitzilopochtli their sun and war god ordered them to make a pilgrimage to a new land. He stated that they were to settle in the first place in which they saw an eagle with a snake in its beak, sitting on a cactus.
In 1248 A.D. they where allowed to settle on an island in the middle of Lake Chapultepec, where they saw the eagle. Lake Chapultepec is located in the middle of the Central Mexican Valley. The Aztecs lived peacefully for about a century. Eventually conflict arose between the Aztec and the neighboring tribes. Three of the neighboring tribes, the Tepanec, the Culhua, and the Xochimilca, allied themselves against the Aztecs and defeated them. They enslaved the majority of the Aztecs but a small group managed to escape to an island on the nearby salt-water lake of Texcoco. There they established their capital Tenochtitlan. Later the Culhua declared war on the Xochimilca; the Aztec allied themselves with the Culhua and through this alliance the Culhua won. Tenochtitlan quickly became the capital of the Aztecs soon to be vast empire. The metropolis was decorated with great canals, colorful market places, and grand temples galore. The society that inhabited it was highly organized. The city was ruled by the king, but dominated by the noble priest and tax collectors. It also contained an elite warrior society, and an active and extremely vital merchant class (Baquedano 9).
After this brief alliance the Aztecs’ leaders refused permanent friendship with other tribes due to the fact that they believed they were the chosen people of their god Huitzilopochtli and that Huitzilopochtli had forbidden alliance. This commitment to war played a large part in the rise of the Aztec Empire. It caused many tribes to declare war on the Aztecs creating an opening for the Aztecs to start their era of conquest. The Aztecs would attempt war with neighboring tribes for to distinct purposes: to exact tribute for maintaining the society and to capture many prisoners to sacrifice for their gods.
In the Aztec religion their world-view stems from the idea that there were four previous suns before the present-day fifth sun. The five suns are part of the Aztec s long history of the universe. The Aztecs believe that there was a supreme creator of all, who they would call Ometeuctli, but often referred to as the lord of duality because he was both male and female. Ometeuctli’s cosmic coupling gave birth to four lesser, creator-gods. These gods would later create the five suns. Each creator-god struggles for supremacy over the others using his own unique cosmic force: earth, fire, wind, or water. When these cosmic forces are in equilibrium, there exists an age or sun from the balance. When the cosmic balance is disrupted, the result will be destruction of the sun, of the earth and of all men (Roberts 26).
Tezcatlipoca, the God of Earth, created the first sun. He mistakenly created men as giants and furthermore he created only half of a sun. The human giants were forced to survive only on a small amount of food: acorns and pine nuts. As a result of this they grew feeble and slow. Jaguars eventually devoured the half-sun, and in the darkness, they were able to kill the giants. Quetzalcoatl, the God of Wind, created the second sun. In this sun, man had to survive on mesquite tree seeds, but still the seeds were not enough nourishment for the men to survive the harsh winds that were to come. Hurricanes eventually blew the humans away and led them to their demise. However, some people were able to survive the great wind by transforming into monkeys.
Tlaloc, the God of Fire, was the creator of the third sun. During this age, men harvested grain for their survival. Huge volcanoes erupted, and their cinders rained from the sky to consume the entire world. However, a few men were able to change their form into birds which were able to escape the scalding heat (Roberts 32).
Chalchiuhtlicue, the Goddess of Water, created the fourth sun. At this time, men attempted to survive on a seed, which was called acicintli, but it turned out to be not enough food to sustain the humans. Their final dismiss came with the great flood which they had to fight. Water sprang from the center of the earth causing the sky to collapse. Most of the men drowned, but some were able to survive the raging waters by morphing into fish.
After the failure of the four previous suns, Nanahuatl, another god that was created by Ometeuctli, sacrificed his own life by throwing himself into the Divine Fire, a mythological fire pit of death. Slowly the other gods saw a new sun that had begun to rise in the east. The sun’s flares were so extremely intense that no one was able to look at it. In order to avoid the destruction of the fifth sun, and final sun, the Aztecs believed that they must sacrifice their captives of war. By giving blood to the sun, it will obtain enough energy to continue to rise each morning. The Aztecs believed blood was the most vital element that kept a man alive, and the same must have been true for the fifth sun. On the other hand, if blood was not given to sustain the fifth sun s life, chaos would rule. Earthquakes would rumble and destroy the world. The fifth sun would meet its final end when the earthquakes shook the very stars down from the sky. There would be no sixth sun. The structure of the universe would remain constant despite the vast destruction of the suns (Von Hagen 27).
During all five suns, that man lived on earth, a huge disc situated itself in the center of the universe. It surrounded the earth in an enormous ring of water. This vast water system connected the earth with the heavens. Above the earth were thirteen different heavens that served as the homes to the gods. The storms, sun, sky, stars, moon, etc occupy the first four levels of heaven, known as Teteocan. The next levels of the heavens were called Ilhuicatl. The Red God of Fire, the Place of the Yellow Sun God and the Place of the White Evening Star God live in the Ilhuicatl. At the very top level lived Omecteuctli, the supreme creator of all (Fisher 11).
Below the earth were nine underworlds. These underworlds were called Mictlan, the place of the dead. In the lowest level lived Mictlanteuctli, the god of Death. The underworlds were the most common place that dead people would be kept. The struggle through the underworlds was extremely tedious. Much suffering occurs until the man finally reached the ninth and last underworld. Once there the man would be able to rest eternally with Mictlanteuctli. However, if the man were to die on earth for a good cause, he may go to the heavens. For example, the Aztecs believed that if a woman were to die in childbirth or a warrior was killed in battle, they may go to Tlalocan, the first level of the heavens.
Even though the Aztec s religion did contain human sacrifice does not necessarily mean that they were immoral. For something to be immoral a person must know and understand that the action is wrong. The Aztecs not only did not know that human sacrifices were iniquitous, their religion taught them that they were a necessity of life. Human sacrifices are by far the only debatable moral issue, and do to the fact that they did not understand the morality, they are not held accountable for. The Aztec s religion may not have been completely moral, but it was not immoral (Defrates 17)
Kings and queens controlled the Spanish government. There were also nobles that would assist the king in governing the country. These nobles owned large estates that were worked on by the common people. Some ordinary men also owned their own farms. The other groups of people were made up of merchants and artisans who made their living in the shipyards and marketplaces. The Catholic Church was also a powerful figure at this time, late 1400s. They helped to role the government, and encouraged the spreading of the faith throughout the known world.
Around the high point of the Aztecs, 1450, Spain was very wealthy. Even through the prosperity many people were still very poor. The looked for new ways to make money. The sea was their answer. Spain has a vast amount of coastline and many people made their living off of the sea. The sailor s were very adventurous, and travel throughout the world seeking new and rare commodities. After Christopher Columbus brought news of the new world many people hoped to become rich. One such a man was Hernado Cortes, the famous slayer of the Aztecs (Macdonald 21).
Diego Velasquez, the governor of Cuba, oversaw the expedition to Mexico. He had planned to assign Cortes the position, but feared his ambition, and forfeited the voyage. Cortes heard of the ploy, and immediately set off. On reaching the mainland his goal was nothing less than the conquest of Mexico. After convincing Spain that it was a just war against the natives due to their barbaric acts. He began to march for their capital with purely selfish reasons (Gomera 19).
The Aztec s religion had foreseen the coming of Queztalcoatl, a fierce god that would predict the end of the world. The god was said to be bearded and was to come from the east. After seeing the Spanish, and their advanced technology, the Aztecs thought that they were the god. The Aztec feared this arrival, thence greeted them with gifts of gold, and begged for the terrible gods to depart. In seeing the gold Cortes knew that the stories of the golden city were true. Rather than following the Aztec s plea, Cortes traveled throughout Mexico establishing alliances with the other Indian tribes. Many tribes feared and envied the Aztec s rule. They were pleased to help in their dismiss. Then Cortes marched his new army into the Aztec s capital of Tenochtitlan. The Spanish were welcomed with open arms, stayed in the most luxurious homes, and received grand tours of the city. In an effort to secure his safety he kidnapped Moctezuma (also spelled Montezuma), the Aztec s leader, and ruled their government through him for about eight months. Cortes heard word of an approaching army to arrest him. He then turned all his attention to the problem at hand, and marched to the east coast. Cortes defeated his intended captors, and eagerly marched back to Tenochtitlan. In his absence his commander had attack the Aztec s after witnessing their human sacrifices. The natives then rebelled. Cortes tried to easy the riot through Moctezuma s plea, but the crowd stoned and eventually killed him. Moctezuma s successor, Cuitlahuac, mounted a full-scale siege against the conquistadors. Cortes was beaten, but not entirely disheartened. The remaining men retreated to regroup, at Tlaxcalan. There they healed for several months until they were ready for an additional attack.
Cortes conquered the Aztec s strong hold, and was able to launch an 80-day siege on Tenochtitlan. After four months Cortes had destroyed the Aztec s army from all sides. The Aztec s surrendered to their conquerors and awaited their dismiss (Gomera 22).
The fearsome and selfish Cortes could not have wished for a better prize than the entire empire. Their passion had been fueled by the victory, and the Spanish laid the Aztec s empire to waste. They destroyed all signs of the once dominant culture to the best of their ability. In Tenochtitlan the city was set on fire, and the majestic temples were demolished. The Spanish raped the Aztec s wealth, and sent much of the gold to Spain.
Now one must think about what the Spanish did next. They began to convert the people to Catholicism. First the Spanish came, abused their hospitality, killed their men, stole their wealth, destroyed their way of life, and now wanted to convert them. Why should the Aztec s convert to a religion that had just slaughtered their people, and enslaved the remaining? Men are thought to be treated as equals in the religion, yet the Aztec s were treated as dogs. The spreading of the Christian faith is good, but not in this way. The conquistadors should have been examples of a model Catholic, yet they acted as vicious barbarians towards those that they later taught the value of love to. The Spanish may try to compensate their actions in saying that they helped to stop an immoral religion, but this is far from the truth. The Spanish acted on selfish motivation, and even if this had been their reason for attacking never has two wrongs added up to a right.
Some people do believe that due to the human sacrifices, in their religion, that the Aztecs are not a moral society. There is another sides to this story though. True, most people will refer to the Aztecs as immoral due to their treatment of slaves, and the reason why they acquired slaves, but some people differ. The statement can be argued that the Mexicans (”Aztec”) were perhaps the most ‘moral’ of civilizations (Defrates 12). They were Spartan like, in fact. In the culture of the Aztecs there were no drunken people around, adultery was not allowed, people understood how to control themselves, and they lived without other pleasures we enjoy, that could lead to the destruction of our own civilization. They strongly practiced honor thy parents, and the elderly of the civilization would be treat with the most respect. The Aztec s understood and recognized them for their wisdom and authority over the culture. The Aztecs even thought of the Spanish as being both lewd and dirty. Personal hygiene and health of the Aztecs were top priorities amount the people. The Spaniards may have considered the Aztecs barbaric savages, but in reality they were the real savages themselves. In my personal opinion I feel that yes the Aztec s did commit many immoral acts, but that is in the eye of those who are educated in morality. The Aztec s did not posses the knowledge that we have now. They were taught that what they were doing was the right thing to do. This wipes away their faults, and frees them of moral responsibility. Had the Spanish entered the city, told them of their wrong doing, and how they could live better lives, than that would have been an entirely different situation. But it was not, and the Spanish acted ruthlessly and censurable, showing little Catholic compassion.
The Aztecs are probable the most unusual cultures that I have had the pleasure to study. They culture has hit on so many different levels that it is very difficult to explain them. They were on the high point of their society when the Spanish destroyed them. In reading much about the culture it brings me to irritated thoughts to imagine the inhuman treatment of the Aztec s by the superior Conquistadors.
Try to conceive what would have happened if the Aztecs were not destroyed. Their civilization was at the height of their expansion. There was almost nothing that they could not have educationally done at that point. They had already established an advanced calendar, and a form of mathematics, but they still could have done so much more. To think of it I am left in awe. Through this it should teach other people that life is so very valuable. The Spanish were treated like gods. They could have simply asked the Aztecs to stop the human sacrifices and it would have been done, but they were too greedy. They wanted the gold, and they wanted it only for themselves. The Spanish did not think of how their actions would effect those around them; although, maybe others, through this essay, will understand the pain and suffering that selfish acts can inflect on people.