Aztec Civilization Essay, Research Paper
The Aztec Indians created a great civilization in Central Mexico, reaching its peak in the 1500 s. Being late arrivals to the area, and because of their strong neighboring nations, they were forced to live in the swampy western areas of the Lake Texcoco. Because of the swampy surroundings, the Aztecs used mud to create miniature islands in the swamps. These islands are called chinampas, or floating gardens, and were used as farming lands. On these fertile islands they grew corn, squash, vegetables, and flowers.
Being an agriculturally dependant empire, the Aztec s religion was based highly on the forces of nature and worshipped them as gods. The god of war, Huitzilopochtli, was the most important deity. They had many other important gods, such as Tlaloc, the god of rain, Quetzalcoatl, the god of wind and of learning, and Tenochtitlan, the sun god. The Aztecs believed in order to appease these and many other gods that they needed to perform human sacrifices. The main purpose of the great Aztec pyramids was, in fact, human sacrifices. They also believed that there were lucky and unlucky days for baptism and to declare war on, which were decided by a priest.
Most art and architecture in the Aztec civilization was based on their religion. There are many brightly colored murals and paintings on walls and on bark which depict religious ceremonies, along with large idols of gods. One of the most amazing and famous of the Aztec s art works is a huge calendar stone that weighs 22 tons and is 12 feet in diameter. On the stone is a picture of what the Aztecs thought the universe was like. The sun god is in the middle, with the heavens surrounding it, and pictures of people made out of precious stones. The Aztec form of writing was in pictographs, or small pictures symbolizing objects or sounds. The Aztec numbering system used pictographs also, and was based on the number 20. For example, a flag represented 20, a fir tree represented 20 times 20, or 400, and a pouch represented 400 times 20, or 8000. The capitol of the Aztec Empire was Tenochtitlan, which was built where modern-day Mexico City is. It was given the nickname Venice of the New World, because it had many canals. During the acme of the Aztec civilization, the population of this great city numbered more than 200,000. This made it one of the most populated cities in the ancient world. The city was connected to the mainland by 3 causeways, which, when flooded, served as protective dikes. In the city aqueducts, which was probably the first type of indoor plumbing, brought fresh water into homes. Many people used canoes to travel through the city. Most of the houses were made up of mud and twisted twigs, but the nobility and priests had plastered brick or stone houses.
In 1519, Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes and more than 500 other Spaniards landed on the shores of Mexico in search of gold. The Aztecs welcomed the Spaniards and gave them gifts, because they thought they were gods. Cortes became greedy when he saw the enormous amount of riches that the Aztecs had. He took the Aztec leader, Montezuma, hostage, and forced him to swear allegiance to Spain. There the Spanish remained without resistance until, in Cortes absence, one of the officers massacred over 200 Aztecs while they had gathered for a religious ceremony. This caused the Aztecs to revolt, and they drove the Spanish to the sea. Montezuma was killed in the fighting, so he was replaced with a new leader, named Cuitlahuac. He only ruled a few months, and then he died of a disease. Montezuma s nephew Cuauhtemoc then took over. The Spanish retreated to a nearby city and rallied together to siege Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs were no match for the Spanish weapons, and they surrendered in August of 1521. This marked the end of the last of the remaining Native American Indians. Today, most of the descendants of the Aztec civilization live in Mexico, where the Aztec Empire used to flourish.