Aztec Empire Essay, Research Paper
The Aztec people ruled much of what is now Mexico from about 1427 until 1521, which was when the Spaniards conquered the empire. The empire was at its highest point since it had begun more than a century earlier. At the height of their power, the Aztec s controlled a region stretching from central Mexico to the Gulf of Mexico and also in parts of Guatemala. The Aztec s built great cities and developed a complex social, political, and religious structure. Their capital, Tenochtitlan, was located near present-day Mexico City. Tenochtitlan was possibly the largest city in the world at the time of the Spanish conquest. It featured a huge temple, a royal palace, and many canals.
Aztec society was highly structured, based on agriculture, and guided by a religion that pervaded every aspect of life. The Aztec worshipped gods that represented natural forces that were vital to their agricultural economy. Aztec cities were dominated by giant stone pyramids that had temples at the top where human sacrifices were done in honor of the god s Aztec art was primarily an done to represent religion, and even warfare.The art increased the empire s wealth and power.
The basic part of Aztec society was the calpulli. The calpulli thought of as a clan, or group of families who descended from a common ancestor. Each calpulli dealt with their own personal matters, electing a council and officers to keep order, lead in war, enforce justice, and keep records. Calpulli ran schools in which boys were taught citizenship, warfare, history, crafts, and religion. Each calpulli also had a temple, an armory to hold weapons, and a house for goods that were distributed among the family members. Within each calpulli, land was divided among the heads of families according to their needs. Each family had a right to use the land but owned only the goods that it produced. In Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, calpulli did the same things but eventually changed. As the city grew large and, the calpulli were no longer based on family relationships, but political divisions. Each calpulli still had its own governing council, school, temple, and land, but its members were not related. There were 15 calpulli in Tenochtitlan when the city was founded in 1325. In the16th century there were as many as 80. A class of priests, warriors, and administrators supported the ruler. Below these nobles were the common people, including merchants, artists, soldiers, peasant farmers, and laborers. Aztec merchants formed a class called pochteca. They lived in special sections in the cities, formed organizations, and had many privileges.
Aztec rulers and nobles owned land on private estates. Most land for commoners was owned by a calpulli, which assigned its members plots to use. Landholders paid tribute to the empire in agricultural products, which were used to provide money for public use. All men owed military service to the empire. Citizens could also be drafted to work on public lands or build temples, sewer systems, and roads.
Even though Aztec society had strict classes, a person s status could change based on his or her gift to society. Common people could improve their rank, especially by performing well in battle, and become prosperous landowners. Young people of some classes could study to become priests or warriors. Warriors who captured many prisoners gained recognition and wealth and might be admitted into one of several military orders. A person who committed a crime or did not pay his debts became a slave; however, such slaves could eventually regain their freedom, and their children were born free.
Farming was the center of the Aztec economy. The land around the lakes was fertile but not large enough to produce food for the population. To make more land better for farming, the Aztec developed irrigation systems, and used fertilizer to enrich the soil. Their most important agricultural technique was to reclaim swampy land around the lakes by creating artificial islands. On these fertile islands they grew corn, squash, vegetables, and flowers.
In the Aztec empire, some goods were produced for the ruler or sold in the local markets. These included pottery, tools, jewelry, figurines, baskets, and cloth. Other goods, especially luxury items such as lake salt, gold ornaments, and rich clothing, were carried by traveling traders to distant peoples along the Gulf coast and south toward Guatemala. There they were exchanged for luxury items native to those regions, such as tropical-bird feathers, jaguar skins, cotton, rubber, and beans for chocolate. The Aztec had no metal coins. They used beans, cotton cloth, and salt as a form of money.
As an agricultural people, the Aztec depended heavily on forces of nature and worshiped them as gods. Most important was their most important god, the sun god, Huitzilopochtli, who was also considered to be the god of war. Other important gods were Tlaloc (the god of rain) and Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent (the god of wind and learning). The Aztec believed that the kind gods must be kept strong to prevent the evil gods from destroying the world. For this purpose they had human sacrifices. People most commonly sacrificed were prisoners of war, although Aztec warriors would sometimes volunteer for the more important sacrificial rituals. The god Tlaloc was believed to prefer children as a sacrifice.
In 1519 Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes and more than 500 Spaniards landed in eastern Mexico in search of land and gold. his Native American mistress suggested that he form an alliance with one of the rivals of the Aztec, the Tlaxcalans.He did just that and set out for Tenochtitlan. After deciding how to respond to Cortes, Aztec ruler Montezuma II allowed Cortes to enter the city in order to learn more about him and his intentions.
Finding large amounts of gold and other treasure, and fearful that the Aztec s would attack his vastly outnumbered Spanish force, Cortes seized Montezuma as a hostage. The Spaniards melted the gold ornaments of the Aztec for shipment to Spain and forced Montezuma to swear loyalty to the king of Spain. The Spaniards stayed in the city without hostility until about six months later, when, in Cortes s absence, Spanish officer Pedro de Alvarado massacred 200 Aztec nobles who had gathered for a religious ceremony. After Cortes returned, the Aztec rebelled, fighting to drive the Spaniards out of Tenochtitlan. The Aztec warriors tore up the city s bridges and chased the Spaniards into the canals, where three-fourths of them, weighted down with stolen gold, quickly drowned. Montezuma was killed during the revolt. Montezuma s successor, Cuitlahuac, ruled only a few months before dying of disease. Montezuma s nephew Cuauhtemoc, who had helped lead the revolt against the Spaniards, became the next Aztec ruler.
Cortes retreated to Tlaxcala and gathered more Native American allies for a siege of Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs crude weapons were no match for the iron, steel, and gunpowder of the Spaniards, who also had the advantage of a large number of native allies. After five months of desperate and bloody fighting, Cuauhtemoc surrendered in 1521. Cortes tortured and hanged him while on an expedition to Honduras in 1525. The Spaniards conquered the remaining Aztec peoples and took over their lands, forcing them to work in gold mines and on Spanish land.
The fall of Tenochtitlan marked the end of the Native American civilizations that had existed in Mesoamerica since the first human settlement of the region. On the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the Spaniards built Mexico City. The city s present-day cathedral rises over the ruins of an Aztec temple, and the palace of the Mexican president stands on the site of the palace of Montezuma. Today there are only a few genuine full-blooded Aztec people, however their art and culture still remains throughout Central America.