Essay, Research Paper: Aztec Indians


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The Aztec Indians, who are known for their domination of southern and central
Mexico, ruled between the 14th and 16th centuries. They built a great empire and
developed very modernized ways of doing things. They had phenomenal
architectural skills and waterway systems. The Aztec Indians also had very
developed social class and government systems and practiced a form of religion.
To begin with, the Aztecs were very skilled in the art of Architecture and
waterway systems. “An example of the monumental architecture within the Aztec
society is the great pyramid of Tenochtitlan. Montezuma I, who was the ruler of
the Aztecs in 1466, created it. The pyramid was not finished until the rule of
Montezuma II, around 1508”(Carrasco, Montezuma Mexico, Pg. 49). “Aztec
cities and towns also had working drinking water and waste treatment systems. An
intricate plumbing system using clay pipes ran down from the mountains around
Mexico valley to all of the towns and cities in the valley. As the water ran
into each town or city it was the dispersed to 10 or 12 places around town were
it flowed into a pool for drinking water or was piped into public baths and
toilets. Only nobles had working drinking and bathing systems with running water
in their homes. The sewage system worked much like today, having human wastes
carried to a collection pool where solids were collected, and then having
liquids run off into a series of terraces which filtered the water. Solid wastes
were allowed to sit in a collection pool for about six months and then were
brought to the lake gardens to be used as fertilizer”(Jennings, Aztec, Pg.
220). “The Aztec social structure contained four well defined classes. At the
bottom of the heap were slaves and serfs, or the Tlacotli, who worked the
private lands of the nobility. Next came the Macehualtin, ‘the fortunate,’
as they were called because they were equally free of the heavy responsibility
of the nobility and of the slave’s liability to being basely used. They were
the merchants, shopkeepers and artisans that made up the bulk of the population.
The Macehualtin belonged to localized kin groups known as calpulli or ‘big
houses,’ each of which had it’s own lands, clan leaders, and
temple”(Jennings, Aztec, Pg. 354). “After that came the hereditary nobility
or Pipiltin, who supplied the top bureaucrats in the Aztec imperial system, and
from whose ranks was a formed a council which advised the emperor and elected
his successor from the ruling lineage. Also all of the nobility had the sound
"ztin" added to the end of their name. At the very top of the ladder
was the Uey-Tlatoani, or revered speaker. He had absolute control over civil
affairs and it was his job to increase the size of the Aztec Empire every year
and if he didn't wage enough wars within a period of time he would be impeached
and replaced by the Pipiltin”(Oliphant, Atlas of the Ancient World. Pg. 268).
“The Aztec government consisted of principally of the leadership of the royal
house and the vast bureaucracy backed by it. The Uey-Tlatoani dealed mainly with
external affairs of the Aztec empire, such as starting wars and making peace
treaties. Also there was a parallel ruler, another member of the royal lineage,
known as the Cihuacoatl. He dealt mainly with the internal affairs of
Tenochtitlan such as the water system and the justice system. The bureaucracy
was set into place by the nobles and performed the same function that civil
servants perform today”(Oliphant, Atlas of the Ancient World, 195). To
maintain the empire the Aztec government made the territories it conquered
contributes twice yearly. Taxes were collected from the territories also and
careful accounts were kept of what territories had to pay. The heavy taxation
and forced tribute disgruntled many territories. When Hernando Cortez arrived in
the early 1500's they were happy to help him as spies and informants”(Blacker,
Cortez and The Aztec Conquest, 143). “Aztec religion was based on the worship
of many gods, but the most important was the sun god. Aztec priests were not
allowed to bathe or wash ever during their time as a priest. This resulted in
the priests becoming encrusted with blood and guts over time. The Great Pyramid
was built as a sacrificing platform to the gods. At the very top were an altar
and a statue of the sun god, which had a hollow body in which the priests placed
their victim’s heart” (Oliphant, Atlas of the Ancient World, Pg. 197). Every
year Tenochtitlan launched a ‘Flowery War,’ in which mock battles would take
place for the sole purpose of taking prisoners. Usually the wars were small
between provinces in the empire but one year a large war with an overwhelming
defeat by the province of Tenochtitlan took place and it is estimated that
between 10 and 80 thousand prisoners were taken” (Jennings, Aztec, Pg. 436).
“After a ‘Flowery War,’ prisoners were marched back to a provinces capital
and put to a ‘Flowery Death.’ That is, being sacrificed to the gods. In the
year that Tenochtitlan took all those prisoners, it took the priests one full
week to put all the prisoners to death. It is said that the area around The
great pyramid turned into a lake of blood and the piles of bodies were taller
then the buildings.” (Jennings, Aztec, Pg. 328.) These different elements show
how the Aztec culture flourished for so long, but also they also show how it
brought about the Aztecs end. Without these characteristics, the Aztecs would
have never developed into the huge empire and culture that they became. The
Aztec empire is now gone, along with almost all of the excellent works that the
culture created, the great lake, the center of the one world, and most of the
Aztec monuments have been buried under the slums of what is now known as Mexico
city. The few artifacts that did survive only did so because they were placed in
a museum or buried and dug up recently. What a sad ends for what was once the
most prosperous nation in Latin America. One thing has survived though, the
Aztec language Nahuatl, may it last forever in defiance of the ones who tried to
wipe it from the face of the earth.
Blacker, Irwan R, Cortez and the Aztec conquest, New York: American Heritage,
1978. Carrasco, David, Scott Sessions. Niwot Colorado: University press of
Colorado, 1992. Pg. 49. Coe, Michael, Elizabeth Benson. Atlas of Ancient
America. New York: Equinox, 1986. Pg. 125, 128, 130, 146. Jennings, Gary. Aztec.
Avon, 1980. Pg. 92, 220, 329, 354, 436. Oliphant, Margaret. Atlas of the Ancient
World. Simon & Shuster, 1992. Pg. 195, 197, 268.

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