The Aztecs
The Chichimec Period
Social/Political Structure
The Chichimec Period
• The fall of Tula
– From A.D. 1200 to A.D. 1370 the Basin of Mexico was occupied
by various central Mexican peoples.
– Chichimec people settled in the area from the North and gradually
overcame the people living there at that time.
– primarily due to Xolotl, who ruled a somewhat barbaric horde.
• Other Chichimecs followed (Tamimes) who were more
civilized but stole women and practiced sacrifice.
– brought knowledge of the maya calender system.
– cultivated crops with irrigation
– constructed with stone.
• Technically squatted in the area of Tenochtitlan and were
know ans the Mixeca but today Aztecs is more common.
Emergence as Political Power
• They were a miserable band, despised by all,
driven from one location to another around the
lake shore.
• Between A.D. 1250 and A.D. 1298 they served as
vassels for the Tepanecs, but finally moved to a
swampy island on the lake.
• The tribal war god, Huitzilopochtli, led them and
had them build their temples which they nourished
with human sacrifices.
• Probably just managed to out compete the adjacent
groups and grow in power.
Basin of Mexico
• Chain of interconnected lakes, 3-6, but the
Aztecs talked about three-Chalco, Texcoco,
and Xaltocan.
– Lake Texcoco
• deepest and water flowed from it to other lakes
• the Basin is about 3,000 sq miles and about 15% of
that is covered by water.
• Population estimates at around A.D.1519
are between 1 to 1.2 million.
How were they all fed?
• Many famines brought on by natural disasters, plagues of locusts,
droughts, storms, and floods.
• 1450 and 1454 bad drought and people sold themselves into slavery.
– **Not all fed all of the time.
• Subsistence level existence for the masses who substituted with wild
foods to a large extent.
• Used the Chinampas (floating gardens) for agriculture.
– 25,000 acres of chinampas at the time of contact.
– gardens never actually floated, but were created by making use of the
vegetaion in the swamps.
– Floating water plants were used to build up gardens and then were
dragged onto shore for chinampas.
– They became anchored to the native cypress.
– Lake mud was piled on and canals were built.
• However, although they were very productive, the number of people
living in the area at the time of contact could not keep up with
subsistence and surplus food demands.
• These marsh plots also brought in birds and fish that could be gathered
while they were working.
Cultural Innovations
• Trade, Economics, Market System
• Part of inter-related regions which consisted of Morelos to
the south, Puebla to the east, Mezquital to the north, and
Toluca to the west.
– although many crops the same, some areas had their specialty
– tropical fruits, cotton, cacao from Morelos, beans from Puebla.
– flowers were also a big part of the economy because one of the
great pleasures was of the smelling of flowers.
• Market days were held once each five days, four times
each month. Sometimes daily in larger towns.
– reflected community craft specializations as well as imported
– also slaves were traded, and dogs for food (400 on a slow day).
• Bernal Diaz de Castillo says that he didn’t even have time
to list how many things were offered one day at the market
of Tlateloco.
– Pochteca were a group of merchants (caste).
– commodities and goods exchanged by barter.
Cultural Innovations
• Writing
– Nahuatl language spoken at conquest, living language
– Many codices and glyphs to describe lifeways of
Aztecs, as well as Spanish accounts.
• Art
Stone carving to communicate ideas.
Free-standing figures of Aztec deities.
Aztec Calender stone.
Atlantean figures and chocmools
• Metallurgy
– acqured from Maya.
– Mostly gold, silver.
Social Structure
• Basic unit of social organization
– calpulli (clan)
– not all lineages within the clan were equal.
• Membership by birth.
– families traced their descent through fathers, which is a
lineage, and these lineages make up a calpulli.
– marry within the calpulli.
– one lineage provides leader of that calpule.
Four principle social categories:
• Pipiltin– ruler of the city state and his relatives.
– only ones to own their own land
• Macehualtin-commoner clan.
– serfs who worked others land.
• Pochtea-merchant clan.
– owned communal land.
• Tlacotin-slaves.
– no land, no rights.
– reversible status.
Political Organization
• Each city (other than Tenochtitlan) ruled by a petty-king
selected from the pipiltin.
• Dual leadership-military and religious
– supreme leader chosen from special lineage, with brother
succeeding brother.
– court which ruled over military, justice, treasury, and commerce.
• Judicial branch
– both pipitlin and commoners chosen.
– higher and lower courts.
• commoners went to lower court (tecalli).
• higher court for upper class (tlacxitlan).
– Prisoners kept in wooden cages, sentencing could be death,
mutilation or slavery.
– * Even elite tried-the sister of Motecuhzoma II was tried by her
husband for extramarital affairs and she and her lovers were put to
1Acamapichtli A.D.1376-1396
-married Ilancueil (Toltec Princess)
2Huitzilihuitl 1397-1417
3Chimalpopocoa 1417-1428
4Itzcoatl 1428-1440
5Moctezuma 1440-1469
Atotozli = Tezozomoc
6Axayacatl 1469-1481 7Tizoc 1481-1486 8Ahuizotl 1486-1502
9Moctezuma II 1502-1520
11Cuauhtemoc 1520-1525
Moctezuma II
• Worlds
– Four worlds before the present, each called a sun, each
had different types of inhabitants.
– Each had perished through its own imperfections
• The fifth sun or world in which people now lived
would also perish through a series of devastating
– It was not know when this would occur.
– but it would occur at the end of one of the 52 year
• Aztec calender stone depicts four suns with the
present sun at the center.
• Organized by fundamental characters, cult themes, and
• Most Important:
– Tlaloque-Main rain god
• Also lesser rain gods, tlaloque, resided in mts. and produced rain
• Mount Tlaloc, is aligned with the location of the Tlaloc shrine on top
of the great temple at Tenochtitlan.
– Hutizilopochtli-War God, god of the Mixeca-became very
• Multiple aspects of most gods.
• Creator deities come in pairs and in both sexes.
• Most gods have four of five aspects that are related to the
four directions and the zenith (fifth).
• directions were associated with different colors.
• White god of the east (Quetzacoatl)
• Red god of the west (Xipe)
Basic ritual pattern-Ceremonies
• Mainly elitist in organization, involved members of the stae-supported
church or upper class.
– usually preceded by fasting and other abstentions.
– offerings, processions, deity impersonations, dancing and singing, mick
combats and human sacrifice.
• followed by feasts.
• Calendrical and non-calendrical.
– 365-day ceremonies were fixed, occurred during each of the 18 months.
– 260-day ceremonies had movable feasts which rotated in relation to the
365-day year. i.e. Christian easter.
– noncalendircal were tied to life cycle, crises, homecoming, domestic
rituals, curing, etc.
• Ceremonies held in temples, several aspects similar to Christianity,
– such as confession of sins,
– sacred dough which was made in the image of a god and eaten,
– -similarity of the mother of the gods, Coatlicue, and the Virgin Mary were
• Also many personal gods to different jobs, tlaloc to farmers,
Yacateuctli to merchants.
Human Sacrifice
Skull Rack
• Aztec Empire
– held in loose control physically, but control held by intimidation and
overwhelming power.
– made an overwhelming force, as it did for the British in India, where no
immense standing armies or garrisons needed.
• Armies (main army numbered nearly 500,000)
– all males were militarily trained, in schools.
– further training was under a more experienced warrior.
– social prestige and advancement for both commoner and noble available
in military.
– more likely, that a noble would gain more prestige due to better access to
– military societies graded according to caste.
– rank determined by kinship, social status, military achievement, and
– fluid and volatile organizations.
• Declarations of war kept inside society to gain surprise.
– intelligence was also a factor, spies, merchants and diplomats acted to aid
in war.
– relay stations 2 and a half miles apart relayed information.
– supply lines and armories provided food and weapons.
Tenochtitlan: Aztec Capital
• Artificially created island with Tlatelolco (Market)
– Built up by chinampa construction and use of small islets and landfills.
– The main city was only the largest of at least ninteeen island communities
in Lake Texcoco.
– Measured at least 5.4 sq miles
– High-density urban development limited to the main island.
• System of measurement
– Complex, but consistent and practical.
• omitl (bone)=1.8 feet.
• maitl (hand)=5.4 feet
• Heart of island consisted of two ceremonial precincts and the market of
– series of adjacent plazas arranged around major buildings.
– including temples, administrative structures, palaces.
– Lists for the center include
25 pyramid temples
9 priests quarters
7 skull racks
2 ball courts
arsenals, shops, etc.
Tenochtitlan Reconstruction
Sacred Central Square
• Secular and Religious focus
– planned from arrival of Mixecas and based on astronomical principles.
• Great Temple (Temple Mayor)
aligned with the rising of the sun at the equinox.
twin pyramid with two staircases.
two temples or shrines at top, one to Huitzilopochtli and one to Tlaloc.
skewed seven degrees east of true north I order to accommodate such
– also aligned with Mt. Tlaloc and another sacred mountain.
– placed where a priest saw an eagle eating a snake on top of a cactus.
• Temples placed to right and left of great temple-Huitzilopochtli and
– from there extended the four major avenues running east-west and northsouth.
– divide city into four quarters each marked by a major temple.
• Layout
– avenues laid out on 400 maitl (2160 foot) and cross streets spaced at 400
omitls (720 feet).
– earliest temple dates to 1428, with construction and refurbishment
continuing all the time.

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