The Rise and the Fall of the Aztecs

The Aztecs were a group of Indians who started out poor and nomadic and built a wealthy prosperous empire that covered most of Central America. Legend has it that the Aztec's tribal god known as Huitzilopochtli, “Humming Bird of the Left” told the wandering tribe to find an eagle sitting on a cactus eating a serpent. When they saw this that would be where they should build their city. The eagle symbolized the sun and the cactus stood for the human hearts their god needed to live. Two hundred years later in 1325, they saw an eagle sitting on a cactus with a serpent on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco.. So, they started building their empire Tenochtitlan on the island which is now Mexico City.

The Aztecs were very successful engineers. They built three causeways leading to the mainland. They made removable bridges in the causeways to protect them from enemies. Aztecs built aqueducts that gave them fresh water to drink. The Aztecs built canoes so they could travel on the canals of Tenochtitlan. Tenochtitlan was one of the biggest cities at that time. It was a successful city that had 200,000 people living there. It was four times bigger than London and three times larger than Seville.

The Aztecs were very religious. They worshiped over sixteen hundred gods. When the Aztecs arrived at Tenochtitlan they built two temples. One was for Huitzilopochtli the war and sun god. The other temple was for Tlaloc god of rain. Aztec priests would sacrifice humans to the sun god. Servants, slaves, children, young men and women, and priests all from different tribes were used for sacrifices. For their rain god they would collect tears from children so it would rain. Human sacrifices were believed to be necessary because the gods suffered when they created the world so people need to suffer for the world to continue. To become a priest, you would have to chant prayers, work hard, have a good voice, be good at mathematics, and be able to stand in an icy mountain pool.

The Aztec's religious beliefs added to their tragic downfall. Montezuma II thought Hernan Cortes was Quetazcoatl. Quetzalcoatl was an Aztec god that the Aztecs believed would come back to the empire in 1519 and claim his throne. Cortes arrived at Montezuma's empire in 1519 on Quetzalcoatl's birthday. Montezuma thought Cortes could be Quetzalcoatl, so he was afraid. He gave Cortes gifts of gold and silver desiring that Cortes would leave Tenochtitlan. If Montezuma's beliefs were different he could've killed Cortes and his men and kept his empire from being destroyed. In lieu of the empire prospering it was defeated. The Spanish conquistadors went to Tenochtitlan. Cortes met and made friends with the Totonac Indians on his way to the capital. He arrived at Tenochtitlan and made friends with Montezuma. After awhile Cortes kidnapped the emperor and took charge of the city. Shortly, Montzuma was killed by the Aztecs or by the Spanish. Two years later, Cortes and his men defeated the Aztecs and destroyed Tenochtitlan.

The Aztecs were successful farmers. There wasn't much land for planting since they were on an island. So, the Aztecs created floating gardens called chinampas. The gardens provided food and trade for the Aztecs. Their main food was maize. They ate peanuts, tortillas, white or black maize, beans,avocado, chili peppers, cocoa beans, red or green tomatoes, potatoes, squash, sweet potato, pumpkins, and cactus leaves, prickly pear and more.

There were eight social rankings in the Aztec world. The least important people were slaves, landless peasants, peasant farmers, and merchants. The next step up were priests and warriors. The next level up were the nobles. The highest ranking was the emperor.

The poor Aztecs had homes that were made out of reeds and mud. Wealthy Aztec houses were built out of adobe bricks and had many rooms. Some had two-story houses or palaces. They might have zoos, bathing pools, and sculpture gardens. In the middle of Tenochtitlanthere was a ceremonial center. It had schools, sweatbaths, many buildings , and temples.

If a noble Aztec wanted to buy something he would trade at the market. The market was located on Tlateloco which was an island. Nobles could trade with something they had made or with gold dust. The gold dust was worth much. If you were poor you could offer to work several day in return for the goods you wanted. It has been estimated that 25,00 visited the market.

Tlachtli was a sport that Aztec men played during festivals. It is similar to basketball, soccer, and volleyball. There were two teams with two players on each team. They would have to use their elbows, knees, or hips to hit a rubber ball through a stone hoop. The team who made one goal was the winner. The victors could order the onlookers to give them their jewels and clothes. The losers sometimes were killed and sacrificed to the Aztec gods.

Hernan Cortes and the Spanish conquistadors were successful in conquering the Aztec Empire. It was also a triumph for other tribes that sided with the Spaniards. Those tribes joined in the battle because the Aztecs forced them to pay taxes and tributes to Montezuma. The Spanish were victorious in spreading the word of God to the Aztecs. Many Aztecs became Christians. It was tragic for the Aztecs when the conquistadors overcame their empire. The Spanish made the Aztecs slaves and made them build Mexico City on top of Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs grew sick and died from smallpox and other diseases that came from the Spanish. It was tragic for the Aztecs to take enemies and sacrifice them to their gods. The Spanish were triumphant because they overtook the Aztecs, and conquered a large portion of South America.
Topic revision: r2 - 2007/01/15, RickMach
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