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Wikipedia defines an Empire as following:
The term "empire" does not have a precise definition, but is generally applied to political entities that are considered to be especially large by the standards of their time and that have acquired a significant part of their territory by conquest.
When one thinks of an Empire, a large state comes to mind which comprises of multiple cultures, ethnicities and a formidable military. But then when one looks at the Aztec Empire, it all goes wrong. Compared to contemporary and historical empires, one could say that Aztec Empire was not even large enough to be a duchy in Europe or Emirate in Asia. Also neither was it a singular political entity in traditional concept of Empires (but the counter argument here would be the Holy Roman Empire). It comprised of only 117,501 sq mi of area. I asked few friends about it but they disregard the area based on claims that Aztecs had no horses which were backbone of communications and expansion in that era.
My Question is why are they referred to as the Aztec Empire? Why not use more modest and realistic titles of Confederation or Kingdom?
First of all, as the definition you cited states,
The term empire does not have a precise definition.
The Aztec Empire was large by the standards of their time in their part of the world. It dominated the Valley of Mexico and was a major power in Mesoamerica generally. Land size is not really a indicator of imperial status per se, but in context, the Aztecs was the largest player around.
Also, I think you've severely overestimated how big European duchies were. See for instance: Salzburg, Limburg, Silesia, Bukovina, Bar, Bremen, Holstein or Guelders.
Secondly, Aztec rule consisted of an imperial power (Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan) subjugating and exacting tributes from foreign cities. This bears fairly close resemblance to classical empires. For example, the Athenian Empire through which Athens ruled the Aegean shores.
In fact, a powerful imperial core exercising indirect rule or suzerainty over autonomous provinces is very typical of imperial political structures. For instance, large parts of the British Empire was controlled through indirect rule. Notably, the princely states of India.
My previous two points addressed the substance of an empire. Ultimately, and perhaps more importantly however, the name of a political entity is primarily a matter of style and form. The best example is the Holy Roman Empire, which is neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire in practice.
The Aztec polity was headed by the huetlatoani, a title which outranked the tlatoani who ruled other contemporary Mexican city states. By analogy, therefore, the title of huetlatoani is translated as "emperor". Since the Aztec Triple Alliance was ruled by "emperors", it was an Aztec Empire.
As "empires" go, the Aztec "empire" is pretty small. It ranks 212th among large empires, with 220,000 square miles. That's about the size of two large European countries, say Germany and France, or Germany and Poland. It was also larger than any other civilization in the Americas (pre Columbus), except for the Incas.
An Emperor may be considered a "king of kings." Aztec leaders had several "kings" of smaller "city states" under them. Except for three core cities, most of these cities were conquered, rather than "home-grown." By that standard, as well as the "two country" size, the Aztecs had an empire.
I think it is called an empire by the following criterion: it is a multi-ethnic state where one ethnic group (or nation) rules over the other, usually conquered, ethnic groups. (This applies to the Russian, British, Osman, Austro-Hungarian, Roman, Persian, Mongol, Carolingian and many other empires.)
The size is secondary.
This definition fits the Aztec empire as well.
Aztecs or Mexica
Despite its popular use, the term "Aztec" when used to refer to the Triple Alliance founders of Tenochtitlan and the empire that ruled over ancient Mexico from AD 1428 to 1521, is not quite correct.
None of the historical records of the participants in the Spanish Conquest refer to the "Aztecs" it is not in the writings of the conquistadors Hernán Cortés or Bernal Díaz del Castillo, nor can it be found in the writings of the famed chronicler of the Aztecs, Franciscan friar Bernardino Sahagún. These early Spanish called their conquered subjects "Mexica" because that is what they called themselves.
The Culture of Freshwater Pearls
The Sacrificial Ceremony
Ice Mummies of the Inca
Money existed in the form of work—each subject of the empire paid "taxes" by laboring on the myriad roads, crop terraces, irrigation canals, temples, or fortresses. In return, rulers paid their laborers in clothing and food. Silver and gold were abundant, but only used for aesthetics. Inca kings and nobles amassed stupendous riches which accompanied them, in death, in their tombs. But it was their great wealth that ultimately undid the Inca, for the Spaniards, upon reaching the New World, learned of the abundance of gold in Inca society and soon set out to conquer it—at all costs. The plundering of Inca riches continues today with the pillaging of sacred sites and blasting of burial tombs by grave robbers in search of precious Inca gold.
While some remnants of the Inca's riches remain intact, many were destroyed as looters melted them down for their raw metal.
Growth of an Empire
The first known Incas, a noble family who ruled Cuzco and a small surrounding high Andean agricultural state, date back to A.D. 1200. The growth of the empire beyond Cuzco began in 1438 when emperor Pachacuti, which means "he who transforms the earth," strode forth from Cuzco to conquer the world around him and bring the surrounding cultures into the Inca fold.
Consolidation of a large empire was to become a continuing struggle for the ruling Inca as their influence reached across many advanced cultures of the Andes. Strictly speaking, the name "Inca" refers to the first royal family and the 40,000 descendants who ruled the empire. However, for centuries historians have used the term in reference to the nearly 100 nations conquered by the Inca. The Inca state's domain was unprecedented, its rule resulting in a universal language—a form of Quechua, a religion worshipping the sun, and a 14,000 mile-long road system criss-crossing high Andean mountain passes and linking the rulers with the ruled.
Referred to as an all-weather highway system, the over 14,000 miles of Inca roads were an astonishing and reliable precursor to the advent of the automobile. Communication and transport was efficient and speedy, linking the mountain peoples and lowland desert dwellers with Cuzco. Building materials and ceremonial processions traveled thousands of miles along the roads that still exist in remarkably good condition today. They were built to last and to withstand the extreme natural forces of wind, floods, ice, and drought.
This central nervous system of Inca transport and communication rivaled that of Rome. A high road crossed the higher regions of the Cordillera from north to south and another lower north-south road crossed the coastal plains. Shorter crossroads linked the two main highways together in several places. The terrain, according to Ciezo de Leon, an early chronicler of Inca culture, was formidable. By his account, the road system ran "through deep valleys and over mountains, through piles of snow, quagmires, living rock, along turbulent rivers in some places it ran smooth and paved, carefully laid out in others over sierras, cut through the rock, with walls skirting the rivers, and steps and rests through the snow everywhere it was clean swept and kept free of rubbish, with lodgings, storehouses, temples to the sun, and posts along the way."
The beginning of the end
With the arrival from Spain in 1532 of Francisco Pizarro and his entourage of mercenaries or "conquistadors," the Inca empire was seriously threatened for the first time. Duped into meeting with the conquistadors in a "peaceful" gathering, an Inca emperor, Atahualpa, was kidnapped and held for ransom. After paying over $50 million in gold by today's standards, Atahualpa, who was promised to be set free, was strangled to death by the Spaniards who then marched straight for Cuzco and its riches.
Ciezo de Leon, a conquistador himself, wrote of the astonishing surprise the Spaniards experienced upon reaching Cuzco. As eyewitnesses to the extravagant and meticulously constructed city of Cuzco, the conquistadors were dumbfounded to find such a testimony of superior metallurgy and finely tuned architecture.
Inca walls show remarkable craftsmanship. The blocks have no mortar to hold them together yet stay tight because of their precise carving and configuration.
Temples, edifices, paved roads, and elaborate gardens all shimmered with gold. By Ciezo de Leon's own observation the extreme riches and expert stone work of the Inca were beyond belief: "In one of (the) houses, which was the richest, there was the figure of the sun, very large and made of gold, very ingeniously worked, and enriched with many precious stones. They had also a garden, the clods of which were made of pieces of fine gold and it was artificially sown with golden maize, the stalks, as well as the leaves and cobs, being of that metal. Besides all this, they had more than twenty golden (llamas) with their lambs, and the shepherds with their slings and crooks to watch them, all made of the same metal. There was a great quantity of jars of gold and silver, set with emeralds vases, pots, and all sorts of utensils, all of fine gold. it seems to me that I have said enough to show what a grand place it was so I shall not treat further of the silver work of the chaquira (beads), of the plumes of gold and other things, which, if I wrote down, I should not be believed."
Machu Picchu and Living at Heights
What remains of the Inca legacy is limited, as the conquistadors plundered what they could of Inca treasures and in so doing, dismantled the many structures painstakingly built by Inca craftsmen to house the precious metals. Remarkably, a last bastion of the Inca empire remained unknown to the Spanish conquerors and was not found until explorer Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1911. He had found Machu Picchu, a citadel atop a mountainous jungle along the Urubamba River in Peru. Grand steps and terraces with fountains, lodgings, and shrines flank the jungle-clad pinnacle peaks surrounding the site. It was a place of worship to the sun god, the greatest deity in the Inca pantheon.
The survival of Machu Picchu over hundreds of years, on a mountaintop subject to erosion and mudslides, is a testament to Inca engineering.
Perhaps most unique about Inca civilization was its thriving existence at altitude. The Incas ruled the Andean Cordillera, second in height and harshness to the Himalayas. Daily life was spent at altitudes up to 15,000 feet and ritual life extended up to 22,057 feet to Llullaillaco in Chile, the highest Inca sacrificial site known today. Mountain roads and sacrificial platforms were built, which means a great amount of time was spent hauling loads of soil, rocks, and grass up to these inhospitable heights. Even with our advanced mountaineering clothing and equipment of today, it is hard for us to acclimatize and cope with the cold and dehydration experienced at the high altitudes frequented by the Inca. This ability of the sandal-clad Inca to thrive at extremely high elevations continues to perplex scientists today.
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How did Pizarro and his small army of mercenaries, totaling less than 400, conquer what was becoming the world's largest civilization? Much of the "conquest" was accomplished without battles or warfare as the initial contact Europeans made in the New World resulted in rampant disease. Old World infectious disease left its devastating mark on New World Indian cultures. In particular, smallpox spread quickly through Panama, eradicating entire populations. Once the disease crossed into the Andes its southward spread caused the single most devastating loss of life in the Americas. Lacking immunity, the New World peoples, including the Inca, were reduced by two-thirds.
With the aid of disease and the success of his initial deceit of Atahualpa, Pizarro acquired vast amounts of Inca gold which brought him great fortune in Spain. Reinforcements for his troops came quickly and his conquest of a people soon moved into consolidation of an empire and its wealth. Spanish culture, religion, and language rapidly replaced Inca life and only a few traces of Inca ways remain in the native culture as it exists today.
Indigenous people of Peru today retain some echoes of the Inca way of life, but most of the culture has vanished.
Overview of the Aztec Empire
The Aztec Empire was the last of the great Mesoamerican cultures. Between A.D. 1345 and 1521, the Aztecs forged an empire over much of the central Mexican highlands. At its height, the Aztecs ruled over 80,000 square miles throughout central Mexico, from the Gulf Coast to the Pacific Ocean, and south to what is now Guatemala. Millions of people in 38 provinces paid tribute to the Aztec ruler, Montezuma II, prior to the Spanish Conquest in 1521.
The Aztecs didn’t start out as a powerful people, however. The Nahuatl speaking peoples began as poor hunter-gatherers in northern Mexico, in a place known to them as Aztlan. Sometime around A.D. 1111, they left Aztlan, told by their war god Huitzilopochtli that they would have to find a new home. The god would send them a sign when they reached their new homeland.
Scholars believe the Aztecs wandered for generations, heading ever southward. Backward and poor, other more settled people didn’t want the Aztecs to settle near them and drove them on. Finally, around A.D. 1325, they saw the god’s sign—the eagle perched on a cactus eating a serpent on an island in Lake Texcoco, or so the legend has it. The city established by the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan, grew to become the capital of their empire.
Fortunately, the site was a strong, strategic area with good sources of food and clean water. The Aztecs began to build the canals and dikes necessary for their form of agriculture and to control water levels. They build causeways linking the island to the shore. Because of the island location, commerce with other cities around the lakes was easily be carried out via canoes and boats.
Through marriage alliances with ruling families in other city states, the Aztecs began to build their political base. They became fierce warriors and skillful diplomats. Throughout the late 1300s and early 1400s, the Aztecs began to grow in political power. In 1428, the Aztec ruler Itzcoatl formed alliances with the nearby cities of Tlacopan and Texcoco, creating the Triple Alliance that ruled until the coming of the Spanish in 1519.
The last half of the 15th century saw the Aztec Triple Alliance dominating the surrounding areas, reaping a rich bounty in tribute. Eventually, the Aztecs controlled much of central and southern Mexico. Thirty-eight provinces sent tribute regularly in the form of rich textiles, warrior costumes, cacao beans, maize, cotton, honey, salt and slaves for human sacrifice. Gems, gold and jewelry came to Tenochtitlan as tribute for the emperor. Wars for tribute and captives became a way of life as the empire grew in power and strength. While the Aztecs successfully conquered many, some city states resisted. Tlaxcalla, Cholula and Huexotzinco all refused Aztec dominance and were never fully conquered.
The Aztec Empire was powerful, wealthy and rich in culture, architecture and the arts. The Spanish entered the scene in 1519 when Hernan Cortes landed an exploratory vessel on the coast. Cortes was first welcomed by Montezuma II, but Cortes soon took the emperor and his advisors hostage. Though the Aztecs managed to throw the conquistadors out of Tenochtitlan, the Spanish regrouped and made alliances with the Aztec’s greatest enemy, the Tlaxcalans. They returned in 1521 and conquered Tenochtitlan, razing the city to the ground and destroying the Aztec empire in the process.
The roads were primarily built for practicality, and they were intended to move people, goods, and armies quickly and safely across the length and breadth of the empire. The Inca almost always kept the road below an altitude of 16,400 feet (5,000 meters), and where at all possible they followed flat inter-mountain valleys and across plateaus. The roads skirted much of the inhospitable South American desert coast, running instead inland along the Andean foothills where sources of water could be found. Marshy areas were avoided where possible.
Architectural innovations along the trail where difficulties could not be avoided included drainage systems of gutters and culverts, switchbacks, bridge spans, and in many places low walls built to bracket the road and protect it from erosion. In some places, tunnels and retaining walls were built to allow safe navigation.
Before the development of archaeology in the 19th century, historians of the pre-Columbian period mainly interpreted the records of the European conquerors and the accounts of early European travelers and antiquaries. It was not until the nineteenth century that the work of people such as John Lloyd Stephens, Eduard Seler and Alfred P. Maudslay, and of institutions such as the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology of Harvard University, led to the reconsideration and criticism of the early European sources. Now, the scholarly study of pre-Columbian cultures is most often based on scientific and multidisciplinary methodologies. 
The haplogroup most commonly associated with Indigenous Amerindian genetics is Haplogroup Q1a3a (Y-DNA).  Y-DNA, like mtDNA, differs from other nuclear chromosomes in that the majority of the Y chromosome is unique and does not recombine during meiosis. This has the effect that the historical pattern of mutations can easily be studied.  The pattern indicates Indigenous Amerindians experienced two very distinctive genetic episodes first with the initial-peopling of the Americas, and secondly with European colonization of the Americas.   The former is the determinant factor for the number of gene lineages and founding haplotypes present in today's Indigenous Amerindian populations. 
Human settlement of the Americas occurred in stages from the Bering sea coast line, with an initial 20,000-year layover on Beringia for the founding population.   The micro-satellite diversity and distributions of the Y lineage specific to South America indicates that certain Amerindian populations have been isolated since the initial colonization of the region.  The Na-Dené, Inuit and Indigenous Alaskan populations exhibit haplogroup Q-M242 (Y-DNA) mutations, however are distinct from other indigenous Amerindians with various mtDNA mutations.    This suggests that the earliest migrants into the northern extremes of North America and Greenland derived from later populations. 
Asian nomadic Paleo-Indians are thought to have entered the Americas via the Bering Land Bridge (Beringia), now the Bering Strait, and possibly along the coast. Genetic evidence found in Amerindians' maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) supports the theory of multiple genetic populations migrating from Asia.   After crossing the land bridge, they moved southward along the Pacific coast  and through an interior ice-free corridor.  Over the course of millennia, Paleo-Indians spread throughout the rest of North and South America.
Exactly when the first people migrated into the Americas is the subject of much debate. One of the earliest identifiable cultures was the Clovis culture, with sites dating from some 13,000 years ago. However, older sites dating back to 20,000 years ago have been claimed. Some genetic studies estimate the colonization of the Americas dates from between 40,000 and 13,000 years ago.  The chronology of migration models is currently divided into two general approaches. The first is the short chronology theory with the first movement beyond Alaska into the Americas occurring no earlier than 14,000–17,000 years ago, followed by successive waves of immigrants.     The second belief is the long chronology theory, which proposes that the first group of people entered the hemisphere at a much earlier date, possibly 50,000–40,000 years ago or earlier.    
Artifacts have been found in both North and South America which have been dated to 14,000 years ago,  and accordingly humans have been proposed to have reached Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America by this time. In that case, the Inuit would have arrived separately and at a much later date, probably no more than 2,000 years ago, moving across the ice from Siberia into Alaska.
Archaic period Edit
The North American climate was unstable as the ice age receded. It finally stabilized by about 10,000 years ago climatic conditions were then very similar to today's.  Within this time frame, roughly pertaining to the Archaic Period, numerous archaeological cultures have been identified.
The unstable climate led to widespread migration, with early Paleo-Indians soon spreading throughout the Americas, diversifying into many hundreds of culturally distinct tribes.  The Paleo-Indians were hunter-gatherers, likely characterized by small, mobile bands consisting of approximately 20 to 50 members of an extended family. These groups moved from place to place as preferred resources were depleted and new supplies were sought.  During much of the Paleo-Indian period, bands are thought to have subsisted primarily through hunting now-extinct giant land animals such as mastodon and ancient bison.  Paleo-Indian groups carried a variety of tools, including distinctive projectile points and knives, as well as less distinctive butchering and hide-scraping implements.
The vastness of the North American continent, and the variety of its climates, ecology, vegetation, fauna, and landforms, led ancient peoples to coalesce into many distinct linguistic and cultural groups.  This is reflected in the oral histories of the indigenous peoples, described by a wide range of traditional creation stories which often say that a given people have been living in a certain territory since the creation of the world.
Over the course of thousands of years, paleo-Indian people domesticated, bred and cultivated a number of plant species, including crops which now constitute 50–60% of worldwide agriculture.  In general, Arctic, Subarctic, and coastal peoples continued to live as hunters and gatherers, while agriculture was adopted in more temperate and sheltered regions, permitting a dramatic rise in population. 
Middle Archaic period Edit
After the migration or migrations, it was several thousand years before the first complex societies arose, the earliest emerging about seven to eight thousand years ago. [ citation needed ] As early as 6500 BCE, people in the Lower Mississippi Valley at the Monte Sano site were building complex earthwork mounds, probably for religious purposes. This is the earliest dated of numerous mound complexes found in present-day Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida. Since the late twentieth century, archeologists have explored and dated these sites. They have found that they were built by hunter-gatherer societies, whose people occupied the sites on a seasonal basis, and who had not yet developed ceramics. Watson Brake, a large complex of eleven platform mounds, was constructed beginning 3400 BCE and added to over 500 years. This has changed earlier assumptions that complex construction arose only after societies had adopted agriculture, become sedentary, with stratified hierarchy and usually ceramics. These ancient people had organized to build complex mound projects under a different social structure.
Late Archaic period Edit
Until the accurate dating of Watson Brake and similar sites, the oldest mound complex was thought to be Poverty Point, also located in the Lower Mississippi Valley. Built about 1500 BCE, it is the centerpiece of a culture extending over 100 sites on both sides of the Mississippi. The Poverty Point site has earthworks in the form of six concentric half-circles, divided by radial aisles, together with some mounds. The entire complex is nearly a mile across.
Mound building was continued by succeeding cultures, who built numerous sites in the middle Mississippi and Ohio River valleys as well, adding effigy mounds, conical and ridge mounds and other shapes.
Woodland period Edit
The Woodland period of North American pre-Columbian cultures lasted from roughly 1000 BCE to 1000 CE. The term was coined in the 1930s and refers to prehistoric sites between the Archaic period and the Mississippian cultures. The Adena culture and the ensuing Hopewell tradition during this period built monumental earthwork architecture and established continent-spanning trade and exchange networks.
In the Great Plains, this period is called the Woodland period.
This period is considered a developmental stage without any massive changes in a short period, but instead having a continuous development in stone and bone tools, leatherworking, textile manufacture, tool production, cultivation, and shelter construction. Some Woodland peoples continued to use spears and atlatls until the end of the period, when they were replaced by bows and arrows.
Mississippian culture Edit
The Mississippian culture was spread across the Southeast and Midwest from the Atlantic coast to the edge of the plains, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Upper Midwest, although most intensively in the area along the Mississippi River and Ohio River. One of the distinguishing features of this culture was the construction of complexes of large earthen mounds and grand plazas, continuing the moundbuilding traditions of earlier cultures. They grew maize and other crops intensively, participated in an extensive trade network and had a complex stratified society. The Mississippians first appeared around 1000 CE, following and developing out of the less agriculturally intensive and less centralized Woodland period. The largest urban site of these people, Cahokia—located near modern East St. Louis, Illinois—may have reached a population of over 20,000. Other chiefdoms were constructed throughout the Southeast, and its trade networks reached to the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. At its peak, between the 12th and 13th centuries, Cahokia was the most populous city in North America. (Larger cities did exist in Mesoamerica and South America.) Monk's Mound, the major ceremonial center of Cahokia, remains the largest earthen construction of the prehistoric Americas. The culture reached its peak in about 1200–1400 CE, and in most places, it seems to have been in decline before the arrival of Europeans.
Many Mississippian peoples were encountered by the expedition of Hernando de Soto in the 1540s, mostly with disastrous results for both sides. Unlike the Spanish expeditions in Mesoamerica, who conquered vast empires with relatively few men, the de Soto expedition wandered the American Southeast for four years, becoming more bedraggled, losing more men and equipment, and eventually arriving in Mexico as a fraction of its original size. The local people fared much worse though, as the fatalities of diseases introduced by the expedition devastated the populations and produced much social disruption. By the time Europeans returned a hundred years later, nearly all of the Mississippian groups had vanished, and vast swaths of their territory were virtually uninhabited. 
Monks Mound of Cahokia (UNESCO World Heritage Site) in summer. The concrete staircase follows the approximate course of the ancient wooden stairs.
In just a century, the Aztec built an empire in the area now called central Mexico. The arrival of the Spanish conquistadors brought it to a sudden end.
Anthropology, Archaeology, Sociology, Social Studies, Ancient Civilizations, World History, Storytelling
Pyramid of the Sun
The Teotihuacan pyramids are some of the largest of their kind in the Americas. Ancient Teotihuacanos constructed the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon in the year 100 C.E., centuries before the Aztec had arrived in Teotihuacan. These marvels still stand at an incredible height of around 65 meters (213 feet) and 43 meters (141 feet) respectively.
The legendary origin of the Aztec people has them migrating from a homeland called Aztlan to what would become modern-day Mexico. While it is not clear where Aztlan was, a number of scholars believe that the Mexica&mdashas the Aztec referred to themselves&mdashmigrated south to central Mexico in the 13th century.
The Mexica founding of Tenochtitlan was under direction from their patron god Huitzilopochtli, according to legend. The legend recounts that Huitzilopochtli told them to found their settlement in the place where a giant eagle eating a snake was perched on a cactus. This settlement, in the region of Mesoamerica called Anáhuac located on a group of five connected lakes, became Tenochtitlan. Archaeologists date the founding of Tenochtitlan to 1325 C.E.
At first, the Mexica in Tenochtitlan were one of a number of small city-states in the region. They were subject to the Tepanec, whose capital was Azcapotzalco, and had to pay tribute to them. In 1428, the Mexica allied with two other cities&mdashTexcoco and Tlacopan. They formed the Aztec Triple Alliance and were able to win the battle for regional control, collecting tribute from conquered states.
Key to the rise of Tenochtitlan was the agricultural system that made it possible to feed the population. Chinampas, small, artificial islands created above the waterline, were one feature of the system. Recordkeeping was important to tracking tributes. Two pictographic texts that survived Spanish destruction&mdashthe Matricula de tributos and Codex Mendoza&mdashrecord the tributes paid to the Aztecs. The codices also recorded religious practices.
A 260-day ritual calendar was used by Aztec priests for divination, alongside a 365-day solar calendar. At their central temple in Tenochtitlan, Templo Mayor, the Aztecs practiced both bloodletting (offering one&rsquos own blood) and human sacrifice as part of their religious practices. The Spanish reaction to Aztec religious practices is believed to be partially responsible for the violence of the Spanish conquest.
The Spanish, led by conquistador Hernando Cortés, arrived in what is now Mexico in 1519. They were looking for gold, and the gifts from the Mexica ruler, Motecuhzoma, proved that gold was present. Upon arriving in Tenochtitlan, Cortés took Motecuhzoma prisoner and attempted to rule on his behalf, but this did not go well, and Cortés fled the city in June of 1520.
This was not the end of the interactions, however. The Spanish conquistadors laid siege to the Aztec capital from the middle of May of 1521 until they surrendered on August 13, 1521. They were aided by Texcoco, a former Triple Alliance member. A great deal of Tenochtitlan was destroyed in the fighting, or was looted, burned, or destroyed after the surrender. Cortés began to build what is now known as Mexico City, the capital of a Spanish colony of which he was named governor, atop the ruins.
The Aztec Empire was made up of city-states. At the center of each city-state was a large city that ruled the area. For the most part, the Aztec Emperor did not interfere with the ruling of the city-states. What he required was that each city-state paid him a tribute. As long as the tribute was paid, the city-state remained somewhat independent of Aztec rule.
Map of the Aztec Empire
by Yavidaxiu from Wikimedia Commons
Click picture to see larger version
The Emperor or Huey Tlatoani
The Aztec government was similar to a monarchy where an Emperor or King was the primary ruler. They called their ruler the Huey Tlatoani. The Huey Tlatoani was the ultimate power in the land. They felt that he was appointed by the gods and had the divine right to rule. He decided when to go to war and what tribute the lands he ruled would pay the Aztecs.
When an emperor died, the new emperor was chosen by a group of high ranking nobles. Usually the new emperor was a relative of the previous emperor, but it wasn't always his son. Sometimes they chose a brother who they felt would be a good leader.
- Acamapichtli - The first emperor of the Aztecs, he ruled for 19 years starting in 1375.
- Itzcoatl - The fourth emperor of the Aztecs, he conquered the Tepanecs and founded the Triple Alliance.
- Montezuma I - Under Montezuma I the Aztecs became the dominant power of the Triple Alliance and the empire was expanded.
- Montezuma II - The ninth emperor of the Aztecs, Montezuma II was the leader when Cortez and the Spanish arrived. He had expanded the empire to its greatest size, but was killed by the Spanish.
The second in command of the Aztec government was the Cihuacoatl. The Cihuacoatl was in charge of running the government on a day to day basis. He had thousands of officials and civil servants who worked under him and kept the government and the empire running smoothly.
There was also the Council of Four. These were powerful men and generals of the army who were first in line to become the next emperor. They gave advice to the emperor and it was important that he had their agreement in major decisions.
Other important officials in the government included the priests who oversaw the religious aspects of the city, the judges who ran the court system, and the military leaders.
The Aztecs had a fairly sophisticated code of law. There were numerous laws including laws against stealing, murder, drunkenness, and property damage. A system of courts and judges determined guilt and punishments. They had different levels of courts all the way up to a supreme court. Citizens could appeal rulings to a higher court if they did not agree with the judge.
One interesting part of the law was the "one time forgiveness law". Under this law, a citizen could confess a crime to a priest and they would be forgiven. This only worked if they confessed the crime prior to being caught. It also could only be used once.
The center of the Aztec government was the capital city of Tenochtitlan. This was where the emperor as well as the majority of the nobles lived. At its peak under Montezuma II, Tenochtitlan is thought to have had a population of 200,000 people.
The Nahuatl words (aztecatl [asˈtekat͡ɬ] , singular)  and (aztecah [asˈtekaʔ] , plural)  mean "people from Aztlan,"  a mythical place of origin for several ethnic groups in central Mexico. The term was not used as an endonym by Aztecs themselves, but it is found in the different migration accounts of the Mexica, where it describes the different tribes who left Aztlan together. In one account of the journey from Aztlan, Huitzilopochtli, the tutelary deity of the Mexica tribe, tells his followers on the journey that "now, no longer is your name Azteca, you are now Mexitin [Mexica]". 
In today's usage, the term "Aztec" often refers exclusively to the Mexica people of Tenochtitlan (now the location of Mexico City), situated on an island in Lake Texcoco, who referred to themselves as Mēxihcah (Nahuatl pronunciation: [meːˈʃiʔkaʔ] , a tribal designation that included the Tlatelolco), Tenochcah (Nahuatl pronunciation: [teˈnot͡ʃkaʔ] , referring only to the Mexica of Tenochtitlan, excluding Tlatelolco) or Cōlhuah (Nahuatl pronunciation: [ˈkoːlwaʔ] , referring to their royal genealogy tying them to Culhuacan).   [nb 1] [nb 2]
Sometimes the term also includes the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan's two principal allied city-states, the Acolhuas of Texcoco and the Tepanecs of Tlacopan, who together with the Mexica formed the Aztec Triple Alliance that controlled what is often known as the "Aztec Empire." The usage of the term "Aztec" in describing the empire centered in Tenochtitlan, has been criticized by Robert H. Barlow who preferred the term "Culhua-Mexica",   and by Pedro Carrasco who prefers the term "Tenochca empire."  Carrasco writes about the term "Aztec" that "it is of no use for understanding the ethnic complexity of ancient Mexico and for identifying the dominant element in the political entity we are studying." 
In other contexts, Aztec may refer to all the various city states and their peoples, who shared large parts of their ethnic history and cultural traits with the Mexica, Acolhua and Tepanecs, and who often also used the Nahuatl language as a lingua franca. An example is Jerome A. Offner's Law and Politics in Aztec Texcoco.  In this meaning, it is possible to talk about an "Aztec civilization" including all the particular cultural patterns common for most of the peoples inhabiting central Mexico in the late postclassic period.  Such a usage may also extend the term "Aztec" to all the groups in Central Mexico that were incorporated culturally or politically into the sphere of dominance of the Aztec empire.  [nb 3]
When used to describe ethnic groups, the term "Aztec" refers to several Nahuatl-speaking peoples of central Mexico in the postclassic period of Mesoamerican chronology, especially the Mexica, the ethnic group that had a leading role in establishing the hegemonic empire based at Tenochtitlan. The term extends to further ethnic groups associated with the Aztec empire, such as the Acolhua, the Tepanec and others that were incorporated into the empire. Charles Gibson enumerates a number of groups in central Mexico that he includes in his study The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule (1964). These include the Culhuaque, Cuitlahuaque, Mixquica, Xochimilca, Chalca, Tepaneca, Acolhuaque, and Mexica. 
In older usage the term was commonly used about modern Nahuatl-speaking ethnic groups, as Nahuatl was previously referred to as the "Aztec language". In recent usage, these ethnic groups are referred to as the Nahua peoples.   Linguistically, the term "Aztecan" is still used about the branch of the Uto-Aztecan languages (also sometimes called the yuto-nahuan languages) that includes the Nahuatl language and its closest relatives Pochutec and Pipil. 
To the Aztecs themselves the word "aztec" was not an endonym for any particular ethnic group. Rather, it was an umbrella term used to refer to several ethnic groups, not all of them Nahuatl-speaking, that claimed heritage from the mythic place of origin, Aztlan. Alexander von Humboldt originated the modern usage of "Aztec" in 1810, as a collective term applied to all the people linked by trade, custom, religion, and language to the Mexica state and the Triple Alliance. In 1843, with the publication of the work of William H. Prescott on the history of the conquest of Mexico, the term was adopted by most of the world, including 19th-century Mexican scholars who saw it as a way to distinguish present-day Mexicans from pre-conquest Mexicans. This usage has been the subject of debate in more recent years, but the term "Aztec" is still more common. 
Sources of knowledge
Knowledge of Aztec society rests on several different sources: The many archeological remains of everything from temple pyramids to thatched huts, can be used to understand many of the aspects of what the Aztec world was like. However, archeologists often must rely on knowledge from other sources to interpret the historical context of artifacts. There are many written texts by the indigenous people and Spaniards of the early colonial period that contain invaluable information about precolonial Aztec history. These texts provide insight into the political histories of various Aztec city-states, and their ruling lineages. Such histories were produced as well in pictorial codices. Some of these manuscripts were entirely pictorial, often with glyphs. In the postconquest era many other texts were written in Latin script by either literate Aztecs or by Spanish friars who interviewed the native people about their customs and stories. An important pictorial and alphabetic text produced in the early sixteenth century was Codex Mendoza, named after the first viceroy of Mexico and perhaps commissioned by him, to inform the Spanish crown about the political and economic structure of the Aztec empire. It has information naming the polities that the Triple Alliance conquered, the types of tribute rendered to the Aztec Empire, and the class/gender structure of their society.  Many written annals exist, written by local Nahua historians recording the histories of their polity. These annals used pictorial histories and were subsequently transformed into alphabetic annals in Latin script.  Well-known native chroniclers and annalists are Chimalpahin of Amecameca-Chalco Fernando Alvarado Tezozomoc of Tenochtitlan Alva Ixtlilxochitl of Texcoco, Juan Bautista Pomar of Texcoco, and Diego Muñoz Camargo of Tlaxcala. There are also many accounts by Spanish conquerors who participated in Spanish invasion, such as Bernal Díaz del Castillo who wrote a full history of the conquest.
Spanish friars also produced documentation in chronicles and other types of accounts. Of key importance is Toribio de Benavente Motolinia, one of the first twelve Franciscans arriving in Mexico in 1524. Another Franciscan of great importance was Fray Juan de Torquemada, author of Monarquia Indiana. Dominican Diego Durán also wrote extensively about prehispanic religion as well as a history of the Mexica.  An invaluable source of information about many aspects of Aztec religious thought, political and social structure, as well as history of the Spanish conquest from the Mexica viewpoint is the Florentine Codex. Produced between 1545 and 1576 in the form of an ethnographic encyclopedia written bilingually in Spanish and Nahuatl, by Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún and indigenous informants and scribes, it contains knowledge about many aspects of precolonial society from religion, calendrics, botany, zoology, trades and crafts and history.   Another source of knowledge is the cultures and customs of the contemporary Nahuatl speakers who can often provide insights into what prehispanic ways of life may have been like. Scholarly study of Aztec civilization is most often based on scientific and multidisciplinary methodologies, combining archeological knowledge with ethnohistorical and ethnographic information. 
Central Mexico in the classic and postclassic
It is a matter of debate whether the enormous city of Teotihuacan was inhabited by speakers of Nahuatl, or whether Nahuas had not yet arrived in central Mexico in the classic period. It is generally agreed that the Nahua peoples were not indigenous to the highlands of central Mexico, but that they gradually migrated into the region from somewhere in northwestern Mexico. At the fall of Teotihuacan in the 6th century CE, a number of city states rose to power in central Mexico, some of them, including Cholula and Xochicalco, probably inhabited by Nahuatl speakers. One study has suggested that Nahuas originally inhabited the Bajío area around Guanajuato which reached a population peak in the 6th century, after which the population quickly diminished during a subsequent dry period. This depopulation of the Bajío coincided with an incursion of new populations into the Valley of Mexico, which suggests that this marks the influx of Nahuatl speakers into the region.  These people populated central Mexico, dislocating speakers of Oto-Manguean languages as they spread their political influence south. As the former nomadic hunter-gatherer peoples mixed with the complex civilizations of Mesoamerica, adopting religious and cultural practices, the foundation for later Aztec culture was laid. After 900 CE, during the postclassic period, a number of sites almost certainly inhabited by Nahuatl speakers became powerful. Among them the site of Tula, Hidalgo, and also city states such as Tenayuca, and Colhuacan in the valley of Mexico and Cuauhnahuac in Morelos. 
Mexica migration and foundation of Tenochtitlan
In the ethnohistorical sources from the colonial period, the Mexica themselves describe their arrival in the Valley of Mexico. The ethnonym Aztec (Nahuatl Aztecah) means "people from Aztlan", Aztlan being a mythical place of origin toward the north. Hence the term applied to all those peoples who claimed to carry the heritage from this mythical place. The migration stories of the Mexica tribe tell how they traveled with other tribes, including the Tlaxcalteca, Tepaneca and Acolhua, but that eventually their tribal deity Huitzilopochtli told them to split from the other Aztec tribes and take on the name "Mexica".  At the time of their arrival, there were many Aztec city-states in the region. The most powerful were Colhuacan to the south and Azcapotzalco to the west. The Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco soon expelled the Mexica from Chapultepec. In 1299, Colhuacan ruler Cocoxtli gave them permission to settle in the empty barrens of Tizapan, where they were eventually assimilated into Culhuacan culture.  The noble lineage of Colhuacan traced its roots back to the legendary city-state of Tula, and by marrying into Colhua families, the Mexica now appropriated this heritage. After living in Colhuacan, the Mexica were again expelled and were forced to move. 
According to Aztec legend, in 1323, the Mexica were shown a vision of an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus, eating a snake. The vision indicated the location where they were to build their settlement. The Mexica founded Tenochtitlan on a small swampy island in Lake Texcoco, the inland lake of the Basin of Mexico. The year of foundation is usually given as 1325. In 1376 the Mexica royal dynasty was founded when Acamapichtli, son of a Mexica father and a Colhua mother, was elected as the first Huey Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan. 
Early Mexica rulers
In the first 50 years after the founding of the Mexica dynasty, the Mexica were a tributary of Azcapotzalco, which had become a major regional power under the ruler Tezozomoc. The Mexica supplied the Tepaneca with warriors for their successful conquest campaigns in the region and received part of the tribute from the conquered city states. In this way, the political standing and economy of Tenochtitlan gradually grew. 
In 1396, at Acamapichtli's death, his son Huitzilihhuitl (lit. "Hummingbird feather") became ruler married to Tezozomoc's daughter, the relation with Azcapotzalco remained close. Chimalpopoca (lit. "She smokes like a shield"), son of Huitzilihhuitl, became ruler of Tenochtitlan in 1417. In 1418, Azcapotzalco initiated a war against the Acolhua of Texcoco and killed their ruler Ixtlilxochitl. Even though Ixtlilxochitl was married to Chimalpopoca's daughter, the Mexica ruler continued to support Tezozomoc. Tezozomoc died in 1426, and his sons began a struggle for rulership of Azcapotzalco. During this struggle for power, Chimalpopoca died, probably killed by Tezozomoc's son Maxtla who saw him as a competitor.  Itzcoatl, brother of Huitzilihhuitl and uncle of Chimalpopoca, was elected the next Mexica tlatoani. The Mexica were now in open war with Azcapotzalco and Itzcoatl petitioned for an alliance with Nezahualcoyotl, son of the slain Texcocan ruler Ixtlilxochitl against Maxtla. Itzcoatl also allied with Maxtla's brother Totoquihuaztli ruler of the Tepanec city of Tlacopan. The Triple Alliance of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan besieged Azcapotzalco, and in 1428 they destroyed the city and sacrificed Maxtla. Through this victory Tenochtitlan became the dominant city state in the Valley of Mexico, and the alliance between the three city-states provided the basis on which the Aztec Empire was built. 
Itzcoatl proceeded by securing a power basis for Tenochtitlan, by conquering the city-states on the southern lake – including Culhuacan, Xochimilco, Cuitlahuac and Mizquic. These states had an economy based on highly productive chinampa agriculture, cultivating human-made extensions of rich soil in the shallow lake Xochimilco. Itzcoatl then undertook further conquests in the valley of Morelos, subjecting the city state of Cuauhnahuac (today Cuernavaca). 
Early rulers of the Aztec Empire
Motecuzoma I Ilhuicamina
In 1440, Motecuzoma I Ilhuicamina [nb 4] (lit. "he frowns like a lord, he shoots the sky" [nb 5] ) was elected tlatoani he was son of Huitzilihhuitl, brother of Chimalpopoca and had served as the war leader of his uncle Itzcoatl in the war against the Tepanecs. The accession of a new ruler in the dominant city state was often an occasion for subjected cities to rebel by refusing to pay tribute. This meant that new rulers began their rule with a coronation campaign, often against rebellious tributaries, but also sometimes demonstrating their military might by making new conquests. Motecuzoma tested the attitudes of the cities around the valley by requesting laborers for the enlargement of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan. Only the city of Chalco refused to provide laborers, and hostilities between Chalco and Tenochtitlan would persist until the 1450s.   Motecuzoma then reconquered the cities in the valley of Morelos and Guerrero, and then later undertook new conquests in the Huaxtec region of northern Veracruz, and the Mixtec region of Coixtlahuaca and large parts of Oaxaca, and later again in central and southern Veracruz with conquests at Cosamalopan, Ahuilizapan and Cuetlaxtlan.  During this period the city states of Tlaxcalan, Cholula and Huexotzinco emerged as major competitors to the imperial expansion, and they supplied warriors to several of the cities conquered. Motecuzoma therefore initiated a state of low-intensity warfare against these three cities, staging minor skirmishes called "Flower Wars" (Nahuatl xochiyaoyotl) against them, perhaps as a strategy of exhaustion.  
Motecuzoma also consolidated the political structure of the Triple Alliance, and the internal political organization of Tenochtitlan. His brother Tlacaelel served as his main advisor (Nahuatl languages: Cihuacoatl) and he is considered the architect of major political reforms in this period, consolidating the power of the noble class (Nahuatl languages: pipiltin) and instituting a set of legal codes, and the practice of reinstating conquered rulers in their cities bound by fealty to the Mexica tlatoani.   
Axayacatl and Tizoc
In 1469, the next ruler was Axayacatl (lit. "Water mask"), son of Itzcoatl's son Tezozomoc and Motecuzoma I's daughter Atotoztli. [nb 6] He undertook a successful coronation campaign far south of Tenochtitlan against the Zapotecs in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Axayacatl also conquered the independent Mexica city of Tlatelolco, located on the northern part of the island where Tenochtitlan was also located. The Tlatelolco ruler Moquihuix was married to Axayacatl's sister, and his alleged mistreatment of her was used as an excuse to incorporate Tlatelolco and its important market directly under the control of the tlatoani of Tenochtitlan. 
Axayacatl then conquered areas in Central Guerrero, the Puebla Valley, on the gulf coast and against the Otomi and Matlatzinca in the Toluca valley. The Toluca valley was a buffer zone against the powerful Tarascan state in Michoacan, against which Axayacatl turned next. In the major campaign against the Tarascans (Nahuatl languages: Michhuahqueh) in 1478–79 the Aztec forces were repelled by a well organized defense. Axayacatl was soundly defeated in a battle at Tlaximaloyan (today Tajimaroa), losing most of his 32,000 men and only barely escaping back to Tenochtitlan with the remnants of his army. 
In 1481 at Axayacatls death, his older brother Tizoc was elected ruler. Tizoc's coronation campaign against the Otomi of Metztitlan failed as he lost the major battle and only managed to secure 40 prisoners to be sacrificed for his coronation ceremony. Having shown weakness, many of the tributary towns rebelled and consequently most of Tizoc's short reign was spent attempting to quell rebellions and maintain control of areas conquered by his predecessors. Tizoc died suddenly in 1485, and it has been suggested that he was poisoned by his brother and war leader Ahuitzotl who became the next tlatoani. Tizoc is mostly known as the namesake of the Stone of Tizoc a monumental sculpture (Nahuatl temalacatl), decorated with representation of Tizoc's conquests. 
Final Aztec rulers and the Spanish conquest
In 1517, Moctezuma received the first news of ships with strange warriors having landed on the Gulf Coast near Cempoallan and he dispatched messengers to greet them and find out what was happening, and he ordered his subjects in the area to keep him informed of any new arrivals. In 1519, he was informed of the arrival of the Spanish fleet of Hernán Cortés, who soon marched towards Tlaxcala where he formed an alliance with the traditional enemies of the Aztecs. On 8 November 1519, Moctezuma II received Cortés and his troops and Tlaxcalan allies on the causeway south of Tenochtitlan, and he invited the Spaniards to stay as his guests in Tenochtitlan. When Aztec troops destroyed a Spanish camp on the gulf coast, Cortés ordered Moctezuma to execute the commanders responsible for the attack, and Moctezuma complied. At this point, the power balance had shifted towards the Spaniards who now held Motecuzoma as a prisoner in his own palace. As this shift in power became clear to Moctezuma's subjects, the Spaniards became increasingly unwelcome in the capital city, and in June 1520, hostilities broke out, culminating in the massacre in the Great Temple, and a major uprising of the Mexica against the Spanish. During the fighting, Moctezuma was killed, either by the Spaniards who killed him as they fled the city or by the Mexica themselves who considered him a traitor. 
Cuitláhuac, a kinsman and adviser to Moctezuma, succeeded him as tlatoani, mounting the defense of Tenochtitlan against the Spanish invaders and their indigenous allies. He ruled only 80 days, perhaps dying in a smallpox epidemic, although early sources do not give the cause. He was succeeded by Cuauhtémoc, the last independent Mexica tlatoani, who continued the fierce defense of Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs were weakened by disease, and the Spanish enlisted tens of thousands of Indian allies, especially Tlaxcalans, for the assault on Tenochtitlan. After the siege and complete destruction of the Aztec capital, Cuahtémoc was captured on 13 August 1521, marking the beginning of Spanish hegemony in central Mexico. Spaniards held Cuauhtémoc captive until he was tortured and executed on the orders of Cortés, supposedly for treason, during an ill-fated expedition to Honduras in 1525. His death marked the end of a tumultuous era in Aztec political history.
Nobles and commoners
The highest class were the pīpiltin [nb 7] or nobility. The pilli status was hereditary and ascribed certain privileges to its holders, such as the right to wear particularly fine garments and consume luxury goods, as well as to own land and direct corvée labor by commoners. The most powerful nobles were called lords (Nahuatl languages: teuctin) and they owned and controlled noble estates or houses, and could serve in the highest government positions or as military leaders. Nobles made up about 5% of the population. 
The second class were the mācehualtin, originally peasants, but later extended to the lower working classes in general. Eduardo Noguera estimates that in later stages only 20% of the population was dedicated to agriculture and food production.  The other 80% of society were warriors, artisans and traders. Eventually, most of the mācehuallis were dedicated to arts and crafts. Their works were an important source of income for the city.  Macehualtin could become enslaved, (Nahuatl languages: tlacotin) for example if they had to sell themselves into the service of a noble due to debt or poverty, but enslavement was not an inherited status among the Aztecs. Some macehualtin were landless and worked directly for a lord (Nahuatl languages: mayehqueh), whereas the majority of commoners were organized into calpollis which gave them access to land and property. 
Commoners were able to obtain privileges similar to those of the nobles by demonstrating prowess in warfare. When a warrior took a captive he accrued the right to use certain emblems, weapons or garments, and as he took more captives his rank and prestige increased. 
Family and gender
The Aztec family pattern was bilateral, counting relatives on the father's and mother's side of the family equally, and inheritance was also passed both to sons and daughters. This meant that women could own property just as men, and that women therefore had a good deal of economic freedom from their spouses. Nevertheless, Aztec society was highly gendered with separate gender roles for men and women. Men were expected to work outside of the house, as farmers, traders, craftsmen and warriors, whereas women were expected to take the responsibility of the domestic sphere. Women could however also work outside of the home as small-scale merchants, doctors, priests and midwives. Warfare was highly valued and a source of high prestige, but women's work was metaphorically conceived of as equivalent to warfare, and as equally important in maintaining the equilibrium of the world and pleasing the gods. This situation has led some scholars to describe Aztec gender ideology as an ideology not of a gender hierarchy, but of gender complementarity, with gender roles being separate but equal. 
Among the nobles, marriage alliances were often used as a political strategy with lesser nobles marrying daughters from more prestigious lineages whose status was then inherited by their children. Nobles were also often polygamous, with lords having many wives. Polygamy was not very common among the commoners and some sources describe it as being prohibited. 
While the Aztecs did have gender roles associated with "men" and "women" they did not live in strictly a two-gendered society. In fact, there were multiple "third gender" identities that existed throughout their society and came with their own gender roles. The term "third gender" isn't the most precise term that can be used. Rather, their native Nahuatl words such as patlache and cuiloni are more accurate since "third gender" is more of a Western concept. The names for these gender identities are deeply connected to the religious customs of the Aztecs, and as such, did play a large role in Aztec society. 
Altepetl and calpolli
The main unit of Aztec political organization was the city state, in Nahuatl called the altepetl, meaning "water-mountain". Each altepetl was led by a ruler, a tlatoani, with authority over a group of nobles and a population of commoners. The altepetl included a capital which served as a religious center, the hub of distribution and organization of a local population which often lived spread out in minor settlements surrounding the capital. Altepetl were also the main source of ethnic identity for the inhabitants, even though Altepetl were frequently composed of groups speaking different languages. Each altepetl would see itself as standing in a political contrast to other altepetl polities, and war was waged between altepetl states. In this way Nahuatl speaking Aztecs of one Altepetl would be solidary with speakers of other languages belonging to the same altepetl, but enemies of Nahuatl speakers belonging to other competing altepetl states. In the basin of Mexico, altepetl was composed of subdivisions called calpolli, which served as the main organizational unit for commoners. In Tlaxcala and the Puebla valley, the altepetl was organized into teccalli units headed by a lord (Nahuatl languages: tecutli), who would hold sway over a territory and distribute rights to land among the commoners. A calpolli was at once a territorial unit where commoners organized labor and land use, since land was not in private property, and also often a kinship unit as a network of families that were related through intermarriage. Calpolli leaders might be or become members of the nobility, in which case they could represent their calpollis interests in the altepetl government.  
In the valley of Morelos, archeologist Michael E. Smith estimates that a typical altepetl had from 10,000 to 15,000 inhabitants, and covered an area between 70 and 100 square kilometers. In the Morelos valley, altepetl sizes were somewhat smaller. Smith argues that the altepetl was primarily a political unit, made up of the population with allegiance to a lord, rather than as a territorial unit. He makes this distinction because in some areas minor settlements with different altepetl allegiances were interspersed. 
Triple Alliance and Aztec Empire
The Aztec Empire was ruled by indirect means. Like most European empires, it was ethnically very diverse, but unlike most European empires, it was more of a system of tribute than a single system of government. Ethnohistorian Ross Hassig has argued that Aztec empire is best understood as an informal or hegemonic empire because it did not exert supreme authority over the conquered lands it merely expected tributes to be paid and exerted force only to the degree it was necessary to ensure the payment of tribute.   It was also a discontinuous empire because not all dominated territories were connected for example, the southern peripheral zones of Xoconochco were not in direct contact with the center. The hegemonic nature of the Aztec empire can be seen in the fact that generally local rulers were restored to their positions once their city-state was conquered, and the Aztecs did not generally interfere in local affairs as long as the tribute payments were made and the local elites participated willingly. Such compliance was secured by establishing and maintaining a network of elites, related through intermarriage and different forms of exchange. 
Nevertheless, the expansion of the empire was accomplished through military control of frontier zones, in strategic provinces where a much more direct approach to conquest and control was taken. Such strategic provinces were often exempt from tributary demands. The Aztecs even invested in those areas, by maintaining a permanent military presence, installing puppet-rulers, or even moving entire populations from the center to maintain a loyal base of support.  In this way, the Aztec system of government distinguished between different strategies of control in the outer regions of the empire, far from the core in the Valley of Mexico. Some provinces were treated as tributary provinces, which provided the basis for economic stability for the empire, and strategic provinces, which were the basis for further expansion. 
Although the form of government is often referred to as an empire, in fact most areas within the empire were organized as city-states, known as altepetl in Nahuatl. These were small polities ruled by a hereditary leader (tlatoani) from a legitimate noble dynasty. The Early Aztec period was a time of growth and competition among altepetl. Even after the confederation of the Triple Alliance was formed in 1427 and began its expansion through conquest, the altepetl remained the dominant form of organization at the local level. The efficient role of the altepetl as a regional political unit was largely responsible for the success of the empire's hegemonic form of control. 
Agriculture and subsistence
As all Mesoamerican peoples, Aztec society was organized around maize agriculture. The humid environment in the Valley of Mexico with its many lakes and swamps permitted intensive agriculture. The main crops in addition to maize were beans, squashes, chilies and amaranth. Particularly important for agricultural production in the valley was the construction of chinampas on the lake, artificial islands that allowed the conversion of the shallow waters into highly fertile gardens that could be cultivated year round. Chinampas are human-made extensions of agricultural land, created from alternating layers of mud from the bottom of the lake, and plant matter and other vegetation. These raised beds were separated by narrow canals, which allowed farmers to move between them by canoe. Chinampas were extremely fertile pieces of land, and yielded, on average, seven crops annually. On the basis of current chinampa yields, it has been estimated that one hectare (2.5 acres) of chinampa would feed 20 individuals and 9,000 hectares (22,000 acres) of chinampas could feed 180,000. 
The Aztecs further intensified agricultural production by constructing systems of artificial irrigation. While most of the farming occurred outside the densely populated areas, within the cities there was another method of (small-scale) farming. Each family had their own garden plot where they grew maize, fruits, herbs, medicines and other important plants. When the city of Tenochtitlan became a major urban center, water was supplied to the city through aqueducts from springs on the banks of the lake, and they organized a system that collected human waste for use as fertilizer. Through intensive agriculture the Aztecs were able to sustain a large urbanized population. The lake was also a rich source of proteins in the form of aquatic animals such as fish, amphibians, shrimp, insects and insect eggs, and water fowl. The presence of such varied sources of protein meant that there was little use for domestic animals for meat (only turkeys and dogs were kept), and scholars have calculated that there was no shortage of protein among the inhabitants of the Valley of Mexico. 
Crafts and trades
The excess supply of food products allowed a significant portion of the Aztec population to dedicate themselves to trades other than food production. Apart from taking care of domestic food production, women weaved textiles from agave fibers and cotton. Men also engaged in craft specializations such as the production of ceramics and of obsidian and flint tools, and of luxury goods such as beadwork, featherwork and the elaboration of tools and musical instruments. Sometimes entire calpollis specialized in a single craft, and in some archeological sites large neighborhoods have been found where apparently only a single craft speciality was practiced.  
The Aztecs did not produce much metal work, but did have knowledge of basic smelting technology for gold, and they combined gold with precious stones such as jade and turquoise. Copper products were generally imported from the Tarascans of Michoacan. 
Trade and distribution
Products were distributed through a network of markets some markets specialized in a single commodity (for example the dog market of Acolman) and other general markets with presence of many different goods. Markets were highly organized with a system of supervisors taking care that only authorized merchants were permitted to sell their goods, and punishing those who cheated their customers or sold substandard or counterfeit goods. A typical town would have a weekly market (every five days), while larger cities held markets every day. Cortés reported that the central market of Tlatelolco, Tenochtitlan's sister city, was visited by 60,000 people daily. Some sellers in the markets were petty vendors farmers might sell some of their produce, potters sold their vessels, and so on. Other vendors were professional merchants who traveled from market to market seeking profits. 
The pochteca were specialized long-distance merchants organized into exclusive guilds. They made long expeditions to all parts of Mesoamerica bringing back exotic luxury goods, and they served as the judges and supervisors of the Tlatelolco market. Although the economy of Aztec Mexico was commercialized (in its use of money, markets, and merchants), land and labor were not generally commodities for sale, though some types of land could be sold between nobles.  In the commercial sector of the economy, several types of money were in regular use.  Small purchases were made with cacao beans, which had to be imported from lowland areas. In Aztec marketplaces, a small rabbit was worth 30 beans, a turkey egg cost 3 beans, and a tamal cost a single bean. For larger purchases, standardized lengths of cotton cloth, called quachtli, were used. There were different grades of quachtli, ranging in value from 65 to 300 cacao beans. About 20 quachtli could support a commoner for one year in Tenochtitlan. 
Another form of distribution of goods was through the payment of tribute. When an altepetl was conquered, the victor imposed a yearly tribute, usually paid in the form of whichever local product was most valuable or treasured. Several pages from the Codex Mendoza list tributary towns along with the goods they supplied, which included not only luxuries such as feathers, adorned suits, and greenstone beads, but more practical goods such as cloth, firewood, and food. Tribute was usually paid twice or four times a year at differing times. 
Archaeological excavations in the Aztec-ruled provinces show that incorporation into the empire had both costs and benefits for provincial peoples. On the positive side, the empire promoted commerce and trade, and exotic goods from obsidian to bronze managed to reach the houses of both commoners and nobles. Trade partners also included the enemy Purépecha (also known as Tarascans), a source of bronze tools and jewelry. On the negative side, imperial tribute imposed a burden on commoner households, who had to increase their work to pay their share of tribute. Nobles, on the other hand, often made out well under imperial rule because of the indirect nature of imperial organization. The empire had to rely on local kings and nobles and offered them privileges for their help in maintaining order and keeping the tribute flowing. 
Aztec society combined a relatively simple agrarian rural tradition with the development of a truly urbanized society with a complex system of institutions, specializations and hierarchies. The urban tradition in Mesoamerica was developed during the classic period with major urban centers such as Teotihuacan with a population well above 100,000, and at the time of the rise of the Aztec, the urban tradition was ingrained in Mesoamerican society, with urban centers serving major religious, political and economic functions for the entire population. 
The capital city of the Aztec empire was Tenochtitlan, now the site of modern-day Mexico City. Built on a series of islets in Lake Texcoco, the city plan was based on a symmetrical layout that was divided into four city sections called campan (directions). Tenochtitlan was built according to a fixed plan and centered on the ritual precinct, where the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan rose 50 m (164.04 ft) above the city. Houses were made of wood and loam, roofs were made of reed, although pyramids, temples and palaces were generally made of stone. The city was interlaced with canals, which were useful for transportation. Anthropologist Eduardo Noguera estimated the population at 200,000 based on the house count and merging the population of Tlatelolco (once an independent city, but later became a suburb of Tenochtitlan).  If one includes the surrounding islets and shores surrounding Lake Texcoco, estimates range from 300,000 to 700,000 inhabitants. Michael E. Smith gives a somewhat smaller figure of 212,500 inhabitants of Tenochtitlan based on an area of 1,350 hectares (3,300 acres) and a population density of 157 inhabitants per hectare. The second largest city in the valley of Mexico in the Aztec period was Texcoco with some 25,000 inhabitants dispersed over 450 hectares (1,100 acres). 
The center of Tenochtitlan was the sacred precinct, a walled-off square area which housed the Great Temple, temples for other deities, the ballcourt, the calmecac (a school for nobles), a skull rack tzompantli, displaying the skulls of sacrificial victims, houses of the warrior orders and a merchants palace. Around the sacred precinct were the royal palaces built by the tlatoanis. 
The Great Temple
The centerpiece of Tenochtitlan was the Templo Mayor, the Great Temple, a large stepped pyramid with a double staircase leading up to two twin shrines – one dedicated to Tlaloc, the other to Huitzilopochtli. This was where most of the human sacrifices were carried out during the ritual festivals and the bodies of sacrificial victims were thrown down the stairs. The temple was enlarged in several stages, and most of the Aztec rulers made a point of adding a further stage, each with a new dedication and inauguration. The temple has been excavated in the center of Mexico City and the rich dedicatory offerings are displayed in the Museum of the Templo Mayor. 
Archaeologist Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, in his essay Symbolism of the Templo Mayor, posits that the orientation of the temple is indicative of the totality of the vision the Mexica had of the universe (cosmovision). He states that the "principal center, or navel, where the horizontal and vertical planes intersect, that is, the point from which the heavenly or upper plane and the plane of the Underworld begin and the four directions of the universe originate, is the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan." Matos Moctezuma supports his supposition by claiming that the temple acts as an embodiment of a living myth where "all sacred power is concentrated and where all the levels intersect."  
Other major city-states
Other major Aztec cities were some of the previous city state centers around the lake including Tenayuca, Azcapotzalco, Texcoco, Colhuacan, Tlacopan, Chapultepec, Coyoacan, Xochimilco, and Chalco. In the Puebla valley, Cholula was the largest city with the largest pyramid temple in Mesoamerica, while the confederacy of Tlaxcala consisted of four smaller cities. In Morelos, Cuahnahuac was a major city of the Nahuatl speaking Tlahuica tribe, and Tollocan in the Toluca valley was the capital of the Matlatzinca tribe which included Nahuatl speakers as well as speakers of Otomi and the language today called Matlatzinca. Most Aztec cities had a similar layout with a central plaza with a major pyramid with two staircases and a double temple oriented towards the west. 
Aztec religion was organized around the practice of calendar rituals dedicated to a pantheon of different deities. Similar to other Mesoamerican religious systems, it has generally been understood as a polytheist agriculturalist religion with elements of animism. Central in the religious practice was the offering of sacrifices to the deities, as a way of thanking or paying for the continuation of the cycle of life. 
The main deities worshipped by the Aztecs were Tlaloc, a rain and storm deity, Huitzilopochtli a solar and martial deity and the tutelary deity of the Mexica tribe, Quetzalcoatl, a wind, sky and star deity and cultural hero, Tezcatlipoca, a deity of the night, magic, prophecy and fate. The Great Temple in Tenochtitlan had two shrines on its top, one dedicated to Tlaloc, the other to Huitzilopochtli. Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca each had separate temples within the religious precinct close to the Great Temple, and the high priests of the Great Temple were named "Quetzalcoatl Tlamacazqueh". Other major deities were Tlaltecutli or Coatlicue a female earth deity, the deity couple Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl were associated with life and sustenance, Mictlantecutli and Mictlancihuatl, a male/female couple of deities of the underworld and death, Chalchiutlicue, a female deity of lakes and springs, Xipe Totec, a deity of fertility and the natural cycle, Huehueteotl or Xiuhtecuhtli a fire god, Tlazolteotl a female deity tied to childbirth and sexuality, and a Xochipilli and Xochiquetzal gods of song, dance and games. In some regions, particularly Tlaxcala, Mixcoatl or Camaxtli was the main tribal deity. A few sources mention a deity Ometeotl who may have been a god of the duality between life and death, male and female and who may have incorporated Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl.  Apart from the major deities there were dozens of minor deities each associated with an element or concept, and as the Aztec empire grew so did their pantheon because they adopted and incorporated the local deities of conquered people into their own. Additionally the major gods had many alternative manifestations or aspects, creating small families of gods with related aspects. 
Mythology and worldview
Aztec mythology is known from a number of sources written down in the colonial period. One set of myths, called Legend of the Suns, describe the creation of four successive suns, or periods, each ruled by a different deity and inhabited by a different group of beings. Each period ends in a cataclysmic destruction that sets the stage for the next period to begin. In this process, the deities Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl appear as adversaries, each destroying the creations of the other. The current Sun, the fifth, was created when a minor deity sacrificed himself on a bonfire and turned into the sun, but the sun only begins to move once the other deities sacrifice themselves and offers it their life force. 
In another myth of how the earth was created, Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl appear as allies, defeating a giant crocodile Cipactli and requiring her to become the earth, allowing humans to carve into her flesh and plant their seeds, on the condition that in return they will offer blood to her. And in the story of the creation of humanity, Quetzalcoatl travels with his twin Xolotl to the underworld and brings back bones which are then ground like corn on a metate by the goddess Cihuacoatl, the resulting dough is given human form and comes to life when Quetzalcoatl imbues it with his own blood. 
Huitzilopochtli is the deity tied to the Mexica tribe and he figures in the story of the origin and migrations of the tribe. On their journey, Huitzilopochtli, in the form of a deity bundle carried by the Mexica priest, continuously spurs the tribe on by pushing them into conflict with their neighbors whenever they are settled in a place. In another myth, Huitzilopochtli defeats and dismembers his sister the lunar deity Coyolxauhqui and her four hundred brothers at the hill of Coatepetl. The southern side of the Great Temple, also called Coatepetl, was a representation of this myth and at the foot of the stairs lay a large stone monolith carved with a representation of the dismembered goddess. 
Aztec religious life was organized around the calendars. As most Mesoamerican people, the Aztecs used two calendars simultaneously: a ritual calendar of 260 days called the tonalpohualli and a solar calendar of 365 days called the xiuhpohualli. Each day had a name and number in both calendars, and the combination of two dates were unique within a period of 52 years. The tonalpohualli was mostly used for divinatory purposes and it consisted of 20 day signs and number coefficients of 1–13 that cycled in a fixed order. The xiuhpohualli was made up of 18 "months" of 20 days, and with a remainder of 5 "void" days at the end of a cycle before the new xiuhpohualli cycle began. Each 20-day month was named after the specific ritual festival that began the month, many of which contained a relation to the agricultural cycle. Whether, and how, the Aztec calendar corrected for leap year is a matter of discussion among specialists. The monthly rituals involved the entire population as rituals were performed in each household, in the calpolli temples and in the main sacred precinct. Many festivals involved different forms of dancing, as well as the reenactment of mythical narratives by deity impersonators and the offering of sacrifice, in the form of food, animals and human victims. 
Every 52 years, the two calendars reached their shared starting point and a new calendar cycle began. This calendar event was celebrated with a ritual known as Xiuhmolpilli or the New Fire Ceremony. In this ceremony, old pottery was broken in all homes and all fires in the Aztec realm were put out. Then a new fire was drilled over the breast of a sacrificial victim and runners brought the new fire to the different calpolli communities where fire was redistributed to each home. The night without fire was associated with the fear that star demons, tzitzimime, might descend and devour the earth – ending the fifth period of the sun. 
Human sacrifice and cannibalism
To the Aztecs, death was instrumental in the perpetuation of creation, and gods and humans alike had the responsibility of sacrificing themselves in order to allow life to continue. As described in the myth of creation above, humans were understood to be responsible for the sun's continued revival, as well as for paying the earth for its continued fertility. Blood sacrifice in various forms was conducted. Both humans and animals were sacrificed, depending on the god to be placated and the ceremony being conducted, and priests of some gods were sometimes required to provide their own blood through self-mutilation. It is known that some rituals included acts of cannibalism, with the captor and his family consuming part of the flesh of their sacrificed captives, but it is not known how widespread this practice was.  
While human sacrifice was practiced throughout Mesoamerica, the Aztecs, according to their own accounts, brought this practice to an unprecedented level. For example, for the reconsecration of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed 80,400 prisoners over the course of four days, reportedly by Ahuitzotl, the Great Speaker himself. This number, however, is not universally accepted and may have been exaggerated. 
The scale of Aztec human sacrifice has provoked many scholars to consider what may have been the driving factor behind this aspect of Aztec religion. In the 1970s, Michael Harner and Marvin Harris argued that the motivation behind human sacrifice among the Aztecs was actually the cannibalization of the sacrificial victims, depicted for example in Codex Magliabechiano. Harner claimed that very high population pressure and an emphasis on maize agriculture, without domesticated herbivores, led to a deficiency of essential amino acids among the Aztecs.  While there is universal agreement that the Aztecs practiced sacrifice, there is a lack of scholarly consensus as to whether cannibalism was widespread. Harris, author of Cannibals and Kings (1977), has propagated the claim, originally proposed by Harner, that the flesh of the victims was a part of an aristocratic diet as a reward, since the Aztec diet was lacking in proteins. These claims have been refuted by Bernard Ortíz Montellano who, in his studies of Aztec health, diet, and medicine, demonstrates that while the Aztec diet was low in animal proteins, it was rich in vegetable proteins. Ortiz also points to the preponderance of human sacrifice during periods of food abundance following harvests compared to periods of food scarcity, the insignificant quantity of human protein available from sacrifices and the fact that aristocrats already had easy access to animal protein.   Today many scholars point to ideological explanations of the practice, noting how the public spectacle of sacrificing warriors from conquered states was a major display of political power, supporting the claim of the ruling classes to divine authority.  It also served as an important deterrent against rebellion by subjugated polities against the Aztec state, and such deterrents were crucial in order for the loosely organized empire to cohere. 
The Aztec greatly appreciated the toltecayotl (arts and fine craftsmanship) of the Toltec, who predated the Aztec in central Mexico. The Aztec considered Toltec productions to represent the finest state of culture. The fine arts included writing and painting, singing and composing poetry, carving sculptures and producing mosaic, making fine ceramics, producing complex featherwork, and working metals, including copper and gold. Artisans of the fine arts were referred to collectively as tolteca (Toltec). 
Urban standard details Mexico-Tenochtitlan remnants in Templo Mayor Museum (Mexico City)
The Mask of Xiuhtecuhtli 1400–1521 cedrela wood, turquoise, pine resin, mother-of-pearl, conch shell, cinnabar height: 16.8 cm, width: 15.2 cm British Museum (London)
The Mask of Tezcatlipoca 1400–1521 turquoise, pyrite, pine, lignite, human bone, deer skin, conch shell and agave height: 19 cm, width: 13.9 cm, length: 12.2 cm British Museum
Double-headed serpent 1450–1521 cedro wood (Cedrela odorata), turquoise, shell, traces of gilding & 2 resins are used as adhesive (pine resin and Bursera resin) height: 20.3 cm, width: 43.3 cm, depth: 5.9 cm British Museum
Page 12 of the Codex Borbonicus, (in the big square): Tezcatlipoca (night and fate) and Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent) before 1500 bast fiber paper height: 38 cm, length of the full manuscript: 142 cm Bibliothèque de l'Assemblée nationale (Paris)
Aztec calendar stone 1502–1521 basalt diameter: 358 cm thick: 98 cm discovered on 17 December 1790 during repairs on the Mexico City Cathedral National Museum of Anthropology (Mexico City)
Tlāloc effigy vessel 1440–1469 painted earthenware height: 35 cm Templo Mayor Museum (Mexico City)
Kneeling female figure 15th–early 16th century painted stone overall: 54.61 x 26.67 cm Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)
Frog-shaped necklace ornaments 15th–early 16th century gold height: 2.1 cm Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)
Writing and iconography
The Aztecs did not have a fully developed writing system like the Maya, however like the Maya and Zapotec, they did use a writing system that combined logographic signs with phonetic syllable signs. Logograms would, for example, be the use of an image of a mountain to signify the word tepetl, "mountain", whereas a phonetic syllable sign would be the use of an image of a tooth tlantli to signify the syllable tla in words unrelated to teeth. The combination of these principles allowed the Aztecs to represent the sounds of names of persons and places. Narratives tended to be represented through sequences of images, using various iconographic conventions such as footprints to show paths, temples on fire to show conquest events, etc. 
Epigrapher Alfonso Lacadena has demonstrated that the different syllable signs used by the Aztecs almost enabled the representation of all the most frequent syllables of the Nahuatl language (with some notable exceptions),  but some scholars have argued that such a high degree of phoneticity was only achieved after the conquest when the Aztecs had been introduced to the principles of phonetic writing by the Spanish.  Other scholars, notably Gordon Whittaker, have argued that the syllabic and phonetic aspects of Aztec writing were considerably less systematic and more creative than Lacadena's proposal suggests, arguing that Aztec writing never coalesced into a strictly syllabic system such as the Maya writing, but rather used a wide range of different types of phonetic signs. 
The image to right demonstrates the use of phonetic signs for writing place names in the colonial Aztec Codex Mendoza. The uppermost place is "Mapachtepec", meaning literally "On the Hill of the Raccoon ", but the glyph includes the phonetic signs "MA" (hand) and "PACH" (moss) over a mountain "TEPETL" spelling the word "mapach" ("raccoon") phonetically instead of logographically. The other two place names, Mazatlan ("Place of Many Deer") and Huitztlan ("Place of many thorns"), use the phonetic element "TLAN" represented by a tooth (tlantli) combined with a deer head to spell "MAZA" (mazatl = deer) and a thorn (huitztli) to spell "HUITZ". 
Music, song and poetry
Song and poetry were highly regarded there were presentations and poetry contests at most of the Aztec festivals. There were also dramatic presentations that included players, musicians and acrobats. There were several different genres of cuicatl (song): Yaocuicatl was devoted to war and the god(s) of war, Teocuicatl to the gods and creation myths and to adoration of said figures, xochicuicatl to flowers (a symbol of poetry itself and indicative of the highly metaphorical nature of a poetry that often utilized duality to convey multiple layers of meaning). "Prose" was tlahtolli, also with its different categories and divisions.  
A key aspect of Aztec poetics was the use of parallelism, using a structure of embedded couplets to express different perspectives on the same element.  Some such couplets were diphrasisms, conventional metaphors whereby an abstract concept was expressed metaphorically by using two more concrete concepts. For example, the Nahuatl expression for "poetry" was in xochitl in cuicatl a dual term meaning "the flower, the song". 
A remarkable amount of this poetry survives, having been collected during the era of the conquest. In some cases poetry is attributed to individual authors, such as Nezahualcoyotl, tlatoani of Texcoco, and Cuacuauhtzin, Lord of Tepechpan, but whether these attributions reflect actual authorship is a matter of opinion. Important collection of such poems are Romances de los señores de la Nueva España, collected (Tezcoco 1582), probably by Juan Bautista de Pomar, [nb 8] and the Cantares Mexicanos. 
The Aztecs produced ceramics of different types. Common are orange wares, which are orange or buff burnished ceramics with no slip. Red wares are ceramics with a reddish slip. And polychrome ware are ceramics with a white or orange slip, with painted designs in orange, red, brown, and/or black. Very common is "black on orange" ware which is orange ware decorated with painted designs in black.   
Aztec black on orange ceramics are chronologically classified into four phases: Aztec I and II corresponding to ca, 1100–1350 (early Aztec period), Aztec III ca. (1350–1520), and the last phase Aztec IV was the early colonial period. Aztec I is characterized by floral designs and day- name glyphs Aztec II is characterized by a stylized grass design above calligraphic designs such as s-curves or loops Aztec III is characterized by very simple line designs Aztec IV continues some pre-Columbian designs but adds European influenced floral designs. There were local variations on each of these styles, and archeologists continue to refine the ceramic sequence. 
Typical vessels for everyday use were clay griddles for cooking (comalli), bowls and plates for eating (caxitl), pots for cooking (comitl), molcajetes or mortar-type vessels with slashed bases for grinding chilli (molcaxitl), and different kinds of braziers, tripod dishes and biconical goblets. Vessels were fired in simple updraft kilns or even in open firing in pit kilns at low temperatures.  Polychrome ceramics were imported from the Cholula region (also known as Mixteca-Puebla style), and these wares were highly prized as a luxury ware, whereas the local black on orange styles were also for everyday use. 
Aztec painted art was produced on animal skin (mostly deer), on cotton lienzos and on amate paper made from bark (e.g. from Trema micrantha or Ficus aurea), it was also produced on ceramics and carved in wood and stone. The surface of the material was often first treated with gesso to make the images stand out more clearly. The art of painting and writing was known in Nahuatl by the metaphor in tlilli, in tlapalli - meaning "the black ink, the red pigment".  
There are few extant Aztec painted books. Of these none are conclusively confirmed to have been created before the conquest, but several codices must have been painted either right before the conquest or very soon after - before traditions for producing them were much disturbed. Even if some codices may have been produced after the conquest, there is good reason to think that they may have been copied from pre-Columbian originals by scribes. The Codex Borbonicus is considered by some to be the only extant Aztec codex produced before the conquest - it is a calendric codex describing the day and month counts indicating the patron deities of the different time periods.  Others consider it to have stylistic traits suggesting a post-conquest production. 
Some codices were produces post-conquest, sometimes commissioned by the colonial government, for example Codex Mendoza, were painted by Aztec tlacuilos (codex creators), but under the control of Spanish authorities, who also sometimes commissioned codices describing pre-colonial religious practices, for example Codex Ríos. After the conquest, codices with calendric or religious information were sought out and systematically destroyed by the church - whereas other types of painted books, particularly historical narratives and tribute lists continued to be produced.  Although depicting Aztec deities and describing religious practices also shared by the Aztecs of the Valley of Mexico, the codices produced in Southern Puebla near Cholula, are sometimes not considered to be Aztec codices, because they were produced outside of the Aztec "heartland".  Karl Anton Nowotny, nevertheless considered that the Codex Borgia, painted in the area around Cholula and using a Mixtec style, was the "most significant work of art among the extant manuscripts". 
The first Aztec murals were from Teotihuacan.  Most of our current Aztec murals were found in Templo Mayor.  The Aztec capitol was decorated with elaborate murals. In Aztec murals humans are represented like they are represented in the codices. One mural discovered in Tlateloco depicts an old man and an old woman. This may represent the gods Cipactonal and Oxomico.
Sculptures were carved in stone and wood, but few wood carvings have survived.  Aztec stone sculptures exist in many sizes from small figurines and masks to large monuments, and are characterized by a high quality of craftsmanship.  Many sculptures were carved in highly realistic styles, for example realistic sculpture of animals such as rattlesnakes, dogs, jaguars, frogs, turtle and monkeys. 
In Aztec artwork a number of monumental stone sculptures have been preserved, such sculptures usually functioned as adornments for religious architecture. Particularly famous monumental rock sculpture includes the so-called Aztec "Sunstone" or Calendarstone discovered in 1790 also discovered in 1790 excavations of the Zócalo was the 2.7 meter tall Coatlicue statue made of andesite, representing a serpentine chthonic goddess with a skirt made of rattlesnakes. The Coyolxauhqui Stone representing the dismembered goddess Coyolxauhqui, found in 1978, was at the foot of the staircase leading up to the Great Temple in Tenochtitlan.  Two important types of sculpture are unique to the Aztecs, and related to the context of ritual sacrifice: the cuauhxicalli or "eagle vessel", large stone bowls often shaped like eagles or jaguars used as a receptacle for extracted human hearts the temalacatl, a monumental carved stone disk to which war captives were tied and sacrificed in a form of gladiatorial combat. The most well known examples of this type of sculpture are the Stone of Tizoc and the Stone of Motecuzoma I, both carved with images of warfare and conquest by specific Aztec rulers. Many smaller stone sculptures depicting deities also exist. The style used in religious sculpture was rigid stances likely meant to create a powerful experience in the onlooker.  Although Aztec stone sculptures are now displayed in museums as unadorned rock, they were originally painted in vivid polychrome color, sometimes covered first with a base coat of plaster.  Early Spanish conquistador accounts also describe stone sculptures as having been decorated with precious stones and metal, inserted into the plaster. 
An especially prized art form among the Aztecs was featherwork - the creation of intricate and colorful mosaics of feathers, and their use in garments as well as decoration on weaponry, war banners, and warrior suits. The class of highly skilled and honored craftsmen who created feather objects was called the amanteca,  named after the Amantla neighborhood in Tenochtitlan where they lived and worked.  They did not pay tribute nor were required to perform public service. The Florentine Codex gives information about how feather works were created. The amanteca had two ways of creating their works. One was to secure the feathers in place using agave cord for three-dimensional objects such as fly whisks, fans, bracelets, headgear and other objects. The second and more difficult was a mosaic type technique, which the Spanish also called "feather painting." These were done principally on feather shields and cloaks for idols.Feather mosaics were arrangements of minute fragments of feathers from a wide variety of birds, generally worked on a paper base, made from cotton and paste, then itself backed with amate paper, but bases of other types of paper and directly on amate were done as well. These works were done in layers with "common" feathers, dyed feathers and precious feathers. First a model was made with lower quality feathers and the precious feathers found only on the top layer. The adhesive for the feathers in the Mesoamerican period was made from orchid bulbs. Feathers from local and faraway sources were used, especially in the Aztec Empire. The feathers were obtained from wild birds as well as from domesticated turkeys and ducks, with the finest quetzal feathers coming from Chiapas, Guatemala and Honduras. These feathers were obtained through trade and tribute. Due to the difficulty of conserving feathers, fewer than ten pieces of original Aztec featherwork exist today. 
Mexico City was built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, gradually replacing and covering the lake, the island and the architecture of Aztec Tenochtitlan.    After the fall of Tenochtitlan, Aztec warriors were enlisted as auxiliary troops alongside the Spanish Tlaxcalteca allies, and Aztec forces participated in all of the subsequent campaigns of conquest in northern and southern Mesoamerica. This meant that aspects of Aztec culture and the Nahuatl language continued to expand during the early colonial period as Aztec auxiliary forces made permanent settlements in many of the areas that were put under the Spanish crown. 
The Aztec ruling dynasty continued to govern the indigenous polity of San Juan Tenochtitlan, a division of the Spanish capital of Mexico City, but the subsequent indigenous rulers were mostly puppets installed by the Spanish. One was Andrés de Tapia Motelchiuh, who was appointed by the Spanish. Other former Aztec city states likewise were established as colonial indigenous towns, governed by a local indigenous gobernador. This office was often initially held by the hereditary indigenous ruling line, with the gobernador being the tlatoani, but the two positions in many Nahua towns became separated over time. Indigenous governors were in charge of the colonial political organization of the Indians. In particular they enabled the continued functioning of the tribute and obligatory labor of commoner Indians to benefit the Spanish holders of encomiendas. Encomiendas were private grants of labor and tribute from particular indigenous communities to particular Spaniards, replacing the Aztec overlords with Spanish. In the early colonial period some indigenous governors became quite rich and influential and were able to maintain positions of power comparable to that of Spanish encomenderos. 
After the arrival of the Europeans in Mexico and the conquest, indigenous populations declined significantly. This was largely the result of the epidemics of viruses brought to the continent against which the natives had no immunity. In 1520–1521, an outbreak of smallpox swept through the population of Tenochtitlan and was decisive in the fall of the city further significant epidemics struck in 1545 and 1576. 
There has been no general consensus about the population size of Mexico at the time of European arrival. Early estimates gave very small population figures for the Valley of Mexico, in 1942 Kubler estimated a figure 200,000.  In 1963 Borah and Cook used pre-Conquest tribute lists to calculate the number of tributaries in central Mexico, estimating over 18–30 million . Their very high figure has been highly criticized for relying on unwarranted assumptions.  Archeologist William Sanders based an estimate on archeological evidence of dwellings, arriving at an estimate of 1–1.2 million inhabitants in the Valley of Mexico.  Whitmore used a computer simulation model based on colonial censuses to arrive at an estimate of 1.5 million for the Basin in 1519, and an estimate of 16 million for all of Mexico.  Depending on the estimations of the population in 1519 the scale of the decline in the 16th century, range from around 50% to around 90% – with Sanders's and Whitmore's estimates being around 90%.  
Social and political continuity and change
Although the Aztec empire fell, some of its highest elites continued to hold elite status in the colonial era. The principal heirs of Moctezuma II and their descendants retained high status. His son Pedro Moctezuma produced a son, who married into Spanish aristocracy and a further generation saw the creation of the title, Count of Moctezuma. From 1696 to 1701, the Viceroy of Mexico was held the title of count of Moctezuma. In 1766, the holder of the title became a Grandee of Spain. In 1865, (during the Second Mexican Empire) the title, which was held by Antonio María Moctezuma-Marcilla de Teruel y Navarro, 14th Count of Moctezuma de Tultengo, was elevated to that of a Duke, thus becoming Duke of Moctezuma, with de Tultengo again added in 1992 by Juan Carlos I.  Two of Moctezuma's daughters, Doña Isabel Moctezuma and her younger sister, Doña Leonor Moctezuma, were granted extensive encomiendas in perpetuity by Hernán Cortes. Doña Leonor Moctezuma married in succession two Spaniards, and left her encomiendas to her daughter by her second husband. 
The different Nahua peoples, just as other Mesoamerican indigenous peoples in colonial New Spain, were able to maintain many aspects of their social and political structure under the colonial rule. The basic division the Spanish made was between the indigenous populations, organized under the Republica de indios, which was separate from the Hispanic sphere, the República de españoles. The República de españoles included not just Europeans, but also Africans and mixed-race castas. The Spanish recognized the indigenous elites as nobles in the Spanish colonial system, maintaining the status distinction of the pre-conquest era, and used these noblemen as intermediaries between the Spanish colonial government and their communities. This was contingent on their conversion to Christianity and continuing loyalty to the Spanish crown. Colonial Nahua polities had considerable autonomy to regulate their local affairs. The Spanish rulers did not entirely understand the indigenous political organization, but they recognized the importance of the existing system and their elite rulers. They reshaped the political system utilizing altepetl or city-states as the basic unit of governance. In the colonial era, altepetl were renamed cabeceras or "head towns" (although they often retained the term altepetl in local-level, Nahuatl-language documentation), with outlying settlements governed by the cabeceras named sujetos, subject communities. In cabeceras, the Spanish created Iberian-style town councils, or cabildos, which usually continued to function as the elite ruling group had in the pre-conquest era.   Population decline due to epidemic disease resulted in many population shifts in settlement patterns, and the formation of new population centers. These were often forced resettlements under the Spanish policy of congregación. Indigenous populations living in sparsely populated areas were resettled to form new communities, making it easier for them to brought within range of evangelization efforts, and easier for the colonial state to exploit their labor.  
Today the legacy of the Aztecs lives on in Mexico in many forms. Archeological sites are excavated and opened to the public and their artifacts are prominently displayed in museums. Place names and loanwords from the Aztec language Nahuatl permeate the Mexican landscape and vocabulary, and Aztec symbols and mythology have been promoted by the Mexican government and integrated into contemporary Mexican nationalism as emblems of the country. 
During the 19th century, the image of the Aztecs as uncivilized barbarians was replaced with romanticized visions of the Aztecs as original sons of the soil, with a highly developed culture rivaling the ancient European civilizations. When Mexico became independent from Spain, a romanticized version of the Aztecs became a source of images that could be used to ground the new nation as a unique blend of European and American. 
The Aztecs and Mexico's national identity
Aztec culture and history has been central to the formation of a Mexican national identity after Mexican independence in 1821. In 17th and 18th century Europe, the Aztecs were generally described as barbaric, gruesome and culturally inferior.  Even before Mexico achieved its independence, American-born Spaniards (criollos) drew on Aztec history to ground their own search for symbols of local pride, separate from that of Spain. Intellectuals utilized Aztec writings, such as those collected by Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, and writings of Hernando Alvarado Tezozomoc, and Chimalpahin to understand Mexico's indigenous past in texts by indigenous writers. This search became the basis for what historian D.A. Brading calls "creole patriotism." Seventeenth-century cleric and scientist, Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora acquired the manuscript collection of Texcocan nobleman Alva Ixtlilxochitl. Creole Jesuit Francisco Javier Clavijero published La Historia Antigua de México (1780–81) in his Italian exile following the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, in which he traces the history of the Aztecs from their migration to the last Aztec ruler, Cuauhtemoc. He wrote it expressly to defend Mexico's indigenous past against the slanders of contemporary writers, such as Pauw, Buffon, Raynal, and William Robertson.  Archeological excavations in 1790 in the capital's main square uncovered two massive stone sculptures, buried immediately after the fall of Tenochtitlan in the conquest. Unearthed were the famous calendar stone, as well as a statue of Coatlicue. Antonio de León y Gama’s 1792 Descripción histórico y cronológico de las dos piedras examines the two stone monoliths. A decade later, German scientist Alexander von Humboldt spent a year in Mexico, during his four-year expedition to Spanish America. One of his early publications from that period was Views of the Cordilleras and Monuments of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas.  Humboldt was important in disseminating images of the Aztecs to scientists and general readers in the Western world. 
In the realm of religion, late colonial paintings of the Virgin of Guadalupe have examples of her depicted floating above the iconic nopal cactus of the Aztecs. Juan Diego, the Nahua to whom the apparition was said to appear, links the dark Virgin to Mexico's Aztec past. 
When New Spain achieved independence in 1821 and became a monarchy, the First Mexican Empire, its flag had the traditional Aztec eagle on a nopal cactus. The eagle had a crown, symbolizing the new Mexican monarchy. When Mexico became a republic after the overthrow of the first monarch Agustín de Iturbide in 1822, the flag was revised showing the eagle with no crown. In the 1860s, when the French established the Second Mexican Empire under Maximilian of Habsburg, the Mexican flag retained the emblematic eagle and cactus, with elaborate symbols of monarchy. After the defeat of the French and their Mexican collaborators, the Mexican Republic was re-established, and the flag returned to its republican simplicity.  This emblem has also been adopted as Mexico's national Coat of Arms, and is emblazoned on official buildings, seals, and signs. 
Tensions within post-independence Mexico pitted those rejecting the ancient civilizations of Mexico as source of national pride, the Hispanistas, mostly politically conservative Mexican elites, and those who saw them as a source of pride, the Indigenistas, who were mostly liberal Mexican elites. Although the flag of the Mexican Republic had the symbol of the Aztecs as its central element, conservative elites were generally hostile to the current indigenous populations of Mexico or crediting them with a glorious prehispanic history. Under Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Anna, pro-indigenist Mexican intellectuals did not find a wide audience. With Santa Anna's overthrow in 1854, Mexican liberals and scholars interested in the indigenous past became more active. Liberals were more favorably inclined to the indigenous populations and their history, but considered a pressing matter being the "Indian Problem." Liberals’ commitment to equality before the law meant that for upwardly mobile indigenous, such as Zapotec Benito Juárez, who rose in the ranks of the liberals to become Mexico's first president of indigenous origins, and Nahua intellectual and politician Ignacio Altamirano, a disciple of Ignacio Ramírez, a defender of the rights of the indigenous, liberalism presented a way forward in that era. For investigations of Mexico's indigenous past, however, the role of moderate liberal José Fernando Ramírez is important, serving as director of the National Museum and doing research utilizing codices, while staying out of the fierce conflicts between liberals and conservatives that led to a decade of civil war. Mexican scholars who pursued research on the Aztecs in the late nineteenth century were Francisco Pimentel, Antonio García Cubas, Manuel Orozco y Berra, Joaquín García Icazbalceta, and Francisco del Paso y Troncoso contributing significantly to the nineteenth-century development of Mexican scholarship on the Aztecs. 
The late nineteenth century in Mexico was a period in which Aztec civilization became a point of national pride. The era was dominated by liberal military hero, Porfirio Díaz, a mestizo from Oaxaca who was president of Mexico from 1876 to 1911. His policies opening Mexico to foreign investors and modernizing the country under a firm hand controlling unrest, "Order and Progress," undermined Mexico's indigenous populations and their communities. However, for investigations of Mexico's ancient civilizations, his was a benevolent regime, with funds supporting archeological research and for protecting monuments.  "Scholars found it more profitable to confine their attention to Indians who had been dead for a number of centuries."  His benevolence saw the placement of a monument to Cuauhtemoc in a major traffic roundabout (glorieta) of the wide Paseo de la Reforma, which he inaugurated in 1887. In world's fairs of the late nineteenth century, Mexico's pavilions included a major focus on its indigenous past, especially the Aztecs. Mexican scholars such as Alfredo Chavero helped shape the cultural image of Mexico at these exhibitions. 
The Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) and significant participation of indigenous people in the struggle in many regions, ignited a broad government-sponsored political and cultural movement of indigenismo, with symbols of Mexico's Aztec past becoming ubiquitous, most especially in Mexican muralism of Diego Rivera.  
In their works, Mexican authors such as Octavio Paz and Agustin Fuentes have analyzed the use Aztec symbols by the modern Mexican state, critiquing the way it adopts and adapts indigenous culture to political ends, yet they have also in their works made use of the symbolic idiom themselves. Paz for example critiqued the architectural layout of the National Museum of Anthropology, which constructs a view of Mexican history as culminating with the Aztecs, as an expression of a nationalist appropriation of Aztec culture. 
Aztec history and international scholarship
Scholars in Europe and the United States increasingly wanted investigations into Mexico's ancient civilizations, starting in the nineteenth century. Humboldt had been extremely important bringing ancient Mexico into broader scholarly discussions of ancient civilizations. French Americanist Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg (1814–1874) asserted that "science in our own time has at last effectively studied and rehabilitated America and the Americans from the [previous] viewpoint of history and archeology. It was Humboldt. who woke us from our sleep."  Frenchman Jean-Frédéric Waldeck published Voyage pittoresque et archéologique dans la province d'Yucatan pendant les années 1834 et 1836 in 1838. Although not directly connected with the Aztecs, it contributed to the increased interest in ancient Mexican studies in Europe. English aristocrat Lord Kingsborough spent considerable energy in their pursuit of understanding of ancient Mexico. Kingsborough answered Humboldt's call for the publication of all known Mexican codices, publishing nine volumes of Antiquities of Mexico (1831–1846) that were richly illustrated, bankrupting him. He was not directly interested in the Aztecs, but rather in proving that Mexico had been colonized by Jews. [ citation needed ] However, his publication of these valuable primary sources gave others access to them. [ citation needed ]
In the United States in the early nineteenth century, interest in ancient Mexico propelled John Lloyd Stephens to travel to Mexico and then publish well-illustrated accounts in the early 1840s. But the research of a half-blind Bostonian, William Hickling Prescott, into the Spanish conquest of Mexico resulted in his highly popular and deeply researched The Conquest of Mexico (1843). Although not formally trained as a historian, Prescott drew on the obvious Spanish sources, but also Ixtlilxochitl and Sahagún's history of the conquest. His resulting work was a mixture of pro- and anti-Aztec attitudes. It was not only a bestseller in English, it also influenced Mexican intellectuals, including the leading conservative politician, Lucas Alamán. Alamán pushed back against his characterization of the Aztecs. In the assessment of Benjamin Keen, Prescott's history "has survived attacks from every quarter, and still dominates the conceptions of the laymen, if not the specialist, concerning Aztec civilization."  In the later nineteenth century, businessman and historian Hubert Howe Bancroft oversaw a huge project, employing writers and researchers, to write the history the "Native Races" of North America, including Mexico, California, and Central America. One entire work was devoted to ancient Mexico, half of which concerned the Aztecs. It was a work of synthesis drawing on Ixtlilxochitl and Brasseur de Bourbourg, among others. 
When the International Congress of Americanists was formed in Nancy, France in 1875, Mexican scholars became active participants, and Mexico City has hosted the biennial multidisciplinary meeting six times, starting in 1895. Mexico's ancient civilizations have continued to be the focus of major scholarly investigations by Mexican and international scholars.
Language and placenames
The Nahuatl language is today spoken by 1.5 million people, mostly in mountainous areas in the states of central Mexico. Mexican Spanish today incorporates hundreds of loans from Nahuatl, and many of these words have passed into general Spanish use, and further into other world languages.   
In Mexico, Aztec place names are ubiquitous, particularly in central Mexico where the Aztec empire was centered, but also in other regions where many towns, cities and regions were established under their Nahuatl names, as Aztec auxiliary troops accompanied the Spanish colonizers on the early expeditions that mapped New Spain. In this way even towns, that were not originally Nahuatl speaking came to be known by their Nahuatl names.  In Mexico City there are commemorations of Aztec rulers, including on the Mexico City Metro, line 1, with stations named for Moctezuma II and Cuauhtemoc.
Mexican cuisine continues to be based on staple elements of Mesoamerican cooking and, particularly, of Aztec cuisine: corn, chili, beans, squash, tomato, avocado. Many of these staple products continue to be known by their Nahuatl names, carrying in this way ties to the Aztec people who introduced these foods to the Spaniards and to the world. Through spread of ancient Mesoamerican food elements, particularly plants, Nahuatl loan words (chocolate, tomato, chili, avocado, tamale, taco, pupusa, chipotle, pozole, atole) have been borrowed through Spanish into other languages around the world.  Through the spread and popularity of Mexican cuisine, the culinary legacy of the Aztecs can be said to have a global reach. Today Aztec images and Nahuatl words are often used to lend an air of authenticity or exoticism in the marketing of Mexican cuisine. 
In popular culture
The idea of the Aztecs has captivated the imaginations of Europeans since the first encounters, and has provided many iconic symbols to Western popular culture.  In his book The Aztec Image in Western Thought, Benjamin Keen argued that Western thinkers have usually viewed Aztec culture through a filter of their own cultural interests. 
The Aztecs and figures from Aztec mythology feature in Western culture.  The name of Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent god, has been used for a genus of pterosaurs, Quetzalcoatlus, a large flying reptile with a wingspan of as much as 11 metres (36 ft).  Quetzalcoatl has appeared as a character in many books, films and video games. D.H. Lawrence gave the name Quetzalcoatl to an early draft of his novel The Plumed Serpent, but his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, insisted on a change of title.  American author Gary Jennings wrote two acclaimed historical novels set in Aztec-period Mexico, Aztec (1980) and Aztec Autumn (1997).  The novels were so popular that four more novels in the Aztec series were written after his death. 
Aztec society has also been depicted in cinema. The Mexican feature film The Other Conquest (Spanish: La Otra Conquista) from 2000 was directed by Salvador Carrasco, and illustrated the colonial aftermath of the 1520s Spanish Conquest of Mexico. It adopted the perspective of an Aztec scribe, Topiltzin, who survived the attack on the temple of Tenochtitlan.  The 1989 film Retorno a Aztlán by Juan Mora Catlett is a work of historical fiction set during the rule of Motecuzoma I, filmed in Nahuatl and with the alternative Nahuatl title Necuepaliztli in Aztlan.   In Mexican exploitation B movies of the 1970s, a recurring figure was the "Aztec mummy" as well as Aztec ghosts and sorcerers. 
Life for the typical person living in the Aztec Empire was hard work. As in many ancient societies the rich were able to live luxurious lives, but the common people had to work very hard.
The family structure was important to the Aztecs. The husband generally worked on a job outside of the home as a farmer, warrior, or craftsman. The wife worked at home cooking food for the family and weaving cloth for the family's clothes. Kids attended schools or worked to help out around the house.
What type of homes did they live in?
Wealthy people lived in homes made of stone or sun-dried brick. The king of the Aztecs lived in a large palace with many rooms and gardens. All of the wealthy had a separate bathing room that was similar to a sauna or steam room. Bathing was an important part of the Aztec daily life.
Poor people lived in smaller one or two room huts that had thatched roofs made from palm leaves. They had gardens near their homes where they would grow vegetables and flowers. Inside the house, there were four main areas. One area was where the family would sleep, generally on mats on the floor. Other areas included a cooking area, an eating area, and a place for shrines to the gods.
What did the Aztecs wear for clothes?
The Aztec men wore loincloths and long capes. The women wore long skirts and blouses. Poor people generally wove their own cloth and made their own clothing. It was the responsibility of the wife to make the clothes.
The main staple of the Aztec diet was maize (similar to corn). They ground the maize into flour to make tortillas. Other important staples were beans and squash. Besides these three main staples the Aztecs ate a variety of foods including insects, fish, honey, dogs, and snakes. Perhaps the most valued food was the cocoa bean used to make chocolate.
Did they go to school?
All Aztec children were required by law to attend school. This even included slaves and girls, which was unique for this time in history. When they were young, children were taught by their parents, but when they reached their teens they attended school.
Boys and girls went to separate schools. Girls learned about religion including ritual songs and dancing. They also learned how to cook and make clothing. Boys usually learned how to farm or learned a craft such as pottery or feather-work. They also learned about religion and how to fight as warriors.
Aztec children were instructed early in life about manners and correct behavior. It was important to the Aztecs that children did not complain, did not make fun of the old or sick, and did not interrupt. Punishment for breaking the rules was severe.
Most Aztec men got married around the age of 20. They typically did not choose their wives. Weddings were arranged by matchmakers. Once the matchmaker chose two people to be married, the families would both need to agree.
The Aztecs enjoyed playing games. One of the most popular games was a board game called Patolli. Just like with many board games today, players would move their pieces around a board by rolling dice.
Another popular game was Ullamalitzli. This was a ball game played with a rubber ball on a court. Players had to pass the ball around using their hips, shoulders, heads, and knees. Some historians believe the game was used in preparation for war.