Aztec View of History

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Photo of an aztec double headed serpent turquoise chest ornament

This article will explore the Aztecs views of their own history compared with what is known from the archaeological record.

The Aztecs were a civilization that thrived in the Valley of Mexico Mesoamerica from about the 13th century until about 1519 AD, with the arrival of the Spaniards.

What Did the Aztecs Believe About History?

The Aztecs had a cyclic view of life. They believed that the time in which they lived, was only one of several ‘suns’ that had gone before. Each world had been destroyed, but a new world had sprung up from the ashes of the old. The first world was inhabited by giants and was ruled over by the God Tezcatlipoca. This God was overthrown by Quetzalcoatal who called up jaguars from the ocean that devoured the giants and brought an end to the giants and their world. The age that followed was ruled over by Quetzalcoatl and was destroyed by a hurricane-like wind which engulfed the planet. Tlaloc ruled over the next world which was decimated by fire which fell like rain from the heavens. The fourth age was rule over by Chalchiuhtlicu and in this age the world was flooded in a deluge similar to that of the familiar bible story of Noah’s Ark. Instead of building an ark however, the survivors were turned into fish. The fifth age of the sun is the epoch we are living in at this current time.

The Aztecs greatly revered structures from previous cultures that had gone before them. They believed that buildings from previous civilizations were the work of the Gods, to great for mortal man to have built. They adopted these monuments as their heritage for the Aztecs had not originally come from the Valley of Mexico and had no monuments or history in the area of their own. The Aztecs believed that before they established their capital city, they had been wanderers from the North from a place they called Atzlan.

The Real Aztec History

Archaeologists believe that Aztecs were relative newcomers to the Valley of Mexico. Historians believe that the Aztecs were not always powerful. It is believed that they were a small tribe of people, probably evicted from their homeland due to intensive warfare. Weaker than the other tribes of the area, they founded a home in a swampy region which would eventually become their capital called Tenochtitlan and the centre of the large Aztec empire.

Sources:

  1. Aguilar-Moreno, Manuel, Handbook to Life in the Aztec World Oxford University Press (2007)
  2. Smith, Michael The Aztecs Wiley-Blackwell (1998)
  3. Soustelle, Jacques Daily Life of the Aztecs, on the Eve of the Spanish Conquest Stanford University Press (1961)
  4. Clendinnen, Inga Aztecs: An Interpretation Cambridge University Press(1995)