The Aztecs: The Beginning, the raise and the fall of the Aztec Civilization

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Panoramic view of the pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico.

When did the Aztecs originated, how they became to be one of the most powerful civilizations of Mesoamerica and why they were conquered by the Spaniards.

Many books have been written about the Aztec Civilization; one of the most important civilization of Mesoamerica; about their art, their customs, traditions, their rise and fall, and the chronicles of their conquest by the Spaniard Conquistadores. Little has been said about their beliefs, their school system, and how they perceived the world around them.

The Early Beginning of the Aztecs

Knowledge and history was passed down, generation by generation by the elders, who, because of their wisdom, were in charge of the schools, and so. The elders read from the folded books, made of amatl, a sort of paper extracted from the maguey (cactus) plant. Leaves were extended and bleached with rubber and then pressed with hot stones, writing was made in the fashion of action drawings; huts, animals, people, the sun, the moon and the stars telling the story of this amazing civilization. (Von Hagen p.14) The Aztecs realized who they were as a group, on the year 1168; this date has been passed down from parents to children, generation after generation. When they realized they were a group, approximately about one thousand of them, they formed a tribe and started walking south, in search of better weather, more animals to hunt, and less aggressive tribes.

Basically what the Aztecs were looking for was land, most of the fertile land was already taken by other tribes, so they kept going south until they reached the central area of Mexico, where the big lakes stand, it was here where they found, right in the middle of one of the lakes, a small island with a cactus on it, on top of the cactus there was an eagle devouring a snake, this was the sign that they were looking for and here is where they settled. They started by cultivating the land; three grains of corn (maiz) and a dead fish, used as fertilizer (Von Hagen p.19) once the corn had grown, they continued with bean, and squash.

But the other groups didn’t like these newcomers’ customs, traditions, and their cultivation of corn, bean, and squash. The Aztecs were enslaved by these groups but it wouldn’t be until the year 1321 when they would break free from their masters and begin the rise of the amazing culture we came to know.

The Rise of the Aztecs as a Powerful Civilization

On 1345, when the great Tenochtitlan was erected, the Aztecs established themselves as one of the most powerful civilization and dominant political entity of the era and region. There were many other groups and entities yet the Aztecs dominated above all other.

They believed all creatures on earth were sons and daughters from mother earth and father sun. They treated all species as their own brother and sister. When war and killing was a must, they didn’t refer to the enemy as the enemy but as a brother who didn’t want to be a brother.

Circles were important to the Aztecs, they believed men came from a semi circle, and women came from a semi circle as well. When the child became an adult and found a woman or a man, they become a full circle, and so instead of calling their mate, my woman, or my man they would call each other; the semi circle who is with me, or the duality with me. (Xokonoschtletl, p.18)

Everybody dressed in the same fashion. Because they didn’t know of needle and threat, they would wear short tunics tied on a knot on the shoulder. This is how the children went to school, all dressed in the same color and fashion. There were hierarchies but no social classes. The children were taught to use the bow and arrow, then they would sit around the elder and hear the stories they read from the books.

The Arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores

By 1519 when the first Spaniards arrived, the Aztecs had more than half of the territory of Mexico under their domain and a perfectly organized society; the emperor Montezuma at the head of them all. Then there were the priests, warriors, artisans, hunters, those who cultivated the soil, and the elders continued to be in charge of the education of the youngest.

Many factors lead to the fall of the great Tenochtitlan, while the Spaniards were driven by greed after seeing the vast riches of the lords of the land, the Aztecs were already defeated before the conquest even began because of Montezuma’s belief that Cortez was Quetzalcoatl who had come back as he had promised. The Spanish technology and weaponry didn’t match the stone made weapons and arrows of the Aztecs. When Cortez marched towards Tenochtitlan, he did so, not only with his men, but the men of other tribes who hated the Aztecs and wanted their defeat. This political allegiance was a huge factor in the fall of the Aztecs. But the Spaniards didn’t bring only weapons to battle, they also brought an epidemic that killed many of the Aztecs and weakened those who had survived.

Once the city had been taken, there was the matter of populating the vast territory with Spanish population, Queen Elizabeth had the grant idea to empty the jails in Spain and populate the new land with the criminals and thieves. These were sent to the new land along the priests to Christianize the Aztecs and teach them about the fear of God. The old books were burned, and the criminals married the Aztec woman, giving way to the Mexico we know today.

Sources:

  1. Ancient Mexico & Central America, Thames & Hudson, Susan Toby Evans.2004
  2. Basic Cultures of the World; The Aztecs, Victor W. Von Hagen, 1964
  3. Lo que el Viento nos Susurra, Sabiduria de Los Aztecas, (What the winds whispers to us, Wisdome of the Aztecs) Xokonoschetletl,1998
  4. The Enigma of Aztlan, Tomas Doreste, 1992
  5. Ancient Mexico an Overview, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, Jaime Litvak King, 1985
  6. Maya Conquistador, Beacon Press, Matthew Restall, 1998
  7. The Legacy of Mesoamerica, Prentice Hall Series in Anthropology, Robert M. Carmack, Janine Gasco, Gary H. Gossen,1996
  8. History Secretary of Public Education- Text Book 4TH GRADE – 1994