.. e would be told that he would be a warrior whose mission was to feed the Sun with the blood of enemies and if the infant was a girl she was to spend her days doing household chores and help the family. In about four days the father would call an astrologer to read the child’s horoscope and determine the appropriate day for the naming ceremony. After a naming ceremony, the name was announced and the news was spread by little boys who ran through the streets shouting. Each child had a calendrical name taken from the day of birth and also a personal name which belonged to him alone(Bray 1969).
Education was considered extremely important. Even from an infant to age four the child was taught with ‘quite words’. At age four, practical instruction was given under the watchful eyes of the elders. For example the child was taught all the words of the things he would carry in a basket. He would learn to carry things for his mother and go with his father to the local markets.
For girls education was really training for marriage. She would be shown how to make thread and use it. At age 14 she would learn to weave a loom. She was also thought how to make cloth to support the family. Self control and obedience was taught at home and punishments were severe.
Boys were beaten, pricked with maguey spines, then tied hand and foot and laid naked on the wet ground for a whole day, or else were held over a fire of chili peppers and made to inhale the bitter smoke. Girls were too pricked or held over the fire, being forced to rise before dawn and to spend the whole day cleaning the home and sweeping the street outside (Bray 1968). In many other ways children were made to feel inferior. A ruler’s daughter was made to walk around and never look up from the ground. She was to never talk while eating and must keep absolute silence. Maidens could not go outside the house without guards.
Young unmarried women could never see their father without permission and every time the saw him they would give him presents and gifts they had made. None laughed in his presence and all acted very soberly and modestly(Bray 1969). The choice of who to marry was left up to the man alone. Women had no choice of who they could marry. The two families would arrange and organize the marriage ceremony. The man who was going to get married was released from school and the school gave him many gifts.
Now the young youth was considered a man. The girl who was usually 16, spent most of her time in preparing food for the big event. Marriage ceremonies were held in a house during the night with many people present (usually about 150). The marriage rite took place and the couple were perfumed with incense and were then presented with traditional gifts. Then they were joined by a match-maker by the young mans cloak and then they were man and wife.
The party continued until the young people were tired and the old people were drunk. Then on the fifth day after the marriage ceremony, there was another party in celebration of the married couple (Bray 1969). Polygamy was very common among the Aztecs. This was very important in the survival of the nation because so many males were killed in wars and in sacrifices. Also alliances were made in this way for diplomatic reasons. If you committed adultery the punishment was death by stoning or strangulation.
The person accused had the choice between the two types of punishment. The social structure of the Aztecs is very interesting. A person called the Great Speaker was the supreme ruler. The son of the Great Speaker not always was the heir. It was a Council of Wise Men- very similar to the Roman Senate- that decided in a democratic way who would be the next ruler of Tenochtitln.
In a way, the election of the Great Speaker was very similar to the election of the Byzantine Emperor (coincidentally, these two cultures are contemporary, the Byzantine ending years before the discovery of America). Once the Great Speaker was elected, he was obeyed in everything, since he was the represented of the god Huitzilopochtli on the Earth. The Great Speaker was also head of the government, and the main priest of the Great Temple. This curious selection process is due, according to several investigators basing themselves in legends and Aztec tales, to the fact that the first Aztec Ruler Acamapichtli (1376), had for a main wife a woman called Ilancueitl, daughter of the lord of a nearby town. This girl was sterile, which caused that the Aztec Lords offered their daughters to him and he also took his women slaves as companions.
Logically, this caused that more than one resulted pregnant of the Aztec King and each one claimed the right of carrying the future heir in their wombs. When the majority of the sons of Acamapichtli were old enough, the Emperor ordered a group of priests and great warriors to gather to decide who would the next Great Speaker be. This originated the birth of the Council of Wise Men, whose members would be the greatest warriors and the wisest priests. Their selection was also democratic since these were also elected by their own Calpullis – we will talk about these later -. This selection process lasted all the time the Aztec Empire lasted. This way never did a dynasty exist (sometimes the Great Speaker was a close relative of the one before, as Moctezuma was Ahuizotl’s nephew) of Aztec families, preventing with this the aging of the civilization, just like it happened with the Czars in Russia and the kings in France.
The heart of the Mexica Empire was the Calpulli. Even before the empire existed, the Calpulli existed already. This was generally formed by relatives or people of the same profession, in this manner there were Calpullis for priests, warriors, carpenters, clay workers, etc.. Each Calpulli was a form of autonomous government, with its own Speaker or governor, who was elected by the oldest men living in the Calpulli. Just to give us an idea, we will say that each Calpulli had its own school, its own temple, and if the Calpulli was important sometimes it had its own garrison.
In the Aztec society there were no closed societies. Anyone could get to be a member of the Council of Wise Men. Though, only the men belonging to the nobility could be Great Speakers. There is an Aztec story that narrates how a Tlaxcalteca, Najahuatzin- called the same way as the god who gave life to the Fifth Sun-, was caught by Moctezuma stealing wood from his private forest. When Nanahuatzin answered honestly, Moctezuma awarded him by naming him Main Voice. This story shows how even the poorest people could reach the highest levels in the Aztec society.
This was the reason why the Aztecs were able to control and dominate the largest empire in all of North America and one of the largest worldwide. An Aztec custom consisted in that the Great Speaker, once elected, was no longer human and was a god from then on. In fact, each Aztec Great Speaker was worshiped in the Temple Mayor. The Aztec protocol was that nobody could look directly to the emperor, nor talk or hear him. That is why there was a spokesman who relayed what his lord had said to the subjects and what these would respond to the emperor.
Though, in cases of emergency, the king talked directly to his Council (Len-Portilla 1992, & Hassig 1988). The Aztecs’ main food was corn. The corn was generally ground into flour and then made into masa or dough, which they made into tortillas, drinks, tamales, among other foods. Other foods in the Aztecs’ diet were the seeds from the sage plant which were used as cereal; spicy peppers, eggs, turkey, rabbit, dog, lizards, locusts, snails, fish eggs, and as a delicacy, green slime which was scooped off the top of lake Texcoco. That was said to taste like cheese. For drink the Aztecs usually drank water and on special occasions they drank beer and nobles drank chocolate sweetened with honey.
Foods today in Mexico have some basic components of the Aztec fare such as corn, which is still at the heart of the meal. That is, today corn products are still widely eaten. This can be seen in the tortilla, a round flat sheet of corn that you find in almost every meal in a present day Mexican table; or the tamale, a lump of corn masa containing meat, wrapped in corn husks, and steamed. Both are Aztec foods. Hence, the blend of the Aztec and Spanish cultures can be seen very clearly in food.
For instance, it is a common rural Mexican tradition to make tamales, an Aztec food for Christmas, a Catholic holiday. Another example is the fact that tamales are often filled with beef, a product unknown to the Aztecs until the arrival of the Spanish. Even the method in which the meals were prepared: the corn is ground on a metate, made into masa, which is rolled into a ball and flattened, then placed on a comal cooking sheet and cooked, is still being practiced in remote country locations. In the city people eat much as they do here in the United States (Baumann 1995. And Nicholson 1985). Cultivating the soil was the main way of life.
In the Aztec society farmers were generally field workers who prepared the earth, breaking up clumps, hoeing with the coa digging stick, leveling, planting, weeding, and irrigating. They understood the rotations and had to read almanacs so they could determine when it was time for planting. They made the construction of canals to bring water from mountain springS to the towns and fields of the piedmont and foothills. Calculations have shown that the flow of water through this system was insufficient to have maintained farming throughout the year (Bray 1968). The amount of decoration on a garment indicated wealth and social rank of the wearer. Rich people had clothes made of cotton while poorer people had clothes made from maguey fibers. Aztec men wore a cloth around their hips and a cloak that was knotted around one shoulder.
The women wore a sleeveless blouse and a wraparound skirt. The amount of decoration around the garment indicated the wealth and social rank of the wearer. Most of the Aztec homes were simple and designed for usefulness rather than for looks. In the upper mountain regions the houses were adobe but in the lowlands they had thatched roofs and walls made of branches and leaves. Usually in the same yard around the house a family had other buildings suck as a place to put their tools and a place for their animals.
Wealthy Aztecs had large adobe or stone houses with a large patio built around the house. The yard was usually large and the servants were housed in a separate building (Weaver, 1972). The art of speaking was interwoven with teaching, as the learning of technical skills. Historical accounts, the reciting of stories and poetry, the conduct of law suits, and matters of trade were conducted orally. To be educated was to be a master of oral expression, for people were expected to present artful speeches on all sorts of occasions, both public and private.
With all the etiquette required by the highest formalized pattern of Aztec life. Aztec hieroglyphic writing served to communicate names, places, dates, and tallies in association by a system of dots. The language spoken by the Aztecs was called Nahuatl. This language was one of the must popular ones before the Spanish Conquest because it was the spoken language of the most important race in the prehispanic world: the Mexica or Azteca. Some of the peculiar characteristics of this language, was that it had 23 different sounds: 5 vowels and 18 consonants, divided into 9 primaries and 9 secondaries. For some strange reason our ancestry of the Aztec basically used only the 9 primary consonants, that were considered as sacred sounds; The other 9 secondary consonants appeared only in the regular language of this Mexicatl country (the country around the Aztec empire).
An example of this is the poetry Nezahualcoyotl lord and philosopher of Texcoco. The Nahuatl alphabet is described briefly below. The Aztec have always been warriors, since their time as the Mexica to the time of their demise. The Aztecs at first were known as dirty barbarians so they were not allowed to settle with the present tribes of Central Mexico. Why did the Aztecs need to have a great military? To answer this question you must understand Aztec religion and way of life.
The Aztecs whole beginning is based on war and their main god Huitlilopochi was based on war. The Aztecs had no head army or standing army but it was organized for war. War was used to capture prisoners for sacrifice, punish tributary tribes, and gain new territory. The soldiers were trained at a young age by nobles in special schools. In these schools they taught the warriors their goals in war. The goals were to capture prisoners for sacrifice, and depending on the amount captured gave that warrior prowess. Failure in battle was a disgrace for those who could not accomplish their task and usually led to their sacrifice.
The overview of the Aztec military, is that their is no separation of armies, but the whole empire was set on war. The military had specific goals, but if not accomplished meant shame and death. The Aztecs had a very powerful military and only lost to the Spanish due to the myth that the white people were gods (Bray 1968). Agriculture formed the backbone of the Aztec economy. Corn was the most important crop alone with beans, avocados, squashes, potatoes, and tomatoes.
The lowlands provided crops such as cotton, papayas, rubber, and cacao. The main agricultural tool was a pointed stick which was used for digging. In the tropical jungle the Aztecs used the slash and burn agriculture which is still used today. They chopped down the trees and burns them along with the shrubs and the ashes fertilized the soil. Terraces were cut in the mountains up in the highlands to increase the amount of farmland. Huge irrigation systems were made and the farmers used the mud from the bottom of the irrigation systems to help their crops.
As a result the Aztecs yielded huge crops which is the main reason why their civilization was so successful (Hodge & Smith 1994). The market place was one of the main centers of Aztec life. The market at Tlatelolco was the largest in the Americas. Hernando Cortes said that as much as 60,000 people visited the market in a single day. Here every kind of merchandise was bought and sold. The Aztecs had no money as we know it but it was goods and services that were traded.
It was found that some Aztecs used cacao beans as a form of money (Hodge & Smith 1994). The Aztecs invented the wheel but they never used it in any form of transportation. The wheels were just used in toys. The Aztecs carried all goods on their backs our using animals to carry them (Nicholson 1985). We still know very little about the Aztecs. Research is always uncovering new ideas and data giving us new insights into the Aztec culture and way of life.
It is interesting how a people so far away from the known civilization at that time developed a political and economic system similar to the system used in Europe and Asia. The Aztec society was a brutal one yet it was one of the most successful societies in Central America until the intrusion of the Spanish in 1519. Their successfulness was can from their religion which demanded that the Aztecs to always be dominant, brutal adversaries. Even though their religion was the dominant theme in setting the Aztecs apart from other civilizations, they were also unique in their history, economy, environment, and way of life. In studying the Aztecs, we are in a way actually studying ourselves and human history. Only by studying ourselves are we able to overcome our mistakes and make this world a better place. References: Aschmann, Homer.
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