Two Surgeries, 800 Years Apart: Aztec Medical Technology and Today

An archaeologist’s hip surgery prompts him to think of the experience of a Puebloan woman who survived a terrible fall centuries ago. As an archaeologist, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what life was like in the past. I’ve also been injured a time or two, and I’ve wondered if any of my nonfatal[…]

Daily Life in Aztec Tenochtitlan

Exploring Aztec class structure, marriage, family life, food, markets, religious practices, and recreation. Introduction The Aztecs built their large empire in central Mexico. Suppose you are an Aztec child living outside Tenochtitlán in the 1400s C.E. One morning your father, a chili pepper farmer, takes you to the Great Market at Tenochtitlán. Your father finds[…]

A History of Aztec Civilization

Exploring the Aztecs, a Mesoamerican people who built a vast empire in what is today central Mexico from 1428-1519 CE. Introduction The Aztec Empire flourished from 1428 C.E. until 1519 C.E., when it was destroyed by invaders from Spain. The Aztecs told a legend about the beginnings of their empire. Originally a wandering group of[…]

The Historiography of Aztec Painted Language

The Aztec painted language operated at two levels – identifying glyphs and strategic placement and presentation. Writing with Images Imagine writing a history. More than likely, you would begin by brainstorming the events you would want to include, the characters in your story, and when and where the events took place. Then, you would have[…]

Remembering the Toxcatl Massacre: The Beginning of the End of Aztec Supremacy

A seminal manuscript tells the Indigenous side of a historic battle. Competing Histories This May marks 500 years since the Toxcatl massacre, in which Indigenous people were killed during a festival that took place in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (today’s Mexico City). Two competing histories of this event exist. In the Spanish telling, the[…]

Impacts of the Spanish Invasion on Pre-Columbian Cultures of the Americas

Impacts of the Spanish invasion on the pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas. Spanish Treasure In the age of piracy on the high seas, sailing instructions were top-secret documents upon which rested the security of the king’s fleet and his treasure. Here, Menéndez de Avilés, governor of Florida, gives Don Cristóbal de Eraso complicated and detailed[…]

Feeding the Gods: Human Sacrifice in the Aztec World

Other Mesoamerican cultures also engaged in human sacrifice and built tzompantlis, but the Mexica brought it to an extreme. The priest quickly sliced into the captive’s torso and removed his still-beating heart. That sacrifice, one among thousands performed in the sacred city of Tenochtitlan, would feed the gods and ensure the continued existence of the[…]

Spanish Conquistadors and the Fall of Aztec Tenochtitlan

The Spanish saw nothing of value in the indigenous culture and set out to systematically destroy everything that had no monetary value. Introduction The Fall of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, came about through the manipulation of local factions and divisions by Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. Though numerous battles were fought between the[…]

Tenochca: A History of Aztec Civilization

Aztec civilization sustained millions of people and developed over thousands of years isolated from European and Asian cultures. Introduction The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican people of central Mexico in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. They were a civilization with a rich cultural heritage whose capital, Tenochtitlan, rivaled the greatest cities of Europe in size[…]

The Codices: Insight into Aztec Culture

The tlacuilo (codex painter) tradition endured the transition to colonial culture. Introduction Aztec codices (singular codex) are books written by pre-Columbian and colonial-era Aztecs. These codices provide some of the best primary sources for Aztec culture. The pre-Columbian codices differ from European codices in that they are largely pictorial; they were not meant to symbolize[…]

Thriving in the Valley: A History of Aztec Civilization

Aztec culture had complex mythological and religious traditions. Introduction The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican people of central Mexico in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. They were a civilization with a rich cultural heritage whose capital, Tenochtitlan, rivaled the greatest cities of Europe in size and grandeur. The nucleus of the Aztec Empire was the[…]

A Brief History of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas

Some indigenous peoples of the Americas supported agriculturally advanced societies for thousands of years. Introduction The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas, their descendants, and many ethnic groups who identify with those peoples. They are often also referred to as “Native Americans” or “American Indians,” although such terms are[…]

The ‘Eagle Warrior’ from the Mexica (Aztec) Templo Mayor

The sculpture was recovered at the House of the Eagles, the meeting place of eagle and jaguar warriors. Introduction Eagle Warrior is a life-sized ceramic sculpture made by Mexica (sometimes called Aztec) artists that shows a warrior dressed in an eagle costume. Made of terracotta, a type of earthenware known for its reddish color, the[…]

An Brief Overview of Mexica (Aztec) History

The Mexica were a migrant people from the desert north who arrived in Mesoamerica in the 1300s. By the British Museum Introduction During the twelfth century C.E. the Aztec (or Mexica*) were a small and obscure tribe searching for a new homeland. Eventually they settled in the Valley of Mexico and founded their capital, Tenochtitlan, in 1345.[…]

The Spanish Conquest Of Mexico, 500 Years Later

The history of the Spanish and Aztecs is still strikingly visible in the center of Mexico City. By James Fredrick Five-hundred years ago, two men met and changed much of the world forever. About 500 Spanish conquistadors — ragged from skirmishes, a massacre of an indigenous village and a hike between massive volcanoes — couldn’t[…]

The Sierra-Texupan Codex: Three Cultural Traditions, Two Writing Systems, and One Shopping List

Europeans, speaking Spanish, Italian and French, had to communicate with indigenous peoples through Nahuatl, the lingua franca under the Aztecs. Once the dust settled after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in the year 1521, a new government system was established in Mesoamerica, the region spanning present-day Mexico and Central America. That was the[…]

The Role of Smallpox in the Spanish Conquest of the Aztecs 500 Years Ago

Hernán Cortés owed his conquest of the Aztecs to his expedition’s unknown, unseen secret weapon: the smallpox virus. Disease epidemics can set the course of human history. Recent outbreaks in the U.S. have drawn attention to the dangers of measles. The Democratic Republic of Congo is fighting a deadly outbreak of Ebola that has killed hundreds. Epidemics are[…]

The Fourth Skull: A Tale of Authenticity and Fraud

This is a story of four different skulls that reached three of the world’s largest museums under less than transparent circumstances. By Dr. Jane MacLaren Walsh and Dr. David HuntWalsh: Anthropologist Emeritus, Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural HistoryHunt: Professional Lecturer in Anthropology, George Washington University Introduction This is a story of four different skulls that[…]

Emperors, Gods, and Foreign Invaders of the Aztec Empire

Moctezuma I expanded the Aztec Empire beyond the Valley of Mexico by constantly waging war. Introduction As the city of Tenochtitlán grew, the Aztec fought for dominance over other city-states in the area. In 1428 CE, Tenochtitlán formed a Triple Alliance with the cities of Texcoco and Tlacopan in the Valley of Mexico.These three cities[…]

Tenochtitlán: Aztec City on the Water’s Edge

The Aztec empire existed more than 500 years after the Maya abandoned their great inland city-states. Introduction Did you know that the modern capital of Mexico, Mexico City, was built on top of another city? If you visit Mexico City today, you can see archaeologists at work.They are busy uncovering the ancient city of Tenochtitlán.[…]