What Meso-America is, is a part of the world located around central Mexico to parts of central America which is Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. Early Meso-America held some of the greatest civilizations that included the Aztecs, Mayas, Incas, and many more. Historians like to compare these cultures with their similarities to the ancient Egyptians, and Chinese to their advances in technology for the time, and the structures they have built that we, the people today still marvel at centuries later. For my paper I will focus my attention in the Aztec culture, and introduce how their culture became to be one of the most famous of the time.
First, I will explain some of the culture of the Aztecs. Part of the Aztecs culture is that they were a somewhat agriculture-based society, growing crops like, corn, potatoes, and avocadoes. Growing crops wasn’t the only thing they did to eat, they also lived by fishing and hunting animals such as turkey, rabbits, and coyotes. What they did to build their house was that they made their houses by tying logs together and covering the logs with mud like cement because of their poor living conditions it was the best material to use. Their culture also was based on having a very powerful military which allowed the Aztecs form the successful and strong empire that is known today.
The early Aztec history is somewhat unknown, but historians believe that they were originally a group of hunters gathers wondering from their original home of Aztlan. Around the 13th century the settled near pre-Columbian Mexico. The reason for the Aztecs settling here is best described as, “According to legend the Aztecs settled at a place where they saw an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its mouth. They took this as a sign from their god that they should settle there” (Lambert). This quote explains the reason why the Aztecs settled where they did, and where they settled was a very swampy, wet place. With their expert skills in irrigation they were able to drain the area and form man made islands to build on. The Aztecs would soon form their capital city of Tenochtitlan, which came from the name Tenochca that was another name for the Aztecs. Before the Aztecs, the dominant Meso-American civilization was the Toltecs. The Aztecs coincidently arrived on the Meso-America scene right after the Toltecs which makes historians believe that the Aztecs might have had something to do with their destruction.
At their height the Aztecs were a thriving civilization. By the 16th century they were able to accumulate up to 500 states which had around 5 million people inhabiting the empire. And with the 5 million people living in the Aztec empire, about 140,000 lived in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan which made it the largest city ever in Meso-America. Also, besides taking over a lot of land, the Aztecs were very into art, making paintings and tattoos to honor warrior’s for their accomplishments. They also were very heavy into pottery and making sculptures for the empire to honor their gods. The also had mandatory schooling for their children, “There were two main types of school, the so-called telpochcalli and the calmecac. Boys and girls went to both but were kept separate from each other “(Aztec […] Society). This quote tells the names of the two schools the Aztecs had. The telpochcalli schools were for the lower-class children where girls went to school to learn history, religion, how to cook, clean, and form families. The boys of the lower class went to these schools to also learn history and religion, but they also had extensive military training, and learned about agriculture. The children of the higher class would attend the calmecac schools where they would learn how to become religious and military leaders of the civilization. Also, the Aztec economy was running by markets in its capital city. The markets played a huge part in bringing in money and goods for the economy, especially on market days that would bring in thousands of people.
The Aztecs also had strong religion. They would build large scale sculptures, monuments, temples, and palaces to honor their gods, for example, “[…] including Huitzilopochtli (god of war and of the sun) and Quetzalcoatl (“Feathered Serpent”), a Toltec god who served many important roles in the Aztec faith over the years” (History.com Editors). This quote just shows a couple of gods the Aztecs used to worship. They also had different beliefs for burying their dead. For the lower class there was not really any care of where they were buried or even if building were built on top of their dead. As for the higher class like rulers or men of high ranks in the military, they were cremated. They believed that being cremated would send the person who has died straight to heaven. It is believed that even sometimes the person was cremated with an animal, mostly a dog which would help guide the dead to heaven.
The fall of the Aztecs civilization began in 1517, when Diego Velasquez of Cuba sent Hernan Cortes and a large force to Mexico. When he got to Mexico, the locals he meets told him about the Aztecs which then was ruled by Moctezuma II. Cortes then founded the city of Veracruz to train his army. He also had a woman who was able to translate for him, and when his troops were done training he was able to use the translator to make alliances with enemies of the Aztecs. By 1519 Cortes arrived at the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, in which Moctezuma greeted Cortes and his army as honored guest. Cortes was then able to easily take over the city. The Aztecs had superior numbers, but Cortes’s army had way more fire power with their weapons which made it easy to run the Aztecs out of their capital. The Aztecs tried to make a comeback and take back their capital, but the resistances failed, and thousands of Aztecs were killed, and Moctezuma II was captured and died in captivity due to unknown circumstances. There are other speculations that say that the Aztecs would of beat the Spaniards, but the reason they did not was the huge spread of small pox’s the Spanish brought from Europe. This fact makes a lot of sense based on our own history when English first landed in America and spread small pox’s all over the Native Americans. But whatever the reason was, on August 13th, 1521 the Aztec empire fell to Cortes and he destroyed their capital into ruble and built what is now Mexico City on top of it which became a hot spot for Europeans to travel too.
In conclusion, the Aztecs have had a rich history. They began as just a simple group of hunters gathers, to form one of the most famous and largest civilizations known in Meso-America. They had a magnificent rise with their powerful military and were able to form a great society. A society with schooling, beautiful art, and a market that drove it. Also, their ways of how they honored their gods for their religion. But sadly, they were forced into a gruesome downfall, that forced upon the Cortes and the Spaniards with their military forces and spread of diseases that lead to the end of the Aztecs. And that is what I have learned about the Aztec civilization.
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