The Aztec Empire

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Empires throughout history have always consisted of interesting events ranging from barbaric invasions of native lands to peaceful adaptations of new cultures that ultimately led to economic, political, and educational development. The Aztec Empire followed the path of growth through the Mexica people, a semi-nomadic group from northern Mexico, who migrated south to Lake Texcoco by 1325 and began to build their own capital city of Tenochtitlan. During this development in Mesoamerica, the Aztec Empire was able to construct a stable economy that included markets and the production of craft goods in order to maintain the rapid growing population. Politically, the Aztec Empire was made up of a series of city-states called altepetl and each one was appointed a supreme leader (tlatoani) and supreme judge/administrator (cihuacoatl) through a caste-based system. These leaders oversaw the economy of their cities and the supreme court laws. Education in the Aztec Empire was one of the first to have mandatory education for nearly all children regardless of class or gender and others in the society excelled in engineering, mathematics, and sciences that led to innovative advances. These developments in economics, politics, and education allowed the Aztecs to build one of the largest and most powerful empires in Mesoamerica.

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The extent of empire and rapid population growth stimulated the development of markets and the productions of goods. The Aztecs traded everything and their economy heavily relied on their ways of agriculture and farming. Virtually every settlement had marketplaces that were filled with nonstop activity throughout the days and the largest one was Tlatelolco. The Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes who defeated the Aztecs stated that, every kind of merchandise such as can be met with in every land is for sale there. These goods ranged from food and victuals, ornaments of gold and silver, brass, lead, tin, copper, precious stones, and feathers. Within these markets were professional merchants referred to as pochteca who dealt with large market purchases and trades while also obtaining slaves who were used for human sacrifices that, in the Aztec minds, bettered their land. The Aztecs were able to have such a diverse marketplace due to their styles of agriculture and farming that was made possible through their floating gardens. These were artificial islands created from swamplands that were able to support such an efficient and productive agriculture, officially called chinampas. The Chinampas consisted of small, rectangular areas of fertile arable land to grow crops on the shallow lake beds and their consistency made it possible for Aztecs to use sticks to turn the soil as they did not have appropriate tools at the time. The Aztecs were able to provide such crops and textiles in massive amounts like no other and supplied their resources through numerous canals, dikes, causeways, and bridges which factored in to their large marketplace. Within these marketplaces, goods were exchanged through either trading same value items or through purchases made with their currency, cocoa beans and quachtli. The economy of the Aztec Empire was sustained by three main pillars of trade, agriculture, and tribute. Agriculture was needed to sustain the growing population at the time until it reached a point where they were able to trade the surplus amount of goods to other neighboring regions. Marketplaces and travelling merchants soon began to play significant roles in the economy as they distributed and received goods that would aid their expansion.

As the Aztec Empire began growing and developing their economy, they began to focus on and develop a political system that would regulate their cities, trading, markets, and people of the society. They followed a caste-based system similar to that of Islams in which those who were born into wealthy and noble families immediately had more power and opportunity than those of the lower class. With this system in affect, the city-states in Mesoamerica consisted of two people in power: a supreme leader (tlatoani) and supreme judge/administrator (cihuacoatl). The tlatoani of these altepetl was the ultimate owner of all land in his city-state, oversaw markets and temples, resolved judicial disputes, led the military, and received tribute. Due to the caste system, these leaders had to fulfill certain requirements such as: come from a noble class and royal heritage, be over the age of thirty, be educated at one of the elite calmecac schools, and to be experienced warriors and military leaders.. As emperors passed away, new ones were elected either by a high council of four nobles who were related to the previous ruler or chosen from the siblings of the previous emperor. Although the emperors of these altepetl had absolute power and believed to be a representative of the gods, they governed with the help of four advisors and a senior advisor in order to make the most efficient and correct choices for the Empire. Following as second to the emperor were the supreme judges and administrators known as the cihuacoatl who focused on the legal, criminal, and international laws in order to keep order on society. Aztec laws were based on royal decrees and on customs that had been passed down from generation to generation and they were also interpreted and applied by Aztec judges in the various court systems. For example, if laws were broken by means of crime (theft, treachery, and a priest’s violation of the rule of chastity) punishment was the most common justice. They had a prison a system that divided acts of crime in terms of seriousness and each system had different punishments. These four classes were the cuauhcalli (death row), teilpiloyan (debtor’s prison), petlacalli (minor crimes), and a fourth which was a probation where a governor would place boundaries on an individual that they were not allowed to cross. The Aztec Empire had a strong political system that kept their people at bay. This was necessary due to their proud and strong military force that was continuously at war with its neighboring territories. War was justified when a territory closed its roads to commerce and when a merchant or ambassador was killed, which usually led to conquering those territories in order to collect tribute and obtain captives for human sacrifice.

The Aztec Empire excelled in many parts in education within children and adults and it led to innovations that helped structure even some of today’s education system. The Aztecs were one of the first civilizations that required education to all children regardless of gender, class, or status. They were to be homeschooled until 10-15 years of age and receive at least some kind of physical school education anywhere between 10-20 years old. Of course, due to the caste system some children were a little more privileged than others which led to having higher standard schools for the noble classes called calmecacs and more basic schools called telpochcalli for the commoners that taught practical and military studies. The calmecac schools focused more on creating leaders, priests, and scholars from sons of royal families by teaching them about rituals, ancient and contemporary history, literacy, calendrics, and some elements of geometry. These teachings and focus on education led to many intelligent people who were able to excel in areas such as engineering, mathematics, medicine and science. In the 1420’s, they engineered and constructed the Chapultepec aqueduct to bring clean water to their city from the springs at Chapultepec on the mainland because the demand for fresh water increased as the population did. The double canal ran for three miles and made it so there will be guaranteed water flowing in when one canal was being serviced or maintained. The Aztecs were also able to deal with the problem of being surrounded by water and nearly flooding in the 1400’s by building a dam to control the water. The dam was 12 feet high, spanned 10 miles protecting Tenochtitlan and was created with adjustable doors to allow water to pass when needed and was considered the largest earthwork at its time. These intelligent creations were possible due to the Aztecs understanding of mathematics such as multiplication, division, geometry, and linear measurements. They used a base 20 number system that consisted of dots and other symbols to represent large numbers such as a flag for 20, a fir tree for 400, and a bag for 8000. In terms of measurements, they also used symbols such as hands, bones, or arrows in order to express fractional distances when calculating areas of lands. Not only did the Aztecs excel in math or engineering, but also medicine and surgeries. Aztec physicians known as tictils, were accomplished herbalist who performed medicinal research and identified illness to be caused by three different possibilities: anger of the gods, witchcraft from enemies, or natural causes. In either case, tictils used an extensive inventory of herbs and plants that acted as medicine, painkillers, and helped heal wounds after surgeries performed with volcanic glass as knives. The Aztec Empire used their strength in education in many areas from educating children to innovative engineering and medicinal research to further increase the wellness of the empire.

The Aztec Empire grew to be one of the largest and most powerful empires in Mesoamerica and it was clearly well deserved. They were able to develop in many key areas that creates a strong empire such as economics, politics, and education while maintaining all aspects until their defeat by Spanish invaders.They created a strong internal and external trading system and marketplace by efficiently aggregating and cultivating to mass produce food and crops in order to exchange with nearby territories. This in turn allowed them to receive materials and resources that they lacked and others excelled in. They were able to manage and maintain these marketplaces by appointing noble emperors and administrators to their altepetl that not only regulated economy, but also society. They created laws and consequences in order to keep new and old populations in line as they continued to grow and expand. While growing and maintaining both the economy and politics, they were still able to focus education in order to excel within their own empire. They did so by creating complex number systems, engineering and constructing innovative builds, and learning how to aid the population as illnesses and accidents occurred. Despite the Aztec Empire falling to Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, they were able to leave a mark in history on their developments, and something many other empires were able to learn from.

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The Aztec Empire. (2019, Jul 11). Retrieved September 26, 2022 , from

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