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Ancient Aztec Civilization. Warfare and Expansion Tenochtitlan Daily Life: Yautepec . Warfare. Aztec Empire held in loose control physically, but control held by intimidation and overwhelming power.

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Ancient aztec civilization l.jpg

Ancient Aztec Civilization

Warfare and Expansion


Daily Life: Yautepec

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  • Aztec Empire

    • held in loose control physically, but control held by intimidation and overwhelming power.

    • made an overwhelming force, as it did for the British in India, where no immense standing armies or garrisons needed.

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  • Armies (main army numbered nearly 500,000)

    • all males were militarily trained, in schools.

    • further training was under a more experienced warrior.

    • social prestige and advancement for both commoner and noble available in military.

    • more likely, that a noble would gain more prestige due to better access to training.

    • military societies graded according to caste.

    • rank determined by kinship, social status, military achievement, and personality.

    • fluid and volatile organizations.

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Jaguar and Eagle Knights

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Florentine Codex

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Mendoza Codex

Warriors holding prisoners.

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  • Declarations of war kept inside society to gain surprise.

    • intelligence was also a factor, spies, merchants and diplomats acted to aid in war.

    • relay stations 2 and a half miles apart relayed information.

    • supply lines and armories provided food and weapons.

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  • During the 15th century the military strength of the Aztecs increased. They grew from a small tribe of mercenaries into a powerful and highly disciplined military force. They also formed alliances with their powerful neighbors Texcoco and Tacuba, known as the Triple Alliance. It was a time for building and the city Tenochtitlán grew and prospered.

  • By the end of Aztec rule, in 1520, 38 conquered tributary provinces had been made, who had to make payments. However, some of the tribes at the borders stayed strongly independent.

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Aztec Empire ca. 1519

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  • In the beginning stages of Tenochtitlán, development, Aztec life was very difficult in their undesirable location.

  • Tenochtitlán was located on a marshy island with limited resources, they built a few thatch and mud huts, and some small temples.

  • The Aztecs would have to work constantly to maintain a city on swampy land.

  • There was also continuing tensions between the Aztecs and the neighboring peoples on the mainland who despised them.

  • Despite these obstacles, the Aztecs worked hard to improve the quality of their lives.

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  • As the Aztec empire expanded, specialized craftsmen and common laborers were brought to Tenochtitlán to expand the city.

  • Since it was built on swamp land, large wooden stakes were driven into the soft ground to provide secure foundations for the new buildings.

  • They were able to use the stone Tezontli to construct the buildings on the unstable ground.

  • Despite these precautions, the larger temples and palaces would often sink below ground level.

  • As a result, the older building were continuously repaired or rebuilt with the newer structures built over the older core.

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Tenochtitlan: Aztec Capital

  • Artificially created island with Tlatelolco (Market)

    • Built up by chinampa construction and use of small islets and landfills.

    • The main city was only the largest of at least ninteeen island communities in Lake Texcoco.

    • Measured at least 5.4 sq miles

    • High-density urban development limited to the main island.

  • System of measurement

    • Complex, but consistent and practical.

      • omitl (bone)=1.8 feet.

      • maitl (hand)=5.4 feet

  • Layout

    • avenues laid out on 400 maitl (2160 foot) and cross streets spaced at 400 omitls (720 feet).

    • earliest temple dates to 1428, with construction and refurbishment continuing all the time.

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  • Heart of island consisted of two ceremonial precincts and the market of Tlatelolco.

    • series of adjacent plazas arranged around major buildings.

    • including temples, administrative structures, palaces.

    • Lists for the center include

      • 25 pyramid temples

      • 9 priests quarters

      • 7 skull racks

      • 2 ball courts

      • arsenals, shops, etc.

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Skull Racks

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Sacred Central Square

  • Sacred Central Square

    • planned from arrival of Mixecas and based on astronomical principles.

  • Solar Alignment

    • The sun's rays shining between the shrines of Tlaloc and Hutzilopochtli atop the Templo Mayor into the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, occured at sunrise on March 21, the equinox.

    • It is said that the Templo Mayor was reconstructed, at Moctezuma's behest, as the alignment was slightly twisted.

    • It can be seen from the temple ruins that it is skewed so that it is pointed nearly 7 degrees south of true east to match the sun's path

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Tenochtitlan Ruins: Central Square

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Great Temple (Temple Mayor)

  • Great Temple (Temple Mayor)

    • aligned with the rising of the sun at the equinox.

    • twin pyramid with two staircases.

    • two temples or shrines at top, one to Huitzilopochtli and one to Tlaloc.

    • skewed seven degrees east of true north I order to accommodate such observations.

    • also aligned with Mt. Tlaloc and another sacred mountain.

    • placed where a priest saw an eagle eating a snake on top of a cactus.

  • The Templo Mayor was founded c. AD 1325, and then rebuilt and successively enlarged by later rulers, with a total of seven major construction stages. Each phase included two giant twin staircases that led to twin temples at the top of the Great Pyramid.

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Templo Mayor

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Human Figure from Templo Mayor

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Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc

  • Temples placed to right and left of great temple- Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc.

    • from there extended the four major avenues running east-west and north-south.

    • divide city into four quarters each marked by a major temple.

  • The twin temple to the south was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, the patron deity of the Aztecs and the deity who had led them on their journey to Tenochtitlan.

    • In front of this temple was placed a sacrificial stone.

    • Enormous stone serpents run along the balustrades and in front of the platforms on both Huitzilopochtli's side of the pyramid and around the entire Templo Mayor.

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Temple Remains

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Coyolxauhqui stone

The Coyolxauhqui stone found at the base of the stairs on Huitzilopochtli's side of the Templo Mayor suggests that the Templo Mayor gave permanent physical form to myths like that of Coatepec, or "Snake Mountain."

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  • The temple on the northern side of the twin temple was dedicated to Tlaloc, a deity associated with rain and agricultural fertility.

  • Mirroring the sacrificial stone on Huitzilopochtli's side of the pyramid was a chac mool on Tlaloc's side.

  • Tlaloc's temple held the seeds of cultivated plants.

  • Instead of the serpents that decorate the opposite side of the pyramid, frogs decorate Tlaloc's half, probably referencing his associations with water and fertility.

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Temple Remains

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Artifacts from Tenochtitlan




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  • Yautepec was an Aztec urban center whose ruins today lie under the modern town of the same name in the Mexican state of Morelos.

  • Three recent archaeological projects make Yautepec one of the most intensively-studied Aztec cities outside of the imperial capital Tenochtitlan.

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  • A team of Mexican government archaeologists began excavations at the mound in 1989, under the direction of Hortensia de Vega Nova, and fieldwork has continued through 1996.

  • The excavators discovered an enormous stone platform some 6,000 square meters in area (0.6 hectares, or about 1.5 acres) that had been the royal palace of the king (tlatoani) of Yautepec.

  • The first Aztec royal palace to be excavated by archaeologists.

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  • The locations of the excavations and houses are shown on the map of Yautepec.

  • One elite residence (structure 6), five commoner dwellings (structures 1-4 and 7), and one intermediate structure (no. 5).

  • This is the first set of urban Aztec houses excavated anywhere in central Mexico.

  • The urban houses were quite similar in size and construction to the rural houses we had excavated previously at Cuexcomate and Capilco.

  • The population density of Yautepec was not much higher than the rural sites, and this implies that this city had considerable open space for gardens and fields within its borders.

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Royal Palace

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Aztec Nobility

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Daily Life: Commoners

  • Their domestic artifacts were nearly identical to those excavated at Aztec rural sites with one major difference.

  • Evidence for part-time domestic craft production was much more abundant and widespread among Yautepec houses than at their rural counterparts.

  • Some Yautepec households were involved in producing blades and other tools of obsidian, and the manufacture of ceramic figurines was also a common domestic activity (as evidenced by molds).

  • Adult burials were also found at Yautepec.

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  • As at all Aztec sites, the most common production activity at Yautepec was the spinning and weaving of cotton cloth.

  • All Aztec women engaged in textile production, and recovered numerous ceramic spindle whorls and spinning bowls at every excavation of a domestic context

  • Household ritual involving small clay figurines was another common activity at Yautepec households.

  • Hundreds of these figurines were excavated, most of which are images of Aztec women. Men are also represented, as are animals and plants, and deities

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Stone outline of “commoner” house.

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Reconstruction of daily life.

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Clay figurines