The aztecs
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The Aztecs. The Chichimec Period Social/Political Structure Religion Tenochtitlan. The Chichimec Period. The fall of Tula From A.D. 1200 to A.D. 1370 the Basin of Mexico was occupied by various central Mexican peoples.

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The Aztecs

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The aztecs

The Aztecs

The Chichimec Period

Social/Political Structure



The chichimec period

The Chichimec Period

  • The fall of Tula

    • From A.D. 1200 to A.D. 1370 the Basin of Mexico was occupied by various central Mexican peoples.

    • Chichimec people settled in the area from the North and gradually overcame the people living there at that time.

    • primarily due to Xolotl, who ruled a somewhat barbaric horde.

  • Other Chichimecs followed (Tamimes) who were more civilized but stole women and practiced sacrifice.

    • brought knowledge of the maya calender system.

    • cultivated crops with irrigation

    • constructed with stone.

  • Technically squatted in the area of Tenochtitlan and were know ans the Mixeca but today Aztecs is more common.

Emergence as political power

Emergence as Political Power

  • They were a miserable band, despised by all, driven from one location to another around the lake shore.

  • Between A.D. 1250 and A.D. 1298 they served as vassels for the Tepanecs, but finally moved to a swampy island on the lake.

  • The tribal war god, Huitzilopochtli, led them and had them build their temples which they nourished with human sacrifices.

  • Probably just managed to out compete the adjacent groups and grow in power.

Basin of mexico

Basin of Mexico

  • Chain of interconnected lakes, 3-6, but the Aztecs talked about three-Chalco, Texcoco, and Xaltocan.

    • Lake Texcoco

      • deepest and water flowed from it to other lakes

      • the Basin is about 3,000 sq miles and about 15% of that is covered by water.

  • Population estimates at around A.D.1519 are between 1 to 1.2 million.

How were they all fed

How were they all fed?

  • Many famines brought on by natural disasters, plagues of locusts, droughts, storms, and floods.

  • 1450 and 1454 bad drought and people sold themselves into slavery.

    • **Not all fed all of the time.

  • Subsistence level existence for the masses who substituted with wild foods to a large extent.

  • Used the Chinampas (floating gardens) for agriculture.

    • 25,000 acres of chinampas at the time of contact.

    • gardens never actually floated, but were created by making use of the vegetaion in the swamps.

    • Floating water plants were used to build up gardens and then were dragged onto shore for chinampas.

    • They became anchored to the native cypress.

    • Lake mud was piled on and canals were built.

  • However, although they were very productive, the number of people living in the area at the time of contact could not keep up with subsistence and surplus food demands.

  • These marsh plots also brought in birds and fish that could be gathered while they were working.

Cultural innovations

Cultural Innovations

  • Trade, Economics, Market System

  • Part of inter-related regions which consisted of Morelos to the south, Puebla to the east, Mezquital to the north, and Toluca to the west.

    • although many crops the same, some areas had their specialty crops.

    • tropical fruits, cotton, cacao from Morelos, beans from Puebla.

    • flowers were also a big part of the economy because one of the great pleasures was of the smelling of flowers.

  • Market days were held once each five days, four times each month. Sometimes daily in larger towns.

    • reflected community craft specializations as well as imported goods.

    • also slaves were traded, and dogs for food (400 on a slow day).

  • Bernal Diaz de Castillo says that he didn’t even have time to list how many things were offered one day at the market of Tlateloco.

    • Pochteca were a group of merchants (caste).

    • commodities and goods exchanged by barter.

Cultural innovations1

Cultural Innovations

  • Writing

    • Nahuatl language spoken at conquest, living language today.

    • Many codices and glyphs to describe lifeways of Aztecs, as well as Spanish accounts.

  • Art

    • Stone carving to communicate ideas.

    • Free-standing figures of Aztec deities.

    • Aztec Calender stone.

    • Atlantean figures and chocmools

  • Metallurgy

    • acqured from Maya.

    • Mostly gold, silver.

Social structure

Social Structure

  • Basic unit of social organization

    • calpulli (clan)

    • not all lineages within the clan were equal.

  • Membership by birth.

    • families traced their descent through fathers, which is a lineage, and these lineages make up a calpulli.

    • marry within the calpulli.

    • one lineage provides leader of that calpule.

Four principle social categories

Four principle social categories:

  • Pipiltin-

    • ruler of the city state and his relatives.

    • only ones to own their own land

  • Macehualtin-commoner clan.

    • serfs who worked others land.

  • Pochtea-merchant clan.

    • owned communal land.

  • Tlacotin-slaves.

    • no land, no rights.

    • reversible status.

Political organization

Political Organization

  • Each city (other than Tenochtitlan) ruled by a petty-king selected from the pipiltin.

  • Dual leadership-military and religious

    • supreme leader chosen from special lineage, with brother succeeding brother.

    • court which ruled over military, justice, treasury, and commerce.

  • Judicial branch

    • both pipitlin and commoners chosen.

    • higher and lower courts.

      • commoners went to lower court (tecalli).

      • higher court for upper class (tlacxitlan).

    • Prisoners kept in wooden cages, sentencing could be death, mutilation or slavery.

    • * Even elite tried-the sister of Motecuhzoma II was tried by her husband for extramarital affairs and she and her lovers were put to death.



1Acamapichtli A.D.1376-1396

-married Ilancueil (Toltec Princess)

2Huitzilihuitl 1397-1417

3Chimalpopocoa 1417-1428 4Itzcoatl 1428-1440

5Moctezuma 1440-1469

Atotozli = Tezozomoc

6Axayacatl 1469-1481 7Tizoc 1481-1486 8Ahuizotl 1486-1502

10Cuitlahuac15209Moctezuma II 1502-1520

11Cuauhtemoc 1520-1525

The aztecs

Moctezuma II



  • Worlds

    • Four worlds before the present, each called a sun, each had different types of inhabitants.

    • Each had perished through its own imperfections

  • The fifth sun or world in which people now lived would also perish through a series of devastating earthquakes.

    • It was not know when this would occur.

    • but it would occur at the end of one of the 52 year cycles.

  • Aztec calender stone depicts four suns with the present sun at the center.



  • Organized by fundamental characters, cult themes, and clusters.

  • Most Important:

    • Tlaloque-Main rain god

      • Also lesser rain gods, tlaloque, resided in mts. and produced rain clouds.

      • Mount Tlaloc, is aligned with the location of the Tlaloc shrine on top of the great temple at Tenochtitlan.

    • Hutizilopochtli-War God, god of the Mixeca-became very important-sun.

  • Multiple aspects of most gods.

  • Creator deities come in pairs and in both sexes.

  • Most gods have four of five aspects that are related to the four directions and the zenith (fifth).

  • directions were associated with different colors.

  • White god of the east (Quetzacoatl)

  • Red god of the west (Xipe)

Basic ritual pattern ceremonies

Basic ritual pattern-Ceremonies

  • Mainly elitist in organization, involved members of the stae-supported church or upper class.

    • usually preceded by fasting and other abstentions.

    • offerings, processions, deity impersonations, dancing and singing, mick combats and human sacrifice.

  • followed by feasts.

  • Calendrical and non-calendrical.

    • 365-day ceremonies were fixed, occurred during each of the 18 months.

    • 260-day ceremonies had movable feasts which rotated in relation to the 365-day year. i.e. Christian easter.

    • noncalendircal were tied to life cycle, crises, homecoming, domestic rituals, curing, etc.

  • Ceremonies held in temples, several aspects similar to Christianity,

    • such as confession of sins,

    • sacred dough which was made in the image of a god and eaten,

    • -similarity of the mother of the gods, Coatlicue, and the Virgin Mary were noted.

  • Also many personal gods to different jobs, tlaloc to farmers, Yacateuctli to merchants.

The aztecs

Human Sacrifice

The aztecs

Skull Rack



  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Tenochtitlan aztec capital

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

  • 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.

The aztecs

Tenochtitlan Reconstruction

Sacred central square

Sacred Central Square

  • Secular and Religious focus

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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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