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The Aztecs. Ryan Alden Atosa Ghasripoor Brendan Hagan Ken McKenna Mike Piascik. Geography. Aztecs appeared first in the Valley of Mexico.

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the aztecs
The Aztecs

Ryan Alden

Atosa Ghasripoor

Brendan Hagan

Ken McKenna

Mike Piascik



  • Aztecs appeared first in the Valley of Mexico.
  • By 1519, the Aztecs encompassed all of Central Mexico from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific and as far south as Guatemala. This expansion of land included 38 provinces.
  • Many of the cities and villages were built in water and some on dry land.
  • Tenochtitlán had about 60,000 households; Total population: 250,000. Entire Aztec Empire: 5 million inhabitants.
map of aztec rule
Map of Aztec Rule



  • The Aztec Empire was approached by four great highways and bridges stood at intervals.
  • Stone and adobe walls surrounded the city and streets criss-crossed the city.
  • Many parks, public squares and marketplaces.
  • Major building: Huitzilopochtli Temple. The temple, built as a pyramid, stood 106 feet high with 3 flights of steps, 120 steps each.

The Aztecs, or Mexica first appear in history at the beginning of the 13th century. At first they were nomadic people were traveled into the Valley of Mexico to find work as mercenaries. Eventually they decided to take a city for their own, and in 1248 A.D. the city of Chapultapec was taken over by Aztec Warriors. Before long however, the previous owners of the city, the Calhuacan, decided to retaliate. The Aztec were driven out of the fertile area around lake Texcoco.

In 1325 A.D. after years of wandering and living as hunter gatherers as well as mercenaries, the Aztecs resettled in their newly founded capitol city of Tenochtitlan (place of the prickly pear cactus). This city is in the same area in which Mexico City exists today.


As Tenochtitlan developed, so did the size of the Aztec Empire. Smaller tribes who challenged the Aztecs were easily defeated by the their fierce warriors, and soon found themselves being paraded up the slopes of sacrificial temples. Around 1440 A.D. the Aztec began to expand their territory to the South through military conquest. Although the size of the Empire grew, these campaigns were mainly to obtain tribute from the weaker cultures. Soon food, valuables, and even humans (slaves, sacrifices) were flooding into Tenochtitlan from tribes pleading for an end to the fighting.

From this time to the beginning of the 16th century, the Aztec were the supreme power in Central America. But soon they would be robbed of their power.


Hernan Cortes and his greedy Conquistadors landed in the Gulf Coast in 1519 A.D. Montezuma II who had only been in power since 1502 A.D. attempted to greet them with hospitality, but all that the Spaniards saw made them more and more greedy. The Aztecs soon were forced to fight the superiorly armed Spaniards. Many warriors were lost, but in 1520 A.D. the Conquistadors were forced out of Tenochtitlan… at least temporarily. In 1521 A.D., with the help of other native tribes, the Spaniards overthrew the Aztec Empire, and built Mexico City over the ruins of Tenochtitlan


Montezuma II becomes the “Great Speaker” of the Aztec Empire

Tenochtitlan becomes capital of Aztec Empire

Aztec Warriors take over the city of Chapultapec

Aztec Warriors drive the Conquistadors out of Tenochtitlan

Mexico City founded on the ruins of Tenochtitlan

1248 A.D.

1345 A.D.

1502 A.D.

1520 A.D.

1522 A.D.

1200 A.D.

The Aztec Arrive in the Valley of Mexico

1325 A.D.

Tenochtitlan founded in lake Texcoco

1440 A.D.

Aztecs expand to the South, now receive tribute from local tribes in the area

1519 A.D.

Hernan Cortes & his Conquistadors arrive in the Gulf Coast

1521 A.D.

Spaniards, with the help of local native tribes, overthrow the Aztec Empire

aztec society
Aztec Society
  • There is much dispute over how many social classes actually existed in Aztec society, but it’s definite that there were at least three classes; The Pilli (Nobility), Macehualli, which means people, were the middle class, which also included Tlalmaitl, or Serfs (lowest group of commoners), and Slaves. The relationships between each group differed from those in most societies.
social classes
Social Classes

The Pilli (Nobility):Were nobles by birth, priests, or esteemed warriors. The first noble class were the offspring of Acamapichti an admired Toltec king.These people were members of the hereditary nobility and occupied the top positions in the government, the army and the priesthood Priests also had great power. They had custody of all the temple revenue, from this they provided schools, hospitals and alms, which are money, food, or other donations given to the poor or needy. Warriors were not immediately part of the pilli. They had to earn their position. To enter the middle class, they had to capture a prisoner for sacrifice to become an iyac, and then capture or kill four enemies to become a maceualtin, part of the nobility.

The Macehualli and Tlalmaitl (Middle Class):The most numerous social group was known as the macehualtin; these people were engaged in agriculture and the common trades. Although they were allowed to kept their produce, the land itself was collectively owned by the inhabitants of the neighborhood or calpulli. They had a lifetime ownership of land, and paid taxes. The Tlalmaitl, however, didn’t have ownership of land, they were tenant farmers. Their lives were slightly less luxurious than that of the Macehualli.

The Tlacotin (Slaves): Apart from P.O.W.’s, Aztec slavery was much different than the European slave system. A criminal or someone who evaded paying taxes could be made a slave. People could also sell themselves as slaves, and enjoy the money they had earned, usually enough for a year, until they had to serve their new master. Slaves who had children with their masters were immediately freed, and those who could escape from their masters home and run to the palace gates were also granted freedom.

government rule through tribute
GovernmentRule Through Tribute

War and Tribute made up much of the Aztec civilization.

Tribute kept the leaders of each city state at power, rule through fear.

The Aztec Empire covered

much of Mexico, and was

made up of 50-60 city



Aztecs also required tribute from captured civilizations, though they did not impose beliefs.

The leader, or “Great Speaker” regulated affairs with other groups of people and imposed/enforced the tributes.

Tributes were held regularly to the many gods of the Aztecs, these helped to keep command through fear of a greater power.

At many times, the Great Speaker

reported false sacrifices, to withhold

command over the large city states

through fear.


Economical Factors

In The Ancient Aztec World

In the world of the ancient Aztecs, hunting and fishing was very important, especially in the valley of Mexico. In the Aztec world, the largest hunted creatures were the peccary which was a relative to the pig and deer. The Aztecs fished for anything from shellfish to large fish and sea mammals with nets. Hooks for fishing were made out of sturdy cactus thorns, shell, and bone.

The most common Aztec crop was corn. It was easy to farm and good to eat. After it was harvested, the Aztecs had several ways of dealing with it. One of the more common ways of preparing corn was to mash it with a round grinding stone called a mano against a flat stone called a metate. By grinding the corn like this the Aztecs made corn meal. This corn meal was used to make tortillas which are a very thin bread like food. This was the principal food of the lower class Aztec. The upper class Aztecs also ate tortillas but had other food choices to choose from. These foods were turkeys, duck, and geese. Since these animals weren’t raised they were considered reserved for the wealthy.

Another source of food for the Aztecs was the maguey plant. The sap of the maguey plant could be made into a beer-like beverage called pulque.

The Aztecs had a very unique way of planting their crops. Since Tenochtitlan was built around swamp land they used this to their advantage. They would make floating gardens on top the swamps. These floating gardens were called chinampas and were built on top of the swamps so they wouldn’t have to worry about watering them and the crops would grow better. The first step in making the chinampas was to make a canal through the swamp so they could sort of section off the crops from the rest of the swamp. The next step was to put mud on to on big straw mats and then plant trees in the corners of the mats to hold them in place so they wouldn’t float off. Then the Aztecs would plant their vegetable seed in the mud and that’s how they grew their crops.

  • After the Aztecs settled in Tenochtitlan, a function called the Tlateco was formed as a trade center where societies gathered and traded. It was here that the Pochteca guild formed its function of obtaining luxury goods and necessary materials such as food and grain. The Pochteca guild was a group of societies outside of Tenochtitlan that met in the city and they traded with the Aztecs. Some of the luxury goods that were exchanged were things like beads of all different kinds and colors, hand-weaved rugs, pottery, and jewelry, and sometimes clothes. The other societies that came to trade had different resources around them because they lived in a different environment than the Aztecs which means they had different food which made trade more useful.
belief system
Belief System

The Aztecs were Polytheistic, meaning that they worshipped multiple gods.

Due to the importance of agriculture, many of their gods had an effect upon the growth of their crops.

The Aztecs believed that Human Sacrifices pleased the gods, so they were conducted regularly. These sacrifices also help to keep control in the government, as mentioned earlier.

In the Aztec society, the gods were believed to have created everything.

It is thought that the Aztecs sacrificed an average of 20,000 people per year to the gods, many of them from captured civilizations though they did not belief in imposing beliefs upon captured regions.

In war, a greater honor was to those who captured prisoners (for sacrifices) than those who killed in battle.


Sunstone Calendar

The Aztecs developed a stone that represented days, months, and even cosmic cycles.

The calendar shows the Aztec’s knowledge of astronomy and mathematics.

The stone is 12 feet in diameter and

weighs 24 metric tons.

The stone also shows that the

Aztecs had 18 months of 20 days

each, for a total of 360 days.


Sunstone cont.

The Sunstone is arranged in layers, each having different cycles. Months, Days, Sun Positions, Sacrificial Days, and more were marked.


The Aztecs had a good understanding of herbs. The medicine was placed into two categories, Spiritual and Healing.

Illnesses were suspected to be the power of the gods, and therefore Spiritual healing was often prayer and animal sacrifice.

technology farming

The location of the Aztec empire required irrigation and other methods to sustain the growing population.

These methods included irrigation, fertilizer, and even building terraces on hills that were previously not farmable.

One of the most influential inventions was the chinampas

The chinampas acted as Floating Gardens.

The Aztecs used floating racks, with mud on top for harvests of wheat, corn, and other products to support their nation.


technology mathematics

The Aztecs developed a system of mathematics for trade and records.

There were four different symbols used.

Dots, Flags, Feathers, and a Bag of Incense.

To indicate that the multiple glyphs forming a number belong to a single sign group, a line is drawn to connect all the glyphs. The line is then connected to the object it is counting.



  • Although the Aztecs lived in Mexico and were part of the Mexica society, the Nahuatl language is much different than the modern Spanish-Mexican language we hear today. Not even something as simple as “de” or “el” can be heard. Examples of word comparisons are as follows;
  • Spanish: Casa-House
  • Nahuatl: Calli-House
  • Spanish: Yo or mi: I or Me
  • Nahuatl: Nehuatl: Me


  • The Aztecs also wrote poems which would be in symbolical pictorial writing meaning that they used pictures to symbolize words. This type of writing was very similar to the Egyptians form of writing. They were simple poems, with no rhyme scheme, yet they told a story.

“All the earth is a grave and nothing escapes it, nothing is so perfect that it does not descend to its tomb. Rivers, rivulets, fountains and waters flow, but never return to their joyful beginnings; anxiously they hasten on the vast realms of the rain god. As they widen their banks, they also fashion the sad urn of their burial.

Filled are the bowels of the earth with pestilential dust once flesh and bone, once animate bodies of man who sat upon thrones, decided cases, presided in council, commanded armies, conquered provinces, possessed treasure, destroyed temples, exulted in their pride, majesty, fortune, praise and power. Vanished

are these glories, just as the fearful smoke vanishes that belches forth from the infernal fires of Popocatepetl. Nothing recalls them but the written page.”


The Aztecs were a very educated and sophisticated society. They even developed their own calendar:

The Aztec year was 260 days that were dived into 20 periods of 13 days each, called Trecenas.

then and now
Then and Now

Then Now


Back in the ancient world of the Aztecs, trade was very difficult at first but as the city grew larger, more societies moved closer and trade developed. They only traded objects such as beads, basic food like grain and some vegetables, rugs, pottery, and jewelry. They planted crops such as corn and maguey.

The common people lived in houses made out of mud and were built around patios or open courts. The upper class Aztecs made houses out of stone and painted them with sparkling red or white paint. The roof was made out of sturdy sticks that was tied down so they wouldn’t blow off. The ancient Aztec homes usually had two separate rooms. One room was the main home and the other was the steam bath. There were no separate rooms, just one big one that was divided into 4 areas. One part was for sleeping or resting, another part was a shrine of gods, and then the other part was a kitchen where food was prepared. The second part of the house was the steam bath where baths were taken. Aztecs thought that steam was healthy so that’s why is was called a steam bath.

The Aztecs also had one huge temple where they worshiped their gods. Then there would be a few smaller temples surrounding the big one. The Aztecs would only celebrate one religion in their city so that is why they didn’t have a lot of temples. The Aztecs also would sacrifice people to show their respect to the gods. For example, the Aztecs thought that bad weather meant that the gods were angry so they thought they had to sacrifice someone to show their respect. The Aztecs had many ways they would sacrifice people to the gods.

The Aztecs would use chinampas to plant their crops which is a floating garden/crop built with mud and straw held down by trees that I explained earlier.


These days in modern day Mexico City (Tenochtitlan), people don’t really trade anymore but they bargain and sell goods. In Mexico City there are tons of markets and stands where goods are sold. Things like jewelry, rugs, pottery, beads, and food are still sold there, along with tons of other objects and foods like figurines, games, and some foods like chips, and seasoned nuts.

Today, the majority of people in Mexico City live in apartment buildings because it is such a crowded city. The people in Mexico City with a lot of money would have there own house made out of what regular houses are today. Wood, concrete, steel, plastic, and other materials. These houses would not just have two rooms but as many as wanted. Some houses today have maybe 4 bedrooms and a family room with maybe 2 bathrooms. The big difference in how today is different from the ancient Aztec world is that we now have a currency. In Mexico, the currency called Pesos is used. Before people just traded objects.

Today, there are many different churches or other places that people go to worship whatever religion they celebrate. Today people have a choice in what religion they want to believe in. Back in the ancient world, one society believed in one religion.

The people in Mexico City still plant and farm by using the chinampas because Mexico City is still surrounded by swamp land. Today farmers plant more than just corn.


Works Cited

“Aztec Article.” World Book Online. 12 Oct. 2006

“Aztec Empire.” MSN Encarta. 15 Oct. 2006

“Aztec Language.” Latin American Studies. 12 Oct. 2006

“Aztec Language.” Latin American Studies. 12 Oct. 2006

“Aztec Language: Nahuatl.” Geocities. 12 Oct. 2006

“Aztec-Mexica civilization map & articles index“ PHP-Nuke. 9 Oct. 2006

“The Aztecs/Mexicas.” 12 Oct. 2006

“The Aztecs/Mexicas.” 12 Oct. 2006

“The Mexicas/Aztecs.” Civilizations in America. 12 Oct. 2006

works cited
Works Cited

Baquedano, Elizabeth. Aztec Inca & Maya. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1993.

Baquedano, Elizabeth. Eyewitness Books: Aztec, Inca & Maya. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1993.

Hooker, Richard. “The Mexica/Aztec.” 9 Oct. 2006

Hunt, Norman Bancroft. “The Aztec.” Historical Atlas of Ancient America. New York: Thalamus Publishing, 2001. 142-143.

Lo, Lawrence. “Aztecs.” 14 Oct. 2006

ThinkQuest Team 16325. "Empires Past: Aztecs: Farming and Agriculture." 31 August 1998. 13 Oct. 2006.

Traveljournals. “Main Temple.” 9 Oct. 2006

Thurmond, Webley; Meghan Kucher; & Will Esposito. Aztec Civilization. 5 Oct. 2006

Magree, James. “Aztec beginnings.” 14 Oct. 2006

McKay, John P., Bennett D. Hill, John Buckler, & Patricia Buckley Ehrey. “Aztec Society: Religion and War.” A History of World Societies. 6th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. 425-435.

Wikipedia. Aztec. “Government.” Wikipedia. 9 Oct. 2006.

Wolford, Tabitha. The World of the Aztecs. “Aztec Government.” 9 Oct. 2006