Rise of the Aztec Society Term Paper

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¶ … Rise of the Aztec Society

The Aztecs were not the first great civilization that inhabited the region of today's Mexico, but settled after many former cultures had passed and left their influence hundreds of years before the empire was built. As any other culture, they started as a small group of people, nomad at first, that managed to achieve power and riches through hard work and a vision of the future. Their religion and mythology played a major role, as their legends told the prophecy of a great civilization being built and that conviction led them to conquer the territory and impose themselves as the dominant nation. In this paper we will follow the birth and development of their social structure, customs, technology and values. The Aztecs inherited the long tradition of many cultures that populated the territory of Mexico before they were settled in the land.

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One of the first cultures that arrived to that territory were the Olmecs. Their civilization was born at around the year 1200 BC in the region of Veracruz and Tabasco. They were the first great culture in Mesoamerica: amazing sculptors (that carved miniature human figures in jade and also huge stone figures, heads, altars and columns), gifted craftsmen, clever farmers and a great military force. Little is known about their culture since time and weather have destroyed most of the remaining of houses and instruments. With the exception for some mask, no piece of textile or leather has survived. All we know about them was deciphered from the iconography of ceramics and stones left by them.

The Olmecs were a well integrated society and clearly hierarchically structured. This development based on changes of production and agricultural technology that intensified to keep a large group (such as priests, nobles, and artists) away from the production of food. They developed strategies to better exploit their environment and take advantage of their geographic position that the key to communication and commerce.

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Their economy was based on intensive agriculture, hunting, fishing, and harvesting. They were gifted craftsmen and traded with very far regions of Mesoamerica. There is possible existence of family groups that held control over each region. A proof of their ruling capacity is the colossal heads of San Lorenzo, made of volcanic rock that does not exist in the region. It had to be transported from far away places, which demanded a great number of workers. Religion span around supernatural deities, as we know from their monuments, that had animal attributes.

Their civilization mysteriously vanished at around the year of 300 B.C. For reasons still unknown. In the heart of Mexico City the great city of Teotihuacan became an empire that developed the Mixteca, Zapote and Maya culture. It flourished as the greatest city in Mesoamerica, but declined around the year 650, when the people began to spread and new visitors began to arrive from North America to settle in their territory.

Around the year of 950, in the region of central Mexico, the Toltecs arrived and extended their influence through war and commerce, founding the city of Tula, the center of their state. They learned from other cultures how to work the land and build temples and houses. They took riches and dominated territories. The conquered cities paid them tribute in exchange of military protection. The Toltecs dominated a large territory but for a short period of time. Towards the years 1200 A.D. their strength was destroyed by invader groups. The ruin of Tula, their capital city, favored the entrance to the lowlands of new groups and waves of immigrations filled the central valley of Mexico, and settled in Tenayuca and around Lake Texcoco.

Around the year of 1300 the Aztecs were the last tribe from the north to arrive to Mesoamerica. They were poor people and barbarians, and were not welcome by the inhabitants of the region. Due to their late apparition on the site, the Aztecs were forced to occupy the swamp zone at the west of the lake. According to their legend the Aztecs had to wander many years until the gods gave them the sign to create their main city, where they would find an eagle destroying a serpent. The legend tells that they found this eagle in the middle of the lake and, in 1325, and founded the city of Tenochtitlan, were today is Mexico City. In that location they were surrounded by powerful enemies that demanded tributes and the only dry land they could establish on were islets in the lake, surrounded by marsh.

They lived under the rule of Azcapotzalco and served as soldiers. As they grew in number, the Aztecs established military and civil organizations. Around the year of 1430 they had assimilated the culture of the people in the valley and had become an efficient military power. They attacked Azcapotzalco and became the rulers of the place. A war campaign was initiated and, in only 70 years, was to make them the masters of the greatest empire in Mesoamerica. The Aztecs conquered the center of Mexico, Veracruz, Costa Guerrero, part of Oaxaca and the territory of Soconusco, near the border of Guatemala.

Politically and economically Tenochtitlan was a dominant power of the Classic period. It was the largest city in Mesoamerica and perhaps one of the largest in the world, its population numbering two hundred thousand people. They connected the city to the mainland with bridges and created artificial land for agriculture, at first, and later for the inhabitants of the city as the number of residents grew.

Contrary to the belief, the Aztecs were not an absolute empire. The Aztec Emperor or Huey Tlatoani, (the "Great Speaker"), could be dethroned as it happened to Montezuma during the Spanish conquest. A Council of wise men, very similar to the Roman Senate, decided in a democratic way who was to be the next leader. Also his son was not always an heir. Especially if the Emperor had more than one son, it was up to the council to decide which one was to assume the throne, instead of automatically giving it to the first born. It was also possible to elect one that was not directly related to the Emperor. Thus, there never was a dynasty, which prevented the stale of the civilization. Once elected the great emperor was blindly obeyed, since he was believed to be the earthy representative of the god Huitzipochtli. The Emperor was, besides the supreme ruler of the government, the main priest of the Great Temple.

The city had a centre where the palace, temple, and market were near from each other and formed a nucleus. The heart of the Empire was the calpolli. This was formed by people of the same family or profession. There were calpollis of priests, warriors, craftsmen, etc. Each calpolli was an autonomic form of government, with its own chief, who was elected by the oldest members of the calpolli. They had their own school, temple and, those of major importance, had even their own military quarters. There were no restricted classes, and anybody could become a member of the wise Council. However only the nobles could become an Emperor. According to the custom, once elected, the Great Speaker was no longer considered human and became a god. Each Aztec emperor was adored in the Great Temple. Protocol imposed that nobody could see or speak to him and so there was a spokesman that transmitted his orders to the people and informed him what the citizens had to say.

The Aztecs had a pyramidal society that was divided in 3 classes: nobles, commoners and slaves. Social differences were much accentuated. At the top of society was a minority of families, the pipiltin, members of inherited nobility, and had the highest government, military and religious functions. The nobles could elect within their own group a leader they called Tlatoani, which in Nahuatl means "the speaker." This chief was treated with respect and ruled until his death, but his power was not absolute and he had to answer before those that had elected him. Nobility was composed by the nobles by birth, the priests and those that won that title -such as warriors. Other privileged groups were merchandisers that traded at long distances, and served the country as ambassadors and spies. Very respected were craftsmen, medicine men, and teachers.

The most numerous social group was the macehualtin, dedicated to agriculture and common work. They worked the land in family units, but land was a collective property of the inhabitants of the calpolli. The commoners were granted a portion of land to build their house.

The lowest stage of society was a kind of peasant that was not allowed to have properties, was bound to the land of the nearby nobles and had the task of working it, in exchange for a portion of the harvest. A lower stage were the slaves, less in number and that achieved such condition only if they were war prisoners, had… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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