The Aztec World

Huitzilopochtl, God of the Sun, was the main Aztec god. He had an insatiable appetite for blood. Under him, the Aztecs rose to become the bloodiest civilization of the early Americas. Many Central America cultures practiced human sacrifice. The Aztec practiced it on a large scale, sacrificing tens of thousands of victims each year.

The Aztecs dominated the Valley of Mexico for 100 years, until their downfall at the hands of Hernan Cortez in 1521. They built their capital in the center of Lake Texcoco, now Mexico City. Tenochtitlan had temples and pyramids, sparkling monuments and ceremonial squares. Along the lake edge, the Aztec created raised fields of rotting vegetation and lake-mud. This fertile land yielded many crops per year.

Aztecs believed that the ancient Earth goddess Coatlicue was impregnated by a ball of feathers. Coyolxauhqui and the 400 stars of the southern sky, her jealous children, decided to cut off her head. Her unborn child, Huitzilopochtl, leapt from her body fully grown. He chopped up his mother and uncles using a club lined with slivers of razor-sharp obsidian. This legend was a metaphor for the way the sun overwhelms the moon and stars when it rises at dawn.

Huitzilopochtl commanded the Aztecs to travel south until they found a cactus with an eagle nesting in its branches. In the year 1 Flint (1324 AD), they found an eagle with outstretched wings and a snake in its talons. This became the site of Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs believed the oval red fruit of the cactus symbolized the human heart. Today an eagle, cactus, and snake are the national emblems of the Republic of Mexico.

The Aztec formed political alliances with other states, intermarried their nobles, and fought in battle. Their empire was created by a culture of war. Boys were trained to be warriors. Women who died in labor became goddesses, accompanying the sun across the sky each day.

By 1519, the Aztec cycle of conquest and exploitation was at its peak. Conquered peoples paid tribute, the basis of the Aztecs' immense wealth. The Spanish conquistadors were astonished by Aztec marketplaces, full of gold, silver, precious stones, embroidered clothing, chocolate drinks, jaguar pelts, deerskins, and the brilliant blue plumes of the cotinga bird. Tobacco, liquid amber, and herbs were also traded. Thousands of captives were sacrificed at the top of the Great Temple steps.

After the arrival of the Spanish, the Aztec culture was destroyed within two years. As the Aztec had feared, without life-sustaining blood from human sacrifices, their gods deserted them and darkness descended.

Source: The Aztec World
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