Introduction – Who were they?
When most people think of ancient civilizations they think of civilizations from thousands of years ago. However, not all ancient civilizations are in fact, that ancient. The Aztecs of America fell only just under 500 years ago, in 1524, to Spanish invaders. The Aztecs existed for hundreds of years, the first recorded leader or Tlatoani, reined from 1367, but it is believed the Aztecs lived for many, many more years beforehand.
The Aztecs were once a small tribe of wandering hunters, looking for a permanent home. They had with them a statue of their sun god Huitzilopochtli, who they believed guided them. It is said Huitzilopochtli told the Aztecs (known then as the Tenocha tribe) that when they saw an eagle on a cactus, they should build their city there. The Aztecs arrived at the Toltec empire in around 12-13th centuries AD, which had been destroyed in around 1000AD. The only land left was a small island in Lake Texcoco, so the Aztecs decided to settle there. At first, they had to pay tributes to the stronger, more settled tribe of the Tepanecs, but the Tenocha tribe along with three other tribes conquered the Tepanecs, and soon after the Tenocha tribe conquered all other strong tribes to become the strongest tribe in the valley. Now that the other tribes had to pay tributes to them, the Tenocha tribe decided they needed a city. Soon after they decided this, they saw the eagle sitting on the cactus, and built their city Tenochtitlan, on and around that spot. Today, Mexico City stands on and around the ruins of Tenochtitlan.
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In Aztec society, there were 10 main ranks of the people, Tlatoani (king, or speaker), Ciuacoatl (Snake Woman, king’s deputy), the four military commanders, chief officials, lesser officials, craftsmen, merchants, ‘ordinary’ people, peasants and slaves. The Tlatoani (Aztec for the speaker) was in charge of foreign affairs and war, while his deputy the Snake Woman was in charge of laws, taxes, food and building. Nobody is quite sure why the king’s deputy was called Snake Woman, because it is believed this position was only ever held by a man.
The Tlatoani was always the greatest warrior, elected by the chief officials. The Tlatoani always offered his officials, who were also great warriors, land, clothing and jewels. Clothing represented one’s rank in how well they served their society. Dressing over your rank was punishable by death. All men, whether they were sons of the Tlatoani, nobles or peasants (not slaves though) had to earn their own positions by fighting bravely in war. Craftsmen and merchants generally kept to themselves, passing their crafts down from generation to generation.
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