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Aztec(ăz`tĕk'), Indian people dominating central Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest. Their language belonged to the Nahuatlan subfamily of Uto-Aztecan languages. They arrived in the Valley of Mexico from the north toward the end of the 12th cent. and until the founding of their capital, TenochtitlánTenochtitlán
, ancient city in the central valley of Mexico. The capital of the Aztec, it was founded (c.A.D. 1345) on a marshy island in Lake Texcoco. It was a flourishing city (with an estimated population of between 200,000 and 300,000), connected with the mainland by
..... Click the link for more information. (c.1325) were a poor, nomadic tribe absorbing the culture of nearby states. For the next century they maintained a precarious political autonomy while paying tribute to neighboring tribes, but by alliance, treachery, and conquest during the 15th and early 16th cent. they became a powerful political and cultural group. To the north they established hegemony over the HuastecHuastec
, indigenous people of the Pánuco River basin, E Mexico. They speak a Mayan language but are isolated from the rest of the Mayan stock, from whom they may have been separated prior to the arrival of the Spanish.
..... Click the link for more information. , to the south over the MixtecMixtec
, Native American people of Oaxaca, Puebla, and part of Guerrero, SW Mexico, one of the most important groups in Mexico. Although the Mixtec codices constitute the largest collection of pre-Columbian manuscripts in existence, their origin is obscure.
..... Click the link for more information. and ZapotecZapotec
, indigenous people of Mexico, primarily in S Oaxaca and on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Little is known of the origin of the Zapotec. Unlike most native peoples of Middle America, they had no traditions or legends of migration, but believed themselves to have been born
..... Click the link for more information. and even ventured as far as Guatemala. Their subjugation of the people of Tlaxcala in the mountains to the east was bloody but only intermittent, and the Tlaxcala people later became allies of the Spanish against the Aztec. Only in the west, where the TarascanTarascan
, Native Americans of the state of Michoacán, Mexico. Their language has no known relation to other languages, and their history prior to the 16th cent. is poorly understood.
..... Click the link for more information. Indians severely defeated them, did the Aztec completely fail to conquer.
The Aztec Civilization
By absorption of other cultural elements and by conquest the Aztec achieved a composite civilization, based on the heritage of ToltecToltec
, ancient civilization of Mexico. The name in Nahuatl means "master builders." The Toltec formed a warrior aristocracy that gained ascendancy in the Valley of Mexico c.A.D. 900 after the fall of Teotihuacán.
..... Click the link for more information. and Mixteca-Puebla. They attained a high degree of development in engineering, architecture, art, mathematics, and astronomy. The Aztec calendar utilized a 260-day year and a 52-year time cycle. Aztec skill in engineering was evident in the fortifications of their island capital. The Aztec further developed sculpture, weaving, metalwork, ornamentation, music, and picture writing for historical records. Agriculture was well advanced and trade flourished.
The political and social organization was based on three castes—nobility, priesthood, and military and merchants. The priesthood was a powerful political as well as religious force. Aztec government was relatively centralized, although many conquered chiefs retained political autonomy; they paid tribute and kept commerce open to the Aztec. The Aztec had a large and efficient army. Prisoners of war were used for human sacrifice to satisfy the many gods of the Aztec pantheon, notably HuitzilopochtliHuitzilopochtli
, chief deity of the Aztec, god of war. He is said to have guided the Aztecs during their migration from Aztlán. Usually represented in sculptured images as hideous, he was the object of human sacrifice, particularly of war prisoners.
..... Click the link for more information. , the chief god, who was god of war.
When the Spaniards, under Hernán CortésCortés, Hernán,
or Hernando Cortez
, 1485–1547, Spanish conquistador, conqueror of Mexico. Expedition to Mexico
Cortés went (1504) first to Hispaniola and later (1511) accompanied Diego de Velázquez to Cuba.
..... Click the link for more information. , arrived in 1519, the Aztec civilization was at its height. However, many subject Indian groups, rebellious against Aztec rule, were only too willing to join the Spanish. Initially, the invaders were aided by the fact that the Aztec believed them to be descendants of the god QuetzalcoatlQuetzalcoatl
[Nahuatl,=feathered serpent], ancient deity and legendary ruler of the Toltec in Mexico. The name is also that of a Toltec ruler, who is credited with the discovery of corn, the arts, science, and the calendar.
..... Click the link for more information. . MontezumaMontezuma
, 1480?–1520, Aztec emperor (c.1502–1520). He is sometimes called Montezuma II to distinguish him from Montezuma I (ruled 1440–69), who carried on conquests around Tenochtitlán.
..... Click the link for more information. , the last of the independent Aztec rulers, received Cortés, who made him prisoner and attempted to rule through him. The Aztec revolted, Montezuma was killed, and Tenochtitlán was razed (1521). CuauhtémocCuauhtémoc
, d. 1525, Aztec emperor. Succeeding the brother of Montezuma II in 1520, Cuauhtémoc failed to unite the native city-states of the Valley of Mexico against the Spanish after the expulsion of Hernán Cortés from Tenochtitlán.
..... Click the link for more information. , last of the emperors, was murdered (1525), and the Spanish proceeded to subjugate Mexico.
See B. Diaz del Castillo, The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico (tr. by A. P. Maudsley, 1928, repr. 1965); A. Caso, The Aztecs, People of the Sun (tr. 1958, repr. 1967); L. Sejourné, Burning Water: Thought and Religion in Ancient Mexico (1961); J. Soustelle, The Daily Life of the Aztecs on the Eve of the Spanish Conquest (tr. 1961, repr. 1970); G. C. Vaillant, The Aztecs of Mexico (rev. ed. 1962); B. C. Brundage, A Rain of Darts: The Mexican Aztecs (1973); G. W. Conrad and A. A. Demarest, Religion and Empire: The Dynamics of Aztec and Inca Expansionism (1984); R. Hassig, Trade, Tribute, and Transportation (1985) and Aztec Warefare (1988).