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Aztecs: The Greatest Mesoamerican Empire

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Originally the Aztecs were a wandering group of hunters and farmers who called themselves the Mexica. Following the instructions of one of their gods, the Aztecs left their home in the north in search of a new land.

The history of Aztecs always captivate someone's full attention.  Theirs is a story so gruesome but at the same time awesome because they have shown us how brilliant and skillful they were in building up one of the greatest empires in the world.

Originally the Aztecs were a wandering group of hunters and farmers who called themselves the Mexica. Following the instructions of one of their gods, the Aztecs left their home in the north in search of a new land. After years of wandering, they arrived in the Valley of Mexico. Several other groups had settled the choicest areas of the valley, and they fought to keep the Aztecs from settling there.

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Eventually the Aztecs settled on a swampy island in the middle of Lake Texcoco. They met with little resistance because the island had poor soil and no other groups wanted to settle there. Protected by the waters of the lake, the Aztecs proceeded to construct Tenochtitlan, one of the greatest cities in the world during that time.

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The Aztecs worshiped many gods. To satisfy the demands of some of these gods, the Aztecs carried out human sacrifices. For example, Aztecs believed that the red color of the sky just before sunrise was blood. If blood was not offered to the gods, the sun would fail to rise.

On certain occasions, Aztecs themselves – men, women, and children – were used for sacrifice. In most cases, however, prisoners of war were sacrificed. Driven by the need for a constant supply of victims, the Aztecs fought an endless series of wars. By the early 1500s they ruled an empire that stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. At its greatest extent, the Aztec Empire included more than 5 million people.

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Like earlier Mesoamericans, the Aztecs believed that events occurred in 52-year cycles. The first year of each new cycle was called 2 Reed. The 1 Reed year had a particular importance for the Aztecs. They believed that they were descended from the Toltecs, whose god-king Quetzalcoatl had long ago disappeared across the sea to the east. Toltecs are a civilization that historians do not know much about it. According to a legend, Quetzalcoatl was a feathered serpent god and was also said that he's with white skin and a beard. He was driven out by invaders and would return to his kingdom in a 1 Reed year.

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The year 1519 of our present-day calendar was also a 1 Reed year. By coincidence, it was in that year that the Aztecs had their first contact with people from Europe. The Europeans that arrived in their midst resembled the description of Quetzalcoatl. Mocrezuma, the Aztec ruler, assumed that their god-king had returned to reclaim his kingdom.

The Aztecs civilization never ceases to fascinate us.  It will always make us wonder whether it would have been wonderful to have lived with them or near them.

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Ruins of Tenochtitlan

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Wall of skulls

Read about Tenochtitlan: Great Capital City of the Aztecs

2 comments

Ron Siojo
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Posted on Feb 4, 2011
smartwriter
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Posted on Feb 3, 2011

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Elaine P. N.

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