The Aztec empire was one of the most prominent empires of this time. The Aztecs commonly referred to as the Mexicas, adopted cultures and traditions from earlier peoples, while at the same time developing their own, unique society. They are believed to have originated from Nahuatl-speaking people that migrated south to what is now known as northern Mexico. There, they built the magnificent cities of Tlatelolco and Tenochtitlán, which eventually grew into two of the largest cities at that time.
War and religion were major parts of everyday Aztec life. War became so significant because the Aztecs believed that war was their religious duty, and they must honor their gods through it. Since it was their “religious duty,” they would fight harder, thus conquering large territories in an astonishingly short amount of time. Through war, men were able to acquire wealth, as well as gain prestige. The Aztecs were polytheistic and worshipped numerous gods and goddesses. They believed that the most basic issue in the world was the struggle between order and disorder. According to their philosophy, the disorder was symbolized by uncleanliness and dirt, which compelled them to keep their city remarkably clean at all times. However, not all aspects of Aztec religion had positive impacts on their society. Human sacrifices were a crucial part of Aztec religious life, and hundreds, possibly even thousands, of human sacrifices were made. The Aztec people believed the god that symbolized the sun needed to be fed sacred fluids (human blood) in order to keep the sun moving. Influenced by this belief, the Aztecs sacrifice countless people, often in violent and gruesome manners.
During the early days of the Aztec empire, there were no social classes or distinctions. Most everyone was in poverty, and it was not until they selected their first king, Acamapichti, that social classes were introduced. People at the top of the social pyramid included soldiers, imperial officers, and people chosen by the emperor that were honored for being war heroes. The next class was the warrior class, and in theory, any free man had the chance to become a warrior. Whenever someone had a son, the child’s parents would dedicate him to war. They practiced rituals, such as burying the child’s umbilical cord along with some arrows and a shield, which they believed would increase their son’s chance of becoming a warrior. At the mere age of six, boys joined a school that would prepare them for war. Their training was brutal, as the children were taught to survive on small portions of food and to take pain without complaining. Once they reach eighteen, the young men are given a test that requires them to capture prisoners for sacrifice. If successful, they are initiated into the warrior class. The men that fail must join the working class. This class made up the majority of society and performed services such as fixing roads and bridges. Beneath this class was tlalmaitl class, composed primarily of serfs, responsible for agricultural labor. Finally, the lowest class in Aztec society were the slaves. Most slaves were prisoners that were captured in war or kidnapped from enemies. Slavery was not overly harsh in Aztec society, and most slaves were eventually able to purchase their freedom. Women also played a role in Aztec society. No matter the social class, women were responsible for weaving and cleaning her house. Weaving was considered sacred and was only performed by females. If a woman were to become pregnant, the family, and possibly the entire neighborhood, would feast. If a woman successfully gave birth, then there would be a celebration for ten to twenty days.
Tenochtitlán was a spectacular city built by the Aztecs. Containing roughly sixty thousand households, the entire population of Tenochtitlán was approximately 250,000. This city was initially built upon salt marshes and contained four central highways connecting to the mainland. Surrounded by stone walls, the city was easily defensible and could withstand prolonged attacks. In the marketplaces, tradespeople presented countless types of merchandise. Tenochtitlán also contained the grand temple of Huitzilopochtli. This temple was one hundred feet tall and consisted of three flights of stairs, each containing 120 steps. When the Spanish first entered this city, they were astounded by its magnificence and cleanliness.
The Aztec empire achieved many great advancements during its existence. They had a strong sense of religion, which consequently, gave them a desire for warfare. Distinct social classes were eventually developed, with people of the noble class on top. The Aztecs were also incredibly advanced in the area of architecture. They built the breathtaking city of Tenochtitlán, which contained incredible buildings like the temple of Huitzilopochtli.