The Aztec Empire

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The Aztec Empire
"The city has many open squares in which markets are continuously held and the general business of buying and selling proceeds. One square in particular is twice as big as that of _____________ and completely surrounded by arcades where there are daily more than sixty thousand folk buying and selling. Every kind of merchandise such as may be met with in every land is for sale there, whether of food, or ornaments of gold and sliver, or lead, brass, copper, tin, precious stones, bones, shells, snails and feathers; limestone for building is likewise sold there, stone both rough and polished, bricks burnt and unburnt, wood of all kinds and in all stages of preparation. There is a street of game where they sell all manner of birds that are to be found in their country, including hens, partridges, quails, wild duck, fly-catchers, widgeon, turtle doves, pigeons, little birds in round nests made of grass, parrots, owls, eagles, vulcans, sparrow-hawks and kestrels; and of some of these birds of prey they sell the skins complete with feathers, head, bill and claws."

The March to Tenochtitlan-1519
Short Response: Restate Question and Answer.

What country do you believe the author of the passage is from?

What is the passage’s theme?

Observations and Inferences Chart : Aztec Market

2 Observations

2 Inferences


When the Aztecs saw an eagle perched on a cactus on the marshy land near the southwest border of Lake Texcoco, they took it as a sign to build their settlement there. They drained the swampy land, constructed artificial islands on which they could plant gardens and established the foundations of their capital city, Tenochtitlán, in 1325 A.D. Typical Aztec crops included maize (corn), along with beans, squashes, potatoes, tomatoes and avocadoes; they also supported themselves through fishing and hunting local animals such as rabbits, armadillos, snakes, coyotes and wild turkey. Their relatively sophisticated system of agriculture and a powerful military tradition would enable the Aztecs to build a successful state, and later an empire.


By the early 16th century, the Aztecs had come to rule over up to 500 small states, and some 5 to 6 million people, either by conquest or through trade. Tenochtitlán at its height had more than 140,000 inhabitants, and was the most densely populated city ever to exist in Mesoamerica.

Bustling markets such as Tenochtitlan’s Tlatelolco, visited by some 50,000 people on major market days, drove the Aztec economy. The Aztec civilization was also highly developed socially, intellectually and artistically. It was a highly structured society with a strict caste system; at the top were nobles, while at the bottom were serfs, indentured servants and slaves. The Aztec faith shared many aspects with other Mesoamerican religions, like that of the Maya, notably including the rite of human sacrifice. In the great cities of the Aztec empire, magnificent temples, palaces, plazas and statues embodied the civilization’s unfailing devotion to the many Aztec gods. The Aztec calendar, common in much of Mesoamerica, was based on a solar cycle of 365 days and played a central role in Aztec society.


Aztec society was rigid, stratified class system in which each class (or caste) had a roll designed to support the Aztec warriors. Warfare was thus the main driving force of both the Aztec economy and religion. The Aztec Empire was organized with a strong central government headed by the emperor. The priests and warriors castes came next, they were made up of nobles who enjoyed a high status in Aztec society. These warriors formed a professional core in Aztec armies and were ranked according to their achievements on the battlefield. The bulk of Aztec armies were made up of levies, commoners required to serve time in compulsory military service. Every Aztec male was a warrior and received basic military training from a young age, whether trader, craftsman or farmer. In fact, military achievement, particularly the taking of prisoners, was the only vehicle for upward social movement available for commoners.

Discussion Questions
Early Aztec History

  1. How did the Aztec alter their environment in order to adapt?

  2. What is a similarity between the Iroquois and the Aztec?

The Aztec Empire

  1. How was Aztec society structured?

  2. What is a similarity between the Aztec and Maya?

Aztec Warfare

5.) What was the driving force of the Aztec economy?

6.) How was the Aztec military different than our military?

Aztec Tea Party Activity
1) Fact: The Aztecs played sports and were a very artistic people.

Despite the idea in the popular mind of Aztecs being savages, they were a very artistic people. Aztecs were into pottery and sculpting and created many different artistic drawings as well. They designed art for their warriors that were then often applied as tattoo’s to honor them for their accomplishments; they also had a love for poetry.

The Aztecs also played team sports, specifically a game very popular among them called Ullamaliztli. The game utilized a rubber ball, which was a fairly advanced concept for their time and was played on a court called a Tlachtli. The object of the game was to get the ball through a small stone ring; however, it was an extremely difficult game to play. The ball was not supposed to hit the ground, and players could only touch it with their head, elbows, knees and hips.
2) Fact: The Aztecs had mandatory schools separated between boys and girls.

While the Aztecs put strong emphasis on parents teaching their children properly, they also had mandatory public schooling for all children. Those of a noble class had different schools to attend and schools were also separated by gender. Boys of nobility would be sent to the Calmecac School where they learned from the priests about history, astronomy, art, and how to govern and lead. Boys of lower caste were sent to the Cuicacalli School, which was much more focused on preparing them for possible service in the military as warriors. Girls were sent to separate schools and much more of their education was focused at home where they were taught domestic duties such as cooking and weaving.

3) Fact: Most Aztecs were actually defeated by disease, not war.

While many may attempt to claim that the Spaniards beat the Aztecs through military brilliance, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, the original attacks of the Spanish were thoroughly rebuffed and they had to beat a hasty retreat. The Aztecs actually had a fairly good chance at beating the Spanish and the overall war was a fairly close one. It can be easily said that if not for the smallpox contracted from the Europeans that wiped out so many of them, especially their leaders, that it is extremely unlikely they would have fallen to the Spanish. The amount of harm caused by European diseases was tremendous, it is estimated that over twenty million Mexicans died in a period of just five years due to the diseases brought over by the Spanish.

4) Fact: The name Aztecs was given to them after the fact.

We all know the Aztecs by that name, but it was not actually a name that they ever called themselves. The Westerners who came up with the name Aztecs likely took it from one of the original places that the Aztecs lived around the twelve century, called Aztlan, which was in the Northern part of Mexico. However, the Aztecs themselves actually referred to themselves as Mexica, which is actually where the name for the country of Mexico originally came from.

5) Fact: Aztecs had an advanced system for writing and keeping records.

The Aztecs had their own language and it was called N’ahuatl, the alphabet for this language was a form of picture writing. Knowledge on how to write things down was very specialized and was mostly performed by learned scribes and priests, who had the needed training. Records were kept on paper made of bark, or deer skin. The writing was usually performed using charcoal and then colored with vegetables and other substances. They kept tax records, historical records, kept information written down in regards to the religious sacrifices and other ceremonies and even wrote poetry. Sometimes they put their writings together in a sort of makeshift book that they called a codice.

6) Fact: Because the Aztecs lived on a swamp, they created Floating gardens to grow their crops.

When Cortez discovered the Aztec Empire in the year 1519, he found 200,000 people living on an island in the middle of a lake.  Tenochtitlan was the biggest and best-fed city in the world, and this fortress city was completely surrounded by water.

To feed their enormous population, the Aztecs ingeniously built chinampas, or floating gardens, to convert the marshy wetlands of Lake Texcoco into arable farmland.  These floating gardens were a masterpiece of engineering.

Each garden was 300 feet long by 30 feet wide.  To make a garden, workers weaved sticks together to form a giant raft, and then then piled mud from the bottom of the lake on top of the raft to create a layer of soil three feet thick.

The rectangular gardens were anchored to the lake by willow trees planted at the corners.  Each garden was lined on all sides by canals to allow canoes to pass with workers and materials.  This network of gardens extended for 22,000 acres across the surface of the lake.
7) Fact: Aztecs would often sell their own children into slavery.

It was not at all uncommon in Aztec society for someone who was poor to sell their own children into slavery. Not only that, but many Aztecs would also sell themselves into slavery. In many cases someone would go bankrupt and feel that they had no way out, selling themselves or their children into slavery would give them some income and if they worked hard they might eventually be able to buy their way back out again. Some remained slaves most of their lives, which isn’t surprising because being a slave among the Aztecs was not that bad. You could get married, have children and own your own land.

8) Fact: The Aztecs had a unique system for slavery.

Slavery among the Aztecs was much different than that of the Europeans and followed much different rules. Slaves children were not automatically property, and slaves could own possessions and even own other slaves. If a slave could present themselves in a temple, they would be freed, or if they could break away from their master and step on human excretion outside the market. If a slave tried to run away, only the master or his relatives were allowed to chase after them. Slaves were even able to buy their own freedom. The system for slavery among the Aztecs was quite unique, and much more like indentured servitude than most modern ideas of slavery.

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