Thursday, March 22, 2012

Today's Trivia – The Aztecs

The Aztecs were the Native American people who dominated northern Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century. A nomadic culture, the Aztecs eventually settled on several small islands in Lake Texcoco where, in 1325, they founded the town of Tenochtitlan, modern-day Mexico City. Fearless warriors and pragmatic builders, the Aztecs created an empire during the 15th century that was surpassed in size in the Americas only by that of the Incas in Peru.

I first learned of the Aztecs in college, and despite the fact that it’s been so long, I still recall how fascinated I was about them. Here are some interesting things about these ancient people of South America.

- The city-capital of the Aztec people was Tenochtitlan, the site of present-day Mexico City.

- Tecnochtitlan was built on an island in Lake Texcoco.

- The estimated population of the Aztecs at the height of the civilization ranged from 5 million to 11 million.

- Aztec people called themselves Tenochas or Mexica.

- The Aztecs were short, sturdy people with almond-shaped eyes, dark, coarse hair and brown skin.

- Aztecs spoke Nahuatl, a language that is still spoken today.

- Daily worship was determined by a calendar consisting of 260 days, divided into 20 weeks of 13 days. Each hour, day and week was ruled by a certain god.

- The great religious ceremonies and festivals were regulated by a calendar of 365 days composed of 18 months of 20 days and an additional 5-day period. Each month was dedicated to a major god.

- Music and dance were a significant part of Aztec life. Music and dance were closely linked to religion. The most common instruments were rattles, whistles, trumpets, flutes, copper bells, and shells.

- The paper they used was made from fig tree bark. They used a system of hieroglyphics or picture writing.

- Aztec people designed and built aqueducts, dikes and huge stone pyramids topped by temples.

- Boys attended school and studied history, religion, crafts and military training. Selected boys and girls attended special religious schools to become priests and priestess.

- All able-bodied men were trained to be warriors. To fight in battle was considered a duty and an honor. A boy became a man after he captured his first prisoner.

- Prisoners were the real war trophies since they were used as sacrifices in religious festivals. Soldiers sometimes demanded death as their right after they had been captured. A soldier became part of a family and was treated like a son until it was time for him to be sacrificed.

- There were frequent ritual human sacrifices (including cannibalism to some degree), part of the military and ritual activities of the Aztec people.

- Girls were mainly taught at home and began spinning at four and cooking at twelve. Their education was basically to prepare them for marriage, although noble girls spent a year at twelve or thirteen helping in the temple, and some became professional priestesses.

- Domesticated animals included dogs, ducks, geese, quails and turkeys. Agricultural works and land transportation depended mainly on human power.

- Tools and weapons were not made of metal but were made of stone and wood. Most weapons were made of obsidian.

- Gold, silver, copper and other precious stones like emerald, jade, turquoise and even shells were mainly for ornaments.

- Well-to-do Aztecs homes were made of adobe, and members of the royalty wore expensive clothes and headdress.

- Their method of gardening is called chinampas or floating gardens. Chinampas were artificial islands built by piling earth on woven rafts. Aztecs grew corn, beans, peppers, squash and tomatoes.

- The main food source was maize, a type of corn. The Aztecs also ate tomatoes, avocados, atole (a type of porridge), tortillas made from maize, and tamales, a kind of envelope made from steamed maize stuffed with vegetables or meat.

- Aztecs also ate chocolate. In their culture chocolate was reserved for warriors and nobility. A drink of cacao mixed with ground maize was believed to provide stamina and was used in sacred rituals. Chocolate was a drink for the elite.

- The Aztecs ate twice a day and the main meal was eaten during the hottest part of the day. Some of the edible things available in an Aztec market were fruit, vegetables, spices, flowers, edible dogs, and birds.

- Huitzilopochtli (Hummingbird-on-the-Left) is their war god and sun god. Thaloc was their rain god.

- The Aztec empire was invaded by Hernando Cortez in 1519. In 1521, Spaniards tore down the buildings and filled in the canals, completely destroying the city of Tenochtitlan.

The Aztecs had harsh punishments. The criminals were taken to a court where there was a group of judges who would decide the punishment if they were found guilty. Sometimes the emperor would pronounce the sentence. In this way the Aztec judicial system was somewhat like ours today. The emperor would act as a judge and specially chosen members of the community would act as a jury.

Crime: adultery
Punishment: Death

Crime: Commoner found wearing cotton clothes
Punishment: Death

Crime: Cutting down a living tree
Punishment: Death

Crime: Drunkenness, 1st offense
Punishment: Head shaved, house destroyed

Crime: Drunkenness, 2nd offense
Punishment: Death

Crime: Handling stolen property
Punishment: Sold into slavery

Crime: Moving a field boundary
Punishment: Death

Crime: Kidnapping
Punishment: Sold into slavery

Crime: Selling substandard goods
Punishment: Loss of property

Crime: Major theft
Punishment: Death

Crime: Minor theft
Punishment: Sold into slavery

Crime: Treason
Punishment: Death, loss of property, destruction of land, children sold into slavery


  1. There's not much "justice" in their judicial system - I'd have been done for drunkeness, I'm sure. I'd rather have the natural justice of a hangover!

    1. A lot of death sentences in their justice system. I'm surprised anyone made it past the teen years!

  2. Too bad modern day Mexico and its drug lords couldn't receive a little Aztec crime control.

    1. Imagine that! I don't think you'd have drug lords around for long.

  3. Cannibalism, human sacrifice and death for drunkenness... yikes! That's a harsh life.

    1. Very harsh. You were always one step away from death!

  4. Bring back being sold into slavery as a punishment!!

    1. For Mexico's drug lords, as Debra, mentions!