Hi, it’s Katrina! From having one of the most advanced capital
cities in the world to writing poetry, here are 10 fascinating facts you probably didn’t
know about the Aztecs. 10. The Lost City of Aztlan The Aztec people are famous for their capital
city of Tenochtitlan, but they were not originally from there. According to their legends and stories, their
ancestors came from the lost city of Aztlan which was a luxurious and wonderful place
where everyone was immortal and happy. They consisted of seven tribes and each lived
in their own cave and tended to their floating gardens. Food was plentiful and the gods were happy
with people, leading many to believe that this may have been the real city of Atlantis. However in the Codex Aubin, the Aztecs in
Aztlan lived under a tyrannical elite group, so the escaped and moved south to the basin
on May 24, 1064- a very important date in Aztec history. Regardless of why they left Aztlan led by
their god of war, the sun, and human sacrifice Huitzilopochtli (huit-zilo-poch-tli), archaeologists
have been searching for the lost city in the north, but so far have been able to find it. There was probably more than one migration,
and it is hard to say whether this was a real location, or maybe it never existed at all
and is just a place that exists in legends. 9. The Mexica The term “Aztec” came into popular use
by Spaniards after the initial discovery of the civilization. While some of these indigenous people did
call themselves “Azteca,” inspired by the name of their ancestral home of Aztlan,
they were mostly known as the Mexica. Around 1250, the Mexica arrived in the Valley
of Mexico. It was a very long and difficult migration. When they arrived, this place had already
been occupied for thousands of years most likely due to the wealth of natural resources. They settled on the city of Culhuacan, a prestigious
city, and they would help the town in battles. In gratitude, the King of Culhuacan gave them
one of his daughters to worship. Instead, they sacrificed her to their god,
Huitzilopochtli, and so they were banished to wander in the marshes. Huitzilopochtli appeared to their leaders
and told them to look for a sign, a great eagle perched on a cactus killing a snake. The modern Mexican flag features a coat of
arms depicting this image. After a time they came upon Tenochtitlan,
where they saw the sign, and were finally able to settle. The application of the term “Aztec” to
all Mexica peoples seems to have first appeared in European historical records from the 16th
century. Its first use in an influential European text
was in a work about the Aztecs that was published in 1780 called La Historia Antigua de Mexico
by the Creole Jesuit teacher of New Spain, Francisco Javier Clavijero Echegaray. During the 19th century, the term “Aztec”
became even more popular, after being used by my favorite explorer, Alexander Von Humboldt,
who used Clavijero’s work as a source. Finally, in 1843, the word became a mainstay
of the English language, with the publishing of William Prescott’s book The History of
the Conquest of Mexico. The term “Aztec” as it’s often used
today and throughout European history is slightly misleading, and modern anthropologists and
other scholars tend to have varying definitions of the word, which they apply as they personally
see fit. So you can too! 8. One of the World’s Biggest Cities Once they found Tenochtitlan, the certainly
made the most of it. It was officially founded around 1325 and
became the Aztec capital by the late 15th century. At its peak around 1519, the population was
several times the size of London, with around 400,000 residents, making it one of the world’s
largest cities at the time, as well as the largest residential concentration in Mesoamerican
history. When Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes saw
the city in 1519, he was pretty impressed. In a letter to King Charles I of Spain, he
described the architecture and many canals as “spectacularly beautiful.” One of the conquistadores, named Bernal Diaz
del Castillo, later recounted that when the Spanish arrived at the capital, they were
in disbelief. He wrote, “Some of our soldiers even asked
whether the things that we saw were not a dream?” It was very rich and had a thriving marketplace,
organized streets and canals, as well as large temples, schools, and even ball courts. As impressed as the Spanish were by Tenochtitlan,
they still wanted to teach them a lesson. In 1521, much of the city was destroyed, including
hundreds of temples, as well as the palace of Montezuma II, a landmark building which
contained over 300 rooms. Now much of modern-day Mexico city lies over
its remains. 7. Education When it came to schooling, the Aztecs, or
Mexica, were far ahead of their time. Although the civilization placed great emphasis
on the importance of parents teaching their children, they were one of the first societies
to introduce compulsory education for children, regardless of class. This meant that nobles, commoners, and even
slaves went to school. The society’s education system was at least
partially based on the huehuetlatolli, a collection of Mexica behavioral teachings and legends. All children were to learn about religion,
doing penance, physical work, keeping watch at night and drawing blood from different
parts of the body. (Remember, they always had to keep Huitzilopochtli
happy. Public schools were separated by gender and
class, with nobles attending separate institutions. At the Calmecac School, priests taught boys
of nobility about music, history, art, and leadership skills. Boys of lower strata attended the Cuicacalli
School, where they learned primarily about becoming warriors and were trained for possible
military service. Education for girls focused largely on cooking,
weaving, art and other domestic duties. 6. Chocolate To the Aztecs, chocolate was considered a
gift from Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom. Chocolate originated in Mesoamerica and was
so valuable, cacao seeds were used as a form of currency for small purchases. (Cotton cloth was exchanged for larger purchases.) In addition to chocolate’s religious significance
as a gift from Quetzalcoatl, the cocoa tree was seen as a bridge between heaven and Earth. Before a human was sacrificed to appease the
gods, chocolate was offered. At children’s coming-of-age ceremonies,
cocoa beans were given to priests’ assistants. Couples exchanged cocoa beans during marriage
ceremonies and drank a symbolic cup of chocolate. The Aztecs prepared chocolate very differently
to what we’re used to in modern times. It was often served as a bitter, frothy drink
infused with spices and crushed-up cacao seeds. The seeds were often roasted and the drink
commonly contained a foaming agent, toasted corn, and water, as well as vanilla and/or
chili. There was an oily layer of cocoa butter at
the top of the drink, which the Aztecs used to protect their skin from the sun. They also made wine and other drinks from
the white pulp around the seeds of the cocoa pod. Chocolate wasn’t customarily sweetened until
it was taken back to Europe during the 16th century by the Spanish. There, it also became a popular drink, but
was sweetened with sugar that they brought back from their other colonies. 5. Polygamy Aztec men were permitted to practice polygamy,
but in doing so, they were bound by strict rules. A man only had a marriage ceremony with his
first wife, who was considered the “main” wife. All other wives were recognized in the official
records, but were considered secondary, or less important, than the first wife. Despite this lower ranking, extra wives were
still considered a mark of great status and were highly regarded within the culture, as
they contributed to the family’s wealth. Husbands were expected to treat all their
wives with equal respect, and although men were considered the head of the household,
women were treated well in Aztec society and had some power within their marriages. Adultery by either party was punishable by
death, and divorce was only allowed under special circumstances. 4. Disease and Their Downfall As you probably already know, Europeans brought
swords, horses, warfare, and genocide to the New World. Times back then were tough, but the Europeans
had something on their side that they didn’t even realize. Germs! While Hernan Cortes was often admired for
his military prowess at the time, and alliances with other Native Americans who also wanted
to destroy the Aztecs, one of the lesser-known ways the Europeans eradicated the Aztecs was
through disease. However unintentional, this certainly aided
their desires of conquest. The Spanish were successfully driven away
during one of their initial attacks on Tenochtitlan. However, they came back in August of 1521. While there were 508 Spaniards, there were
actually 200,000 allies from other Aztec tributary states. It was not hard for him to find allies to
fight and during the siege, much of the population died from hunger and smallpox. In the five years following the Spanish invasion
of the “New World,” an estimated 20 million or more indigenous people perished from diseases
like mumps, measles, and smallpox. The fall of the Mexica Empire was largely
made possible (and faster) by disease. It is interesting to note that after the fall
of the Aztecs and Tenochtitlan, most of the other Mesoamerican cultures remained intact. The tribes allied with the Spanish had much
to gain and the Aztecs were not missed. 3. They Sold Their Children In Aztec society, it was common for impoverished
people to sell their children into slavery, or for people to even sell themselves into
slavery. These practices were often as a last resort
after someone went bankrupt and saw no other way out. In addition to hard work, the income from
selling oneself or one’s children would provide, perhaps, a bleak light at the end
of the tunnel – in other words, the eventual possibility of buying back their freedom. Some people remained slaves their entire lives. While this was not an ideal existence, slaves
had some rights within Aztec society compared to others- they were allowed to marry, have
children, and own land. 2. Detailed Records The Aztecs had an advanced writing and recordkeeping
system. Their alphabet was a form of picture writing
that was based on their language, Nahuatl. Writing was a specialized skill that required
training and was done mostly by scribes and priests, which could be men or women. They made calendars, wrote poetry, and kept
detailed astronomy, historical, and tax records, as well as information about religious ceremonies
and sacrifices. Texts were often compiled into a type of book
called a codice. While we always tend to think of war and sacrifice
when we think of the Aztecs, there was also song and dance, which were not a part of religious
ceremonies. Known as the “flower songs”, they have
their own style and it is kind of a miracle that they were written down and survive to
this day. Paper made from bark or deer skin was used
for keeping records. Charcoal was used for writing, which was later
dyed with vegetables and other substances. Before the arrival of the spaniards, almost
everything relied on drawings and pictographs but it was important for them to write down
oral history, not just keeping track of taxes and tribute! 1. Sacrifice and Burial Customs Life and death went hand in hand in Aztec
society. Aztecs of high stature, including merchants,
were typically cremated. Their belief was that cremation would transform
the soul of a dead warrior in a way that would send them straight to one of their religion’s
13 versions of heaven. Dogs were sometimes killed and cremated alongside
the important deceased person for the purpose of guiding them into the afterlife. When upper class members of Aztec society
died, their wives and slaves were also often buried alive to serve them in the afterlife. Most commoners were buried underneath or near
their family home. For those of you that are here for the sacrifice,
Historians believe that the Aztecs sacrificed thousands of people annually, as they saw
this as a way to appease the gods, especially Huitzilopochtli, god of war and the sun, and
Tlaloc, the rain god. Those who were sacrificed included a wide
range of people, including prisoners of war, members of Aztec society, and even children. The priests would create towers and towers
of skulls and leave them outside which would ensure the continued existence of humanity… To them the bones were signs of life, and
regeneration like the first flowers of spring. Sacrifices, as well as other tragic and “heroic”
deaths, such as perishing in battle, were viewed as superior to simply dying of old
age, which would send you straight to the underworld. Women who died during childbirth were also
hailed as heroes. People who passed away in these so-called
“noble” ways went to one of the religion’s 13 paradises. When the Spanish arrived and saw all this
in 1519, while they were impressed with the large, thriving city, they were pretty shocked
by this thirst for blood and used it as a justification to destroy them. Thanks for watching! Hope you learned something new today! Would you like to learn more about ancient
Mesoamerican civilizations? Let me know in the comments! Be sure to subscribe and I’ll see you next
time!