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Aztec – Mysterious, Violent Ancient Civilization

Aztec – Mysterious, Violent Ancient Civilization

This intriguing Mesoamerican Culture left behind a rich legacy of ruins and artifacts from which we have learned much about the Aztec culture and way of life.

Like all of the ancient peoples we have discovered in our endeavors to learn about our past, the Aztecs were a spiritual people, and despite the violence for which they are known, they remain a topic of interest for historians and the curious alike.

Image Courtesy of: gripso_banana_prune via photopin cc

Though the Aztecs performed astonishing feats of engineering, including the construction of aqueducts, canals, and temples, they are believed to have constructed their entire civilization of the course of 200 year. The practice of human sacrifice, performed during spiritual rituals, gained the Aztecs their reputation as a violent culture.

The Aztecs modeled their first city, Tenochtitlan, after Teotihuacan, an ancient city complex of pyramids, homes, and roads located just about 30 miles east of present day Mexico City. The Aztecs believed that the ancient city of Teotihuacan, which was already in ruin even in their time,  was laid out in the image of the Mesoamerican cosmos and created by their gods. (See Teotihuacan Below)

Image Courtesy of: AmateurArtGuy via photopin cc

Though the question of who built Teotihuacan remains unanswered, the Aztecs had good reason for their inspiration, it was carefully planned and constructed, and remains one of the best examples of such a feat in human history. We do know that construction of the city began in earnest around 80 AD, and that it was abandoned around 550 AD. Archaeological evidence suggests that the city was intentionally burned by it’s inhabitants during a revolt against the priests or rulers of the city.

It is this city that the Aztecs re-created in their construction of Tenochtitlan around 700 years ago, on an island that lay in an ancient lake called Lake Texcoco. This area is now the location of modern day Mexico City, however at the time the Aztecs built their city, this vast valley was mostly covered in water and so swampy that no one had thought to build in the area. The image below depicts how the city would have looked at the height of it’s era.

Aztec Tenochtitlan
Image Courtesy of: Xuan Che via photopin cc

Much ingenuity went into the construction of the city other than the practices they observed at Teotihuacan, including the wooden pilings which were driven into the ground under their structures to stabilize them in the marshy ground. Without the use of beasts of burden, construction of the city often required a force of up to 50,000 men to transport the stone building blocks and other materials used to build the city. The Aztecs also created a network of causeways in order to connect their beautiful island city to the mainland on the north, west and south.

Aztec Facts

  • The average lifespan of an Aztec citizen was 37 yrs.
  • At the hight of the cities existence, it housed over 200,000 people.
  • The Aztecs created a vast network of “super highways” throughout central Mexico which enabled them to transport messages or goods 200 miles to the coast in just 24 hours.
  • The massive pyramid which sat at the very center of Tenochtitlan had a 300 ft. wide base and was15 stories high.
  • The temple, which was initially constructed in 1325 with the founding of the city, was re-constructed on the same location 7 times. As with other ancient temples, it was increased in size over time as the city grew by adding new stages on top of the old portions of the temple
  • Lime plaster was applied to floors and walls of Aztec structures; even after 500 years some examples of this ancient concrete remain as strong as our modern concrete.
  • The temple was uncovered by power company workers digging a trench in 1978. The first artifact unearthed at the site was the huge carved stone. (Shown Below) It is 11 ft. in diameter and weighs 8 tons. 
Aztec Carving 2
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The Aztec calendar, or calendar wheel shown in the image below, is one of the most intriguing artifacts left by this culture. As with all of the earliest Mesoamerican calendars, such as the Mayan calendar, the Aztec calendar used a 260 day cycle. This system, called Tonalpohualli, was actually comprised of three “wheels”, or individual cycles which worked together; a 260 day cycle, a 365 day cycle, and a 52 year cycle. Though this system may seem quite precise, it was less so than the Mayan calendar system. Certain dates on the Aztec calendar can refer to a couple of different times in the year, resulting in modern disagreements over events that occurred in the Aztec Empire, and adding to the mystery of the Aztecs.

Aztec Calendar
Image Courtesy of: gripso_banana_prune via photopin cc

Though much has been learned about the Aztec culture, many aspects remain unknown, and this ancient civilization is sure to remain a topic of great discussion and wonder as we strive to learn more about the history of mankind.

Aztec – Mysterious, Violent Ancient Civilization


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