A scene depicting ritualistic cannibalism being practiced in the Aztex Codex folio 73r
The Codex Magliabechiano is a pictorial Aztec codex created during the mid-16th century, in the early Spanish colonial period. It is representative of a set of codices known collectively as the Magliabechiano Group. Others in the group include the Codex Tudela and the Codex Ixtlilxochitl.
The Codex Magliabechiano is primarily a religious document. Its 92 pages are almost a glossary of cosmological and religious elements. They depict in turn the 20 day-names of the tonalpohualli the 18 monthly feasts, and the 52-year cycle. They also show various deities, indigenous religious rites, costumes, and cosmological beliefs.
The Coatlicue statue in the National Museum of Anthropology
The Coatlicue statue is a 2.7 meter (8.9 ft) tall andesite statue usually identified with the Aztec goddess Coatlicue (“snakes-her-skirt”). It is currently located in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
On the bottom of the statue, not normally visible, is a carving of Tlaltecuhtli (“earth-lord”).
As we have seen by the previous posts, the Aztecs were VERY religious. They believed that it took 5 Gods to create the world. According to ancient Aztec religion, it took the gods 5 tries to create the world. These attempts were foiled because of infighting among the gods themselves. After he was knocked from his exalted position by rivals, the first creator, Tezcatlipoca, turned into a jaguar and destroyed the world. Under similar circumstances, the world was created and then destroyed with wind, and then two floods.
Each time a creator-god would take a turn being the sun. Finally the gods had a council, and decided one of them would have to sacrifice himself to be the new sun. Nanauatl, a lowly, humble god became the sun, but there was a problem - he wasn’t moving. The gods realized that they all must sacrifice themselves so that humans could live. The god Ehecatl sacrificed the others, and a mighty wind arose to move the sun at last.
This was no free sacrifice, however. Not only would the people have to help this weak sun to keep moving, they would also be responsible to repay the sacrifice. The world remained in a precarious position!
Once the sun was dealt with, the world had to be recreated. Quetzalcoatl (meaning feathered serpent) was the one who would create humans. Of course, people had been created several times before, so Quetzalcoatl descended into the underworld to retrieve their bones. He tripped as he fled, and the bones shattered into different sized pieces, which is why people are all different sizes. By adding his own blood to the mix, people came to life.
Aztec temples are absolutely stunning. Commonly confused with pyramids, these are beautiful pieces of architecture in their own right. Also, the place of many bloody events!
Aztec temples were called, by the Mexica people of the empire,Teocalli - God houses. The priests of the Aztec religion went to these temples to worship and pray, and make offerings to the gods to keep them strong and in balance.
Cities would be devoted to religious activities with particular monuments built for specific gods.
E.G Temple Mayor,
It was the main religious building in the capital city, and it had two shrines on the top - one to Huitzilopochtli and one to Tlaloc. Huitzilopochtli (Hummingbird of the South) was the patron god of the Mexica people, the one who led them to Tenochtitlan in the first place. He was the god of the sun and war. Tlaloc was the god of rain and fertility. Both gods required constant human sacrifice. During the final phase of construction, thousands were sacrificed.
I’ll be going on holiday for a few days and therefore, I will be unable to post! I will be back by Tuesday :)
I think we often forget in history to talk about food. Food is very important, of course. Not exactly on the same scale as world wars and sacrifices. But, nevertheless, interesting.
So, what did the Aztec’s eat?
Well they ate a lot of Maize, beans and squash. Oh, and CHOCOLATE! The cocoa bean was highly treasured in the Aztec Empire. In fact, the bean was used as a currency, as well as Aztec food. Or, in this case, drink. The cocoa beans were used to make a thick chocolate drink, but far different than the hot chocolate we know today. Since they didn’t use sugar, the Mexicas added peppers, corn meal and spices.
Gory Aztec Sacrifice!
The Aztecs actually made many sacrifices, not just humans. Blood letting was seen as a way of ensuring disaster would not occur, the sacrifices were to please the Gods. People would even cut themselves to offer their blood to the Gods. The Aztecs had 18 months in one cycle, and for each of the 18 months there was ritual sacrifice. The victim would be painted as a part of the ritual, they would be placed on a slab where their heart would be removed and held up to the sun. The body would be thrown down the stairs of the temple/pyramid.
The body would be disposed of in various ways, such as feeding animals at the zoo or putting on display (the heads). There are some accounts of cannibalism, but it’s uncertain if this was practised to any great extent.
There were other ways that humans would be sacrificed - shot with arrows, drowned, burned, or otherwise mutilated. Killing in a fight (like the Roman gladiators) also took place.
So, wait… How many people died? We don’t know how many were sacrificed over the years - it’s possible that some accounts are exaggerated - but it was probably thousands each year - tens of thousands or more all together. Some estimates claim 20,000 a year.
Most, if not all, people can recognize the Aztec Calendar because of its exotic design. But did anyone really know that there are actually three calendars used for different things. The Aztec’s were strongly influenced by their religious beliefs, making the calendar very…
Aztec calendar stone
The artist carved the Aztec calendar stone in 1479. Naturally, it was dedicated to the sun god. It was a massive carving, 3 feet thick, almost 12 feet across, and weighing almost 25 tones (22.5 tonnes). It was carved from basalt - a solidified lava, this being an area where volcanos were common. But then it was lost - buried under the central square of mexico city - for over 300 years.
Wait, how many calendars are there? There is not just one Aztec calendar, there are two more or less independent systems. One calendar, called the xiuhpohualli, has 365 days. It describes the days and rituals related to the seasons, and therefor might be called the agricultural year or the solar year. The other calendar has 260 days. In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, it is called the tonalpohualli or, the day-count. Most information on this website refers to the tonalpohualli, which is the sacred calendar.
The tonalpohualli, or day-count, has been called a sacred calendar because its main purpose is that of a divinatory tool. It divides the days and rituals between the gods. For the Aztec mind this is extremely important. Without it the world would soon come to an end. According to Aztec cosmology, the universe is in a very delicate equilibrium. Opposing divine forces are competing for power. This equilibrium is in constant danger of being disrupted by shifting powers of the gods, of the elemental forces that influence our lifes. This struggle cannot be won by any god.
The notion that everything ultimately consists of two opposing forces is essential to the Aztec worldview. The world is always on the brink of going under in a spiritual war, a war of gods competing for supreme power. To prevent this from happening, the gods have been given their own space, their own time, their own social groups, etcetera, to rule over. The tonalpohualli tells us how time is divided among the gods.
The exact origins of the Aztec people are uncertain, but they are believed to have begun as a northern tribe of hunter-gatherers whose name came from that of their homeland, Aztlan (or “White Land”). The Aztecs were also known as the Tenochca (from which the name for their capital city, Tenochtitlan, was derived) or the Mexica (the origin of the name of the city that would replace Tenochtitlan, as well as the name for the entire country). The Aztecs appeared in Mesoamerica—as the south-central region of pre-Columbian Mexico is known—in the early 13th century. Their arrival came just after, or perhaps helped bring about, the fall of the previously dominant Mesoamerican civilization, the Toltecs.
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 (including intensive cultivation of land and irrigation methods) and a powerful military tradition would enable the Aztecs to build a successful state, and later an empire.
Am I the only one who finds it strange that these processes which were carried out in the 13th century are still carried out today? Like methods from the 13th century are being used right NOW! Or maybe that’s because I’m weird… My point is, whilst looking at the Aztecs they actually relate pretty well to what we do now (excluding the sacrificial stuff they do, we will look at that soon!).
Let’s get started.
Who were the Aztecs?: The Aztecs were a Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people of central Mexico in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. They called themselves Mexica. The Republic of Mexico and its capital, Mexico City, derive their names from the word “Mexica”. The capital of the Aztec empire was Tenochtitlan, built on a raised island in Lake Texcoco. The city of Tenochitlan was soon to become one of the largest cities in the world. The power of the Mexica peoples became more consolidated, and they began to form alliances. Their military power grew as well, and they began to conquer peoples in the surrounding areas.