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Eng Course- The Aztecs- Download Free PDF




Background information
The Mexica (later known as the Aztecs) were a migrant people from the desert north who
arrived in Mesoamerica in the 1300s.  This previously nomadic tribe was not welcomed by
the local inhabitants who viewed them as inferior and undeveloped.  Legend tells that as a
result the Aztecs wandered waiting for a sign to indicate where they should settle.  It is
said that in AD1325 this sign, an eagle and serpent fighting on a cactus, was seen at Lake
Texcoco prompting the Aztecs to found their capital city, Tenochtitlan.
By AD1430 the Aztecs had assimilated aspects of the surrounding tribes and developed
into a structured society.  Their military became powerful and campaigns were fought and
won.  The Triple Alliance was created with the lords of Texcoco (situated on the eastern
shores of Lake Texococo) and Tlacopan (sometimes referred to as Tacuba, situated on
the western shores of Lake Texococo) further strengthening Aztec power.  
The Aztecs went to war for two main reasons; to exact tribute and to capture prisoners.
They needed prisoners because they believed that the gods must be appeased with
human blood and hearts to ensure the sun rose each day.  Conquering new regions
brought the opportunity to capture slaves who were an important part of Aztec society.
Prosperity and unity within the Aztec peoples brought confidence.  Under a succession of
rulers armies were sent further across Mexico.  By the start of the 1500s the Aztec empire
stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific and into Guatemala and Nicaragua.  The arrival in
AD1521 of Hernan Cortés with Spanish soldiers brought about the end of the empire.
Tenochtitlan
The Aztec capital city, Tenochtitlan, was founded on a small piece of land in the western
part of Lake Texcoco.  The city was contained within high mountains and surrounding lake
and marshes.  To create living and farming space the Aztecs sank piles into the marshes
and formed small land masses called chinampas, or floating gardens.  Tenochtitlan was
highly developed with causeways between islands for transport, aqueducts to carry fresh
water and sewers to dispose of waste.  The city developed into a metropolis led by a ruling
leader and supported by noble classes, priests, warriors and merchants.  By the early
1500s it contained an array of pyramids, temples, palaces and market places.
Trade
The Aztecs designed roads for travel by foot because there were no draught animals.
These roads were well maintained and boosted trade both for the Aztecs and for the tribes
under their control.  They also enabled the Aztecs to be informed of events across their
empire.  Trade was an important activity.  The Aztecs exported luxury items such as
jewellery and garments manufactured from imported raw materials.  They also exported
goods such as lake salt and ceramic goods.  Exotic luxuries such as animal skins,
feathers, rubber and jade came from the distant southern tropics.  Beautiful manufactured
goods such as jewellery, textiles and pottery came from craft centres, a famous example
of which is Cholula (in the modern Mexican state of Puebla).  Traded goods even came
from as far away as southern New Mexico and raw materials from Central America
appeared in the markets of Tenochtitlan.

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