The Rise and Fall of the Aztec Empire

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Introduction

The Aztec Empire is one of the dominant empires in the ancient history in the Americas. The Aztec contributed many inventions and architectures to the human past. The rise of the Aztec Empire was swift because of their advance in the economy, agriculture, and organizations. The Aztec were very ambitious as well. As on top of their realm with active military and abundance economy, the Aztec conquered their neighborhood tributes steadily. As a sad consequence for themselves, the Aztec were eventually defeated by the Span in the mid of the 1500s.

Aztecs Environment

Locating in the central and southern areas of present-day Mexico during a period from the 1400s to 1500’s AD, the Aztec Empire, fortunately, possessed many nourish regions around the Valley of Mexico and along the Gulf of Mexico. According to some researchers (e.g., Nichols and Evans, 2009), the Aztec mainland located in challenging location as a high attitude as 2,200 meters above sea level and was surrounded by a system of lakes, canals, and mountain springs with a large and dense population.

The Aztec could construct a complicated community around the Basin of Mexico to cope with its interesting geography and multicultural complexity. The Aztec Empire sketched on a vast geographical region as known as Meso-America (the central and southern of Mexico in Central America). The north side of the Aztec Empire was adjacent with the United States, bordered with Guatemala and Belize on the south, next to the Pacific Ocean on the west, and enclosed by the Caribbean Sea on the east. Due to its large area and was crossed by two major mountain chains, the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Sierra Madre Oriental, the Aztec regions enjoyed the mixture of hot and humid climate along its boundaries.

According to some researchers (e.g., Nichols and Evans, 2009), the empire consisted of three city-states as the Triple Alliance, which were Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan. However, the central capital of the Aztecs was Tenochtitlan, which was in the center of the Basin of Mexico with abundance system of the active volcanos. Enclosed by the high mountain chains and many systems of water lake, mountain springs, and canals, the Aztec geography provided fertile soils to grow and develop strong agriculture, one of the main subsistence pattern of the ancient Aztecs.

Subsistence Patterns

According to some researchers (e.g., Nichols and Evans, 2009), agriculture is a fundamental foundation in the Aztec community in the very early period. Evidence of a growing agricultural were the numerous constructions of chinampas and systems of irrigations on Aztec rural zones. The development of chinampas created many lush gardens, which allows the Aztecs to cultivates vegetable year around based on the continuous and surplus water supply from natural lakes and mountain springs into those zones. Also, the humid climate relatively helped the Aztec could grow many plants and vegetables. Evidence of the Aztec’s growing agriculture was plenty in Teotihuacan Valley and Texcoco piedmont. According to Smith (1997: 80), the Aztec farmers also built terraces on slopes of mountains to create more zones for cultivation. Some of the plants the Aztecs could grow on those terraces were maguey, maize, beans, and cotton. Hunting and fishing were additional methods of cultivations of the Aztecs.

House Types and Village Lifeway

According to Smith (1997: 80), Aztecs lived in small houses (roughly 15 to 25 square meters) which were built of brick and supported on stone cobbles foundation walls. Interesting, these houses usually had two doors and no windows. Many archeologists refer theses house as typical peasant houses. Many Aztec’s daily activities such as weaving took place in the patios of peasant houses. A noticeable feature in Aztec’s architecture was the temple pyramid surrendered by noble family’s compounds and commoner’s lodgings. Due to the favor by Nature, the Aztec Empire proposed richness of salt along its islands and abundance of mud, which was the critical component for artistically painted pottery and ceramic works. Therefore, the Aztecs developed several market plazas along their territories to trade their products and artworks with foreign vendors, buyers, and artisans. According to Smith (1997: 77), the Aztecs purchased their salt, blades, needle, and painted pottery for alien craft goods (mainly textiles).

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Since the Aztec peasants intensified the agricultural practices and cultivated mostly on terraces of maize, cotton, and beans; the Aztec peasants lived in small dwellings, which were spare away from each other. Mostly, rural Aztec women mainly used cotton to weave cloth. According to Smith (1997: 81), the Aztec residents in rural areas also had many other activities and inventions. Some of the noticeable activities were manufacturing paper form fig tree to make books, building ceramic vessels, extracting salt from saline like water, making obsidian blades, and trading goods and products with the foreigners from western Mexico. On the other hand, some of the elite residents in urban areas enjoyed living medium-size and large-size houses in Yautepec, one of the dominant city-states during the Aztec empire. Also, the Yautepec commoners lived in a dense neighborhood with many trading activities and business transactions operated busily daily. Comparing the rural inhabitants, urban people had a much more prosperous lifestyle in general.

World View (i.e., religion)

The Aztecs worshiped many gods and had several outstanding ways to respect their divine beings. Some of the terrific worshiping methods among Aztec Empire were ritually killing a human to offer to a deity, constructing huge temples to worship the celestial beings, and respecting their gods through paintings and artworks. According to Phillips (2007: 62), human sacrifice was a very most common practice among Aztec communities. Each month, the Aztecs were scared of a distinct god. Thus, the Aztecs had to scarify one human being for every month. The Aztecs believed that the crucified person to a deity would die as the god they were honoring, and in return, he would be respected afterlife.

The Aztec ritual of human sacrifice was very brutal. On the final day of the month, the chosen person would lie on the stone, and his heart would be ripped out from his chest in the front of the Aztec community. His corpse would be cooked and served to the elite people in the society and military. Another way to worshiping gods of the Aztecs was building temples. According to Brumfield (2008:73), the religious center of the Aztec was Tenochtitlan, where numerous temples built around a pyramid temple called the Great Temple.

Also, the Aztecs made two separate sanctuaries on top of the Great Temple. Also, the Aztecs showed their respect to their gods through celestial drawings and religious paintings on the walls of each temple. Even, the Aztecs formulated their beliefs into myths, poetry, and songs; and then, they passed on these artworks through generations to retain the heavenly admiration.

European and/or Euro-American Contact and Consequences

According to Fagan (1998:70-75), Hernan Cortes was a Spanish conquistador who reached Mexico in 1519 in his search of treasure. When Cortes arrived in Mexico, he only had 550 soldiers, 16 horses, 14 cannons, and a few dogs. Eventually, Cortes’s group met the Aztec emperor as the time, Montezuma II. The encounter of Cortes and the emperor Montezuma II was the first contact of the Aztec with the European nations. Despite his small force, Cortes eventually conquered the entire Aztec Empire because of the following reasons. First of all, Cortes used Spanish horses and guns to terrify the native Aztecs. Secondly, a Mayan woman named Malintzin gave Cortes the insights of the Aztec military and helped him form alliances against the emperor Montezuma. Thirdly, Cortes had an undetectable help from the disease. Illnesses killed more Aztecs than Spanish swords. Lastly, the emperor Montezuma thought that Cortes was Quetzalcoatl, who was a crucial Aztec god. Traveling 400 miles to reach Tenochtitlan, Hernan Cortes was able to take control of the entire city due to the false belief of the emperor Montezuma. Eventually, Cortes took the emperor Montezuma and then ordered the Aztec to stop fighting. However, Cortes’s order made the Aztecs angry and started a rebellion.

Consequently, Cortes killed the emperor Montezuma and left the Tenochtitlan because the Aztec army was too numerous. After Cortes left the city, a smallpox epidemic suddenly attacked the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan. As a result, Cortes’s troop easily destroyed the weakened Aztec soldiers. In 1521, the Spanish took over the Aztec capital. And, Hernan Cortes took one more expenditure to Honduras, then severed as Governor-General of New Spain. He returned to Spain as a very wealthy man and dies in Seville, Spain in 1547.

Summary and Conclusions

Every empire in human history always follows the pattern: rising and then falling. The Aztec Empire is not an exception of the wheel of history. However, The Aztec Empire has it owns a distinction from other normal empires. The Aztec Empire was rising very rapidly but then conquered in a flash by the Spanish. However, the Aztec still contributed many great inventions for human history. Notably, the Aztec architecture is remarkable for human history and worth to remembered by generations.

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