The greatest empire to rule over Mexico, the Aztecs were a phenomenal indigenous civilization which ruled far and wide for over 300 years. First settled in the valley of Mexico, the Aztecs were a group of skilled warriors who were great at hunting, fishing, farming and art – and what’s more they discovered chocolate!
The Aztecs were known for being rather fierce and in fact didn't have the best of reputations – they even sacrificed humans in order to keep the gods they believed in happy!
Brought to a grounding halt in the 1400s by invading Spanish conquistadores, the last great Mesoamerican empire has left an impressive legacy behind. Today, the ruins of the most advanced civilization in the Americas are still scattered across modern Mexico.
Did you know?
The Aztecs were lovers of playing sports and the ball game Ulama was played throughout Mesoamerica
This team sport that used a heavy rubber ball and was always played on a court shaped like a capital I. The object of the game was to smash the ball through a small stone ring. The ball had to be kept off the ground using only knees, elbows, or hips, never the hands or feet. A tricky game to play, but there were major incentives to perform well. Evidence suggests the losing team’s captain was often put to death.
They were not called the Aztecs
The word Aztec was taken up by Europeans in reference to the city of Aztlan, the legendary ancestral home of the Aztec peoples, which historians believe was in the northern part of Mexico. However, the group that is now referred to as the Aztecs were actually called the Mexica, which is the root for the country name of Mexico.
Their capital city was among the most impressive in the world
The city of Tenochtitlan was built on a marshy island near the edge of Lake Texcoco and had an estimated population of between 200,000 and 300,000. Tenochtitlan was a city of canals and was regarded as spectacularly beautiful by the Spanish invaders. You will now find Mexico City, the capital city of modern-day Mexico, where Tenochtitlán once stood.
They were serious chocoholics
Chocolate originates from Mesoamerica and the Mexica regarded it as a gift from Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom. Yet chocolate was prepared in a very different way. Cacao seeds were crushed and served as a bitter, frothy drink mixed with spices.
Religion was very important to the Aztecs and they believed in many gods
They worshipped Huitzilopochtli, the god of sun and war, above all others. The most fearsome and powerful of the Aztec gods, his name is thought to mean "left-handed hummingbird". He was often drawn with feathers and holding a sceptre made from a snake.
It was important to keep the gods happy so the Aztecs even sacrificed human life to do just that!
The Aztecs were most renowned for their colossal bloodshed and acts of barbarity. Renowned for being bloodthirsty warriors and for their penchant for mass human sacrifice, the Aztecs are estimated to have sacrificed 20,000 people a year.
One of the most famous aspects of Aztec technology was their use of calendars
The Aztecs used two calendars. One calendar known as the tonalpohualli or ‘counting the days’ was used for tracking religious ceremonies and festivals. The calendar had 260 days. Each day was represented by a combination of 21 day signs and thirteen day signs. The other calendar known as Xiuhpohualli or "solar year" was used to track time. It had 365 days divided up into 18 months of 20 days each. There were 5 days left over that were considered unlucky days.
They had never seen horses before the Spanish Conquistadores arrived
Before the arrival of the Spanish, horses had never been seen in the New World and the sight of cavalry reportedly had a massive psychological impact on the Mexica. The conquistadors defeated the Aztecs, took their empire, and made it into a Spanish colony.
People still use Aztec symbols in Mexico
On the Mexican flag, there is a picture of an eagle on a cactus with a snake in its mouth. This was an Aztec symbol. Even the name Mexico is an Aztec word.
Top 5 things to borrow
- Maya, Incas and Aztecs
- Aztec & Maya : rediscover the lost world of ancient Central America, with 450 exciting pictures and 15 step-by-step projects
- Angry Aztecs
- So you think you've got it bad? : a kid's life in the Aztec Age
- The Aztec empire
- Learn about The Maya, Aztecs and Mesoamerica through some great documentaries on Kanopy.
- Test your knowledge of the Aztec civilization by taking an Aztec Quiz.
- Find out more about Aztec games and have a go at playing them yourself!
- Find out what today's date is in tonalpohualli, the sacred Aztec calendar.
- Play a GridClub Aztecs digital game.
- Lots of information about the "First City of the Americas", Teotihuacán, and its Sun Pyramid.
- Discover the rich and brutal history of the Aztec Culture.
Love the program? Complete the online survey.
Note: This program includes YouTube links. While the library wants you to have fun watching these videos, do not forget to hit stop at the end of it. YouTube will automatically play other videos that may not be about this subject and not suitable for you.