Cultural Patterns.

  • Government.

The Aztec Empire was an example of an empire that ruled by indirect means. Like most European empires, it was ethnically very diverse, but unlike most European empires, it was more of a system of tribute than a single system of government.
Although the form of government is often refered to as an empire, most areas within the empire were organized as city-states, known asaltepetl in Nahuatl. These were small polities ruled by a king from a legitimate dynasty. The Early Aztec period was a time of growth and competition among Altepetl. Even after the empire was formed and began its program of expansion through conquest, the altepetl remained the dominant form of organization at the local level. The efficient role of the altepetl as a regional political unit was largely responsible for the success of the empire's hegemonic form of control.

  • Tribute and Trade.

Tribute was usually paid twice or four times a year at differing times.
external image CodexMendoza01.jpg
external image CodexMendoza01.jpg

Archaeological excavations in the Aztec-ruled provinces show that incorporation into the empire had both costs and benefits for provincial peoples. On the positive side, the empire promoted commerce and trade, and exotic goods from obsidian to bronzemanaged to reach the houses of both commoners and nobles. Trade partners included the enemy Tarascan, a source of bronze tools and jewelry. On the negative side, imperial tribute imposed a burden on commoner households, who had to increase their work to pay their share of tribute. Nobles, on the other hand, often made out well under imperial rule because of the indirect nature of imperial organization. The empire had to rely on local kings and nobles and offered them privileges for their help in maintaining order and keeping the tribute flowing.

  • Economy.

The Aztec economy can be divided into a political sector, under the control of nobles and kings, and a commercial sector that operated independently of the political sector. The political sector of the economy focused on the control of land and labor by kings and nobles. Nobles owned all land, and commoners got access to farmland and other fields through a variety of arrangements, from rental through sharecropping to serf-like labor and slavery. These payments supported both the prodigal lifestyles of the high nobility and the finances of city-states. The producers of featherwork, sculptures, jewelry, and other luxury items worked for noble patrons.
Many payments were used by the Aztecs. Small purchases were made with cocoa beans, which had to be imported from lowland areas. In Aztec marketplaces, a small rabbit was worth 30 beans, a turkey egg cost 3 beans, and a tamale cost a single bean. For larger purchases, standardized lengths of cotton cloth, also called quachtli, were used. There were different grades of quachtli, ranging in value from 65 to 300 cocoa beans.
Money was used primarily in the many periodic markets that were held in each town. A typical town would have a weekly market (every 5 days), while larger cities held markets every day. Some sellers in the markets were petty vendors; farmers might sell some of their produce, potters sold their vessels, and so on. Other vendors were professional merchants who traveled from market to market seeking profits.

  • Mythology and Religion.

Religion was very important to the Aztecs. Veneration of Huitzilopochtli, the personification of the sun and of war, was central to the religious, social and political practices of the Mexicas. Huitzilopochtli attained this central position after the founding of Tenochtitlan and the formation of the Mexica city-state society in the 14th century. Prior to this, Huitzilopochtli was associated primarily with hunting, presumably one of the important subsistence activities of the itinerant bands that would eventually become the Mexica.
external image huitzilopochtli.gif
external image huitzilopochtli.gif

According to myth, Huitzilopochtli directed the wanderers to found a city on the site where they would see an eagle devouring a snake perched on a fruit-bearing nopal cactus (it was said that Huitzilopochtli killed his nephew, Cópil, and threw his heart on the lake. Huitzilopochtli honoured Cópil by causing a cactus to grow over Cópil's heart).
According to their own history, when the Mexicas arrived in the Valley of Mexico around Lake Texcoco, the groups living there considered them uncivilized. To the Mexicas, the Toltecswere the originators of all culture. Mexica legends identify the Toltecs and the cult ofQuetzalcoatl with the mythical city of Tollan, which they also identified with the more ancientTeotihuacan.