The Aztecs started out as a nomadic tribe in northern Mexico and came to dominate central Mexico in the 14th century until the destruction of their capital Tenochtitlan in 1521. By the early 16th century, the Aztecs ruled over 500 small states with a population of over five million. The religion of the Aztecs shared many common beliefs and practices with other Mesoamerican religions, such as that of the Maya. Aztec cities honored the many different gods of the polytheistic Aztec religion by erecting statues and building large temples.

Division of Time

The Aztecs divided the world into five eras, with each era governed by a different deity. The Aztecs believed they were living in the fifth and final era of time. According to Aztec belief, each of the previous eras had ended with destruction by the elements of nature. The final era was supposed to end in a similar fate, being destroyed by massive earthquakes.

Nature Gods

The Aztecs were a farming people who were heavily dependent on the fortune of their crops. An important part of their religion was maintaining balance in nature by pleasing the gods. The Aztecs were polytheists, believing in the existence and power of hundreds of gods. One of the most important gods was Huitzilopochtli, the sun god. The Aztecs believed that the gods fought one another due to disagreements and that because of their fighting, it took five attempts to create the world.

Human Sacrifices

The Aztecs believed that blood sacrifices were needed to aid the sun god Huitzilopochtli in his fight against darkness, a fight he would eventually lose at the end of the world. Human sacrifice was practiced systematically in the Aztec religion to provide a constant supply of blood to the sun god. Unless they appeased the sun god, the Aztecs believed that the sun might not rise the next morning. The exact scale of human sacrifice in the Aztec religion is unknown. Spanish sources have claimed that 20,000 humans were sacrificed as part of a single dedication ceremony in Tenochtitlán in 1487. However, the History Channel notes that these reports may have been exaggerated by the Spanish to justify their conquest of the Aztecs.

The Afterlife

The Aztecs believed that after death, humans would be reincarnated as animals, humans or disembodied spirits. But before gaining a new reincarnated life, humans were required to work their way through nine descending layers of an underworld. The Aztecs buried people in the squatting position and left them with items that would be helpful for their journey in the afterlife.