The Aztec civilization began as several tribes populating the northern Mexico desert in the early 12th century. The tribes gradually migrated south and one, the Mexica tribe, settled near Lake Texcoco. The Mexica built the city of Tenochtitlan and consolidated their power through conquest of neighboring tribes. Aztec tradition and religion were tightly interwoven. There was little Aztec activity that did not involve appeasing, worshiping or obeying multiple gods.
An Aztec bride and groom were brought together by a matchmaker, and a soothsayer helped the couple pick a lucky day for the wedding. After the ceremony, the bride and groom were confined to a bedchamber for four days spent in prayer, leaving only to offer sacrifices at the family altar. Once the four days passed, they consummated their marriage. Male children were raised to be warriors. Physical labor and rationed food helped strengthen and discipline their bodies. Girls were raised to become wives and mothers. Childbirth was seen as the woman's battlefield. A woman who died in childbirth was honored as a warrior, destined to be a goddess of the sun.
The Aztec year was divided into 18 months of four, five-day weeks. The last day of the week was the traditional fair, or market day. Five unlucky days occurred at the end of each year. Every 52 years, the Aztecs spent these five days preparing for the world's end. They destroyed everything in their households, and priests allowed the temple fires to go out. On the fifth day, the priests journeyed to a nearby mountaintop and attempted to start a fire on the chest cavity of a sacrificed man. If the fire started, it signified the empire would last another 52 years. Couriers lit torches at the mountaintop and traveled throughout the empire starting new fires in homes and temples.
Warfare was a way of life for the Aztecs. The patron god of the Aztecs was Huitzilopochtli, god of war, and conducting warfare served to honor and appease him. Battles allowed boys to claim their manhood, which was reached when a young man took his first captive. If he accomplished this challenge unassisted, he was distinguished by having the hair at the nape of his neck cut off. Warfare gave men the opportunity to raise their family's social status. The more captives a warrior took, the more he was socially elevated.
The Aztecs practiced human sacrifice throughout the year. In February and April, children were sacrificed to the maize gods. Some were also drowned as a sacrifice to Tlaloc, the rain god. Sometimes, sacrificed people were treated as impersonators of a god. The impersonators were cleansed and worshipped for as long as a year before being sacrificed to the deity they represented.
- History.com: Aztecs: Early Aztec History
- The University of Texas: School of Law: Tarlton Law Library: Jamail Center for Legal Research: Aztec Law
- Handook to Life in The Aztec World; Manuel Aguilar-Moreno: Daily Life
- George Mason University: Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media: Children and Youth in History: Codex Mendoza (16th c.): Why I Taught The Source
- Heritage History: The Customs of the Aztecs
- HistoryWorld.net: History of The Aztecs
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images