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The South Central region of present-day Mexico was once the home of the Aztec. They lived in the highlands of Mesoamerica in an area of basins separated by eroded volcanic peaks and dissected mountain ranges.


The Aztecs came from the remote north, probably around the early 13th century. They were migratory at first, wandering around the Mexican Valley struggling to survive. They were even enslaved once by another tribe. In the year 1325, however, they stopped their migratory pattern on the southwest border of Lake Texcoco as they beheld an eagle sitting on the stem of a prickly pear. He was holding a serpent in this talons and his wings were open to the sun. They saw this as an omen, announcing the location of their future city and capital, Tenochtitlan. In order to build their city, the swamps and standing water around them had to be drained and artificial islands were constructed to form gardens.

The Aztec maintained their subsistence by utilizing fishing, hunting, gathering and gardening techniques. The valley rivers were rich in fish, insects, shrimp, tadpoles, and a naturally occurring pasta called ahuatle. Those near the ocean ate crabs, oysters, fish and turtles. Thus, the water was a major source of food for the Aztec who wished to utilize them. Among the wild animals are rabbits, snakes, armadillos, deer, pumas and coyotes. Along with the hunting of some of these, the ancient Aztecs also hunted the wild turkey.

Many of the gathered plants eventually became domesticated by the Aztec. These crops include cocoa, vanilla, bananas, squash, pumpkin, beans, chili, tobacco, onions, red tomatoes, green tomatoes, sweet potatoes, jicama, huautli and maize.

Raiding and warring often began simply to collect captives for use in sacrificial offerings to the principal Aztec god, Huitzilpochti. The Aztec conquered many other tribes, allowing them to retain their own religion and government. However, the tribes were expected to supply the Aztecs with food, textiles, pottery and other items needed to support the nobles, priests and administrators of the city of Tenochtitlan, which numbered perhaps in the hundreds of thousands.


The Aztec did not have a written language, but spoke Nahuatl. They did have written records, however. They chiefly used the method of direct representation and varieties of hieroglyphic paintings.

Daily Life:

Today, many indigenous groups of Latin America can trace their roots back to the Aztec. The fact that the Aztec conquered so many of their neighbors made them a major influence on past and modern indigenous life in the area.

Best Known Features:

In modern times, the Aztec are best known for human sacrifices. On special occasions, a slave was sacrificed. His flesh would be elaborately dressed and would be the center ornament of the banquet. Cannibalism was not a daily occurrence in the Aztec life, but it was common on special religious and social occasions. Human sacrifices were necessary to honor the gods and to perpetuate human existence. They believed that humans were responsible for the pleasure or displeasure of the gods and, therefore, they aimed to make sure that the deities were happy. Twenty to fifty thousand people were sacrificed yearly.


Barracloughed, Geoffrey, ed. The Times Atlas of World History, Maplewood, New Jersey: Hammond Inc, 1979.

Cuisine of the Mexicans Before Spanish Contact, University of Guadalajara, posted 1996.

Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, NativeWeb. http://www.maxwell., posted 1995.

Johnston, Darcie Conner ed. Aztecs: Reign of Blood and Splendor, Time Incorporated Book Company: Alexandria, Virginia, 1992.

Pre-Columbian Civilizations in Central and South America, 1200 B.C. - 1542 AD, Historical Maps on File, Map number 6.001, Facts on File Publications: New York,1984.

Prescott, William Hickling, The History of the Conquest of Mexico, Book I: Introduction, View of the Aztec Civilization, 1843.

Mexicolore is a small independent artefact-based teaching team providing in-school workshops and teaching resources on the Aztecs.

Additional Reading

 Nahuatl Aztec Language
 Nahuatl Words
 Aztec Stories
 Aztec Civilization
 Indian Tribes of Mexico

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