Aztec Indian tribes
The Aztec empier was a powerful and diverse empire. The Aztecs ruled most of the land that is now Central Mexico. Their center of power was the Valley of Mexico. Most of the information about the Aztecs' earliest history comes in the form of myths. Nahuatl was the language of the Aztecs and many of their neighbors.
Aztec Origins Aztec
myths claim they came from a land called Aztlán. It was an island but scholars do not know its exact location. Many believe that the Aztecs came from a region north of the Valley of Mexico. The migratory tribe that became the Aztecs consisted of seven different groups.
Scholars believe that Huitzilopochtli was a living leader during this time. Later he was deified and became the Aztecs' chief god. He ordered his followers to join with a group called the Mexica and adopt their name. The Aztecs traveled from place to place. They did not stop for more than twenty years for at least a century.
During this time, the Aztecs stopped at two important places. They were Culhuacán, the curved mountain, and Chicomoztoc, the place of seven caves. Scholars do not know the location of either of these places. They believe they are northeast of the Valley of Mexico. There were also internal quarrels among the Aztecs during their travels.
One of the groups within the Aztecs left. They followed the goddess Malinxóchitl. This group founded the city of Malinalco, southwest of the valley of Mexico. A battle between Aztec factions took place at Coatepetl.
This battle was with the followers of the goddess Coyolxauhqui. The myths say that Huitzilopochtli fought this battle himself. He cut off Coyolxauhqui's head and pushed her body down a hill. It fell apart as it fell. The Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlán was named after this battle. Scholars found a statue of Coyolxauhqui's dismembered body under the part dedicated to Huitzilopochtli.
Arrival in the Valley of Mexico
The Aztecs traveled down the western edge of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico. First, they settled in Chapultepec for about thirty years. There, Copil, the king of Malinalco, raised enemies against the Aztecs. Copil died during the battle. Legends claim the Aztecs threw his heart into the lake. It landed on the island where Tenochtitlán would be built. The enemies drove the Aztecs out of Chapultepec.
Shortly after, the city-states of Atzcapotzalco and Culhuacán attacked the Aztecs. They defeated the Aztecs and took their leader to Culhuacán as a sacrifice. The Aztecs were scattered by the battle. A small group went to Culhuacán for refuge. The Culhuacans gave the Aztecs permission to settle in Tizaapan.
The Aztecs began intermarrying with the Culhuacans. The people of Culhuacán were descendants of the Toltecs. The Aztecs saw the Toltecs as the perfect example of culture and nobility. The Aztecs wanted to claim descent from the Toltecs. This would show they were cultured not barbarians.
The Aztecs also looked to the ancient city of Teotihuacán as the birthplace of some of their gods. Teotihuacán was already a ruin when Tenochtitlán was built. The Aztecs journeyed to the city for pilgrimages. Some of their statues are like those found at Teotihuacán
While the Aztecs were under the Culhuacans' ruler, they served as mercenaries. They saved a battle for Culhuacán and killed many enemies. Then, the Aztecs asked a Culhuacán leader named Achitometl for one of his daughters. He agreed to give them one of his daughters. They wanted her to become the “wife of Huitzilopochtli”.
What Achitometl did not realize was that the Aztecs intended to sacrifice his daughter. He was shocked when he went to a festival and saw a priest dancing in his daughter's skin. The Culhuacans were enraged. They drove the Aztecs into the swampy lands around Lake Texcoco. The Aztecs fled to the island where Copil's heart supposedly landed.
Founding of Tenochtitlán
According to a legend, Huitzilopochtli told his followers to build a city in a specific place. The sign they were in the right place would be an eagle, perching on a cactus, and holding a serpent in its beak. The Aztecs claimed they found this sign on the island in Lake Texcoco. They built the Templo Mayor on the sight where they saw the sign in 1325.
Tenochtitlán was divided into barrios and connected to the mainland by causeways. It proved to be a central location for trade with cities boardering the lake. The Aztecs were vassals of the Tepanecs. They had to develop their own agricultural lands.
The Aztecs built chinampas in the swampy areas of the lake. Each chinampa had willows planted around its edges. Soil was dug out of the lake and placed between the willows. Crops were planted in the chinampas, which were more fertile than other fields. They were able to provide several harvests a year. Some of these chinampas are still in use today.
A group of Aztecs left Tenochtitlán to found the city of Tlatelolco. It was on the same island as Tenochtitlán. The city had a smaller temple like the Templo Mayor. The primary feature of Tlatelolco was a large market.
Founding of the Triple Alliance
In 1426, the Aztecs became the equals of the Tepanecs in Atzcapotzalco. They received the city of Texcoco as a tributary. Before this year, Tezozomoc ruled the Tepanecs. He was tied to the Aztec leaders through marriage.
When Tezozomoc died, his son Maxtla came to power by murdering his brother. He sent assassins to kill the kings, or tlatoani, of Tenochtitlán and Texcoco. Maxtla failed to kill Texcoco's tlatoani. He did succeed in assassinating Chimalpopoca, tlatoani of the Aztecs.
Itzcoatl became the new tlatoani. He was assisted by Montezuma Ihuilcamina, a future tlatoani. The power behind his throne was Tlacaelel, the cihuacóatl. The cihuacóatl managed a city-state's internal affairs while the tlatoani managed external affairs.
These three men began planning ways to defeat the Tepanecs. They allied themselves with Texcoco, whose leader, Netzahualcoyotl, was Itzcoatl's nephew. A rebellious Tepanec city, Tlacopan, was the third city-state of the Triple Alliance. After a 114 day siege, the Alliance defeated the Tepanecs. Tlacopan was always a junior part of the Alliance.
After the beginning of the Triple Alliance, the Aztecs began to expand their empire. Their goal was to surpass the empire of the Tepanecs. The Aztecs campaigned south of the Valley of Mexico. They captured a series of tribute cities. Captured cities were controlled by their terror of the Aztecs.
The Aztecs consolidated their power through marriage. The expansion also opened trade routes so they could get new goods. Some of these trade routes went as far south as the Mayan territories. Jade and quetzál feathers were some valued trade items.
Another goal was to conquer new people groups. One of these was the Mixtecs. This group had many artisans who made most of the Aztecs' gold jewelry. Today, some of the only examples of gold Aztec jewelry were made by the Mixtecs.
Another tribe the Aztecs battled were the Tarascans. They were defeated by the Tarascans twice. The Aztecs conducted campaigns to conquer and reconquer land. A powerful tlatoani was vital for the Aztecs to maintain control of conquered city-states.
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