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6 Cool Facts About the Aztecs of Mexico (Includes Map)

Updated on February 9, 2013
A depiction of Aztec Warriors from the Florentine Codex
A depiction of Aztec Warriors from the Florentine Codex | Source

Moctezuma's Revenge?

You've probably heard of the Aztecs and their famous human sacrifices, but unless you're a history buff or have experienced Moctezuma's Revenge while on vacation in Mexico, you may not know too much about who the Aztecs really were. This article focuses on six little-known facts about how the Aztecs became who they were when the Spanish arrived for the first time.

Aztec Empire Map
Aztec Empire Map | Source

1. The Aztecs weren't always so cool.

Today, we think of the Aztecs as the almighty, bloodthirsty rulers of a violent empire...but the Aztecs started out as the underdog! The Toltecs were the first great civilization to establish themselves in the Valley of Mexico, and many tribes migrated to the area and adopted Toltec culture. The Aztecs were a small tribe that came in and, believe it or not, every one else looked down on them! They were lowly outsiders back then, and they settled on an unwanted island in the middle of the lake in 1325. Who knew that within 200 years when the Spanish arrived, they'd be ruling the entire area!

Map of the Aztec Empire
Map of the Aztec Empire | Source

2. Tenochtitlan was a world-class metropolis.

By the time the Spanish arrived, the Aztecs ruled the area from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific and down into present-day Guatemala. Their capital city, Tenochtitlan, housed 1/4 million people, and was visited by governors and ambassadors from other cities. It boasted a zoo, botanical gardens, and a bustling marketplace. Nowadays, 1/4 million people may not seem like a lot, but back in the 1500's, this constituted a massive population. The Spanish who visited Tenochtitlan were in awe, as we probably would be if we could see it today.

Model of Temple District, Tenochtitlan
Model of Temple District, Tenochtitlan | Source

3. The Aztecs rewrote their history.

There was an important advisor to the king, named Tlacaelel, who instituted a massive reform that included destroying all Aztec records and rewriting the people's history in order to forget about their difficult beginnings. He claimed that the Aztecs had descended from Toltec nobility. They adapted old Toltec prayers to their contemporary gods, especially the sun god Huitzilopochtli. Tlacaelel convinced the royalty that the gods desired a constant stream of human sacrifices. The reputation of the Aztecs preceded them, and other states signed tribute treaties with them. However, the Aztecs did not conquer all the nearby cities, and instead engaged with them in a constant state of war so that they were always supplied with captives for their bloody sacrifices.

Awesome movie in which the Aztecs appear!

Mel Gibson's Apocalypto
Mel Gibson's Apocalypto

Apocalypto, directed by Mel Gibson, is an action-adventure movie about a men who is captured and brought the the Aztec capital to be sacrificed!

Aztec Warriors, from the Codex Mendoza
Aztec Warriors, from the Codex Mendoza | Source

4. The Aztecs were confused by Spanish warfare

The Aztecs had a ceremonial view of battle-- they engaged in war not to kill, but to stun their enemies and bring them back to the city as hostages. Despite the fact that the Aztecs were very capable warriors, they lost against the Spanish. The Aztecs were accustomed to a formal declaration of battle, announced by the delivery of shields and arrows, and they maintained control over themselves so they would not kill their enemies. For this reason, the Spanish methods surprised and confused them.

Painting depicting the meeting of Cortes and Moctezuma in Mexico
Painting depicting the meeting of Cortes and Moctezuma in Mexico | Source
Aztec mask of the God of Fire, made of turquoise
Aztec mask of the God of Fire, made of turquoise | Source

5. Aztecs nobles were well educated.

Aztec nobles received a full education in reading, writing, astrology, and theology. The common class of people were also required to send their male children to school, but they were not taught subjects of the occult, and instead received a very basic education in warfare and agriculture. These commoners were sometimes admitted to the noble schools if they showed a certain aptitude, and could also become artisans or merchants or climb the social ladder through exceptional skill in bringing in captives from battle. Intermixed with the common class were slaves, or serfs.

6. The Aztecs told the Spanish their history.

Aztec education placed great value on memorization. The Aztecs did have a written language that was pictographic and phonetic, but students were required to memorize all sorts of literature, ranging from prayers to poetry to prose.

After the Spanish destroyed most Aztec records, priests were able to record Aztec literature by writing down what the Aztec people remembered from their education.

One of many codices by Spanish priests

Codex Mendoza, depicting rule of Moctezuma II
Codex Mendoza, depicting rule of Moctezuma II | Source


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    • profile image

      Samuel 4 months ago

      Wow what

    • velzipmur profile image

      Shelly Wyatt 3 years ago from Maryland

      great hub, voted up. I love learning about the Aztecs ~ amazing group of people

    • ziyena profile image

      ECLECTIC PLETHORA 4 years ago from LOST IN TIME

      1/4 million Aztecs in Tenochtitlan! Truly awesome to imagine and thank you for this informative Hub. Your format and writing skill shine through! Z

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 5 years ago from Miami, US

      @Marcus Faber- Yea, who knows, they might be flying around in solar-powered cars and using iPads. Or maybe they'd have collapsed and other civilizations would have risen from their ashes. It is fun to speculate. Thank you for commenting.

      @hockey8mm- Thank you for the compliment and the votes :)

      @tes- Glad you thought so and thanks for commenting!

    • profile image

      tes 5 years ago

      its grate

    • hockey8mn profile image

      hockey8mn 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Engaging hub to get people interested in archaeology and history. Enjoyed reading it. Voted up and interesting.

    • Marcus Faber profile image

      Marcus Faber 5 years ago from London, UK

      Very interesting and well written hub, 1/4 million inhabitants is more than many European cities at the time, certainly more than London for example. I've often wondered what the Aztec civilization would be like today without the Spanish intervention.

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 5 years ago from Miami, US

      Thanks for the compliment, Avik!

    • profile image

      Avik 5 years ago

      Interesting. Very Interesting! :)

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 5 years ago from Miami, US

      Great list, Greensleeves! Thanks again :)

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 5 years ago from Essex, UK

      stephaniedas; it was a pleasure to include this article in the review. The review was the first of several I hope to write highlighting some of what I consider to be the best hubs in selected topic categories. Hopefully in the process, I might generate a few more visits to these particular hubs. I'm a great believer in good presentation of a webpage, and that's where this hub of yours scores. The review, titled Native Americans; 10 Favourite Hubpages, is at the fiollowing link:

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 5 years ago from Miami, US

      Greensleeves- Thank you! That makes me so happy, you have no idea! I try to keep my hubs pretty is daunting to open a hub that goes on for ages. Could you post the link here to the hub you wrote so I can see the other articles? Thanks!

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 5 years ago from Essex, UK

      Hi stephaniedas; you've written here a simple but enjoyable page, nicely illustrated, about six of the lesser known aspects of Aztec life. Because it is one of the easiest to read guides to Aztec or Central American Indian life, I have included it in a newly published review on HubPages of the best hubs about native American culture.

    • profile image

      bb 5 years ago

      cool facts

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 5 years ago from Miami, US

      @vivamexico- Thanks for the great comment. I am going to look into that book. Maybe I'll add it to my summer reading list. You are right about a few things- being sacrificed alive certainly isn't how I want to go. I can't imagine how frightening that was. Also, our civilizations are just a blink of an eye in the history of humankind. Everything could be gone someday, and eventually will be. I loved your comment, thank you!

      @Kya99- I can tell you what I know, which isn't very much...the Aztecs spoke (and still speak, in some areas) Nahuatl, which is a group of languages from that region. Nowadays, nahuatl speakers are very scattered and monstly in rural areas, but back then, everyone spoke it. With the introduction of the latin alphabet, Nahuatl began to be written, but before that they used pictographs to communicate. There wasn't really a written language, but it could certainly communicate, it was more like the early stages on writing. There have been great works of history, religion, poetry, and literature in the language, most of which have been recored by Spanish priests right after the conquest in the latin alphabet. Thanks for the question and the comment!

    • profile image

      Kya99 5 years ago

      Can you tell me the Aztec way of writing and communications.

    • profile image

      vivamexico 5 years ago

      How wonderful this info! I just finished reading "The discovery and conquest of México",by Bernal Diaz de Castillo; a soldier who was with Hernando Cortéz from beginning to end. It it soo fascinating that I could not put it down till done. I have learned so many things that it makes me wonder if the things that we are used to do, see, love and admire can one day also be gone. Hernado Cortéz put and end to daily human sacrifice. Not only that people were killed alive and their hearts presented to their idols still beating but also eaten afterwards. This happened not only in the capital city but throughout the land. According to this soldier, prisoners where kept in wooden cages, fed and faten for that very purpose! what a horrific way to die! I am glad Cortéz in the name of his Jesus Christ put an end to it. Thank you for this post, it was really interesting. I will never look at the conquest of México with an ignorant eye again.

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 6 years ago from Miami, US

      Good thinking. I'm pretty sure I remember from my history class that this was higher than the population of any European city at that time, but don't quote me on it. I do know that it was one of the largest cities in the world during the 1400's. I agree with you, they made advances in other areas, though...they didn't feel the need for great weaponry, because warfare wasn't about killing as many people as possible on the spot, and they weren't located next to the ocean. Thanks for reading and for the thought provoking comment.

    • profile image 6 years ago from upstate, NY

      Wow,it would be interesting to know how many cities in the world at that time had a 1/4 million people. In some ways though its surprising that their weapons and ship building technology wasn't more advanced. Maybe they didn't feel the need to explore the seas or advance their weaponry.

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 6 years ago from Miami, US

      @debbie- being so close to Mexico, I bet you've had some great opportunities to learn about that country's fascinating history. One reason I like to learn about Mexican culture is that the continuity of the old cultures is still visible. The fusion is lovely. Thank you for the nice comment. I really enjoy hearing from hubbers who care about the same topics as I.

      @ verita- I'm glad you enjoyed this hub! I certainly enjoyed writing it and researching it. Thanks for leaving a comment.

    • profile image

      V Qisya 6 years ago

      Wow, such a great hub. I really enjoy reading it, Stephanie.

      Awesomely interesting. Up and away!

      Best Wishes, Verita

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      wow do i know about the Moctezuma's Revenge?. LOL. I am always in Mexico.. i live here in Brownsville Texas. right at Mexico. and the Aztec have always kept me interested.

      Great HUB..

      I voted up..

      Happy New Year.Debbie

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 6 years ago from Miami, US

      @Cresentmoon- Thanks for commenting here, I thought I had replied to your comment a while ago, but I guess it never posted! I thought you would enjoy this, as you like Greek mythology. Thanks for voting, too!

      @Bharatthapa-Thanks for the great comment! That is really nice, I'm glad you're enjoying this hub and my others. It means a lot that people like what I post here!

      @homesteadpatch- I know, it is one of the amazing parts of history. There is a documentary called Guns, Germs, and Steel that does a good job explaining how the Spanish decimated the American population. Thanks for commenting here!

    • homesteadpatch profile image

      homesteadpatch 6 years ago from Michigan

      It still baffles me how men sailed over on ships with a limited amount of supplies, and wiped such a large population of people from the face of the earth. Great hub.

    • Bharatthapa profile image

      Bharat Thapa 6 years ago from NEW DELHI

      So true, since i am learning Español(de Mexico) so i am also going through their culture and history and you know what it's the same information.

      I knew from the beginning that you put lot of hard work and your research when you write something and i must say that you're a GREAT Girl. THREE CHEERS to you. =D =D =D

      People like you inspire me a lot and i am lucky that i am following you.

      Keep up the good work. Buena suerte a ti. chao.

    • Cresentmoon2007 profile image

      Cresentmoon2007 6 years ago from Caledonia, MI

      What an interesting hub about aztecs and a very great read. I truly enjoy it. I haven't read much about Aztecs. Though I am very interested in them. Voted up.

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 6 years ago from Miami, US

      Hey there Carrie, I'm glad you commented here! Yea, I agree with you, I think that it can be really easy to think of historical people as simple or uncivilized or even stupid, so when you learn about all the details of their lives it is pretty amazing. Even the war aspect of their culture was profoundly spiritual and even beautiful. I'm working on a hub right now about the Aztec warrior and their infamous cannibalism. Thank you for commenting, it really means a lot that hubbers are enjoying this hub!

    • carriethomson profile image

      carriethomson 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      WOW all those images of the warriors depict that it was not just a warrior tribe, it has progressed immensely in term of art and design and it shows from their elaborate and creative costumes and head gears and also from that beautiful turquoise mask. you mentioned the artisan and the merchants profession being held in high regard.It was great to know about the aztec tribe and the fact that they were warriors who did not kill!! thanks for sharing


    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 6 years ago from Miami, US

      @aben- Sure thing! I haven't seen much of Mexico, but I've heard it's a wonderful country to travel through. One thing I learned from reading Broken Spears is that the Nahua language still survives today. It's changed since the Aztecs used it, of course, but it's cool that you could travel to Mexico and still hear a form of the Aztec language. I'm glad that a seasoned Mexico expert liked my hub :) Thanks for commenting!

    • profile image

      aben94 6 years ago

      I've been in many Mexican cities, and love it as a country. I know quite a bit about their history, and it always fascinates me to learn something new. Thanks!

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 6 years ago from Miami, US

      I appreciate the comment, dahoglund. The way that cultures meet and come together is one of my greatest academic interests and someday I'd like to go to school to study that aspect of history. It is so amusing to think about how the Spanish and the Aztecs were confounded by each other.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Good hub about the Aztec.I'm not sure anyone would be prepared for the Spanish. warriors.