Tenochtitlan and The Aztecs ---- Gone but not forgottenMay 20, 2005 Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in BooksThe Bottom Line Tenochtitlan was an immense city from which the Aztec Empire sprang, but what happened to it all?
The Aztecs emerged in the Valley of Mexico, or Anahuac as it was called by its peoples, around the 14th century. Back then though, they were known as the Mexica, and had ended their long journey from Aztlan, in a valley of marshlands just north of the Pacific Ocean. Now where the Aztecs truly came from is up for debate still, but the most historical evidence says that it was from what is now northwestern Mexico. Led by their god Huitzilopochti to a specific spot, they began to build their city on a site on a marshy island in Lake Texocco. It is in this spot that the city of Tenochtitlan was built and the history of the Aztecs came into fruition.
The Mexica (as they would be called for some years), developed the area by trading ducks, fish, and other foods taken from the lake for products such as wood and stone from the mainland. This allowed them to begin building structures, and fortifying water-ways that would soon turn the city into a marvel to the eye. In many ways, the Aztec technology rivaled and surpassed that of the Spanish who would play a big part in their History to come. But, for the time being, the Mexica developed their city, and soon were becoming quite powerful in many aspects. As the Mexica gained political power in the area, and eventually dominating what is now called the Aztec Empire, they were able to commandeer more and more building supplies and labor to go with it. It was not beyond the peoples of the area to enslave those people who had become enemies or who had tried to attack them. The significance of the city began to show as it grew in size and power as the population and advancement of the culture grew at the same time.
Having an estimated population of over 200,000 at its peak, the city grew to a point where they ran out of room on the island itself. This forced the city to reach beyond its bounds and expanded into the surrounding lake areas. The Aztecs started developing a new culture in this area starting with the agricultural aspect of things. This is when they invented chinampas or floating gardens. The floating gardens were constructed by bunching twigs together then stacking mud on top of the twigs. What this did, was allow the roots of the plants to grow down into the water, and anchor themselves into the lake floor. It saved space, because now the plants were growing in places where people could not build homes. In addition to that, it added to the beauty that would become a thing of folk-lore for the culture for years to come as well.
The Aztecs did not stop there though, they then connected the island to the mainland by three causeways that were built next to dikes. These dikes kept the city supplied with fresh water off of lake Texcoco, which was one of the few non-salty bodies of water in the area. These dikes also helped to protect all of the agricultural chinampas that had been built. Canals then were built between these chinampas and they were used to convey traffic through the city. Drawings of what this immense out-lay looked like can be found in text-books and online, but we are only left to imagine what its beauty must have fully-entailed because of what the near future held for Tenochitlan. The city center was occupied by a sacred area formed by dozens of temples and palaces. Among those temples were a Main Temple dedicated to the rain god Tialoc, and the sun god Huitzilopochti, whom the Aztecs considered their protector. This part of the city was used for annual sacrifices to appease these gods, and there is even a legend, that at one time 40,000 people were sacrificed in one day within the city. Facts are sketchy about that specific day, but it is widely agreed upon that sacrifice was a main part of their cultures belief. One thing that is of interest, is that they are thought to have waged war reputedly not just to gain resources to build upon their city, but mostly to gain slave-labor that would build said city, and serve as sacrifices when they were used up.
There were a lot of things that originated in this culture that carried on to future cultures in regards to the social, cultural, and economic developments. The Aztecs practiced crop rotation, which enabled them to feed the multitudes. Most important of all, they knew how to channel wastes out of their urban centers and knew the value of personal hygiene. In addition to the development of chinampas, the city was divided into neighborhoods called calpulli; splitting itself into sections of officials (the governors of the area), warriors (those who fought for the enlargement of the culture), free people (just your everyday people), and serfs or slaves which were not granted many rights. Much like todays upper, middle, and lower classes, the different areas of the main city differed in how they were treated. This is what would spell a down-fall for the great Aztec empire. Their main weakness was that they became loosely organized and lacked the necessary integrative forces to stop outside forces.
The Aztecs were soon dominating Central Mexico, and overawed others as they built and extended their empire. While the capital city housed over 200,000, the valley and its surroundings held an addition million people. Thousands of public buildings, canals, and causeways impressed everyone who came, including the Spanish. The Supreme ruler of the Aztecs was the Emperor, who was more of a military force than a religious person. The secular goals of the regimes were always under the ideology of religious beliefs though. They were of the belief that if the gods were displeased that the sun would surely fall from the sky, and in order to keep it their, they must have ritual sacrifices, which in turn became cannibalism. When there were no slaves to sacrifice, it often fell upon the people themselves to be put up for slaughter. This played right into the hands of the Spanish invaders who were on their way.
Hernan Cortes arrived on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico in 1519 with 650 men. Cortes army, though small in size, had the advantage of superior weapons. However, the Spaniards success was due to the Indian tribes who helped Cortes because they hated the Aztecs. The Aztecs had made a slew of enemies over the years and it built up to a point where even the warriors were losing their loyalty to the people in charge of the cities. Cortez blazed a trail through southern Mexico and in 1520 first attacked Tenochtitlan. The first attack scared them, and they fled, but only to return the following year. In 1521 the Spanish army of 600 took the city. Experts point to three distinct instruments Cortes and his vandals possessed that the Aztecs did not: steel swords, horses, and gunpowder. Though the Aztecs had steel in parts, they only had used it for decoration. The other weapon that the Spanish brought with them was disease. The immune systems of the Aztecs couldnt stand up to the invaders and their unkempt habits. Even after defeating the Aztecs in a span of 3 months, Cortez did not stop there. He destroyed all of the buildings that had been build, and constructed a new city right on top of the ruins of the old one. To add insult to injury, they even used the same materials that had been part of the city.
Tenochtitlan had been an immense city that was able to not only sustain itself, but was able to prosper and allow all of its peoples to live well with the advances in agriculture techniques that they had used. Today, the capital city of Mexico City sits on the ruins of the old city of Tenochtitlan. After nearly 500 years, little has been found of the ancient capital city of the Aztecs though excavation continues in the hopes that more pieces of the Aztec puzzle can be explored.
My reaction to this topic is two-fold. First, Tenochtitlan, was a city of great change and innovation for the area and time. It sprung up where huts had been, and cultivated land that nobody had figured out how to survive on until this point in time. It also was a society the condoned slavery, and human sacrifice, along with cannibalism as a religious tool. Though it innovated what surely was to become a thriving people in years to come, it also showed just what can go wrong in any society. This was a lesson though, that wasnt learned by other cultures. That if you plan on sustaining yourself, you cant continuously make enemies and expect your tenure as a society to not suffer the consequences. Such was the case half a world away in Rome, and the same thing was happening in China. Empires thinking themselves invincible, only to be over-taken by a lesser force. In this case, the Aztecs seem to have been defeated by a germ, rather than a man.
My other reaction, is that while this looks like a great place aesthetically, I would not have wanted to live there. The constant human sacrifices, and dining on hearts of slaves is not my ideal living situation. Couple that with leadership that was only interested in expanding the empire, and not really in sustaining it, and we have a recipe for invasion by outside forces. Of course, I have to also take everything I read with a grain of salt, because we dont know many true facts about the Aztecs. This is a mystery that I hope to hear more about as my life progresses.
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