The Aztec were descendants of a people who traced their roots to Aztln and who had migrated to central Mexico in 1175 after the fall of the Toltec empire. Tenochtitln, the largest city to flourish in the pre-Hispanic New World, was founded in 1325, and the Aztec empire was well established by 1482. In 1519, the Spaniards approached Tenochtitln, and, by 1521, they had completed the conquest of the Aztec. Elements of continuity and change during the melding of indigenous and Spanish cultures and people characterize the process of colonization that began under Spanish rule. A civilized society of several million people of distinct indigenous ethnic groups that spoke Nahuatl, the Aztec had an orderly political and social system of city-states and empire across the region of Tenochtitln and the Valley of Mexico. Agriculture and farming provided a means of subsistence for the Aztec and formed part of their tribute and bartering systems. Commoners gave food in tribute to their nobility, and the city-states paid tribute to the empire. Not only did the Aztec trade food, crafts, and cotton textiles in their large and elaborate marketplaces, but they also used food as offerings to please their multiple gods. Other religious offerings took place on the many large pyramids the Aztec constructed as temples; they often included human sacrifices to gods of war, death, and blood. The Aztec were astronomers and astrologers. They had a 260-day ritual calendar used for divination, astrology, and religion, as well as a 365-day solar calendar. Together, these calendars formed a major cycle of fifty-two years. When the gods or calendar called for human sacrifices, the Aztec often waged ritualized war on other city-states in order to capture soldiers for this purpose. The wars were also a way to force other city-states to pay tribute. Military service was required of all males, and warfare and the priesthood were ways they could raise their status in society. While Aztec society expected men to aspire to become great warriors, it expected women to accept their fate of marriage. The Aztec population declined in number with the arrival of the Europeans. Many Aztecs were killed in battle against the Spanish conquerors, led by Hernando Cortz. Also the Aztec’s herbal remedies were not effective against the diseases introduced by the Europeans, and epidemics decimated the native people. Economic and religious objectives governed the Spanish conquest. And with the defeat of the Aztec in 1521, the Spanish conquerors renamed the empire New Spain and founded its capital on the site of Tenochtitln, renaming it Mexico City. The last Aztec emperor, Cuauhtmoc, died in 1523. The Aztec Calendar, or Sun Stone, is a basalt monolith that measures nearly 12 feet in diameter and 3 feet thick. Carved in the fifteenth century and dedicated to the sun god, this complex astronomical and mythological symbol reflects the sophistication of the Aztec civilization. (Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Mexico City, Mexico/Sean Sprague/Mexicolore/Bridgeman Art Library) The conquerors founded new cities and towns located at the previous Aztec cities and towns. The king of Spain distributed land parcels to Spaniards living in New Spain. These parcels were usually divided based on the previously existing Aztec city-state divisions. The distribution of Aztec land and people to the Spanish conquerors formed part of the encomienda system, where the indigenous people were obligated to render goods and services as tribute to their Spanish masters, who, in return, protected them and indoctrinated them in Christianity. This system mirrored the previous Aztec system of tribute, except instead of producing goods for their own families and for city-state tribute to the Aztec Empire, the indigenes were now producing goods for their own families, for their Spanish masters, and for the Spanish Crown. This system lasted until 1542, when the New Laws emancipated all native slaves. Although the Aztec still lived on the same land, the landscape was rapidly and drastically changing. Not only were the Spaniards renaming towns and cities, but in their colonization they were also destroying many fundamental Aztec constructions. They tore down Aztec pyramids in order to build Catholic churches on the site of the rubble. The Aztec were to be converted to Christianity, and human sacrifice was abolished. But many of the natives still followed traditional Aztec religion or adopted characteristics from both religions, and hence syncretism was widespread. The Nahuatl language continued to exist after the conquest, as the native people were able to write in their own language using the Spanish alphabet. During the conquest and continuing through the colonial period and beyond, the intermarriage of Aztecs and Spaniards produced what would become the mestizo race, children born in Mexico of one indigenous parent and one European parent. This race would become the foundation of the Mexican nation. Charlene Merithew See also: Cortz, Hernando; Mexico City; Montezuma II; Native American-European Conflict; Native Americans; New Spain; Spanish Colonies on Mainland North America (Chronology). Bibliography Clendinnen, Inga. Aztecs. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Davies, Nigel. The Aztecs. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980. Smith, Michael E. The Aztecs. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1996. 5 Unexpected Ways The Aztecs Were Just Like Us Collective-Evolution Aztecs Tonalpohualli Aztec Calendar

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