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Experience a day in Aztec Empire and explore the capital city Tenochtitlan in the Valley of Mexico. Then, test your understanding about this powerful military state with a short quiz.

Life as a Mexica

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No, stop thinking that you are. You are, in fact, in the Valley of Mexico, high in the mountains of Central Mexico. The year is roughly 1490, and you are living in the complex military state called the Aztec Empire. This empire is composed of people who were conquered, as well as people who are the conquerors.

You belong to the conquerors, the people called the Mexica, who ruled the mighty Aztec Empire and lived in their capital city, Tenochtitlán. This is you. Let’s call you Tizoc. Hey there, Tizoc.

Quen tinemi?;how are you?

Drawing of Mexica male

Tenochtitl;n

On your day as a Mexica in the Aztec Empire, you wake up in the city of Tenochtitl;n. Your house is made of stone and near the center of the city because you, Tizoc, are an important person. Don’t let it go to your head.

You look out your window at the great city, which is situated in the middle of Lake Texcoco, in the shadow of nearby mountains. On the lake are fishermen who are at work, canoes bringing people and trade goods from the mainland, and long platforms of earth elevated to the lake surface called chinampas, where Mexica farmers are growing maize, beans and flowers. Although this lake is naturally briny, aqueducts bring fresh water from the mountains. All of these engineering accomplishments came from people like you, the educated members of society. You are currently in the calmecac, the school for people who are studying advanced politics, engineering, science, art, or astronomy.As you walk through the city, crossing bridges over dozens of canals and waterways, you hear people speaking Nahuatl, the language of central Mexico. The city is full of people from every possible social class, and the Aztec Empire has many social classes.

In Tenochtitlán alone, there are commoners, nobles (like you), commoners who earned nobility through valiant deeds, bureaucrats, rulers, true slaves, people who chose to become slaves to pay off a debt, merchants, and people travelling from across the empire.This city is huge, one of the largest in Central America. It is all sustained by the massive amount of tribute that the conquered people pay as taxes—anything from food to warriors can be sent as tribute. A lot of goods come through here, and they are sold in the many marketplaces, each of which holds thousands of people. There is a marketplace just for flowers, one for clothes, and one for food, like tortillas or chocolate. Nearby is a ball court, where some of your school friends are playing ullamaliztli, a game to get a rubber ball through elevated hoops without your hands.

This is a very popular game, and this court is for anybody to play in. The main ball court is only used for major rituals where warriors play each other. The defeated team is sacrificed to the gods, but today the ball courts are only being used for fun.Soon, you are in the central plaza of Tenochtitlán, called the Zócalo, where all of the most important buildings are located. There are government buildings, law buildings, palaces for the huehuetlatoani (the emperor of the Aztecs and other royalty) and public buildings for meetings. At one end is the great temple, a stepped temple, or a temple made from stacking continually smaller platforms. This one is a typical Mexica twin pyramid, meaning it has two temples on top with two ramps.

This pyramid is for worshipping two different gods, Huitzilopochtli (the god of war) and Tlaloc (the god of rain). On certain days, human sacrifices will occur at the top of these temples to appease the gods, but not today. As a Mexica, you have a polytheistic religion, meaning you worship many different deities. As you pass the temple, you can’t help but notice the giant sunstone, the calendar of the Mexica based on patterns of the Sun and the Moon.For most of your day, Tizoc, you will spend your time studying science, politics, and art.

Although your culture does not have a formal writing system, you do have books full of images that help you memorize the important histories and information you need. These books are meant to be spoken, rather than read, because most of your culture is maintained through oral communication. Being a talented speaker is very important to your success as an administrator or engineer in this society. After a long day, you head home to the smell of hot chocolate with chili peppers being prepared for the royalty. Today was a good day here in Tenochtitl;n, the center of the Aztec Empire and home of the Mexica.

Lesson Summary

In your time as Tizoc, you saw a lot of the capital city of the Aztec Empire, Tenochtitl;n. You were a member of the Mexica, the culture who lived in the Valley of Mexico and ruled over the empire.

This empire functioned by rules and soldiers coming from Tenochtitl;n and taxes from conquered areas coming in.You saw how the city, built on Lake Texcoco, brought in fresh water and used elevated platforms of earth, called chinampas, for farming. As a noble person, you were able to attend the calmecac, the school for advanced engineering, art, politics and science.You saw your friends playing in the ball courts and even made it to the central plaza called the Z;calo, where all of the most important government and religious buildings were located. This includes the great twin temple to the gods of war and water, two things the Aztec Empire required. Hope you enjoyed your time as a Mexica, Tizoc. Timo-itazke;see you later.

Learning Outcomes

Complete these objectives after you’ve progressed through the lesson:

  • Describe the life of a Mexica noble
  • Highlight different features of the capital city of Tenochtitlán
  • Specify some of the cultural and religious characteristics of and activities practiced by the Aztecs

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