Who were the Aztecs?

The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican society that thrived from around the fourteenth century CE to the arrival of the Conquistadors in the mid-sixteenth century. Structurally, their society was very similar to most Western cultures around that time. They had nobility (called “pipiltin” in the Aztec language) and commoners, or ” macehualtin,” just like European countries had. Commoners worked the land, joined the army, and otherwise labored to support themselves and the nobility, who were responsible for governing the people and leading the militaries.

Family structure differed from common European norms of the time in that both men and women could own and inherit property, which gave women much more economic freedom than in other parts of the world. However, gender roles were still very important in the division of labor. Men were expected to work outside the home as farmers, traders, soldiers, and the like, while women were responsible for cooking, cleaning, making clothes, and caring for children. However, women also had the options of working as small-scale merchants, doctors and midwives, and priests.

Religion was important in Aztec society. Like the ancient Greeks, Romans, and many other civilizations, they were polytheistic, meaning they had large pantheons of gods as opposed to the single God of the Judeochristian world. They had their own mythologies and creation stories. Human sacrifice was an important part of religious rituals meant to ensure the continued fertility of the land, which also included cannibalism. Aztec people believed they needed to sacrifice themselves to allow life to continue to thrive in the world.

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