| "The fashion of living [in Mexico] is
almost the same as in Spain with just as much harmony and order...."
Cortés to Charles V, 1521
Warriors and merchants were among the most powerful members of Aztec
society. A war-like tribe, the Mexica began grooming their boys for
battle upon birth, when they would be instructed that "War is thy
desert, thy task," and their umbilical cords buried in locations
where the enemy might appear. No male who failed to heed the call to
war could expect to go far, and advancement in the army depended on
the number of the enemy that a warrior might capture. Their warriors
aim was to be annointed a "jaguar" or an "eagle," the bravest of all the
warriors. The merchants were also very influential. They traveled
to far regions for trade, and exchanged manufactured items for raw
materials throughout the empire.
Life for the Mexica was also rich in religion and ritual. The
Aztecs had innumerable gods, but among the most notable were
Xipe-Totec, Huitzilopochtli, Tezcatlipoca, and Quetzalcoatl.
Xipe-Totec, "Our Lord the Flayed," could regenerate plants;
Tezcatlipoca, the "Smoking Mirror," protected young warriors in battle;
Huitzilopochtli, "Hummingbird-on-the-Left," was the god of the sun and
war. It was he whom the Aztecs attempted to satiate with their bloody
human sacrifices. Finally there was Quetzalcoatl, the "Feathered Serpent," who
represented wisdom, knowledge and culture.
a defining moment in each Aztec's life; one's day of birth could determine
one's destiny. Soon after a child was born, a soothsayer was summoned
to name the newborn's sign. A man born under the sign of "One Flower,"
for example, would be happy, quite able, and much given to song and
joy. A women would be a great embroiderer.
The merchant is a vendor, a seller, a practiser of
commerce, a watcher of the marketplace. The good merchant is a maker
of profits, a securer of increase. He negotiates contracts, he makes
agreements, he helps others.
The Heavens Open, the Earth is Rent: This was
said of the very wonderful which happened. So it is said: "Now a great
marvel is come to pass. The heavens open, the earth is rent."
The fourth sign, "One Flower." And the man born
upon it, they said, and it was averred, would be happy, quite able,
and much given to song and joy: a jester, an entertainer. And it was
said that the women were great embroiderers.
Credit: "General History of the Things of New Spain" (Florentine Codex),
Books I-IX and XII, translated by Arthur J. O. Anderson and Charles E.
Dibble. Santa Fe, New Mexico and Salt Lake City: The School of
American Research and the University of Utah Press. Used courtesy of
the University of Utah Press.