Thursday, September 17, 2009

A brief history of the Aztec empire

The rise and fall of the ancient Mexican civilisation

Procession of warriorsA stone carving of a procession of warriors, in the Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler exhibition at the British Museum. Photograph: Felix Clay

The people widely known as the Aztecs called themselves Mexica, after their patron deity Mexi, who according to their legends brought them out of captivity into the region of Lake Tezcoco, at the heart of what is now modern Mexico, in the middle ages. In 1325AD they founded the city of Tenochtitlan on an island off the western shore of the lake. The city grew large and prosperous, and a war of independence from local overlords in 1428-30 led to it dominating the region. By the end of the 15th century the Mexica ruler, the “tlatoani”, ruled over a powerful and growing empire. The tribute of neighbouring states helped make its capital splendid. In the lake city, radiating “suburbs” of the common people’s houses surrounded the ruler’s palace. Above that loomed a pyramid-like temple on whose high platform thousands of people died in mass sacrifices.

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