08_Aztec - The Conquest of Mexico AZTEC AZTEC BACKGROUND...

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Unformatted text preview: The Conquest of Mexico AZTEC AZTEC BACKGROUND The Aztecs were part of MesoAmerican culture. Meso-American culture is very old. Its roots lie in the Olmec culture that flourished 3500 years ago in southern Mexico. The Olmecs were primarily artists and traders. They discovered chocolate. Cocoa is an Olmec word. They invented the hieroglyphic writing system that the Mayans adapted to their language, and the basic Meso-American calendar. The descendants of the Olmecs are the Zoques and Mixes who live in the region of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Most modern Mexicans don’t want to believe this because Zoques and Mixes are among the lowest status of all the indigenous groups. From 1500 B.C. to 400 B.C. Olmec culture developed: • Sophisticated agriculture — primarily corn and beans • Corn is a Western Hemisphere grass developed into a food plant originally in Peru, from which it spread north. From 1500 B.C. to 400 B.C. Olmec culture developed: • Sophisticated agriculture — primarily corn and beans • The Meso-American calendar From 1500 B.C. to 400 B.C. Olmec culture developed: • Sophisticated agriculture — primarily corn and beans • The Meso-American calendar • Sophisticated ceramics In the same general time period important ritual development was beginning centered around Monte Albán. Monte Albán was first developed by the ancestors of Zapotecs and was taken over in its waning period by Mixtecs. Monte Albán is situated on top of a hill in the current Mexican state of Oaxaca. The pyramids here are small in comparison to the later pyramids of Meso-America, both Mayan and those in the Valley of Mexico (including Aztec). Meso-American Culture spread north to the Valley of Mexico The most important center was Teotihuacán, which rose to prominence around 200 B.C. The identity of the Teotihuacanos, is unknown. My personal guess is that they were Otomí. Teotihuacán was a large city. The ceremonial plaza alone covers 38 acres, and there were 300 palaces for priests. Teotihuacán exerted enormous influence over much of central and southern Mexico. Around 650 A.D. barbarians from the north sacked and burned Teotihuacán, and the city never recovered. This marked the end of the Classic period in Mexico. After the fall of Teotihuacán, the Toltecs swept into the Valley of Mexico from the north. Their mythologized history plays a crucial role in Aztec culture. The Toltec leader Mixcóatl established a capital in the central valley called Culhuacán, only to be assassinated by his brother. Mixcóatl’s pregnant wife fled and gave birth to his son Ce Acatl Topiltzin. As a young man Topiltzin became a devotee of the peaceful god Quetzalcóatl. When he matured he revenged his father’s murder and established himself as Toltec ruler. His ascension to power placed him at odds with the priests who worshiped the bloodthirsty god Tezcatlipoca. But Topiltzin-Quetzalcóatl left at the height of his power. He sailed away to the east and promised to return in the future. He was supposed to have had fair skin, red hair, and a beard. The mythologized version of the departure of TopiltzinQuetzalcóatl comes out of religious conflict. Quetzalcóatl, the Feathered Serpent, was benevolent. He demanded only modest sacrifices of small animals, things of modest value, or food. Tezcatlipoca, Smoking Mirror, was evil. He demanded as sacrifice beating human hearts. The departure of Topiltzin-Quetzalcóatl was forced by deceit. Tezcatlipoca, in disguise, came to Topiltzin once when he was ill. As a priest of Quetzalcóatl, Topiltzin was sworn to chastity and abstinence. Tezcatlipoca offered Topiltzin “medicine”, but the medicine was actually pulque. Pulque is a strong liquor made from fermented cactus juice, and is still widely made in rural Mexico. Topiltzin at first refused the medicine, but ultimately accepted. Finding it good, he drank more and became drunk. When he awoke, he found his sister in his bed. Thus disgraced by drunkenness and incest, he went into exile, after 20 years of benevolent reign. In the mythologized version, Topiltzin was taken into heaven to become the morning star. In the less elaborated version, he and his party left, shooting arrows into saplings to mark their way. These marks looked like Christian crosses. From exile he sent word that he would sail back from the east on the date of Ce Acatl (his birthday) to claim his rightful place. The Toltecs built an empire over the following 200 years. The empire was built on two traditions. • Forceful conquest. • Human sacrifice. The Toltec empire fell in a great drought and famine in 1156. With that, barbarians from the north once again had access to the Valley of Mexico. Nahuatl speaking groups, known to history as Chichimeca, begin to enter the valley of Mexico during this period. Among them was a minor group calling themselves Mexica . We know them as Aztecs. These groups came in three prongs. • One headed east toward the coast. • One headed down the middle of the valley. • One further west towards Oaxaca. One version of the story says that Aztecs came south into the valley of Mexico as mercenaries to protect trade in this turbulent period. But they became acculturated and being militarily stronger, took over. Through a series of violent decades, the nobles who were descendants of Xólotl established themselves in three centers surrounding Lake Texcoco, on which the modern Mexico City sits. The three Aztec centers were: • Tlalcopan/Atzcapotzalco. • Texcoco. • Tenochtitlán By the beginning of the 1400’s Texcoco ruled most of central Mexico under the chief, Nezahualcoyotl, Fasting Coyote. This was the golden Age of Aztec culture, Nezahualcoyotl was a poet and patron of the arts. The poetry of Nezahualcoyotl is still studied by Mexican school children to this day. The three centers were different in other ways: • Tlalcopan was a trade center. • Texcoco, a center of culture and arts. • Tenochtitlán, a military center In this way they were not unlike ancient Greece which had three city states vying for power. • Tlalcopan was the trade center was like Corinth. • Texcoco, the cultural center, like Athens. • Tenochtitlán, the military center like Sparta. The Aztecs of this period looked to the Toltec myths as their own. The god of the underworld for them was Huitzilopochtli. And Huitzilopochtli had an insatiable thurst for human blood. • If you were a noble you had to participate in blood letting rituals. • If you were a prisoner of war, you were held down on the altar and had your beating heart sliced from your chest. So Aztec warfare was designed to capture prisoners of war. During the 1400’s the Mexica who ruled at Tenochtitlán took over the Aztec empire, and thereby angered Aztec and non-Aztec alike. The Mexica of Tenochtitlán had a particularly violent history. They were driven by Coxcox, the chief of Culhuacán from Chapultepec in 1319. They were forced to live on a swampy island. When a war with Xochimilco arose, they were offered a peace treaty for their help. Having killed 4000 Xochimilcas, (proved by sacks full of 8000 ears) they pressed Coxcox for his daughter to be their queen . But they sacrificed her and skinned her. Then they invited her father to a feast, where he saw his daughters skin as the costume of a dancer. So he drove them back to the marshes. But there they were able to raise enormous amounts of corn, by what amounts to hydroponic gardening. They developed engineering techniques and built Tenochtitlán on land fill. (Some 300,000 people lived in the city when Cortez arrived. Still they remained a violent society. Aztec conquest worked like this: They march up to a city with an overwhelming force and demand tribute and allegiance. If you capitulate, fine. If you don’t they beat up on you and, when you finally give in, they up the tribute according to how much bother it was. However, the tribute includes a demand for sacrificial victims, who must be prisoners of war. This means that neighboring cities were always kept enemies of one another. In 1440 Moctezuma I came to power. He was a particularly effective general and expanded the empire greatly. But in 1450-1451 there began a devastating famine caused by flooding. It lasted 5 years. The priests sacrificed more and more people and the famine ceased. Thus convinced of the efficacity of human sacrifice, the priests demanded more. In one ritual in 1487, 20,000 were sacrificed in a single ceremony dedicating the temple of Huitzilopochtli. It was this excessive bloodthirstiness that finally got to the surrounding Aztecs, as well as to the non-Aztecs. The Tlaxcalans in particular wanted an end to Mexicalli rule. During the famine they had developed ritual warfare with the Mexicalli to almost an art form. They would battle and each capture prisoners to use in their sacrifices. But when the famine was over the Mexicalli wouldn’t quit. In Cortez they found their opportunity to put the whole ugly thing to an end. T h e A z te c E m p ir e a t its p e a k . ...
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