Mexico Term Paper

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The Aztecs

The Aztecs were the native American people who

dominated northern México at the time of the Spanish

conquest led by Hernan Cortes in the early 16th century.

According to their own legends, they originated from a

place called Aztlan, somewhere in north or northwest

Mexico. At that time the Aztecs (who referred to

themselves as the Mexica or Tenochca) were a small,

nomadic, Nahuatl-speaking aggregation of tribal peoples

living on the margins of civilized Mesoamerica. In the

12th century they embarked on a period of wandering and

in the 13th century settled in the central basin of

México. Continually dislodged by the small city-states

that fought one another in shifting alliances, the

Aztecs finally found refuge on small islands in Lake

Texcoco where, in 1325, they founded the town of

TENOCHTITLAN (modern-day Mexico City). The term Aztec,

originally associated with the migrant Mexico, is today

a collective term, applied to all the peoples linked by

trade, custom, religion, and language to these founders.

Fearless warriors and pragmatic builders, the

Aztecs created an empire during the 15th century that

was surpassed in size in the Americas only by that of

the Incas in Peru. As early texts and modern archaeology

continue to reveal, beyond their conquests and many of

their religious practices, there were many positive


the formation of a highly specialized and stratified

society and an imperial administration

the expansion of a trading network as well as a

tribute system

the development and maintenance of a sophisticated

agricultural economy, carefully adjusted to the land

the cultivation of an intellectual and religious

outlook that held society to be an integral part of

the cosmos.

The yearly round of rites and ceremonies in the

cities of Tenochtitlan and neighboring Tetzcoco, and

their symbolic art and architecture, gave expression to

an ancient awareness of the interdependence of nature

and humanity.

The Aztecs remain the most extensively documented

of all Amerindian civilizations at the time of European

contact in the 16th century. Spanish friars, soldiers,

and historians and scholars of Indian or mixed descent

left invaluable records of all aspects of life. These

ethnohistoric sources, linked to modern archaeological

inquiries and studies of ethnologists, linguists,

historians, and art historians, portray the formation

and flourishing of a complex imperial state.

Word Count: 378

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