The Aztecs/Mexicas were the native American people who dominated northern M xico 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. Sometime in the 12th century they embarked on a period of wandering and in the 13th century settled in the central basin of M xico. 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 Mexica, 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 achievements: 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 sophis-
ticated agricultural economy, carefully adjusted to the land and 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.