In case you did not know, The Aztecs were the Native American people who dominated northern Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century. There’s probably a lot that you don’t know about them, but today my aim is to change that…
26 Interesting Facts You Might Not Know about The Aztecs
1. The Aztec Empire existed in Mexico from 1438 AD to 1521 AD and was one of the last Native American civilizations before the Spanish conquest in the 16th Century.
2. The term “Aztec” refers to the “people of Aztlán,” the ancestral home of the Aztecs. Today, the word Aztec is used to describe the people that lived in the Aztec Empire, a triple alliance of three city-states, who were predominantly Nahua people.
These people lived in the area of what we know today as Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras, and used the Nahuatl language. They called themselves the Mexica or the Tenochca.
3. The Aztecs were the first to discover chocolate, which they believed was a gift from the gods. Their chocolate was very bitter because they didn’t have sugar and they even made hot chocolate with chili in it.
4. The Aztecs believed in more than 200 gods, but Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and the sun, and Tlaloc, the rain god, were the most important.
5. Mexico’s capital (Mexico City) was built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, which was the largest city in the Americas before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492. Only Paris and Constantinople were bigger cities at the time.
6. The Aztecs were the first to celebrate the ‘Day of the Dead,’ which is now a Mexican tradition that celebrates the dead and is also known as Dia de los Muertos.
7. The Spanish brought a disease called smallpox when they invaded the Aztecs’ home. Since the Aztecs had never had smallpox before, many of them died, and it’s estimated that 20 million Aztecs died from the disease.
8. The Aztecs believed that their god, Huitzilopochtli, would tell them where to build their city when they saw an eagle perched on a cactus eating a snake. They saw this on an island in Lake Texcoco and decided to build their city, Tenochtitlan, there. The city was founded in 1325 AD.
9. The Aztecs’ diet consisted mainly of vegetables, such as corn, beans, squash, and tomatoes. They liked to use chili in their recipes and didn’t eat a lot of meat.
10. The Aztecs studied the sun, stars, and planets and created a very accurate 365-day calendar to help them know when to plant and pick their crops. They also had a 260-day religious calendar to celebrate festivals and perform rituals to the gods.
11. The Mexican flag features an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its mouth, which is an Aztec symbol relating to how they settled at Lake Texcoco. The name “Mexico” is also an Aztec word.
12. The Aztecs subjugated nearby city-states and demanded regular tribute rather than direct control, which led to great wealth for Tenochtitlan.
13. The Aztec religion practiced human sacrifice, with captives being sacrificed to please the gods, but the true extent of how much it occurred is unclear. It is believed that they sacrificed around 20,000 individuals annually, and the number would increase to over four times that number when constructing a temple dedicated to the god Huitzilopochtli (the god of Sun and War).
Ritualistic practices included skinning, dismembering, and beheading, as well as removing the heart of a live person. It’s important to note that this is a point that historians, anthropologists, and sociologists still debate strongly.
14. The Aztecs did not have widespread access to bronze or iron and most of their weaponry was made of obsidian, a volcanic glass. Militarily, they were only as advanced as European peoples in the Neolithic period.
15. The Aztecs were advanced in architecture, art, and astronomy, despite primitive technologies. Their buildings featured intricate stonework, and the 24-ton Aztec Sun Stone is a remarkable example of their art.
16. The Aztecs developed complex irrigation systems called chinampas for large-scale cultivation. Soil from Lake Texcoco was piled up to create ridges between ditches, and small rectangular fields were formed, leading to a high population density.
17. Maize was the staple of the Aztec diet, and they even had a god for it, Centeotl, which translates to “Maize cob Lord.
18. Moctezuma was the ninth ruler of the Aztecs and served as their emperor during the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors led by Hernan Cortes in 1519. He governed from 1502 until his demise in 1520, during which time the Aztec Empire expanded to its greatest extent before falling under the yoke of colonialism.
19. At first, Cortes maintained a courteous relationship with the apprehensive Moctezuma, but he later took the emperor captive. After a clash resulting in Moctezuma’s death, the Conquistadors were expelled from Tenochtitlan. They regrouped with indigenous allies, such as Tlaxcala and Texcoco, and formed a formidable army that laid siege to Tenochtitlan and ultimately overthrew the Aztec empire in August 1521.
20. Unlike the Incas in Peru, the inhabitants of the region did not support the Aztecs and rebel against the Spanish conquerors, possibly indicating the empire’s unstable and divided foundation. Spanish control over Mexico ceased precisely 300 years later, in August 1821.
21. Unlike many ancient cultures in Latin America, the Aztecs kept written records using a complex system of pictographs inscribed on deer skin or tree bark by scholars and priests. They were a similar form of writing to the hieroglyphs used in Ancient Egypt.
22. The Aztecs had a unique form of slavery where slaves could earn money to buy their freedom, and slavery was used as currency. Slaves had some rights such as marrying, having children, earning money, and owning land.
23. The Aztecs valued education and had a caste system that divided schools by social class and gender. Noble children studied astronomy, philosophy, and history while lower caste children learned warfare and trades. Girls were taught home-care duties.
24. Polygamy was practiced by the Aztecs as a status symbol, allowing for increased workforce and income, but only the first marriage was publicly celebrated.
25. The Aztecs used cacao beans as a form of currency, with higher quality beans being more valuable. They also used a finely woven cotton cloth called Quachtli as another form of currency.
26. Chewing gum was popular among Mesoamericans, created by collecting resin from tree bark. Although it is debated whether it was the Mayans or Aztecs who invented chewing gum, the Aztecs deemed it socially unacceptable and inappropriate for adults, especially women, to chew gum in public.
Well, there you have it, 26 interesting facts you might not have known about The Aztecs. If I’ve left out something important, feel free to comment below.
Watch this space for updates in the History category on Interesting Facts.
Scroll down to view related articles to get more facts. If you want to stay in the loop, feel free to subscribe to our newsletter.
If you live in South Africa and you're looking for a live music gig or music festival to attend, feel free to check The SA Gig Guide on our sister site (SA Music Zone).