The Aztecs were the Native American people who dominated northern Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century. A nomadic culture, the Aztecs eventually settled on several small islands in Lake Texcoco where, in 1325, they founded the town of Tenochtitlan, modern-day Mexico City.
The legendary origin of the Aztec people has them migrating from a homeland called Aztlan to what would become modern-day Mexico. While it is not clear where Aztlan was, a number of scholars believe that the Mexica—as the Aztec referred to themselves—migrated south to central Mexico in the 13th century.
Wealthy people lived in homes made of stone or sun-dried brick. The king of the Aztecs lived in a large palace with many rooms and gardens. All of the wealthy had a separate bathing room that was similar to a sauna or steam room.
Today the descendants of the Aztecs are referred to as the Nahua. More than one-and-a-half million Nahua live in small communities dotted across large areas of rural Mexico, earning a living as farmers and sometimes selling craft work. Most Nahua worship in the local church and take part in church festivities.
When used to describe ethnic groups, the term “Aztec” refers to several Nahuatl-speaking peoples of central Mexico in the postclassic period of Mesoamerican chronology, especially the Mexica, the ethnic group that had a leading role in establishing the hegemonic empire based at Tenochtitlan.
They worked as farmers, merchants, artisans and warriors. They lived in more moderate homes and could not afford as elaborate clothes or art. Regardless, there are several key aspects to consider about the daily life of most Aztec people, such as: clothing, education, entertainment, food, homes, religion and work.
For example, women were tasked with caring for young children, preparing meals and repairing clothing. Some women worked as artisans or craftspeople and sold their creations in the many different markets that were so important to the Aztec economy.
While the Aztecs ruled, they farmed large areas of land. Staples of their diet were maize, beans and squash. To these, they added chilies and tomatoes. They also harvested Acocils, an abundant crayfish-like creature found in Lake Texcoco, as well as Spirulina algae which they made into cakes.
Victims had their hearts cut out or were decapitated, shot full of arrows, clawed, sliced, stoned, crushed, skinned, buried alive or tossed from the tops of temples. Children were said to be frequent victims, in part because they were considered pure and unspoiled.
The Nahuas, who are the descendants of the Aztecs, continue to be the largest Indigenous group in Mexico, but there are many others in Mesoamerica, such as the Hñahñu, the Mixtec and the Maya.
The Aztecs, on the other hand, are viewed as a uniquely vicious and evil people, ranking alongside the Nazis in the popular imagination. In reality, though, Tenochtitlan was not an especially violent place. Interpersonal and illegal violence, such as assault and murder, seems to have been quite rare.
NAHUATL USED to be the language of the Aztec empire. It is from Nahuatl that we borrowed the words chilli, avocado and chocolate. Today, it is an endangered indigenous language in Mexico.
The Mayans depicted themselves with very dark skin. Ancient Aztec. The Mayans depicted themselves with very dark skin.