Essay Preview: Aztec Empire
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The Aztecs were a Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people of central Mexico in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. They called themselves Mexicas.
The capital of the Aztec empire was Tenochtitlan, built on raised islets in Lake Texcoco. The capital of Mexico, Mexico City, is built on the ruins of TenochtitlÐ”ÐŽn.
The Aztec civilization had a vibrant culture which included mandatory education and a rich and complex mythology. For Europeans, the most striking element of the Aztec culture was the practice of human sacrifice which was conducted throughout Mesoamerica prior to the Spanish conquest.
In what is probably the most widely known episode in the Spanish colonization of the Americas, Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztecs in 1521 thus immortalizing himself and the Aztec Hueyi Tlatoani, Moctezuma II (Montezuma II).
The Aztecs spoke Classical Nahuatl as did some of the other peoples under the domination of the Aztec Empire. Although some contemporary Nahuatl speakers identify themselves as Aztecs, the word is normally only used as a historical term referring to the empire of the Mexicas, as distinguished from the Mexicas alone. This article deals with the historical Aztec civilization, not with modern-day Nahuatl speakers.
According to the Aubin codex, the seven Nahua tribes lived in AztlÐ”ÐŽn under the rule of a powerful elite, called the Azteca Chicomoztoca. The seven tribes fled AztlÐ”ÐŽn, to seek new lands. The Mexicas were the last group to leave, guided by their priest “Huitzil”. The Aubin Codex relates that after leaving AztlÐ”ÐŽn, Huitzilopochtli ordered his people to never identify themselves as Azteca, the name of their former masters. Instead they should henceforth call themselves MexÐ”¬cÐ”Ñž.
The Spanish conquistadors referred to them as “Mexicas”. In Mexico, archeologists and museums use the term Mexicas. The wider population in and outside Mexico generally speaks of Aztecs. In this article, the term “Mexica” is used to refer to the Mexica people up until the time of the formation of the Triple Alliance. After this, the term “Aztecs” is used to refer to the peoples who made up the Triple Alliance.
MexÐ”¬cÐ”Ñž (IPA: [meʃiʔkaʔ]) is a term of uncertain origin. Very different etymologies are proposed: the old Nahuatl word for the sun, the name of their leader Mexitli, or a type of weed that grows in Lake Texcoco. Mexican scholar Miguel LeÐ”Ñ-n-Portilla suggests that it is derived from mexictli, “navel of the moon”, from Nahuatl metztli (moon) and xictli (navel).  Alternatively, mexictli could mean “navel of the