Aztecs: People of the Sun
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Aztecs: People of the Sun
The Aztecs were an indigenous people located in central and southern Mexico. They adhered to a strict religion based on destiny, war, manifest destiny, and duality. From the time that they were born, society began molding them into the fierce soldiers that the Aztecs became known to be. This is evident through out all aspects of their culture. It is through these policies and structures that one can see the aggressiveness that these warriors lived every day. In order to prove how deeply ingrained this gruesome warrior mentality was to the Aztec people, it is important to use their art, religion, and social structures as examples.
The Aztecs believed that they had a destiny, given to them by their gods. In it, they were to preserve the rain and agricultural fertility, to battle and extend their territories, and to sacrifice Aztec enemies to the gods in order to preserve life and the sun. It is evident here, that they are to accomplish manifest destiny, through the means of war. Extending Aztec lands allows them to work towards their fate and gives them motivation to accomplish more for their people and to capture more lands. It is important to use the different parts of Aztec culture to show the aggressiveness that became accustomed to them. The first aspect of their culture that depicts these ideas is their art.
There is a large variety of Aztec art excavated today, which illustrates this idea of fulfilling the destiny. It is evident that they truly believe this fate and the warrior mentality. Through out the different pieces of Aztec sculpture, painting, and other artistic works, the ideas of death, sacrifice, and violence are ramped. An example of this depicted in art is a wall that was uncovered in the Great Temple precinct of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. It is rows of stone skulls on a tzompantli, or skullrack. 1 This shows the gruesome aspects of the warrior mentality discussed prior, because this culture condoned this piece and displayed it for others to see. Another example is a stone relief of the dismembered goddess, Coyolxauhqui. 2 This piece was found in the same area as the stone wall. This shows that their religion and thus, their society, complied with this type of aggression. A third example of the Aztec antagonism is a large skull decorated with a mosaic mask. 3 This offers the idea of sacrifice, which will be discussed later on. A final example of the aspects discussed is a painting of half life and half death. In it, Mictlantecuhtli and Quetzalcoatl are depicted back to back over the jaws of oblivion. They represent life and death, and show the Aztec idea of duality. 4 This is important because is shows the Aztec destiny of preserving life as well as their concepts of death. All of the above illustrate the different art pieces that prove that the Aztec warrior mentality ran deep into the inner workings of their culture.
The next aspect of Aztec life to be discussed is their religion. These were an exceptionally religious people. They believed that the gods made all decisions, and as such, they always consulted a priest before making any. The priests were also involved in all aspects of society, including their political realm. It is important to grasp the basics of their beliefs in order to prove the aggression of these people, people religion is what drove all of them. First of all, the idea of manifest destiny was seen in their religion. The faith called for them to fight battles and gain lands and people. These people were considered enemies of the Aztec state and were used in sacrifices done after the wars were fought and won. Another part of Aztec religion is the concept of duality. This means that there are always two sides to everything. It is based on the fact that nature had a destructive aspect that they felt need to be avoided at all costs. Their rituals were; therefore, a means of evading this and other forces of nature. This was done to find harmony with in the environment. They believed that
“the struggle of the sun against the power of the darkness was
not only the struggle of the gods, but it was also, above all,
the struggle of good against evil. The mission of the Aztecs,
was, then, to be on the side of the sun, the symbol of good,
opposing the fearful gods of darkness, the symbols of evil.” 5
Because of these religious notions, the people viewed the greatest sin was to fail to participate in this master plan, which was to protect the sun. In other words, “the fundamental virtue among this religious, warlike people was courage displayed in combat and stoicism in the face of pain or death.” 6 This proves that their religion played a major part in this aggressive state.
Many things arose out of their faith and beliefs. They began with their calendar and ended with sacrifices and some cannibalism. Sacrifices were a means of keeping the gods content in order to maintain nature in a calm and prosperous state. Cannibalism was also sometimes used after the sacrifice was completed. It is important to realize, however, that the practice of cannibalism was “more like a form of communion than a cannibal feast.” 7
The calendar was the result of the Aztec religion. It is also called tonalpohualli, which means “count of days.” It shows different concepts associated with their warrior mentalities. To begin with, the calendar is divided into two-hundred and sixty days. Twenty day signs were used consecutively and held the most divinatory significance. The first symbol was the Crocodile, and the last was the Flower. After the twentieth day, the signs repeated themselves. There were also day numbers that accompanied the symbols. These ran from one to thirteen, and then began over, much like the day signs. The symbols and numbers together, created the two hundred and sixty different day names. This calendar was tied to many parts of Aztec daily life. For example, all the ceremonies were dictated by the calendar, because it told them when they could do them. They also looked towards it to decipher which would be the most auspicious days to do many different rituals, including marriage, naming babies, and even attacking in battle. The calendars influences created a meaning and energy for each specific day. This is why birthdays were so important to the people. If a male was born on 1 Deer, and was a commoner, he would “become a warrior and valiant chieftain.” 8 This exhibits how embedded war is into their society, because even their childs fortunes are based on becoming a