Chapter 11 Reading Guide: The Americas on the Eve of Invasion Chapter Summary

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Chapter 11 Reading Guide: The Americas on the Eve of Invasion

Chapter Summary. By 1500, American societies incorporated both densely populated and lesser-inhabited regions, both long-established in the New World. Columbus called the inhabitants Indians, but the American societies did not possess a common identity. The great diversity of cultures requires concentration upon a few major civilizations, the great imperial states of Mesoamerica (central Mexico) and the Andes, plus a few other independently developing peoples.

  1. The capital of the Aztecs was built in the center of a what?

  1. What impressed the Spanish when they saw this city? List several features.

  1. Where does the term “Indian”, as applied to Native Americans, come from?

  1. Did Indians see themselves as one culture or people?

Postclassic Mesoamerica, 1000-1500 C.E.

  1. What was the capital of the Toltecs?

The Toltec Heritage

  1. Your book states that the legend of Topiltzin/Quetzalcoat may have influenced the Aztecs’ reaction to the arrival of the Europeans. How do you think it did this?

  1. About 1000 C.E., the Mayan city of ______________________________ in Yucatan was conquered by Toltec warriors.

  1. The Toltecs highly prized the blue stone turquoise. It was utilized in their religious clothing. However, the stone was not native to Mexico. How did they probably get it?

  1. Cite the most persuasive evidence that Indians in the southeastern portion of the United States MAY have had contact with the Toltecs.

The Aztec Rise to Power

  1. “Live by the sword, die by the sword.” How does this expression apply to the Toltecs? (HINT: look back at their origin on page 236 and compare it to their demise.)

  1. After the fall of Tula, the center of population and political power in central Mexico shifted to what area?

  1. The people who succeeded the Toltecs as the rulers of central Mexico are known by what two names?

  1. Think about what you learned about Russia in Ch. 9. How did the Aztecs use of history resemble the Russians? (HINT: see page 207 to jog your memory)

  1. What reputation made the Aztecs both valued and feared?

  1. What city did the Aztecs establish ca. 1325 C.E. on a marshy island in Lake Texcoco?

  1. How did that city’s location help the Aztecs grow stronger? (HINT: see the picture on p. 235 and think “security”)

The Aztec Social Contract

  1. List the three requirements that the Aztecs made of their subject peoples.




  1. Like pyramid building, polytheism, corn cultivation, and a ball game/sport played on a court, the Aztecs copied another long standing practice among Mesoamerican Indians. What was it and how did they change it?

  1. What were “flower wars”?

Religion and the Ideology of Conquest

  1. Aztec religion was very complex; however, this complex array of gods can be organized into three major themes or cults. List them.


  1. Explain how the cult of the sun was linked with human sacrifice.

  1. What did the Aztecs wonder about that had so much in common with all other human civilizations across time?

  1. Carefully read Nezhualcoyotl’s poetry. Show supporting evidence that he might not have believed in the gods.

  1. Note the fatalism (look it up!) in the Aztecs view of history. How might that fatalistic view have influenced them when the Europeans showed up, esp. with new diseases?

Feeding the People: The Economy of the Empire

  1. What was the ingenious system of irrigated agriculture the Aztecs adopted? Describe it in your own words.

  1. How did this interesting system help increase the Aztec’s population? (HINT: 4 crops per year)

  1. ________________________ and ______________________ were used as currency, but most Aztec trading was done as barter.

  2. What was the state’s role in the Aztec economy?

  1. How does the Aztec economic system compare to many Classic and Postclassical Afro-Eurasian civilizations regarding the distribution of tribute/goods? (HINT: social classes)

Aztec Society in Transition

A Widening Social Gulf

  1. What was a calpulli, and explain its function in the Aztec city.

  1. List the three important functions of the calpulli.


  1. How did social classes/groups in Aztec society distinguish themselves?

Overcoming Technological Constraints

  1. What was the significant difference between the life of women in Mesoamerica and in the Mediterranean world?

A Tribute Empire

  1. Who held the real power in Aztec society and how was he chosen?

  1. The Roman military was very influential because it was needed to expand the borders of the Roman Empire to acquire more wealth and slaves. How does this compare (and contrast) to Aztec civilization?

  1. This section concludes by noting that increasing social stresses created by the nobility and the system of terror (human sacrifices) and tribute were weaknesses that led to the Aztec Empire’s collapse. However, it doesn’t collapse until the Europeans show up and conquer the Aztecs. Can you explain this apparent contradiction? (HINT: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and would you consider a slave to be a friend to his owner?)

Document: Aztec Women & Men

  1. Read the descriptions of what good and bad fathers, mothers, and “mature, common women” are according to the Aztecs. How do those descriptions compare with our own Western values? Is there anything you disagree with?

Twantinsuyu: World of the Incas

  1. What were two of the most notable achievements of the Incas?

  1. This section begins with the statement that the Inca’s had “a level of integration and domination” over various cultures and languages “previously unknown in the Americas.” Your text also uses the word “reciprocity” several times later. How does “reciprocity” help explain this “integration and domination”? (NOTE: You are not going to find the answer right in this section. p. 248 & 249 will help)

The Inca Rise to Power

  1. The capital of the Inca empire was ____________________________.

  1. ______________________________ a Inca ruler who launched a series of military campaigns and alliances that began first creation of the Inca empire in 1438 C.E.

Conquest and Religion

  1. Define the term “split inheritance.”

  1. How did the practice of split inheritance encourage warfare and expansion of Inca authority?

  1. What did the Incas and Aztecs’ religion have in common?

The Techniques of Inca Imperial Rule

  1. What incentives did the Incas give local rulers to obey? (give both positive AND negative)

  1. Note the Inca use of language, colonists, and relocation of conquered peoples to promote political and cultural integration. How does this compare to other cultures, particularly Classical China under the Zhou?

  1. The Incas built a very impressive system of roads. Besides communication, note the key purpose and compare it to that of the Roman road system on page 92 (last paragraph).

  1. What practice of the Incas shows the patriarchical nature of their society and is also a similarity with early Islamic civilization and privileges of Abbasid caliphs?

  1. What about the manner in which property and rights were passed down to offspring is a bit unusual compared to other methods we’ve studied?

  1. List what the state provided to local peoples and what the local peoples supplied in return.


  1. How did the Incas practice body modification to denote social status?

  1. How do the Incas and Aztecs compare regarding the importance of trade?

In Depth: The “Troubling” Civilizations of the Americas

  1. The modern image of the Inca Empire as a carefully organized system in which every community collectively contributed to the whole and the state regulated the distribution of resources on the basis of need is referred to as what?

  1. Marvin Harris’ theory states that if the Aztecs would have had domesticated animals they probably would have not have had what religious practice, or at least as much of it?

Inca Cultural Achievements

  1. What did the Inca civilization lack that most civilizations, including the Mesoamerican Indians, enjoy?

  1. What was the quipu used for?

Comparing Incas and Aztecs

  1. The Aztecs and Incas both used military power against what type of peoples?

  1. Why do you think it was not as useful against nomadic peoples?

The Other Peoples of the Americas

How Many People?

  1. What part of the Western Hemisphere probably held the most people by the year 1492 CE? Why do you think this is so?

  1. What part of the world had a population closest to that of the Americas by 1500?

Differing Cultural Patterns

  1. Your text states that the Americas lacked nomadic herders, unlike Europe, Asia, and Africa. Why? (HINT: This goes WAY back to Guns, Germs, & Steel)

  1. Why did the buffalo say “Oh crap!” when the Europeans showed up?

  1. How did Indians see themselves in relation to the ecological system that contrasts with Europeans and Asians of the Postclassical period?

American Diversity in World Context

  1. How did Europeans see Indians in general? Why?

Global Connections:

The Americas and the World

  1. The chapter ends with a passage stressing the advantages the Afro-Eurasia peoples had over the Indian civilizations in the Americas. What were some of these advantages and why did the Indians not share them?

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