The Empire of the Aztec

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The Empire of the Aztec

The Aztec empire had its capital at Tenochtitlan, which stood on the site of present-day Mexico City. The empire was established during the 1400's, when the Aztec and their allies conquered much of central and southern Mexico.

The Aztec God of Fire

Xiuhtecuhtli was the Aztec god of fire. This statue shows Xiuhtecuhtli seated with his arms folded to receive sacrifices. The Aztec worshiped many gods, each of whom ruled one or more human activities or aspects of nature.

Aztec Writing

Aztec writing consisted of small pictures called pictographs. This page from an Aztec book shows Xipe Totec, left, the god of spring, and the god Quetzalcoatl, who appears as a snake, right.

Human Sacrifice in the Aztec Religion

Human sacrifice played a major role in Aztec religion. This drawing by an Aztec artist shows priests cutting out a victim's heart. Clay flutes broken during the ceremony lie nearby.

The Marketplace

The marketplace was a center of Aztec life. It displayed nearly every kind of merchandise available in the Aztec world. Merchants employed many bearers, who marched in long caravans with heavy loads on their backs. This painting from the mid-1900's depicts the market at Tlatelolco in the Aztec capital. The Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes reported that more than 60,000 people visited it daily. There were also many smaller markets throughout the Aztec empire.

The Pyramid of the Sun

The Pyramid of the Sun rises above the Valley of Mexico in the ancient city of Teotihuacan, near present-day Mexico City. The city was an important religious center for the Aztec, though it was built centuries before by a culture unknown to them. The Aztec believed that Teotihuacan had been built by an ancient race of giants. Later, the gods met there and created the world in which the Aztec lived.

Cortes’ Expeditions, 1519-1535

Hernan Cortes sailed from Cuba to Mexico in 1519 and conquered the Aztec Indians there in 1521. He led an expedition to Honduras from 1524 to 1526 and one to Lower California in 1535.

Spanish Soldiers Attacked Aztecs

Spanish soldiers attacked Aztec Indians in 1520. The Spaniards and Indians fought many bloody battles as the Spaniards pushed across Central and South America in the 1500's.

Hernan Cortes and Aztec Leaders

Hernan Cortes of Spain, holding hat, conquered the Aztec Indians of Mexico between 1519 and 1521. This drawing shows Cortes approaching a group of Aztec leaders. By 1600, most of the Indian societies of Latin America had come under European control.

Spanish Conquest (Defeat) of the Aztec

The Spanish conquest in 1521 destroyed the Aztec empire. This drawing shows Aztec warriors, right, fighting to recapture a palace from the Spaniards, left. One Aztec wears an eagle costume, and one a jaguar suit. Warriors earned the right to wear such costumes by taking many prisoners.

Aztec Goddess, Coatlicue

American Indian sculpture often depicted traditional gods and goddesses. This giant statue of the Aztec goddess Coatlicue once stood in Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire.
Montezuma II

Montezuma II, left, was an Aztec emperor who ruled in Mexico from 1502 to 1520. This illustration shows his coronation as emperor. The Aztec empire was at the height of its power when Montezuma's rule began. But the empire fell to the Spaniards shortly after his death.
The Empire of the Aztec

The Aztec empire reached the height of its power during the early 1500's, covering much of what is now south-central Mexico. In 1521, Spaniards led by the explorer Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztec and destroyed their civilization.

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