Chapter 16 People and Empires in the Americas, 500–1500 North American Societies

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Chapter 16

People and Empires in the Americas, 500–1500

North American Societies

Complex Societies in the West

Regional Differences

• North American cultures less complex than other American cultures

Cultures of Abundance

• Pacific Northwest—from Oregon to Alaska—rich in resources

• People rely on both sea and land resources for food

• Plentiful resources lead to society with differences in wealth

• In potlatch ceremony, wealthy people give gifts to demonstrate status

Accomplished Builders

• Desert Southwest is harsher environment than that of Pacific Coast

• Hohokam of central Arizona use irrigation to grow corn, beans, squash

• Use of pottery shows contact with Mesoamerica

• Anasazi, to the north, build pueblos—villages of stone, adobe, clay

• Pueblos abandoned around 1200; descendents of Anasazi—Pueblo peoples

• Hopi and Zuni continue Anasazi customs; create trade goods

Mound Builders and Other Woodland Cultures

The Mound Builders

• Peoples who live east of Mississippi River in woodland areas

• Adena and Hopewell peoples build mounds for burials, ceremonies

• Mississippian—last Mound Builder culture, from 800 to 1500s

• Cahokia, leading city, has as many as 30,000 people

Northeastern Tribes Build Alliances

• Iroquois—five allied tribes of eastern Great Lakes

• Goals of Iroquois League: joint defense and cooperation

Cultural Connections

Trading Networks Tie Tribes Together

• Mississippian trade network: Rockies to Atlantic, Great Lakes to Gulf

Religion Shapes Views of Life

• Most Native Americans believe in many sacred spirits

• Beliefs also include respect for land as source of life

Shared Social Patterns

• Family is basis for social organization; some organize into clans

• Totems—natural object that person, family, or clan identifies with

• Totem is symbol of unity of family, clan, or group

The Mayans
Maya Kings and Cities

The Land of the Maya

• Maya live in southern Mexico and northern Central America

• Land, vegetation of this region varies

• Maya culture influenced by Olmec civilization

Urban Centers

• In Classic Period (250 to 900) Maya build spectacular cities

• Cities, like Tikal, have pyramids, temples, palaces, stone carvings

• Each has a court where ritual ball game is played

Agriculture and Trade Support Cities

• Cities linked by alliances, trade

• Farming maize, beans, squash is foundation of Maya life

• Maya use different farming techniques

Kingdoms Built on Dynasties

• Farming success leads to rise of social classes

• King is leader, holy figure; priests, warriors at top of social class

• Middlle class: merchants, artisans; bottom: peasants

Religion Shapes Maya Life

The Importance of Religion

• Maya believe in many gods, who could be good, evil, or both

• Each day is a god whose behavior could be predicted with calendars

Religious Practices

• Many ways of worshiping: prayer, offerings, giving blood

• Maya also make human sacrifices to please gods and balance world

Math and Religion

• Religion leads to advances in calendar, math, astronomy

• Maya use two calendars: one religious (260 days), one solar (365 days)

• Use calendars to find best days for life activities

Written Language Preserves History

• Writing system has 800 glyphs—symbols

• Use writing to record history in a codex—bark-paper book

• Popul Vuh—famous codex that contains Maya story of creation

Mysterious Maya Decline

The End of the Maya

• In late 800s, Maya abandon cities; cause for abandonment unknown

• Signs of social problems:

- In 700s, fighting among many Maya city-states

- Population growth, over-farming might have hurt environment

- By 1500s, Maya live in small, weak city-states

The Aztecs Control Central Mexico
The Valley of Mexico


• Mountain basin 7,500 feet above sea level, large lakes, fertile soil

• Teotihuacán and Toltec settle in valley, develop civilizations

An Early City-State

• Teotihuacán city-state rises in first century A.D.

• At peak, in 500s, city has up to 200,000 people

• Serves as center of trade, especially of obsidian—volcanic glass

• City quickly declines; by 750 is abandoned

Toltecs Take Over

• About 900, Toltecs rise to power; rule for about 300 years

• A warlike people, they rule by conquest

• They worship fierce war god and offer human sacrifices

• Toltec ruler Topiltzin tries to change religion, end human sacrifice

• Encourages worship of Quetzalcoatl—“Feathered Serpent”—a new god

• He is exiled to Yucatán Peninsula; by early 1200s, Toltec rule ends

The Aztec Empire

Arrival of the Aztecs

• Aztecs (or Mexica) arrive around 1200, begin working as soldiers

• By own legend, a god leads them to found city of Tenochtitlán

Aztecs Grow Stronger

• Triple Alliance—1428 agreement of Aztec and two other city-states

• By early 1500s, Aztecs have large empire and rule 5–15 million people

• Power comes from tribute resulting from conquests

Nobles Rule Aztec Society

• Noble class—military leaders, officials, priests—rules Aztec society

• Nobles own vast estates, live life of wealth and luxury

• Commoners: merchants, artisans, soldiers, farmers

• Lowest class: enslaved people

• Emperor’s power is absolute, lives in palace, is revered

Tenochtitlán: A Planned City

Extraordinary Urban Center

• Causeways connect island city to mainland areas

• Canals enable people to carry goods to city and its huge main market

• Chinampas, floating islands, used to grow crops

• Central area has palaces, temples, government buildings

Religion Rules Aztec Life

Many Gods

• Religion includes 1,000 gods, many adopted from other peoples

Religious Practices

• Center of religion is public ceremonies to win gods’ favor

• Many religious festivals throughout year

Sacrifices for the Sun God

• Most important rituals are for sun god, Huitzilopochtli

• He needs human sacrifices to be strong

• Aztecs engage in war to provide captives for these sacrifices

Problems in the Aztec Empire

A New Ruler

• In 1502, Montezuma II becomes emperor; he calls for more tribute

• These sacrifices lead to revolt in outlying areas

• Emperor tries to make life easier, but Aztecs worry about future

• Soon after, Spanish arrive

The Inca Create a Mountain Empire

The Inca Build an Empire

Incan Beginnings

• Inca live first in high plateau of Andes Mountains

• By 1200s, they have a kingdom in Valley of Cuzco

• Inca believe that their ruler is descended from sun god, Inti

Pachacuti Builds an Empire

• Pachacuti, a powerful and ambitious emperor, takes control in 1438

Under Pachacuti, Inca conquer lands holding 16 million people

• Inca use diplomacy and military force to achieve conquests

Incan Government Creates Unity

Organized Rule

• Inca divide conquered lands into smaller units to govern easily

• Make Quechua official language of entire empire

Incan Cities Show Government Presence

• Inca build cities with same architecture for government buildings

• Capital is Cuzco, which has temples, plazas, palaces

• Inca are very skilled builders

Incan Government

• Inca government controls economy and society

• Use ayllu—extended family group—to control how people live, work

• Divides society into groups of 10; 100; 1,000; 10,000

• Chain of command stretches from central government to smallest unit

• Demands mita—requirement that people work for state

• Cares for the aged and disabled

Public Works Projects

• Government creates public works, including 14,000-mile road network

• Runners carry messages along the roads to different places

Government Record-Keeping

• Inca do not develop system of writing

• Use quipu—set of knotted strings—as accounting device

• Might also have had elaborate two-calendar system

Religion Supports the State

Inca Gods

• Inca have fewer gods than Aztecs

• Creator god and sun god are most important

Religious Practices

• Priests draft young women to assist in ceremonies

• Some young men also become specialized religious workers

Great Cities

• Cuzco has magnificent Temple of the Sun decorated in gold

• Other cities might have had religious importance as well

Discord in the Empire

Problems Arise

• In early 1500s, Inca Empire reaches its height under Huayna Capac

• Capac dies, perhaps of smallpox, while touring newly conquered Ecuador

• In 1520s, his sons Atahualpa and Huascar split empire

• Atahualpa wants control of whole empire and begins civil war

• This war weakens Inca state just before Spanish arrive

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