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The powerful Aztec empire was located in the valley of Mexico, known
today as Mexico City (Valley of Mexico). Its physical geography played a major
role in the success of the Aztec society. Its geography was mountainous and
surrounded by lakes and swampland. Due to the mountains, it was also high in
elevation. Because of the swampland, the Aztecs were resourceful and built
terraces on hills that were previously not farmable. The swamps provided the
Aztecs with food to eat such as: wild plants, fish, frogs, and ducks. Agriculture
became the basis for the success of the Aztec civilization. Through agriculture
they were able to expand their lands by building floating gardens, also known as
“chinampas” within the swampy areas. Chinampas were small, rectangular areas
that could be farmed. On these gardens, they grew corn, avocados, beans,
peppers, squash, and tomatoes that lead to an increase of food production,
which allowed for an increase in population.
With an increase in food production and population, their empire
expanded. Their government was organized under a multi-tiered hierarchy
consisting of four classes: nobles, commoners, unskilled laborers, and enslaved
people. Strong emperors (claimed to be descendants of the gods) and nobles, of
the main ones being Montezuma, led the Aztecs. In an effort to protect their
capitol city of Tenochtitlan, the Aztecs built their city on a small island in the
middle of a lake, surrounded by the chinampas. A causeway (raised road)
connected the city to the mainland. Modern day bridges used the design of
causeways as a model in which modifications were in its original design. Bridges
today are elevated even more to allow roads to be built under them.
The Aztec religious beliefs were polytheistic and very important to their
culture and daily lives. For this reason, a huge step pyramid, known as the
Great Pyramid, was built in Tenochtitlan, as a way to honor their deities in return
they would guide and protect them. Another way the Aztecs would pay tribute
to the gods is through human sacrifices, which would take place at the top of
this Great Pyramid.
They developed two calendars, sacred and solar, to help them with record
keeping. The sacred calendar recorded dates of worship festivals and sacrifices
and the solar calendar recorded agricultural data.
In June 1521 A.D. the Aztec civilization ended when Montezuma was
defeated by Spanish conqueror, Hernan Cortez.
Reflection: Write a letter to an Aztec telling him/her how we have modernized their
contributions. Explain to them how fascinating they would find how we've updated their
causeways and how far agriculture has come from the floating gardens, etc. Use
evidence from your notes/video.