Consequently, the social distinctions were not as static as their European counterparts.
Religion was also a major aspect of Aztec life and it has become, perhaps, what they are best known for:
The Great Temple was a place for human sacrifice. Prisoners captured in battle were led up the steps to the platform on top. Here, the prisoners were stretched on their backs over a stone block. That an Aztec priest cut out their hearts with a stone knife. The hearts were burned as offerings to Huitzilopochtli, god of war and the sun, and the bodies were thrown down the steps (Chrisp 2000:16).
This practice was clearly what the conquistadores found most deplorable, most barbaric, and the most incongruous with the rest of Aztec society. The obvious monuments to Aztec achievement — the towering temples of the sun and the moon — were used for bloody and horrific shows on a daily basis. Although warfare was used by the Aztecs as a way of achieving monetary gains — in the form of tributes — it was also the chief avenue by which they were able to conduct their religious demonstrations. To Christian Europeans, these activities were absolutely inhuman, and made Cortes subsequent imprisonment of Emperor Montezuma and destruction of Mesoamerican civilization justifiable in their minds.
In 1521 Cortez laid siege to Tenochtitlan with an army of 100,000 mercenaries from nearby tribes who were fed-up with Aztec oppression. Overall, the European perception of the Aztecs as pagan barbarians, and the substantial wealth they had at their fingertips was too much for the conquistadores to resist.
Sadly, “The end of the Aztecs was also the end of Mesoamericas 2500-year-long civilization. In a few years, millions died as a result of war, famine, slavery, and European diseases.” (Hull 1998:55). Fortunately, the Aztecs left behind substantial amounts of writings, buildings, and artwork that people can continue to admire today. Additionally, the descendents of the Aztecs still maintain a number of beliefs and traditions that come directly from their ancestors. Nevertheless, this is little consolation for the great loss of a civilization that was at once equally powerful as it was beautiful.
Berdan, Frances. Indians of North America: The Aztecs. New York: Chelsea House, 1989.
Chrisp, Peter. The Aztecs. Austin: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 2000.
Fagan, Brian M. The Aztecs. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1984.
Hicks, Peter. Look into the Past: The Aztecs. New York:.