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Aztec Empire

Guide to the Aztec Empire

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A Spanish cathedral in Mexico City above the ruins of the Aztec Templo Mayor

A Spanish cathedral in Mexico City above the ruins of the Aztec Templo Mayor

Kate McCarthy Pyramid stairs of the Templo Mayor, Mexico City

Pyramid stairs of the Templo Mayor, Mexico City

Kate McCarthy Wall of warrior skulls, Templo Mayor, Mexico City

Wall of warrior skulls, Templo Mayor, Mexico City

Kate McCarthy

Overview of the Aztec Empire

The Aztec Empire was a group of allied but ethnically different city states who lived in central Mexico and controlled much of central America from the 12th century AD until the Spanish invasion of the 15th century. The main political alliance creating the Aztec empire was called the Triple Alliance, including the Mexica of Tenochtitlan, the Acolhua of Texcoco, and the Tepaneca of Tlacopan; together they dominated most of Mexico between 1430 and 1521 AD.

The capital city of the Aztecs was at Tenochtitlan-Tlatlelco, what is today Mexico City, and the extent of their empire covered almost all of what is today Mexico. At the time of Spanish conquest, the capital was a cosmopolitan city, with different ethnic groups from all over Mexico. The state language was Nahuatl and written documentation was kept on bark cloth manuscripts (most of which were destroyed by the Spanish). A high level of stratification in Tenochtitlan included both nobles and commoners. There were were frequent ritual human sacrifices, part of the military and ritual activities of the Aztec people, although it is possible and perhaps likely that these were exaggerated by the Spanish clergy.

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