The Aztec Empire was a large empire in Central America. It existed between about 1345 AD and 1521 AD. When the Empire was largest, it spread across most of Mesoamerica.
During that time, the Aztecs built one of the world’s most advanced societies. The Aztec Empire was also very powerful. Its warriors took over many nearby states and helped spread Aztec culture and religion across Mesoamerica.
However, in 1519, Spanish conquistadors came to the Aztec Empire. With help from the Aztecs’ enemies, the Spanish fought the Aztecs for control of their empire. On August 13, 1521, the Aztec Empire fell apart and the Spanish took over. They made the area a Spanish colony and renamed it New Spain.
Before the Aztec Empire existed, the indigenous (native) people in central Mesoamerica lived in many separate city-states. These were small cities with farmland around them. Each state had its own ruler. Around 1100 AD, these city-states started to fight each other for power and control of the area’s land.
By about 1400, two city-states had grown into small empires. In 1428, these two empires fought the Tepanec War for control of the area. The Texcoco empire made an alliance with some other powerful city-states, including Tenochtitlan, and won the war. These allies were supposed to share power equally as they started to gain control of more land. However, by 1430, Tenochtitlan became the most powerful member of the alliance. It became the capital city of the Aztec Empire, and its ruler became the ‘high king’ of the entire Empire.
The Aztecs had built their capital city right on a lake called Lake Texcoco. As the Empire grew, so did Tenochtitlan. By the early 1500s, at least 200,000 people lived in the city. This made Tenochtitlan the largest city in the Americas before Christopher Columbus arrived.
Tenochtitlan was the center of the Aztec government and religion. It was also a very big trading center. When the Spanish arrived in 1519, they guessed that 60,000 people came to the market in Tenochtitlan every day. People bought and sold many things there, including slaves (prisoners of war from states the Aztecs had taken over). The city had a huge pyramid called the Templo Mayor (Great Temple). The entire city was decorated with art, architecture, and stone sculptures.
The Aztecs had created canals all across the city. By bringing water to Aztec crops, these canals made it possible for the Aztecs to grow much more food than they normally could have. The Aztecs had also made levees to protect the city from flooding, and reservoirs for fresh water.
At its most powerful, the Aztec Empire controlled about 11,000,000 people. Among these people, there were different social classes with different social statuses. The most important people were the rulers. Next were nobles. These were the Empire’s powerful members of the government; great warriors; judges; and priests. These people enjoyed a high social status.
The next social class was the commoners (common people). These were the Empire’s everyday workers. Most of them farmed, ran stores, or traded. Commoners were allowed to own land as a group or a family. However, a single person was not allowed to own land.
The lowest social classes in Aztec society were serfs and then slaves. Slaves had no rights at all. However, if they had the money, they could buy their own freedom and become commoners.
All adult men in the Empire had to be in the Aztec military.
In the Aztecs’ religion, the sun was very important. The Aztecs did many things to try to honor the gods and keep them happy. For example, they threw festivals, had banquets, made statues, and buried valuable items, all as offerings to the gods.
Some historians say the Aztecs had a “culture of war.” This means that everything focuses on making people into good warriors and people who support war. However, there were many parts to the Aztec culture. They studied astrology and used the movements of the planets and the stars to create different calendars. They understood and taught things like mathematics and poetry. They had a complex view of religion, the universe, and many other things.
They also formed guilds of artisans – people who specialized in making certain kinds of art. They made paintings, pottery, carvings, and many other things. They used all sorts of materials, including gold, silver, amethyst, wood, and stone. Huge stone sculptures were a popular type of art. Aztec artists made their pyramid and other stone buildings into art too, by carving into them.
Adapted from Aztec Empire Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.