lunedì 13 febbraio 2012


City-building and architecture

The capital city of the Aztec empire was Tenochtitlan, now the site of modern-day Mexico City. Built on a series of islets in Lake Texcoco, the city plan was based on a symmetrical layout that was divided into four city sections called campans. The city was interlaced with canals which were useful for transportation.
Tenochtitlan was built according to a fixed plan and centered on the ritual precinct, where the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan rose 50 m (164.04 ft) above the city. Houses were made of wood and loam, roofs were made of reed, although pyramids, temples and palaces were generally made of stone.
Around the island, chinampa beds were used to grow foods as well as, over time, to increase the size of the island. Chinampas, misnamed "floating gardens", were long raised plant beds set upon the shallow lake bottom. They were a very efficient agricultural system and could provide up to seven crops a year. On the basis of current chinampa yields, it has been estimated that 1 hectare of chinampa would feed 20 individuals and 9,000 hectares of chinampas could feed 180,000.
Anthropologist Eduardo Noguera estimates the population at 200,000 based in the house count and merging the population of Tlatelolco (once an independent city, but later became a suburb of Tenochtitlan). If one includes the surrounding islets and shores surrounding Lake Texcoco, estimates range from 300,000 to 700,000 inhabitants.

Tenochtitlan (Classical Nahuatl: Tenōchtitlān (sometimes also known as Mexico Tenochtitlan or Tenochtitlan Mexico) was a Nahua altepetl (city-state) located on an island in Lake Texcoco, in the Valley of Mexico. Founded in 1325, it became the capital of the abounding Aztec Empire in the 15th century, until captured by the Spanish in 1521. When paired with Mexico the name is a reference to Mexica, the people of the surrounding Aztec heartland. It subsequently became a cabecera of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and today the ruins of Tenochtitlan are located in the central part of Mexico City.
Its name comes from Nahuatl tetl ("rock") and nochtli = ("prickly pear") and means "Among the prickly pears [growing among] rocks". Tenochtitlan was one of two Mexican altepetl, the other being Tlatelolco.
The city was divided into four zones or campan, each campan was divided on 20 districts (calpullis, Nahuatl calpōlli), and each calpulli was crossed by streets or tlaxilcalli. There were three main streets that crossed the city, each leading to one of the three causeways to the mainland; Bernal Díaz del Castillo reported that they were wide enough for ten horses. The calpulliswere divided by channels used for transportation, with wood bridges that were removed at night.

In the center of the city were the public buildings, temples and schools. Inside a walled square, 300 meters to a side, was the ceremonial center. There were about 45 public buildings including: the Templo Mayor, the temple of Quetzalcoatl, the tlachtli (ball game court), the tzompantli or rack of skulls, the temple of the sun, the platforms for the gladiatorial sacrifice, and some minor temples. Outside was the palace of Moctezuma with 100 rooms, each one with its own bath, for the lords and ambassadors of allies and conquered people. Also located nearby was the cuicalli or house of the songs, and the calmecac.
The city had a great symmetry. All constructions had to be approved by the calmimilocatl, a functionary in charge of the city planning.

Aztec warfare

Aztec warfare concerns the aspects associated with the militaristic conventions, forces, weaponry and strategic expansions conducted by the Late Postclassic Aztec civilizations of Mesoamerica, including particularly the military historyof the Aztec Triple Alliance involving the city-states of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, Tlacopan and other allied polities of the central Mexican region.
The Aztec armed forces were typically composed of a large number of commoners (yāōquīzqueh) who possessed only basic military training, and a smaller but still considerable number of professional warriors belonging to the nobility (pīpiltin) and who were organized into warrior societies and ranked according to their achievements. The Aztec state was centered around political expansion and dominance of and exaction of tribute from other city states, and warfare was the basic dynamic force in Aztec politics. Aztec society was also centered around warfare: every Aztec male received basic military training from an early age and the only possibility of upwards social mobility for commoners (mācehualtin) was through military achievement — especially the taking of captives (māltin). The sacrifice of war captives was an important part of many of the Aztec religious festivals. Warfare was thus the main driving force of both the Aztec economy and religion.

Stratification and ranks

The commoners composed the bulk of the army, the lowest were porters (tlamemeh) who carried weapons and supplies, next came the youths of the telpochcalli led by their sergeants (thetēlpochyahqueh) Next were the commoners yaoquizqueh. And finally there were commoners who had taken captives, the so-called tlamanih.
Ranking above these came the nobles of the "warrior societies". These were ranked according to the number of captives they had taken in previous battles; the number of captives determined which of the different suits of honor (called tlahuiztli) they were allowed to wear. These tlahuiztli became gradually more spectacular as the ranks progressed, allowing the most excellent warriors who had taken many captives to stand out on the battlefield. The higher ranked warriors were also called "Pipiltin".

Commoners excelling in warfare could be promoted to the noble class and could enter some of the warrior societies (at least the Eagles and Jaguars). Sons of nobles trained at the Calmecac however were expected to enter into one of the societies as they progressed through the ranks. Warriors could shift from one society and into another when they became sufficiently proficient; exactly how this happened is uncertain. Each society had different styles of dress and equipment as well as styles of body paint and adornments.

Eagle and Jaguar warriors

Those Aztec warriors who demonstrated the most bravery and who fought well became either jaguar or eagle warriors. Of all of the Aztec warriors, they were the most feared. Both the jaguar and eagle Aztec warriors wore distinguishing helmets and uniforms. The jaguars were identifiable by the jaguar skins they wore over their entire body, with only their faces showing from within the jaguar head. The eagle Aztec warriors, on the other hand, wore feathered helmets including an open beak.


Ranged weapons

Tlahuitolli: A bow.
Atlatl: The Aztec dart thrower was a weapon used to hurl small darts called "tlacochtli" with greater force and from greater range than they could be thrown by hand. Murals at Teotihuacan show warriors using this effective weapon and it is characteristic of the Mesoamerican cultures of central Mexico. The atlatl could also throw spears as its name implies "spear thrower".
Mitl: Arrow.
Micomitl: Aztec arrow quiver.
Yaomitl: War arrows with barbed obsidian, chert, flint, or bone points.
Tematlatl: A sling made from maguey fiber. The Aztecs used oval shaped rocks or hand molded clay balls filled with obsidian flakes or pebbles as projectiles for this weapon.
Tlacalhuazcuahuitl: A blowgun consisting of a hollow reed using poison darts for ammunition. This was used primarily for hunting rather than warfare.

Melee weapons

Macuahuitl: "Hungry-wood", essentially a wooden sword with sharp obsidian blades embedded into its sides. This was the standard armament of the elite cadres. Also known in Spanish by the Taino word "macana". A blow from such a weapon was reputedly capable of decapitating a horse.
Tepoztopilli: Wooden spear with sharp obsidian blades in the top.
Quauhololli: A mace like weapon, the handle was made out of wood topped with a wooden, rock, or copper ball at the end.
Huitzauhqui: A wooden club, somewhat resembling a baseball bat. This weapon was used as a melee weapon just as it was made, but other designs were studded with flint or obsidian cutting elements on its sides.
Tepoztli: Basically an ax, comparable to a tomahawk, the head of which was made of either stone or copper and had a two side design, one side had a sharp bladed edge while the other one a hammer like protrusion.
Tecpatl: A dagger with a double sided blade made out of flint or obsidian with an elaborate stone or wooden handle, seven to nine inches overall in length. Although this would have been an effective side arm, this weapon was more commonly used in Aztec sacrifice ceremonies which may point to this weapon being wielded mostly by Aztec warrior priests.
Tripatlzachital: A copper club used only by the Aztecs. This was new to the world and worked very effectively on enemies
Bernal Diaz also refers to a lengthy scythe-like weapon - apparently so large that a number of warriors had to operate it. This was embedded with obsidian blades for up to 3 meters, and used to slice through ranks.


Chimalli: Shields made with different materials such as the wooden shield "cuauhchimalli" or maize cane "otlachimalli". There were also ornamental shields decorated with motifs made in featherwork, these were called māhuizzoh chimalli.
Ichcahuipilli: Quilted cotton armor which was soaked in salt water brine and then hung to dry in shade so that the salt would crystalize inside of it. One or two fingers thick, this material was resistant to obsidian swords and atlatl darts.
Ehuatl: The tunic that some noble warriors wore over their cotton armour or tlahuiztli.
Tlahuiztli: The distinctively decorated suits of prestigious warriors and members of warrior societies. These suits served as a way to identify warriors according to their achievements in battle as well as rank, alliance, and social status like priesthood. Usually made of a single piece of material with an opening in the back they covered most of the body and extremities, and offered added protection to the wearer. Made with elements of animal hide, leather, and cotton these suits also included protection for the head in the form of hats or helmets made out of wood with bone elements, most noteworthy example of these are the helmets worn by Jaguar and Eagle knights.

Pamitl: The identifying emblems that officers and famous warriors wore on their backs. Like the Japanese uma-jirushi, these were frequently unique to their wearers, and were not necessarily shaped like flags.

giovedì 8 dicembre 2011


Aztec religion is the Mesoamerican religion practiced by the Aztec empire. Like other Mesoamerican religions, it had elements of human sacrifice in connection with a large number of religious festivals which were held according to patterns of the Aztec calendar. It had a large and ever increasing pantheon; the Aztecs would often adopt deities of other geographic regions or peoples into their own religious practice. Aztec cosmology divided the world into upper and nether worlds, each associated with a specific set of deities and astronomical objects. Important in Aztec religion were the sun, moon and the planet Venus—all of which held different symbolic and religious meanings and were connected to deities and geographical places.
Large parts of the Aztec pantheon were inherited from previous Mesoamerican civilizations and others, such as Tlaloc, Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca, were venerated by different names in most cultures throughout the history of Mesoamerica. For the Aztecs especially important deities were Tlaloc the god of rain, Huitzilopochtli the patron god of the Mexica tribe, Quetzalcoatl the culture hero and god of civilization and order, and Tezcatlipoca the god of destiny and fortune, connected with war and sorcery. Each of these gods had their own temples within the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan--Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli were both worshipped at the Templo Mayor. A common Aztec religious practice was the recreation of the divine: Mythological events would be ritually recreated and living persons would impersonate specific deities and be revered as a god—and often ritually sacrificed.

Human sacrifice

Human sacrifice was practiced on a grand scale throughout the Aztec empire, although the exact figures are unknown. At Tenochtitlán, the principal Aztec city, according to Ross Hassing "between 10,000 and 80,400 persons" were sacrificed over the course of four days for the dedication of the Great Pyramid in 1487. Excavations of the offerings in the main temple has provided some insight in the process, but the dozens of remains excavated are far short of the thousands of sacrifices recorded by eyewitnesses and other historical accounts. For millennia, the practice of human sacrifice was widespread in Mesoamerican and South American cultures. It was a theme in the Olmec religion, which thrived between 1200 BC and 400 BC and among the Maya. Human sacrifice was a very complex ritual. Every sacrifice had to be meticulously planned from the type of victim to specific ceremony needed for the god. The sacrificial victims were usually warriors but sometimes slaves, depending upon the god and needed ritual. The higher the rank of the warrior the better he is looked at as a sacrifice. The victim(s) would then take on the persona of the god he was to be sacrificed for. The victim(s) would be housed, fed, and dressed accordingly. This process could last up to a year. When the sacrificial day arrived, the victim(s) would participate in the specific ceremonies of the god. These ceremonies were used to exhaust the victim so that he would not struggle during the ceremony. Then five priests, known as the Tlenamacac, performed the sacrifice usually at the top of a pyramid. The victim would be laid upon the table, held down and then have his heart cut out.


  • Acolnahuacatl, or Acolmiztli - a god of the underworld, Mictlan
  • Acuecucyoicihuati (see Chalchiuhtlicue)
  • Amimitl - god of lakes and fishers
  • Atlacamani - goddess of oceanic storms such as hurricanes
  • Atlacoya - goddess of drought
  • Atlatonan (also Atlatonin) - goddess of the coast
  • Atlaua - water god
  • Ayauhteotl - goddess of mist, fog, vanity and fame
  • Camaxtli - god of hunting, war, fate and fire
  • Centeotl
  • Chalchiuhtlatonal - god of water
  • Chalchiuhtecolotl - a night owl god
  • Chalchiuhtotolin (Precious Night Turkey) - god of pestilence and mystery Chalchiuhtlicue (also Chalciuhtlicue, or Chalchihuitlicue) (She of the Jade Skirt). (Sometimes Acuecucyoticihuati) - the goddess of lakes and streams, and also of birth; consort of Tlaloc.
  • Chalmecatecuchtlz - a god of the underworld, Mictlan and sacrifices
  • Chalmecatl the underworld, Mictlan and the north
  • Chantico - the goddess of hearth fires, personal treasure, and volcanoes
  • Chicomecoatl (also ChalchiuhcihuatlChiccomeccatl, or Xilonen) - goddess of new maize and produce, wife of Cinteotl.
  • Chicomexochtli - a patron of artists
  • Chiconahui - a domestic fertility goddess
  • Chiconahuiehecatl - associated with creation
  • Cihuacoatl (also Chihucoatl or Ciucoatl) (Woman Serpent) - an aspect of Ilamatecuhtli and consort of Quetzalcoatl
  • Cinteotl (also Centeotl or Centeocihuatl) - the principal maize god, son of Tlazolteotl
  • Cipactonal - god of astrology and the calendar
  • Citlalatonac (see Ometeotl)
  • Citlalicue - a creator of the stars
  • Coatlicue (She of the Serpent Skirt) - legendary mother of Coyolxauhqui, the Centzon Huitzahua, and Huitzilopochtli
  • Cochimetl (also Coccochimetl) - god of commerce, bartering, and merchants
  • Coyolxauhqui - legendary sister of Huitzilopochtli, associated with the moon, possibly patroness of the Milky Way
  • Cuaxolotl - a goddess of the hearth
  • Ehecatl (also Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl) - the god of the Wind and creator of the earth, heavens, and the present race of humanity. As god of the west, one of the skybearers
  • Huehuecoyotl (also Ueuecoyotl) - a trickster god of indulgence and pranks. A shapeshifter, associated with drums and the coyote
  • Huehueteotl (also UeueteotlXiuhtecuhtliXiutechuhtli) - an ancient god of the hearth, the fire of life. Associated with the pole star and the north, and serves as a skybearer

  • Ilamatecuhtli (also Cihuacoatl or Quilaztli) - aged goddess of the earth, death, and the Milky Way. Her roar signalled war Huitzilopochtli (also MextliMexitlUitzilopochtli) - the supreme god of Tenochtitlan, patron of war, fire and the sun
  • Huixtocihuatl (also Uixtochihuatl) - a goddess of salt and saltwater
  • Itztlacoliuhqui-Ixquimilli - god of stone, obsidian, coldness hardness, and castigation. Aspect of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli
  • Itzli - god of sacrifice and stone knives.
  • Itzpapalotl - Queen of Tomoanchan and one of the Cihuateteo (night demons) and tzitzimime (star demons)
  • Ixtlilton - the god of healing, dancing, festivals and games. Brother of Xochipilli.
  • Macuilcozcacuauhtli (five vulture) - one of the Ahuiateteo (gods of excess)
  • Macuilcuetzpalin (five lizard) - one of the Ahuiateteo (gods of excess)
  • Macuilmalinalli (five grass) - one of the Ahuiateteo (gods of excess)
  • Macuiltochtli (five rabbit) - one of the Ahuiateteo (gods of excess)
  • Macuilxochitl (five flower) - the god of games and gambling, and chief of the Ahuiateteo (gods of excess)
  • Malinalxochitl - sorceress and goddess of snakes, scorpions and insects of the desert
  • Matlalceuitl (also Matlalcueje) - goddess of rainfall and singing. Identified with Chalchiuhtlicue.
  • Mayahuel (also Mayahual, or Mayouel) - the goddess of maguey, and by extension, alcohol
  • Metztli (also MetztliTecuciztecatlTecciztecatl)- lowly god of worms who failed to sacrifice himself to become the sun, and became the moon instead, his face darkened by a rabbit.
  • Mextli - a god of war and storms
  • Mictecacihuatl (also Mictlancihuatl) - goddess of death and Lady of Mictlan, the underworld
  • Mictlantecuhtli (also Mictlantecuhtzi, or Tzontemoc) - the god of death and Lord of Mictlan, also as god of the south, one of the skybearers
  • Mixcoatl (cloud serpent) - god of hunting, war, and the Milky Way. An aspect of Tezcatlpoca and father of Quetzalcoatl
  • Nanahuatzin (also NanaNanautzin, or Nanauatzin) - lowly god who sacrificed himself to become sun god Tonatiuh
  • Omacatl
  • Omecihuatl
  • Ometecuhtli
  • Ometeotl (also Citlatonac or Ometecuhtli (male) and Omecihuatl (female)) - the god(s) of duality, pregenator(s) of souls and lord/lady of heaven
  • Ometotchtli (two rabbit) - drunken rabbit god, leader of the Centzon Totochtin
  • Opochtli - left-handed god of trapping, hunting and fishing
  • Oxomoco - goddess of astrology and the calendar
  • Patecatl - the god of medicine, husband of Mayahuel
  • Paynal - the messenger to Huitzilopochtli
  • Xipe Totec - the god of the seasons, seed germination and renewal, considered the patron of goldworkersXilonen - the goddess of young maizeTecciztecatl (see Mextli)
  • Temazcalteci (also Temaxcaltechi) - goddess of bathing and sweatbaths
  • Teoyaomicqui (also Teoyaomiqui)- the god of dead warriors
  • Tepeyollotl - (The jaguar form of Tezcatlipoca) god of the heart of the mountain, associated with jaguars, echoes, and earthquakes
  • Tepoztecatl (also Tezcatzontecatl) - god of pulque and rabbits
  • Teteoinnan - mother of the gods
  • Tezcatlipoca (also OmacatlTitlacauan) - omnipotent god of rulers, sorcerers and warriors; night, death, discord, conflict, temptation and change. A sinister rival to Quetzalcoatl. Can appear as a jaguar.
  • Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli - destructive god of the morning star (venus), dawn, and of the east. One of the skybearers
  • Tlaloc (also Nuhualpilli) - the great and ancient provider and god of rain, fertility and lightning
  • Tlaltecuhtli - goddess of earth, associated with difficult births
  • Tlazolteotl (also TlaelquaniTlazolteotli)- the goddess of purification from filth, disease or excess
  • Tloquenahuaque - a creator god or ruler
  • Toci (also Temazcalteci) - grandmother goddess, heart of the earth and mother of the gods. Associated with midwives and war
  • Tonacatecuhtli - the aged creator and provider of food and patron of conceptions
  • Tonacacihuatl - consort of Tonacatecuhtli
  • Tonantzin - a mother goddess
  • Tonatiuh - a sun god and heavenly warrior, associated with eagles and with the Maya
  • Tzitzmitl - aged grandmother goddess
  • Xiuhcoatl (fire serpent or turquoise serpent) - embodiment of the sun's rays and emblem of Xiuhtecuhtli
  • Xiuhtecuhtli -(also called Huehueteotl)
  • Xochipilli - the young god of feasting, painting, dancing, games, and writing. Associated with Macuilxochitl and Cinteotl
  • Xochiquetzal - goddess of love, beauty, female sexuality, prostitutes, flowers, pleasure, craft, weaving, and young mothers
  • Xocotl - star god associated with fire
  • Xolotl - canine companion of Quetzalcoatl and god of twins, sickness and deformity. Accompanies the dead to Mictlan
  • Yacatecuhtli (also Yactecuhtli) - the god of merchants and travellers


Migrational period

The Nahua peoples began to migrate into Mesoamerica from northern Mexico in the 6th century. They populated central Mexico dislocating speakers of Oto-Manguean languages as they spread their political influence south. As the former nomadic hunter-gatherer peoples mixed with the complex civilizations of Mesoamerica, adopting religious and cultural practices the foundation for later Aztec culture was laid. During the Postclassic period they rose to power at such sites as Tula, Hidalgo. In the 12th century the Nahua power center was in Azcapotzalco, from where the Tepanecs dominated the valley of Mexico. Around this time the Mexica tribe arrived in central Mexico.

Rise of the Triple Alliance

At the time of their arrival, the Valley of Mexico had many city-states, the most powerful of which were Culhuacan to the south and Azcapotzalco to the west. The Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco soon expelled the Mexicas from Chapultepec. In 1299, Culhuacan ruler Cocoxtli gave them permission to settle in the empty barrens of Tizapan, where they were eventually assimilated into Culhuacan culture.Based on these codices as well as other histories, it appears that the Mexicas arrived at Chapultepec in or around the year 1248.
According to Aztec legend, in 1323, the Mexicas were shown a vision of an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus, eating a snake. This vision indicated that this was the location where they were to build their home. In any event, the Mexicas eventually arrived on a small swampy island in Lake Texcoco where they founded the town of Tenochtitlan in 1325. In 1376, the Mexicas elected their first Huey Tlatoani, Acamapichtli, who was living in Texcoco at the time.
For the next 50 years, until 1427, the Mexica were a tributary of Azcapotzalco, which had become a regional power, perhaps the most powerful since the Toltecs, centuries earlier. Maxtla, son of Tezozomoc, assassinated Chimalpopoca, the Mexica ruler. In an effort to defeat Maxtla, Chimalpopoca's successor, Itzcoatl, allied with the exiled ruler of Texcoco, Nezahualcoyotl. This coalition was the foundation of the Aztec Triple Alliance, which defeated Azcapotzalco in 1428.
Two of the primary architects of the Aztec empire were the half-brothers Tlacaelel and Montezuma I, nephews of Itzcoatl. Moctezuma I succeeded Itzcoatl as Hueyi Tlatoani in 1440. Although he was also offered the opportunity to be tlatoani, Tlacaelel preferred to operate as the power behind the throne. Tlacaelel reformed the Aztec state and religion. According to some sources, he ordered the burning of most of the extant Aztec books claiming that they contained lies. He thereupon rewrote the history of the Aztec people, thus creating a common awareness of history for the Aztecs. This rewriting led directly to the curriculum taught to scholars and promoted the belief that the Aztecs were always a powerful and mythic nation; forgetting forever a possible true history of modest origins. One component of this reform was the institution of ritual war (the flower wars) as a way to have trained warriors, and created the necessity of constant sacrifices to keep the Sun moving.The Triple Alliance of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan would, in the next 100 years, come to dominate the Valley of Mexico and extend its power to both the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific shore. Over this period, Tenochtitlan gradually became the dominant power in the alliance.

Spanish conquest

Despite some early battles between the two, Cortés allied himself with the Aztecs’ long-time enemy, the Confederacy of Tlaxcala, and arrived at the gates of Tenochtitlan on November 8, 1519.The empire reached its height during Ahuitzotl's reign in 1486–1502. His successor, Motehcuzōma Xocoyotzin (better known as Moctezuma II or Moctezuma, or Montezuma), had been Hueyi Tlatoanifor 17 years when the Spaniards, led by Hernándo Cortés, landed on the Gulf Coast in the spring of 1519.
The Spaniards and their Tlaxcallan allies became increasingly dangerous and unwelcome guests in the capital city. In June, 1520, hostilities broke out, culminating in the massacre in the Main Temple and the death of Moctezuma II. The Spaniards fled the town on July 1, an episode later characterized as La Noche Triste (the Sad Night). They and their native allies returned in the spring of 1521 to lay siege to Tenochtitlan, a battle that ended on August 13 with the destruction of the city. During this period the now crumbling empire went through a rapid line of ruler succession. After the death of Moctezuma II, the empire fell into the hands of severely weakened emperors, such as Cuitláhuac, before eventually being ruled by puppet rulers, such as Andrés de Tapia Motelchiuh, installed by the Spanish.
Despite the decline of the Aztec empire, most of the Mesoamerican cultures were intact after the fall of Tenochtitlan. Indeed, the freedom from Aztec domination may have been considered a positive development by most of the other cultures. The upper classes of the Aztec empire were considered noblemen by the Spaniards and generally treated as such initially. All this changed rapidly and the native population were soon forbidden to study by law, and had the status of minors.

The Tlaxcalans remained loyal to their Spanish friends and were allowed to come on other conquests with Cortés and his men.


The Aztec people were certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica from the 14th to 16th centuries.
"Aztec" is the Nahuatl word for "people from Aztlan", a mythological place for the Nahuatl-speaking culture of the time, and later adopted as the word to define theMexica people. Often the term "Aztec" refers exclusively to the Mexica people of Tenochtitlan (now the location of Mexico City), situated on an island in Lake Texcoco, who referred to themselves as Mexica Tenochca or Colhua-Mexica. Sometimes the term also includes the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan's two principal allied city-states, the Acolhuas of Texcoco and the Tepanecs of Tlacopan, who together with the Mexica formed the Aztec Triple Alliance which controlled what is often known as "the Aztec Empire". In other contexts, Aztec may refer to all the various city states and their peoples, who shared large parts of their ethnic history and cultural traits with the Mexica, Acolhua and Tepanecs, and who often also used the Nahuatl language as a lingua franca. In this meaning it is possible to talk about an Aztec civilization including all the particular cultural patterns common for most of the peoples inhabiting Central Mexico in the latepostclassic period.
From the 13th century, the Valley of Mexico was the heart of Aztec civilization: here the capital of the Aztec Triple Alliance, the city of Tenochtitlan, was built upon raised islets in Lake Texcoco. The Triple Alliance formed a tributary empire expanding its political hegemony far beyond the Valley of Mexico, conquering other city states throughout Mesoamerica. At its pinnacle Aztec culture had rich and complex mythological and religious traditions, as well as reaching remarkable architectural and artistic accomplishments. In 1521 Hernán Cortés, along with a large number of Nahuatl speaking indigenous allies, conquered Tenochtitlan and defeated the Aztec Triple Alliance under the leadership of Hueyi Tlatoani Moctezuma II. Subsequently the Spanish founded the new settlement of Mexico City on the site of the ruined Aztec capital, from where they proceeded with the process of colonizing Central America.
Aztec culture and history is primarily known through archaeological evidence found in excavations such as that of the renowned Templo Mayor in Mexico City; from indigenous bark paper codices; from eyewitness accounts by Spanish conquistadors such as Hernán Cortés and Bernal Díaz del Castillo; And especially from 16th and 17th century descriptions of Aztec culture and history written by Spanish clergymen and literate Aztecs in the Spanish or Nahuatl language, such as the famous Florentine Codex compiled by the Franciscan monk Bernardino de Sahagúnwith the help of indigenous Aztec informants.