Friday, August 13, 2010

A Bloody End

Magnet # 317: Costa Maya Aztec Calendar

Material: Fish Bone

Purchased By: Mary

Once again, it's Friday the 13th, but if you think this might be an unfortunate day for yourself, just be glad you're not an Aztec. Yep, it was on this day in 1531 that they surrendered to Spanish conquistador Hernan Cotes and his followers after the Fall of Tenochtitlan, effectively ending their empire.

The origins of the Aztecs are somewhat murky, and we often have to rely on their own legends as to how they came to be. They believed their ancestors once lived in a place to the north of their home called Aztlan, but that they wandered for many years, traveling south. Around the mid-1200s, they reached Chapultepec, a large hill that is currently just on the outskirts of Mexico City. They were expelled by the local there, but given permission to settle nearby. But they finally found what was to be their permanent home in 1323, when they saw a vision that has become famous worldwide - that of an eagle eating a snake, perched on a prickly pear cactus. They began to build Tenochtitlan on that spot an by the 1400's, it had developed into the dominant city in its region, controlling other settlements around it. But the Tepanecs were threatened by them and had their leader assassinated. In response, his successor formed the Aztec Triple Alliance with the Texcoco and Tlacopan, an act which allowed them to wipe out their mutual enemy. But it would be the people of Tenochtitlan who grew the most powerful and when Montezuma I came to the throne in 1440, he consolidated and expanded the empire. His half brother, Tlacaelel, aided him and set about destroying many ancient Aztec books and rewrote his people's history. For about the next century, the empire continued to grow, stretching all the way from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico and from Central Mexico to what would become Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. It's believed Tenochtitlan was one of the largest cities in the world at that time. And then, the Spanish arrived in 1519. Montezuma II was on the throne and he actually let Hernando Cortes and his men into the city, believing the conquistador to be a representative of one of the Aztec gods, and even gave him gifts of gold and silver. He was soon imprisoned and was killed in 1520, although the details of his death are not known. The Spanish set about bringing down Montezuma's people, aided by the many nearby natives who hated them. Finally, they were able to take down Tenochtitlan. For a time, Cortes seemed satisfied assuming leadership of the Aztecs himself and there was hope the empire would survive, but it was not to be. The Spanish soldiers who had fought under Cortes were rewarded with large parcels of land and they soon turned to using the natives to maintain them. These individuals were not supposed to be enslaved, but they were treated horribly nonetheless, particularly when silver was discovered elsewhere in the New World. And the Aztec language, religion, and culture was eventually done away with when the Spanish outlawed their practice. Finally, the age of the Aztecs came to an end.

Remnants of the Aztec Empire still exist in the modern world. Many Mexicans are descendants of the Aztecs, often with other cultures mixed in. And the Nahuatl language, which was spoken by some of the Aztecs, is used by over a million Mexicans today. And their cuisine has been highly influential on traditional Mexican dishes. Of course, there are also ruins that the Aztecs left behind that we can still tour nowadays. Perhaps the best known are at Teotihuacan, which is about 30 miles northeast of Mexico City. It has pyramids along with murals, residential areas, and an Avenue of the Dead. Of course, Mexico City was built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan and is considered to be one of the oldest living cities on the continent. So even though the Aztecs are gone, parts of their culture are still alive in their descendants and their homeland. They were a proud, powerful, if sometimes vicious, people and the mark they left on the New World cannot be denied.

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