The Aztec Empire, The Mexica

1345 to 1521 ce

TThe Aztecs are the people who came from Aztlan the place of origin of the Aztec peoples. Aztec in Nahuatl means the people who came from Aztlan.The Aztecs who left Aztlan had wandered for many years and finally settled in Coatepec (Snake Hill in Nahuatl) near Tula. There the Aztecs built a city and lived for many years. When the Aztecs were in Coatepec, a dispute arose. Some of the Aztecs who followed Huitzilopochtli wanted to leave and some of the Aztecs who followed Coyolxauhqui (Huitzilopochtli's Sister) wanted to stay in Coatepec. In the battle that ensued the followers of Huitzilopochtli won and they changed their name to Mexicas. The Sculpture of Coyolxauhqui's dismembered body lies today at the foot of the Templo Mayor the religious center of the Mexica people.
Mexicas, therefore, are the Aztecs that split from the other Aztecs in Coatepec. The Mexicas were led by Huitzilopochtli. They continued south and founded the city of Tenochtitlan or Mexico (what is now Mexico City) in Anahuac. Tenochtitlan in Nahuatl means the place of prickly pear cactus. Tenochtitlan was also referred to as Mexico. The Empire of the Mexicas was also called Mexico. Mexicas means people from Mexico. Hence, Mexicano or Mexican means the same as Mexica, people from Mexico
The City of Tenochtitlan was built in the middle of Lake Texcoco. Anahuac or the Valley of Mexico was full of lakes. Anahuac in Nahuatl means "Near the water or sea."Tenochtitlan was a city built on water with many canals. Canals and canoes were an important method of transportation for the Mexicas.
In summary, the Aztecs were from Aztlan. Aztecs means people from Aztlan. Mexica means people from Mexico. Aztecs wandered until they found their new homeland, Mexico. When the found it, they changed their name to Mexica, people from Mexico. The Aztecs turned into Mexica once Huitzilopochtli appeared in a dream to four priests (Teomama) when our people settled at Chapultepec. Huitzilopochtli gave his name to the Aztecs since his was also known as Mexi. So Mexica also means sons of Mexi or Huitzilopochtli. Apparently in the Mexicayotl Chronicle, Mexi is one of the names given to Huitzilopochtli.

Anahuac and Cemanahuac

The Aztec Empire, The Mexica Empire


Ānāhuac is the ancient core of Mexico. Ānāhuac is a Nahuatl name which means "close to water." It can be broken down like this: A(tl) + nahuac. Atl means 'water' and nahuac, which is a relational word that can be affixed to a noun, means "close to." Anahuac is sometimes used interchangeably with Valley of Mexico, but Ānāhuac properly designates the south-central part of the Valley, where well-developed Mexica (more commonly known as the Aztecs) culture traits had created distinctive landscapes now hidden by the urban sprawl of Mexico City. ("Valley of Mexico" is misnamed. It is a closed basin of internal drainage, not a valley.)

The ancient Mexica term Ānāhuac (close to water) and the phrase Basin of Mexico are both used at times to refer to the Valley of Mexico. ... The Valley of Mexico can be subdivided into four basins, but the largest and most-studied is the area which contains Mexico City.Ānāhuac is "limited by the traditional and vaguely defined boundaries of an ancient American empire the Mexica previous to the Spanish conquest.Ānāhuac could be described as all the plateau region of Mexico, and extending between the eastern and western coast ranges from Rio Grande to the isthmus of Tehuantepec. A more exact and more commonly used description, however, limits it to the great plateau valley in which the city of Mexico is now located.


Cēmānāhuac was the name used by the Mexica (aka Aztecs) to refer to their world.It is a Nahuatl name derived from the words "cē" one/whole and "Ānāhuac", which in turn derives from the words "atl" (water) and "nahuac", a locative meaning "circumvented or surrounded". Hence, the name can be literally translated as "land completely surrounded by water", or "the totality of what is next to water". The term refers to the conscience that the Mexica had of the “American” territory they knew, surrounded by two great oceans, the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.



Tenochtitlan, mexico city

 The ancient Aztec (Mexica) empire in the center of Mexico City was built using lava rocks. According to Aztec sources, the main temple, Templo Mayor, was built on this spot because an eagle was seen perched on a cactus devouring a snake, in fulfillment of a prophecy. By the early 16th century, the Aztecs had come to rule over up to 500 small states, and some 5 to 6 million people, either by conquest or commerce. Tenochtitlán at its height had more than 140,000 inhabitants, and was the most densely populated city ever to exist in Mesoamerica.  At a time in Europe when street cleaning was almost non-existent and people emptied their overflowing chamber pots into the streets as a matter of course, the Aztecs employed a thousand public service cleaners to sweep and water their streets daily, built public toilets in every neighborhood, and transported human waste in canoes for use as fertilizer. Aside from crops, the Aztecs market offers various goods and services, including everything you can think of. Raw materials, finished products, jewelry, wood and even medicine could be bought in this one stop shop, and the main gathering ground for the Aztecs. Their method of exchange was through tribute and trade. They bartered using different currencies, but the economy in Aztec life was essentially driven by this marketplace, the heart of the Aztec society. 

Aztec Life

Floating Gardens

Aztecs were in control of an empire that was inhabited by a large population. This meant that the exploitation of the landscape for agricultural purposes had to be intensified. This could be seen in the use of the chinampa agricultural system, the so-called ‘floating gardens’ which could be found on the shallow lake beds in the Valley of Mexico.

The most common crop grown by the Aztecs was maize, also known as corn, and it was also the most important.  Maize could be stored for long periods of time, and in addition to being eaten as it was, it could be ground into flour and made into other foods.


The Aztecs valued cleanliness. The conquistador Andres de Tapia reported, in a tone of wonder, that Montezuma bathed twice a day. He did, but there was nothing extraordinary about that for an Aztec, since everybody, according to the Jesuit historian Francisco Javier Clavijero, ‘bathed often, and many of them every day’ in the rivers, lakes or pools.

They lacked true soap but made up for it with the fruit of the copalxocotl, called the ‘soap-tree’ by the Spanish, and the sticky root of the xiuhamolli or soap-plant; both gave a lather rich enough to wash body and clothes. 


The Aztecs made use of deodorants, breath fresheners and dentifrices. (Spaniards of the time cleaned their teeth with urine.) As well as bathing in lakes and rivers, the Aztecs cleaned themselves – often daily – in low sauna-like hot-houses. An external fire heated one of the walls to red-hot, and the bather threw water on the baking wall, creating steam. As in a traditional Russian steam bath, the bathers could speed up perspiration by thrashing themselves with twigs and grasses. Almost every building had such a bath-house or temazcalli, used for medical treatments and ritual purifications as well as ordinary grooming 

Aztec Warriors

Capturing prisoners was key for a warrior to rise in the ranks of the army

Jaguar Warriors
The Jaguar Warriors were considered to be the all out fighting troops and full time warriors. The brute force of the Aztec army, they wore Jaguar skins over their heads with their faces peering out beneath the jaguar mouth. To be a Jaguar Warrior, you had to capture 4 enemies and bring them back for sacrifice.
Eagle Warriors
The Eagle Warriors were the scouts of the Aztec Warriors as well as being good fighters. They were the eyes, ears, the messengers who would find the information necessary to lead and strategize an attack. These warriors often wore helmets adorned with eagle feathers and heads. They adorned their armor with feathers and carried brightly colored shields. To be an Eagle Warrior, you had to first be a Jaguar Warrior (you had to capture 4 enemies and bring them back for sacrifice) and then could be promoted to Eagle Warrior after performing a blood ritual.

Aztec Government

The Calpulli

Families didn't individually own land in the Aztec empire. Rather, the land was owned by a group of families called the calpulli. The leaders in the calpulli would be responsible for the basic needs of the families. They created the schools, called telpochalli, for their citizens. They also made sure taxes were collected from the citezens.

Nobility and Councils

The Aztecs had ranks of nobility and priesthood that provided leadership. In the cities, each calpulli would have a leader, and those leaders would form another council.  

The Huey Tlatcani

In Tenochtitlán, the city leaders led the empire. The leader was known as the Huey Tlatcani which meant "Great Speaker".  This was the emperor and was worshipped as a god!  

Ancient Aztec Government and The power of the empire

Tribes that were conquered by the Aztec government were forced to pay tribute.  Aztec warriors made attacks on surrounding tribes and took prisoners which would be sacrificed to their gods.

The nearby tribes under domination by the Aztecs developed hatred towards them and this would cause many of them to turn on the empire when the Spanish gave them the chance.

Aztec Gods

The Sun was the most important aspects of Aztec religion for it gave life. The Aztecs called themselves the "People of the Sun". They felt that in order for the sun to rise each day the Aztecs needed to perform rituals and sacrifices to give the sun strength.


Huitzilopochtli was the god of war, the sun, and sacrifice. His name means "left-handed hummingbird". He was often drawn with feathers and holding a scepter made from a snake.


Mictlantecuhtli was the Aztec god of death. The Aztec pictured him with a skull for a face.  Mictlantecuhtli ruled the underworld, called Mictlan, along with his wife, Mictecacíhuatl. The Aztec believed that people's souls lived on after death. Certain souls went to one of several paradises, or heavens. Among those who went to a paradise were warriors who died in battle and people who drowned. All other souls went to Mictlan.  Mictlan was a dark, frightening place. Souls traveled for four years before reaching its center, where Mictlantecuhtli lived. There were nine stages of the journey. Each stage contained a dangerous challenge, such as swimming across a river or climbing a mountain. Once the souls reached Mictlantecuhtli, they disappeared forever.  In one story, Mictlantecuhtli tried to trap the god Quetzalcóatl in the underworld. Quetzalcóatl had gone to Mictlan to gather bones. He needed them to create humans for the new world. Mictlantecuhtli caused Quetzalcóatl to fall into a deep pit, but Quetzalcóatl was able to escape. The bones broke, however, and that is why humans come in many different sizes.

About Us


Mictlancihuatl The goddess Mictlancihuatl is the wife of the Death God Mictlantecuhtli, ruler over Mictlan, the northern realm of the dead


Quetzalcoatl was the god of life and wind. His name means "feathered serpent" and he was usually drawn as a serpent which could fly.  


 Xipe-Totec was considered the god of fertility for the Aztecs. He was the god of springtime vegetation, of eternal spring, of vegetables. It means "our skinned lord," covered with the skin of a victim of sacrifice, symbolizing the vegetation that covers the earth every year. It was closely related to Huitzilopochtli, since Xipe Totec was a former warrior god. He was also a Toltec god. To honor him, priests flayed humans, tearing the skin of the living victim at Tlacaxipehualiztli, the feast of Xipe Totec, who was also considered the god of Earth and Spring.  

The aztec empire

The building of an empire. The conquest of the Spanish.