10 Amazing Facts About the Aztecs

The Aztecs are best known for their enormous
pyramids, fierce warriors, and grisly human sacrifices. However, a closer look reveals a remarkably
complex civilization that flourished until the arrival of the Spanish in 1519. The Mesoamerican civilization was a confederation
of city-states and ethnic groups centered around the Valley of Mexico and united by
the Nahuatl language. Although commonly referred to as the ‘Aztecs’
(a term popularized by Europeans in the 19th century), they referred to themselves by other
names—including the Mexica or Tenochca. They weren’t an especially long-lived civilization,
either; the Aztec empire was founded in 1428, less than 100 years before it ended. Much of what we know about the Aztecs derives
from a series of colorful, hand-painted manuscripts made from stretched deerskin or fabric weaved
from agave plants. The works, similar to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics
or modern-day comic books, featured a combination of writing and art to depict Aztec daily life,
centered around its capital of Tenochtitlan in present-day Mexico City. Advances in fields such as medicine, science,
and astronomy can be found throughout the Aztec culture. And, yes, they also got into some weird, freaky
stuff that led to copious amounts of blood and skulls. But to be fair, historians would be hard-pressed
to find any religion without at least a few skeletons in its closet. 10. That old song and dance Aztec warriors have a well-earned reputation
as skilled fighters. Moreover, they would pummel their enemies
while singing, dancing, and waving large banners—all of which gave new meaning to the term ‘war
party.’ The use of musical instruments also held particular
importance on the battlefield to help organize soldiers and send messages of enemy activity. The high-pitched sounds from pink-hued conch
shells and the beating of drums helped to create a thunderous cacophony, made even louder
with Aztec war cries. According to one Spanish conquistador eyewitness:
“While they are fighting they sing and dance, and from time to time utter the most frightful
whoopings and whistlings in the world … and it is a certain fact that, to anyone who had
never seen them fight before, their yells and manly appearance would be intimidating.” Because the empire revolved around warfare
both politically and economically, the warrior class enjoyed an exalted status in class and
paved the only path towards upward mobility. Appearance featured prominently as well, providing
some decorated soldiers with battle dress adorned with colorful feathers and animal
hides. 9. Same day delivery. Fast! The last Aztec Emperor, Moctezuma II, supposedly
enjoyed a daily feast of 200 dishes, including fresh fish from the Atlantic coast located
250 miles away. To accommodate the Tlatoani (“one who speaks”),
a team of relay runners served as couriers—a task underscoring the Aztec’s zeal to devotion—and
their extraordinary talents for long distance running. Moreover, the route started and finished at
an altitude of over 7,000 feet, making the feat much more impressive. Aztec runners were also responsible for communicating
important news. Placed at designated stations every 2.5 miles,
the fast men ensured rapid delivery and response, especially on matters relating to military
threats. When conquistador Hernan Cortes first arrived
near Veracruz in the spring of 1519, authorities in the Aztec capital were alerted well ahead
of the Spaniard’s march on Tenochtitlan. Today, descendants of these runners can still
be found in Mexico and the American Southwest, embracing the tradition of extreme endurance
running and scaling new heights. It’s not surprising that Al Waquie, a Jemez
Pueblo Indian from New Mexico, won the annual Empire State Building Run-Up six consecutive
times. 8. Paddle power At the peak of the Empire, Tenochtitlan flourished
as one of the largest cities in the world, hosting over 200,000 inhabitants. And with its central location located on an
island in the middle of Lake Texcoco, the Aztec capital required an elaborate system
of canoes (acalli) to provide commercial and personal transportation. The main urban hub operated within a sprawling
network of bridges and causeways connected to the mainland; a series of canals created
additional access to all sections of the city. Canoes were constructed from a single tree
trunk, ranging from 14 to 50 feet in length. A skilled craftsman could produce a finished
piece in about a week and typically featured a shallow draft and square bow. According to the Mendoza Codex, larger vessels
could support a load in excess of several tons, requiring both skill and muscle to power
the tens of thousands of watercraft in use on a daily basis. Poles and paddles were also carved from wood—and
the Aztecs believed the god Opochtli (derived from a rain deity) invented the elongated
tool as a divine means to propel their boats. 7. Superfood for super people Barrels of ink have been used by historians
to write about the Aztecs’ sophistication in a wide range of fields. Advanced nutrition can also be added to the
list. Nutrient-rich spirulina was used in spicy,
chile-flavored sauces and served with staples such as a corn and tortillas, helping fuel
the aforementioned Aztec prowess in fighting, killing, balling, paddling, running, etc. Known to the locals as tecuitlatl, the blue-green
algae was harvested from lakes in the Valley of Mexico. It would then be sun-dried and cut it into
bricks, allowing the preserved foodstuff to remain edible throughout the year. The aquatic plant contains chlorophyll, high
protein, and an essential amino acid (linolenic acid); it also yields an elevated content
of vitamin B12, beta-carotene, and a variety of other vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin,
and niacin. Spanish conquistadors, like petulant five-year-olds
refusing to eat their veggies, derisively characterized the colorful food as “slime.” Following their conquest, efforts to control
flooding led to most of the lake being drained, destroying the primary source of algae. Today, the area remains an entirely dry lake
basin. 6. They disapproved of drink but venerated “drugs” Because drunkenness was seen as destructive
of social order and harmony, drinking was largely prohibited. The fifth cup of beverages like pulque (a
type of maguey/agave beer) was said to be especially troublesome. Only those who could be trusted (the nobles
and priests), or those who had some medicinal need for alcohol (the elderly), were permitted
to drink it at all. Psychedelic drugs (or plant medicines), on
the other hand, were held in extremely high regard. Peyotl (peyote) was used for visions and prophecies,
ololiuqui (morning glory) was used as an intoxicant in ceremonies, and teonanácatl (psilocybin
mushrooms) were considered to be the flesh of the divine, reserved for the holiest of
religious occasions. Many other plants, including pipiltzintzintli
(possibly salvia), were also used by the Aztecs. A statue of the god Xochipilli, the Prince
of Flowers, in a state of spiritual rapture on a base of such visionary plants attests
to the value they held. The missionaries, however, were appalled at
the use of these plants. Seeing them as a tool of the Devil and the
priests as essentially witches, they felt compelled to stamp out the practice—often
violently. 5. Their lives were determined from birth The Aztecs saw childbirth as a battle and
the mother as a victorious warrior. The baby, meanwhile, was seen as her captive,
a prisoner taken in war—which is apt considering they didn’t believe in free will. The life chances of the average Aztec were
determined not only by sex and class, but by a range of other factors entirely beyond
their control—from spiritual forces resident in the body to a complex system of astro-numerology. As the anthropologist Jacques Soustelle put
it, each newborn Aztec was “inserted automatically into … the grasp of the omnipotent machine.” For example, everyone could expect a fate
based on the qualities inherent in their birth date according to the Aztec day count calendar—the
260-day tonalpohualli. The tonalpohualli consisted of 20 13-day “months,”
each presided over by individual day signs, including animals (e.g. Lizard, Monkey), natural
phenomena (e.g. Wind, Movement, Death), and manmade items (e.g. House). It was a little like the modern Western zodiac,
in other words—but considerably more specific, and often devastatingly grim. Those born on ‘2 Rabbit’ (the second day
of the “month” of Rabbit), for instance, were apparently fated to a life of uncontrollable
drunkenness, wallowing in their own filth, and rejection from everyone they met. Naturally, they were also at much greater
risk of injury and death, whether by accident or as capital punishment. The only way to mitigate such an unfortunate
fate appears to have been a lifetime of penitence and piety, including night-time worship, hard
work, fasting, cleanliness, and order. But the odds were stacked against them. 4. Their worldview was more rational than the
West’s While European astronomers were getting burned
at the stake for heresy, the Aztecs were developing a sophisticated cosmogony based on mathematics,
astronomy, and ecology. Like many Eastern philosophical traditions
(e.g. Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism), theirs was an holistic worldview. Unlike the Catholic conquistadors, they didn’t
see the world in terms of good and evil. They saw it more scientifically as a balance
of order and chaos. Although missionaries attempted to align their
own concept of sin with the Aztec concept of filth (or degradation) tlatlacolli, it
wasn’t directly comparable. For one thing, the Aztecs’ avoidance of
tlatlacolli was a pragmatic, not a faith-based, concern. The consequences of bad action were observable
in this life, not deferred to the afterlife as punishment in the hereafter. (Indeed, the nature of the Aztec afterlife
was determined not by the way one lived, but chiefly by the way one died.) Such actions—and only actions, not thoughts
as well (as in Catholicism)—were to be avoided because they threatened the social order. Hence they included things like theft, drunkenness,
and adultery—but not sensual pleasure in general. The refusal to participate fully in life was
an alien concept to the Aztecs. They saw earthly life as its own reward, not
as something profane or subordinate to the afterlife. Life and its pleasures were to be enjoyed,
not denied. The key, prioritising the pragmatic ideal
of order (as opposed to the more subjective and arbitrary Catholic ideal of virtue), was
moderation—not repression. Underpinning this difference was the Aztecs’
fundamentally unified worldview. Nothing was unholy; everything was imbued—indeed
made of—the same sacred energy-in-motion, teotl. In agreement with the non-duality teachings
of ancient India (as well as the physicists of today), the Aztecs considered the appearance
of separate objects to be illusory. And they saw no fundamental distinction between
heaven and earth, life and death, man and nature, and so on; these were simply balancing
aspects of a unified whole, similar to the yin and yang of Taoism. For them, Creation wasn’t a one-off act
on a linear timeline toward Judgement Day; it was an eternal process of emergence, harmony,
and change, the weaving of a grand cosmic tapestry in which teotl was at once the weaver,
the thread, and the process of weaving itself. Ironically, the simple, civil, and good-spirited
nature that such a worldview imparted to the Aztecs is exactly what marked them out—in
Columbus’s eyes—as “good candidates for conversion to Catholicism.” 3. Everything was next to godliness Another thing the Aztecs had in common with
the Hindus was their belief in a pantheon of gods—not as standalone entities but as
facets of an essential unity. In addition to the major deities—including
Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent who re-created humans), Huitzilopochtli (the great warrior
god of the Sun), and Tlaloc (the god of rain and water)—the Aztecs recognized well over
1,000 others. Most were associated with farming and other
important aspects of Aztec life, but some were extraordinary to say the least—whether
because of their long and complicated names (e.g. Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, the Lord of the
House of Dawn) or because of what they represented. As well as being the god of divine ecstasy
and visionary plants, for instance, Xochipilli was the patron of homosexual male prostitutes. Then there was Tlazolteotl-Tlaelquani, a goddess
who ate excrement and other waste as a symbol of recycling and renewal. Xipe Totec, meanwhile, another of the major
deities, was associated with the flaying of skin, again as a symbol of regeneration. The Aztecs worshipped this god during the
festival of Tlacaxipehualiztli, namely by flaying the skin of their bravest captive,
painting it yellow, and wrapping it around somebody else. This person would then be treated as if they
were the embodiment of the god. 2. They sacrificed humans—but don’t hold
it against them There were 18 months in the Aztec solar calendar,
and almost all of them called for sacrificial rites. From Atlcahualo (February-March) to Izcalli
(January-February), men, women, and children were slaughtered in elaborate ceremonies—mostly
focused on the removal of their hearts. According to the missionary Bernadino de Sahagún,
many were flayed, burned alive, and hunted like animals as well. Nowadays, in agreement with the conquistadors,
most of us would find the practice abhorrent. However, as with any moral evaluation of the
past (and especially of an alien culture), it’s important to consider the context. For one thing, the Aztecs had no fear of death,
and they were under no illusion that life was more important. Furthermore, sacrificial victims were treated
with respect—even reverence—and were said to be honored in the afterlife. It’s conceivable that many even welcomed
such a fate. After all, even priests were known to sacrifice
parts of their own bodies. Victims may also have been sedated with powerful
deliriants like Datura innoxia, a plant common in Aztec medicine. In any case, Spanish chroniclers—many of
whom hadn’t even been to the New World—are known to have exaggerated the numbers. The friar Diego Durán, for instance, claimed
that 80,400 people were sacrificed over four days at the Templo Mayor. But that would have meant 14 sacrifices per
minute (more than the daily record of Auschwitz). Aside from anything else, the city of Tenochtitlan,
with its population of 250,000, simply lacked the infrastructure for so much death. In fact, archeological evidence places the
total number of sacrifices ever committed in the city at closer to 1,000. So why do we characterize the Aztecs by this
practice? It’s not like the Greeks, Romans, Chinese,
ancient Egyptians, and many other cultures—including the heretic-burning culture from which the
conquistadors came—didn’t practice it too. 1. Take me out… to the ballgame The Aztec ballgame (ullamaliztli) played an
important role in society both politically and spiritually. The physical contest also provided a thrilling
spectator sport, showcasing several elements found in soccer and basketball. Additionally, large sums were waged on the
games and intense rivalries between city-states often led to career-ending results (i.e. death)
of the coaches and players. Over the years, scholars have debated which
team was actually eliminated (as mentioned, sacrifice was considered a noble honor); nonetheless
it was truly a sport to die for. Teams competed on a rectangular court made
of stone measuring 100 to 200 feet long known as the tlachtli or tlachco, featuring ornately
carved stone rings. Players attempted to place a hard rubber ball
(ulli) through a stone hoop—an extremely difficult feat that would signal the end of
the game. However, points could also be scored involving
markers on the walls surrounding the court and other skilled plays. Spectators viewed the action from an arena
often adorned with skull racks of previous sacrifice victims—a macabre Hall of Fame
players may have wanted to avoid entering. The rough, fast-paced sport required the ball
to remain in play using only the head, elbows, knees, and hips. Players wore deerskin guards for protection
against injuries—as well as constantly hitting the ground to prevent the ball from landing. It’s also worth noting the game’s origins
date back 3,500 years to the region’s mother culture, the Olmec (‘the people of rubber’),
making it the oldest recorded ball game in the world.

Comments 100

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  • Do a video on ridiculous conspiracies of the first American, like "black Israelites" and such.

  • Slime. Apt description. I know it's healthy.

  • What about the stone masks? Cue pillar men music….

  • Simon nailed the aztec gods lol

  • I love some of the god's they have.

  • 10:28 is pronounced Tay-ya-zolt-teeot-tay-el-qwan-eee

  • 11:50 – 12:14 – Ah so we can do that with this subject but not with the Holocaust, huh? Interesting.

  • I wouldn't be able to pronounce those long names, so I won't "have a go" at you.

  • Why do the Brits refuse to learn correct pronunciation of other languages?

  • Great outfit—looks great on him

  • 📅} " Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. " Hebrews 13:8 {📅

  • 📅} " This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. "
    Psalm 118:24 {📅

  • Vae victis, indios


  • Simon with the classic British outfit but more stylish! lol

  • Do a video on boers, they have an interesting history

  • I guess we are at the point where the Aztecs seem pretty cool. Have a heart.

  • I love your productions, but PLEASE can you research pronunciation of the different names, places and peoples you describe? It really grates hearing that default Brit mispronunciation every time….

    I don't understand how an entire population (UK, but to an only slightly lesser extent USA as well) seem to make such a point of making no effort to find out how the speakers of any other language might actually say things. My own theory is it stems from an embarrassed presumption that it can't be gotten right, so why try at all. 

    Anyway, I know you can do this, and it would sound so much less patronising if you did so.
    Try this: http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/language/pronunciation

  • 10 amazing facts about azetecs: their civilization got buried and their land stolen by the Europeans how then did the same thing to Palestinian

  • You sure go out of your way to excuse murder in this video.

  • 1:00 they worshipped khorne???

  • Do the Seminole people of Florida

  • This is a pretty sanitized version of the Aztecs. I noticed how you kind of glossed over the fact that they oppressed all those around them. They were very much hated and the Spanish were cheered when they conquered them.

  • Your pronunciation is as normal as any non-Nahuatl speaker! Hehe!
    Tenochtitlan “Teh-noh-tit-lahn”
    Nahuatl “Nah-waht”
    Mexica “Meh-shi-cah”
    Texcoco “Tesh-co-co”
    There were a few others but those are the ones most people come across 🙂

  • Thoose that they killed were often of other religion they didnt want to be killed . Also historicans say it were at LEAST 10.000 deaths not 1.000 and that at the temple building alone.

  • isnt blue green algae toxic?

  • Anybody else getting annoyed with these non skippable adverts of late,on every channel?

  • War dancing and crying just like "team shouts" and football/futball/soccer/rugby events.

  • Doesn't that document page with the leopard skins looks a lot like the images of plants from the Vonage script?

  • That was fantastic! And thank you for not focusing on the sacrifices. Just as was said, it must be viewed in context and it cannot be forgotten that other cultures and religions tortured and sacrificed people as well. Glass houses and all that. Great job, everyone!

  • It's pronounced Tēa oh teach lan

  • Aztec legal drinking age was 52, but every 4 years a holiday occured where all including toddlers were required to drink.

  • Where did the Aztecs get a rubber ball?

  • Drugs were not venerated by them. They were primarily used as cleansing and healing agents primarily utilized and supervised by a shaman. This only changed when westerners started going to these Indians and doing drug tourism in the early 20th century. Very, very incorrect Simon. The codexs you refer to point this fact out in a very straightforward manner.

  • all your videos reek of sjw

  • Is he mispronouncing "Tenochititlan" or have all the other voice-over guys been mispronouncing it?

  • The "Aztec"; It's pronounced "Me shee Ka" Mexica.

  • That wasn't terrible.

  • Simon has surrendered to the Nohot'l Tongue!

  • one comment about the "heretic burning Spanish" and human sacrifice. Heretics were burned not as an offering to a diety, but as a punitive measure for spreading "fake" news.

  • ancient Aztecs learning about the crusades, the inquisition, witch hunts, etc "Wow, these guys are savages"

  • for the love of history, put some effort into your Spanish pronunciations. ‘Herrnun Cortez’ and his ‘Conkisstadors’ would be mucho disappointed let alone the Aztecs with their pronunciations lol

  • Mexicas al atake

  • Conch rhymes with Kronk!!

  • I had to go look up my Aztec sign!

  • columbus? not cortez?

  • Yeah, I mean, who couldn't write novels about the virtue of convincing children that they wanted to die gruesomely, drugging the hell out of them, and killing them gruesomely?
    So it's ok just because they "all" believed it? That seems like a difficult position to defend. In fact, it seems pretty obvious that any number of horrific things could be justified and dismissed like that.

  • I hate to say it, but you've got a point on the human sacrifice thing. Especially since burning at the stake was a common form of punishment in Europe.

  • Seems to be alot of videos nowdays about Aztecs and Mayans. It's awesome to see people are actually interested in history like this. I hardly meet any people in real life that are interested in history of any kind.

  • I like the coat Simon!

  • Aztec-support. Well, have to tried cutting your heart out and putting it back in again?

  • Penitence not Petinence. Still, excellent vid.

  • Thank you for not being some kind of A-hole who tries to make some terrifying horror story out of my people. I grew up in El Paso Texas and the history books written there just depicted my people as blood thirsty savages.

    None of that was true. People focus on the things they view have more " wow " affect on them.

    Europeans exaggerated and demonized the culture of my people to cover up their crimes.

    Which included disease warfare, child prostitution and genocide ect.

    My culture is badass and I'm very proud to be Mexica-Otomi.

    Discovering my people's language on my own 8 years ago brought a lot of happiness and wholeness to my life.

    People don't realize how important it is to know what and who you are in this world.

  • what about the aztec death whistles, they would march on villages while playing the whistle as psychological warfare

  • 'more enlightened than the west…' – except the human sacrifices, conveniently left out.

  • as usual the Astecs continue to be the progressive badasses i thought them to be

  • Things to pronounced correctly:
    Nahuatl is pronounced Na-wat with a almost silent l.
    Mexica is pronounced Me-shee-ka
    Tenocha is pronounced Te-no-cha
    Tenochtitlan is pronounced te-noch-tee-tlan
    Texcoco is pronounced Tesh-ko-ko
    Facepalm on your attempt to pronounced teteoh (gods).

  • Very nice and interesting video. Greetings from Mexico city.

  • Ulama , the deadliest game in the world . The losing, team was sacrificed !

  • Simon Whistler. The "nice" Simon.

  • I simply can't understand your pronunciation problems

  • I. love . this . channel!

  • I had subtitles on for something else – and noticed that these ones contain a lot more useful information – see for example the section on drugs 5:04

  • 11:17 There are pokeballs

  • I find it adorable that you straight up admitted you can't pronounce Nahuatl instead of twisting the words into horrors.

  • They call me King Canoe

  • this is an awesome video thank you for making it😎

  • "Free Will" only makes sense within the Christian Theological context in which it arose.

  • Just say the city or please learn how to sound out the name Tenochtitlan.

  • The Aztecs were inherently more rational than the Europeans were…apart from the way they treated people born under the sign of the rabbit and that non-belief in free will. They also didn't kill people for being non-believers, but as a periodic exercise to sustain the cosmos, apart from when they felt like flaying someone that they captured. Or killing a team for losing a ball game. Far more rational. Uh oh, the sky is falling. Better sacrifice more people….

  • nice jacket

  • The first architecture was the Totonacs. Diff folks under Aztec subjectgation.

  • They did not sacrifice the ball game players. Historians now feel that the relief depicting this refers to a myth or historical game not to all games played.

  • Single source?

  • Im having it out in the comments. Learn how to say peyote. More common than you think

  • Savages, without the value of human life. A civilization the world is better off without.

  • Each time you eat chocolate .. thank the Aztecs for giving us the words 🙂

  • I thank the Aztecs for allowing me to be entertained by your struggle to keep a straight face describing the goddess of eating excrement.

  • I read somewhere that public executions are a way for rulers to maintain order and remind everyone who’s in charge. On a per capita basis, the Medieval English hanged more people than the Aztecs sacrificed. Makes you wonder if we do the same thing today in another form

  • Tenochtitlán

  • What's this guy's name? I've noticed he speaks very efficiently. I usually set teaching videos at 1.5 speed because at regular 1.0 speed my mind tends to wander and I don't pay attention well. If I set this gentleman's videos to 1.5 it's too fast–but if I slow them down to normal, I realize he's speaking at a normal speed. This confused me until I realized that he eliminates a lot of pauses and hesitation devices like "er, um" and so forth. In addition, the text is lacking in superfluous "conversational" parts so it comes as a steady stream of condensed information. Well done, Mister whatever your name is! Edit: Mr. Simon Whistler is the instructor here.

  • Regarding the drugs they used I wonder if, given the missionary objective of converting any and all natives to catholicism essentially were just looking for a scapegoat to both justify to themselves ehat they were doing as well as start to put doubt in the natives minds about their own religion.

  • @TopTenz Simon – From viewing many of your videos on your multiple channels, it is clear you/your writers don't understand Catholicism. You would gain more credibility if you withhold your ignorant and false judgemental comments until you actually understand the theology (or at least separate past errors of individuals from the Church/theology itself). If you consider yourselves serious historians, it would be prudent not to put personal bias in your videos.

  • Does he intentionally pronounce basically every word wrong?

  • Interesting video, Simon.

  • Aztecs died because they were stupid. Thats it

  • I love learning about these ancient civilizations. Absolutely hate how intolerant and abhorrent the catholic faith killed much of these civilizations culture…

  • ahuevo, were proud to have the blood of our Mexica ancestors! or in my case, maya

  • Did Si win the lottery? He's dressed just how my dad would dress if he won.

  • All religions are violent huh? How about the Jains???

  • It really amazes me how well the conquistadors could decimate a culture.

  • Every culture – past, and present has gruesome aspects. The proper focus should be on the civilization's knowledge of the arts and sciences to further man's knowledge base.

  • They also have a unique building that gives +15% growth in all cities. Wait, that could just be a video game…

  • They finally translated the last few lines of the calendar. It states: for a refill and new calendar please contact frank at xxx-xxxx

  • LOTSA BS in this one. Sorry, but over half of it can't be backed up.

  • Lol idc about anything else I just wana hear em pronounce funny things LOL

  • The reason for aztec human sacrifice was to give food to the gods the REPTILIAN anunnaki gods who are human meat as food.

  • Just Western Culture and Christian bashing here … just move on.

  • Mexicana mushrooms r hella weak

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