The Aztecs: Mighty Warriors of Mexico (2024)

Activity 1. Meet the Aztecs

The Aztecs, who lived in Mesoamerica, established a complex civilization that came to control vast territories in what is now Mexico.Locate Mexico on a world map.

After viewing scenes from the Invicta History documentary on the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, go to National Geographic's Mapmakersite. On the world map, click on North America, then click on Mexico. Locate Mexico City, the country's capital, which was built on the site of the old Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. Then customize the map: turn off borders and names to better see the geography of the region. Now go to HyperHistory Online available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Conquistadors. Click on Maps, then Regional Maps, then Medieval Maps, and finally, Maya and Aztec. Point out that the Aztec empire extended entirely across central Mexico, from ocean to ocean.

On a print or PDF copy of the map, mark the site of Tenochtitlan and the general area of the Aztec Empire.

Activity 2. Aspects of Aztec Culture

Working in groups, research different aspects of Aztec life.The topics are the following: the local environment, the Aztec social structure, food production and preparation; education and writing; and warfare. Once you have determined your topic, use the corresponding worksheet to gather information:

  • Local Environment: Describe the geography of the Aztec territory -- were there mountains? Deserts? Grasslands? Lakes? Rivers? What was the climate like? Does this seem like a good place for farming? Why or why not?
  • Social Structure: What were the calpulli? What were the major classes of Aztec society? How did clothing reflect a person's class? Which was the largest class? Which was the smallest? Describe the life-style of the ruler.
  • Food Production and Preparation: What were the major crops? How were fields prepared for growing the crops? Who worked in the fields? What types of meat were eaten? How was corn usually prepared for a meal?
  • Education and Writing: What were the two kinds of schools? What was studied in each? Did girls go to school? Describe the Aztec system of writing. What is a codex?
  • Warfare: How did Aztec boys train for warfare? What were main weapons used in battle? Who were the jaguars and eagles? Did the Aztec soldiers kill their enemies or take prisoners? Why would they even consider taking prisoners?

You can use the following resources to help you in your research:

Use both the images and text to complete your worksheet. Once you have gathered all of the required information, work with your group to prepare a presentation of your findings.

Activity 3. Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc, Top Gods of the Aztecs

Like most early peoples, the Aztecs worshipped many nature gods. However, their main deities were Huitzilopochtli (weetz-ill-oh-PACHT-lee), the war god, and Tlaloc (til-AH-loc), the rain god. In this activity, you will research either Huitzilopochtli or Tlaloc.

Consult the resources listed in Activity One. You can also view depictions of both gods on the Ancient History Encyclopedia.

Take notes and gather images that seem useful, making sure to keep a record of the sources where you obtain both information and graphics. Share what you have found with the class. As you learn more about each god, fill in the Venn Diagram comparing them. What conclusions can you draw about the religious ideas and rituals of the Aztecs? How do these deities compare to others you may have studied?

Activity 4. Tenochtitlan, Glorious Capital City

In this activity, you will explore some of the ways Aztec social and cultural practices have endured to the present, as well as draw parallels between the Aztecs and other societies, both ancient and modern.

Symbols and cities
Read about the mythof Tenochtitlan in the text accompanyingan image from the Tovar Codex, created by a Mexican Jesuit in the sixteenth century and digitized by the World Digital Library. Does that image look familiar? It should--a version of it appears on the Mexican flag. You can learn more about the city's layout and architecture from the Ancient History Encyclopedia. Mexico City, the Mexican capital, sits on the same site as Tenochtitlan. Research images of the Plaza of the Three Cultures and Templo Mayor in Mexico City.

  • What do you notice about the archaeological sites of the Plaza of the Three Cultures and Templo Mayor? What else is visible in photographs of these sites?
  • Why might the Spanish conquistadors have decided to establish a major city in Tenochtitlan, far from the coasts and easy access to maritime trade? How does this strategy compare with the placement of cities in other European empires, such as the French or British?

Read more about the Aztec farming system in the Ancient History Encyclopedia. Then read the article "How the Aztecs could improve modern urban farming."

  • What are the advantages of the chinampa system? What are potential drawbacks?
  • Why might modern urban areas consider introducing chinampas?

Social classes
View the "Pendent in the shape of a warrior" and read the accompanying text on the Guggenheim website.

  • How was Aztec society structured?
  • What were some indicators of social class and status in the Aztec world?
  • Can you think of similar social markers in your everyday life? Discuss the similarities and differences between these markers and those used in Aztec society.

Religious and monumental architecture
The altars of the two gods, Huizilopochtli and Tlaloc, were the focal point of the capital city. To learn more about the pyramids upon which their shrines and altars were built, go to Tenochtitlan: Templo Mayor at the EDSITEment-reviewed resource ArchNet.

  • Comment upon each image and explain the role of the pyramid/temples in the lives of the Aztecs.
  • How do these pyramids compare to those in Ancient Egypt? Think about both structure and function.
  • Think about major religious and monumental structures in your local area. Compare and contrast them with the Aztec temples.

Activity 5. What Happened to the Aztecs?

Review the major topics you have covered in the prior four activities. Working in groups or as a class, make a list of ten major achievements of the Aztecs, and rank them in order of importance. If there is disagreement about this order, use it to start a debate about why those differences of opinion exist.

View the aboveHistory Channel video on colonization led by HernanCortes.Despite the impressive accomplishments of the Aztecs, the city of Tenochtitlan—and, in fact, the entire Aztec civilization—was destroyed by about 200 Spanish soldiers. How did this happen? This is a question that, to this day, historians and scholars continue to debate. You can read or listen to this article on NPR about the contentious history of the conquest, and read this essay by historian Nancy Fitch about the changing interpretations of the conquest.

Respond briefly to the following questions.

  • What are some reasons scholars have identified for the Spanish defeat of the Aztecs?
  • Reflect on historian Matthew Restall's choice to forgo the word "conquest." How does this affect the traditional narrative of Aztec defeat?
  • Over 1 million people in Mexico speak Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. In Activity 4, you learned about other ways Aztec society has endured. Based on those reflections, what conclusions can you draw about the Spanish conquest and colonization process?
The Aztecs: Mighty Warriors of Mexico (2024)


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