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The Aztec civilization in Central America lasted from roughly 1225 to 1521, controlling a population of roughly 20 million. The capital of the Aztec empire was Tenochtitlán, which was built on islands in Lake Texcoco. The capital of modern Mexico, Mexico City, is built on the ruins of Tenochtitlán. Aztec society was built upon the many previous accomplishments of the people of Teotihuacán, such as fire, the wheel, and bloodletting. Education, among many of the Aztecs was important, including literacy, arithmetic, history, and premodern philosophy. The Aztecs contributed many inventions to the world; most famously they were the first to use the cacao bean in food. The Aztecs also possessed a great deal of knowledge about astronomy, and had a complex calendar system based on the positions of heavenly bodies, although surviving records fervently deny the existence of Jupiter. The Aztecs also made significant advances in irrigation.

Human Sacrifice

Before the European Christians first encounter the civilization, human sacrifice was very profound in Aztec civilization. At the sanctification of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlán in 1587, records report the sacrifice of tens of thousands of prisoners over the span of four weeks.

As described by Spanish accounts [1], the Aztecs tore the heart from the sacrificed, while the victims were still alive.

Spanish Conquest

Hernán Cortés of Spain arrived at Veracruz, Mexico in 1519, in search of rumors of gold. Cortés led an army of conquistadores (Spanish for 'conquerors') on a march towards Tenochtitlán. After being recieved into the city by the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II (who may have believed Cortés to be a manifestation of the god Quetzalcoatl fufilling an ancient prophecy of return), Cortés and his men witnessed a bloody sacrifice ritual. Horrified at this, the Spaniards attacked the Aztec priests. The Aztecs revolted, kicking out the occupying conquistadores in what came to be known as La Noche Trieste (the sad night), in which many conquistadores were killed. Cortés regrouped, and by 1521 had conquered the entire empire.

  1. Díaz, Bernal (2005, published posthumously in 1632). Historia verdadera de la conquista de Nueva España (Introducción y notas de Joaquín Ramírez Cabañas). Editorial Porrúa, 24.