The Aztecs dominated Mexico in the 15th century from the capital city of Tenochtitlan. Tenochtitlan was a wondrous city full of pyramids. It was built on an island in the center of a lake called Texcoco.
The emperor Itzcoatl began to expand the Aztec territories in Mexico in 1430. By 1500, they had control of a big empire, dominating central Mexico coast to coast. They influenced a lot of the area in the north and south too. Tenochtitlan was most powerful by around the turn of the 16th century when Montezuma II ruled. The population of Tenochtitlan was approximately 300,000.
Food was grown for the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan on lake Texcoco on artificial islands. Other food came from lands which they conquered, as did gold, silver, jade, cotton and cloth for use by Aztec craftworkers. Traders from the north brought turquoise, while brightly colored feathers were brought in from traders form the south. The feathers were used for decoration on headdresses, capes and shields.
All young Aztec males between the ages of 17 and 22 served in the army. Often they stayed longer by choice as, even if they came from a peasant family, they had a chance to become an army commander on merit.
Ordinary Aztecs lived in thatched huts and ate pancakes made from maize filled with vegetables and spicy beans (very much like Mexican tortillas).
The Aztecs worshipped many gods and religious blood-sacrifices was an important aspect of their culture. The army took lots of prisoners of war and these were sacrificed at massive pyramid-temples in the center of Tenochtitlan. They believed that the gods required much human blood, particularly Huitzilopochtli (the god of war).
Priests in Aztec society were considered a special class of people. They were responsible for a full calendar of ceremonies and sacrifices. They used knives made with sharp stone blades to carry out the human sacrifices.
The neighbouring peoples of the Aztecs turned against them over time because of their war-mongering and lust for human sacrifice. This hostility was eventually to cause the Aztec downfall.
The Aztecs traded over much of Mexico and into North and South America. High-value jewelry, clothes, ceremonial items and household goods made by their craftspeople were sold. They also made cities pay them to prevent them invading.
The city of Tenochtitlan was, at that time, one of the best-planned in the world. Streets and canals lay in a grid on the island about a huge ceremonial area. The ceremonial area was full of pyramids, palaces, temples and gardens. The city was joined to the mainland by three wide causeways.
Despite the marvelous organization of the city and its defensive position in the middle of a lake, when the Spanish came in 1520, assistance given to the invaders by hostile neighbouring societies saw the Aztecs conquered by the following year. Also, the Spanish used trickery instead of launching a direct attack. Sheer bad luck on the part of the the Aztecs, in the shape of disease, also helped the Spanish to succeed in their bid to overcome them.