Tenochtitlan: Capital of the Aztec Empire

Tenochtitlan: Capital of the Aztec Empire

Tenochtitlan: Capital of the Aztec Empire

Tenochtitlan: Capital of the Aztec Empire


"An up-to-date and especially thoughtful study of the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan, delving into the many and varied issues and problems faced by any city."--Frances F. Berdan, author of Aztecs of Central Mexico

"Provides a comprehensive view of life in the Aztec capital city, bringing together a wide variety of archaeological and documentary information to examine all aspects of the city's history, organization, and daily life."--Janine Gasco, coeditor of The Legacy of Mesoamerica

Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec Empire before the Spanish conquest, rivaled any other great city of its time. In Europe, only Paris, Venice, and Constantinople were larger. Cradled in the Valley of Mexico, the city is unique among New World capitals in that it was well described and chronicled by the conquistadors who subsequently demolished it. This means that, though centuries of redevelopment have frustrated efforts to access the ancient city's remains, much can be known about its urban landscape, politics, economy, and religion.

Although the city commands a great deal of attention from archaeologists and Mesoamerican scholars, very little has been written in English for a non-technical audience. In this fascinating book, eminent expert José Luis de Rojas presents an accessible yet authoritative exploration of Tenochtitlan--interweaving glimpses into its inhabitants' daily lives with the broader stories of urbanization, culture, and the rise and fall of the Aztec Empire. While most Aztec studies tend to focus on more spectacular activities like warfare and human sacrifice, this volume focuses on the basics--things like construction, food, and jobs--bringing the Aztec capital to life while enhancing our understanding of its culture.

José Luis de Rojas is professor of anthropology at the Complutense University of Madrid. He is the author of nearly a dozen books, including Ethnohistory of America, The Indian Monies and Their Use in New Spain, and The Aztecs.


The Aztec imperial capital Tenochtitlan was one of the great cities of the ancient world. It was the largest city in the New World prior to the coming of European invaders in the sixteenth century, and—as capital of an extensive empire—one of the most powerful cities. Tenochtitlan also has the privilege of being the most extensively described of the ancient cities of the New World. Conquerors like Cortés and Díaz del Castillo wrote vivid descriptions of the bustling metropolis. Then, as Tenochtitlan was transformed into Mexico City after its conquest, many other writers recorded information about the city in ancient times. In recent decades, one of the largest excavation programs in Mexican history has uncovered the central temple of Tenochtitlan and its surrounding area, adding much new archaeological data.

Given the significance of the city and its rich historical and archaeological documentation, it is surprising that Tenochtitlan has received so little coverage in English-language sources. Happily, the present volume rectifies the situation. José Luis de Rojas, an ethnohistorian at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain, is one of world’s leading scholars of the Aztec capital. In this book he uses his extensive knowledge of historical sources to bring the city and its residents to life. We are shown the people of Tenochtitlan in countless fascinating settings, from elaborate public pageants where images of gods are carried through the streets to the houses that were settings for daily life. Farmers, merchants, priests, and kings find their stories in these pages. Tenochtitlan had the problems and logistical requirements of a major premodern urban center. Where did the food come from? How did a city on an island in a salty lake get its drinking water? Dr. Rojas answers these and numerous other questions in authoritative and vivid prose.

This book is the second in the series Ancient Cities of the New World. Books in this series provide accessible portrayals of urban patterns in places where publication has not kept up with fieldwork and archival research. While the study of any past urban center can claim to be about ancient cities or urbanism, this book series features studies . . .

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