The Daily Life of the Aztecs: On the Eve of the Spanish Conquest

The Daily Life of the Aztecs: On the Eve of the Spanish Conquest

The Daily Life of the Aztecs: On the Eve of the Spanish Conquest

The Daily Life of the Aztecs: On the Eve of the Spanish Conquest

Excerpt

We must first define the subject of this book in space and time, for during the two or three thousand years before our era and up until the fateful year of the European invasion (1519, or one -- reed according to the native calendar) many varied civilisations followed one another in the huge expanse of Mexico, rising each in turn like the waves of the sea, and like the waves, falling in ruin.

The subject of this book, then, is the life of the Mexicans -- the Mexica, as they said themselves -- at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The great feast of the New Fire, the 'binding of the years', took place at the end of each native 'century' of fifty-two years; and the last was in the year 1507, during the reign of Motecuhzoma II Xocoyotzin ('the younger'). The Mexican civilisation was then in the full vigour of its rise and of its youth. Scarcely a hundred years had passed since Itzcoatl (1428-1440), the first of the great rulers, had founded the league of the three cities, of which Mexico-Tenochtitlan had become the capital. And it was in this city, on the shores and even on the water of a lake in the hollow of the central valley, seven thousand five hundred feet high and overlooked by snow-capped volcanoes, that the Aztec power was built up -- a power which became, within a few decades, the most extensive domination that that part of the world had ever known.

At that time, in 1507, nobody, from the arid steppes of the north to the burning jungles of the isthmus, from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico to the shore of the Pacific, could have believed that this enormous empire, its culture, its art, its gods, were to go down a few years later in a historic cataclysm that makes even the fall of Constantinople seem comparatively mild. In Mexico nobody knew that a white-skinned race from another world already had a footing in the islands of the western sea, and had had it since 1492. Twenty-seven years were to elapse between the first voyage of Columbus and the landing of Hernan Cortés upon the continent -- a quarter of a century's respite during which the . . .

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