Early American History
Indians of North America
Lake Texcoco
Key Concepts

The Aztecs began as a tribe of nomads. About 1200 A.D., they began t0 settle in the Valley of Mexico. By 1500 A.D., the Aztecs were an Empire. An empire is conquered land of many people and places. It is governed by one ruler called the Emperor. The Aztec Empire had more than 5 million people.

The Aztecs borrowed from the Mayas which was an older civilization. They also learned new ways of doing things from the peoples they conquered. The Aztec empire was one of the greatest empires of the time, in the world. It had strong armies, powerful rulers, and expert builders.

The Aztec capital city was Tenochtitlan. Tenochtitlan was built on two islands in the middle of Lake Texcoco. As the people of the city needed more land for farming, they built small islands in the lake. Canals and paved roads connected the many islands to the shore. Today, Mexico's capital, Mexico City stands where the city of Tenochtitlan was once located. The Mexican flag has an eagle with a snake, which comes from an Aztec legend.

Tenochtitlan had wide avenues and beautiful plazas. About 200,000 people lived in the city. The Aztec Emperor also lived in the city. He had palaces with hundreds of rooms, beautiful tropical gardens, and a zoo. Near the palaces were warehouses. In the warehouses they kept the tribute from the Aztec people. Tribute are payments made to a ruler by the people. Each year, the Aztecs were required to pay tribute to the Emperor. They paid in goods like cloth, jewelry, feathers, gold, and corn.

In the center of Tenochtitlan were white flat-topped pyramids. On top of the pyramids were stone temples. The temples were built to honor the Aztec gods. There was also a large, public market in the center of the city. Each day, people from all over the Aztec Empire brought goods to trade at the market. About 60,000 people went to the market each day.

The Aztecs
Mexico City
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Additional Information

Aztec Empire - The Aztec Indians had a calendar that was more accurate than the calendar used in Europe at the time. Every 52 years the Aztecs started a new calendar cycle. A new calendar cycle began with the New Fire Ceremony. First the Aztec people put out all the fires in the empire. Then the chief priests went to a mountain top for the ceremony. On the mountain, the priests began a new and sacred fire. Then they brought the sacred fire to each temple throughout the land. The Aztec religion taught that if the new calendar was not begun, the world would end.

Aztec gods - The Aztec army captured many prisoners. The prisoners were used as slaves. However, thousands of slaves were used as human sacrifices. The Aztecs believed that each morning, the god Huitzilopochtli brought out the sun and chased the moon and stars away. The human sacrifice each morning was thought to give the god energy.

Aztec legend - An Aztec legend says that when the Aztecs were just a tribe they began Tenochtitlan where they saw a sign from the Gods. According to the legend, they saw an eagle with a snake in its mouth, sitting on a cactus.

Canals - The old city of Venice, Italy is like Tenochtitlan. Venice is a collection of islands connected by bridges and canals. As the people of Venice needed more land, they too built islands.

Lake Texcoco - Most of inland Mexico is dry. Along the lakes was a good place for the Aztec tribe to settle.

paved roads - The Aztecs built reed boats for fishing and traveling on the canals. They built causeways or raised roads across the canals.

small islands - They built small islands for gardens that appeared to float in the lake. To build an island, the Aztecs put rows of thick posts into the marsh. Then they filled the spaces between the posts with mud. In time they were able to grow vegetables on the island. They grew chili peppers, squash tomatoes, corn, and beans.

trade - The Aztec market in Tenochtitlan was the largest in the world. Some of the foods that were sold were chili peppers, squash, beans, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, fish, and cactus.