New Fire: Aztec Elements, Codex One

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Additional Resources About The Aztecs

There was also a botanical garden and an aquarium. The aquarium had ten ponds of saltwater and ten ponds of clear water, containing fishes and aquatic birds. Places like this also existed in Texcoco, Chapultepec, Huastepec now called Oaxtepec , and Tezcutzingo. Bernal was amazed to find latrines in private houses and a public latrine in the tianquiztli and main streets. Small boats went through the city collecting garbage, and excrement was collected to be sold as fertilizer. About 1, men were dedicated to cleaning the city's streets.

For public purposes, and to be able to set the pace of official business, trumpets were sounded from the tops of the temples six times a day: at sunrise, later on in the morning, at midday, again in the mid-afternoon, after sunset, and at midnight. Although the lake was salty, dams built by the Aztecs kept the city surrounded by clear water from the rivers that fed the lake.

Two double aqueducts provided the city with fresh water; this was intended mainly for cleaning and washing. For drinking, water from mountain springs was preferred. Most of the population liked to bathe twice a day; Moctezuma was reported to take four baths a day. As soap they used the root of a plant called copalxocotl saponaria americana ; to clean their clothes they used the root of metl.

Also, the upper classes and pregnant women enjoyed the temazcalli, which was similar to a [[sauna] bath and is still used in the south of Mexico; this was also popular in other Mesoamerican cultures. At night, in the dark alleys one could find scantily clad ladies with heavy makeup they also painted their teeth , chewing tzicli chicle, the original chewing gum noisily to attract clients. There seem to have been another kind of women, ahuianis, who had sexual relations with warriors.

The Spaniards were surprised because they did not charge for their work, so perhaps they had other means of support. To feed the city of Tenochtitlan required a huge quantity of food, most of which had to be raised as tribute. One account lists over , bushels of maize and , cotton mantles with equal quantities of beans and herbs and other produce due each year Overy, Until the age of 14, the education of children was in the hands of their parents. There was a collection of sayings, called huehuetlatolli "The sayings of the old" that represented the Aztecs' ideals. It included speeches and sayings for every occasion, the words to salute the birth of children, and to say farewell at death.

The Aztecs

Fathers admonished their daughters to be very clean, but not to use makeup, because they would look like ahuianis. Mothers admonished their daughters to support their husbands, even if they turn out to be humble peasants. Boys were admonished to be humble, obedient, and hard workers. Male children went to school at age There were two types of educational institutions. The telpochcalli taught history, religion, military fighting arts, and a trade or craft such as agriculture or handicrafts.

They studied rituals, the reading of the codex, the calendar, songs poetry , and, as at the telpochcalli, military fighting arts. Aztec teachers propounded a Spartan regime of education—cold baths in the morning, hard work, physical punishment, bleeding with maguey thorns and endurance tests—with the purpose of forming a stoical people.

There is contradictory information about whether calmecac was reserved for the sons and daughters of the pillis ; some accounts said they could choose where to study. It is possible that the common people preferred the tepochcalli, because a warrior could advance more readily by his military abilities; becoming a priest or a tlacuilo was not a way to rise rapidly from a low station. Girls were educated in the crafts of home and child-raising. They were not taught to read or write. There were also two other opportunities for those few who had talent. Some were chosen for the house of song and dance, and others were chosen for the ball game.

Aztec codices

Both occupations had high status. The Aztec created artificial floating islands or chinampas on Lake Texcoco, on which they cultivated crops. The Aztec's staple foods included maize , beans , and squash. Chinampas were a very efficient system and could provide up to seven crops a year. On the basis of current chinampa yields, it has been estimated that one hectare of chinampa would feed 20 individuals, with about 9, hectares of chinampa, there was food for , people.

Much has been said about a lack of protein in the Aztec diet, to support the arguments on the existence of cannibalism M. Harner, Am. The Aztecs had a great diversity of maize strains, with a wide range of amino acid content; also, they cultivated amaranth for its seeds, which have a high protein content.

More important is that they had a wider variety of foods.

Aztec Indian Fire Dance

They harvested acocils, a small and abundant shrimp of Lake Texcoco, also spirulina algae , which was made into a sort of cake that was rich in flavonoids, and they ate insects , such as crickets or grasshoppers chapulines , maguey worms, ants , larvae, etc. Insects have a higher protein content than meat, and even now they are considered a delicacy in some parts of Mexico. Aztec also had domestic animals, like turkey and some breeds of dogs , which provided meat, although usually this was reserved for special occasions.

Another source of meet came from the hunting of deer , wild peccaries, rabbits , geese , ducks , and other animals.

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Aztec also used maguey extensively; from it they obtained food, sugar aguamiel , drink pulque , and fibers for ropes and clothing. Use of cotton and jewelry was restricted to the elite. Cocoa grains were used as money. Subjugated cities paid annual tribute in form of luxury goods like feathers and adorned suits. After the Spanish conquest, some foods were outlawed, like amaranth , and there was less diversity of food. This led to a chronic malnutrition in the general population. For the Europeans, human sacrifice was the most abhorrent feature of Aztec civilization.

Human sacrifice was widespread at this time in Mesoamerica and South America during the Inca Empire , but the Aztecs practiced it on a particularly large scale, sacrificing human victims on each of their 18 festivities. Most cultures of Mesoamerica gave some kind of offerings to the gods, and the sacrifice of animals was common, a practice for which the Aztecs bred special dogs.


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Objects also were sacrificed; they were broken and offered to their gods. The cult of Quetzalcoatl required the sacrifice of butterflies and hummingbirds. Self-sacrifice was also quite common; people would offer maguey thorns, tainted with their own blood.


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  • Blood held a central place in Mesoamerican cultures; in one of the creation myths, Quetzalcoatl would offer blood extracted from a wound in his own penis to give life to humanity, and there are several myths where Nahua gods offer their blood to help humanity. In the myth of the fifth sun, all the gods sacrifice themselves so humanity could live. In the usual procedure of human sacrifice, the victim would be painted with blue chalk the color of sacrifice and taken to the top of the great pyramid. Then the victim would be laid on a stone slab, his abdomen ripped open with a ceremonial knife an obsidian knife could hardly cut through a ribcage and his heart taken out and raised to the sun.

    The heart would be put in a bowl held by a statue, and the body thrown on the stairs, where it would be dragged away. Afterwards, the body parts would be disposed of various ways: the viscera were used to feed the animals in the zoo, the head was cleaned and placed on display in the tzompantli, and the rest of the body was either cremated or cut into very small pieces and offered as a gift to important people.

    Other kinds of human sacrifice existed, some of them involving torture. In these, the victim could be shot with arrows, burned, or drowned. For the construction of the Templo Mayor, the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed about 84, prisoners in four days. Some scholars, however, believe that it is more probable that only 3, sacrifices took place and the death toll was drastically inflated by war propaganda. In the description of the tzompantli, he writes about a rack of skulls of the victims in the main temple and reports counted about , skulls. However, to accommodate that many skulls, the tzompantli would have had a length of several kilometers, instead of the 30 meters reported.

    Modern reconstructions account for about to 1, skulls. According to William Arens , excavations by archeologists found skulls. He was very interested in Aztec culture. According to an Aztec source, in the month of Tlacaxipehualiztli, 34 captives were sacrificed in the gladiatorial sacrifice to Xipe Totec.

    A bigger figure would be dedicated to Huitzilopochtli in the month of Panquetzaliztli. This could put a figure as low as to victims a year, but Marvin Harris multiplies it by 20, assuming that the same sacrifices were made in every one of the sections or calpullis of the city.

    There is little agreement on the actual figure. Aztecs waged "flower wars" to capture prisoners for sacrifices they called nextlaualli "debt payment to the gods" , so that the sun could survive each cycle of 52 years.

    "The Continuum of Life in Codex Borbonicus" by Karl Young

    It is not known if the Aztecs engaged in human sacrifice before they reached the Anahuac valley and acquired and absorbed other cultures. The first human sacrifice reported by them was dedicated to Xipe Totec, a deity from the north of Mesoamerica. Aztec chronicles reported human sacrifice began as an institution in the year "five knives" or , under Tizoc. Under Tlacaelel's guidance, human sacrifice became an important part of the Aztec culture, not only because of religious reasons, but also for political reasons.

    As Laurette Sejourne — the French ethnologist comments, the human sacrifice would also put a strain in the Aztec culture. They admired the Toltec culture, and claimed to be followers of Quetzalcoatl, but the cult of Quetzalcoatl forbids human sacrifice, and as Sejourne points, there were harsh penalties for those who dare to scream or faint during a human sacrifice. While there is universal agreement that the Aztecs practiced human sacrifice, there is a lack of scholarly consensus as to whether they also practiced cannibalism and, if so, to what extent.

    At one extreme, anthropologist and cultural materialist theorist Marvin Harris — , who was interested in cultural evolution, and who wrote about cannibalism in Our Kind and Cannibals and Kings , has suggested that the flesh of the victims was a part of an aristocratic diet as a reward, since the Aztec diet was lacking in proteins. According to him, the Aztec economy would have been unable to support feeding them as slaves, so the columns of prisoners were "marching meat.

    While most historians of Mesoamerica believe that there was ritual cannibalism related to human sacrifices, they do not support Harris' thesis that human flesh was ever a significant portion of the Aztec diet. There are a few contemporary accounts of Aztec cannibalism. Recent archeological evidence INAH in some of the bodies found under the "Catedral Metropolitana," from the basement of Aztec temples, show some cuttings indicating the removal of muscular masses.

    Not all the bodies show this treatment. Poetry was the only occupation worthy of an Aztec warrior in times of peace. A remarkable amount of this poetry survives, having been collected during the era of the conquest. In some cases, we know names of individual authors, such as Netzahualcoyotl, Tolatonai of Texcoco, and Cuacuatzin, Lord of Tepechpan.

    In the basement of the Templo Mayor there was the "house of the eagles," where in peacetime Aztec captains could drink foaming chocolate, smoke good cigars, and have poetry contests. The poetry was accompanied by percussion instruments teponaztli. Recurring themes in this poetry are whether life is real or a dream, whether there is an afterlife, and whether we can approach the giver of life.

    Bautista de Pomar was the great grandson of Netzahualcoyotl. He spoke Nahuatl, but was raised as Christian and wrote in Latin characters. The Aztec people also enjoyed a type of dramatic presentation, although it could not be called theatre. Some were comical with music and acrobats; others were staged dramas of their gods. After the conquest, the first Christian churches had open chapels reserved for these kinds of representations.

    Plays in Nahuatl, written by converted Indians, were an important instrument for the conversion to Christianity, and are still found today in the form of traditional pastorelas, which are played during Christmas to show the Adoration of Baby Jesus, and other Biblical passages. He defeated Tenochtitlan's forces on August 13, This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2. Has anyone got any suggestions for the title for book 2? The theme is Aztec Elements.

    If anything, the effect has been the reverse. Which is the more desirable? Any other person who interfered in the chase was punished by being enslaved himself. The Dark Water Codex. Two things to note: Codex One — this is the first codex in the Aztec Elements trilogy The title on the spine has been rotated through degrees This is how book one will look in a few weeks time.

    The images in the large boxes, those shown here, present the deity who governs each "week," often accompanied by another god who modifies the significance of the primary figure.

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    The second section of the book provides year signs correlated with the "Lords of the Night," enabling an adept to adjust any given day period to the 52 year cycle of time or Aztec "century. The images in the third section center on ceremonies, particularly those that end a 52 year cycle, when "New Fire" must be lit to make the transition from one period to the next.

    Perhaps this might have related to historical events, such as those found in Codex Vindobonensis, had the scribes been able to finish their work. The incompleteness of this section contains suggestive possibilities, the answers to which may always elude us. I sometimes think of this part of the book as a sort of nahuali for the initial calendar. That's simply a poet's way of looking at it.

    Whatever this section may be or whatever the scribes wanted it to be, the opening calender remains a major work of Aztec book art, and gives us clear and well-rendered images of the gods who governed the calendar, and who moved through the continuum of life in the Aztec world. The iconographic texts from Codex Borbonicus presented here are my line drawings.

    For many years, making drawings and painted facsimiles of the Codicies and related work formed a major nexus of my study of these books, an activity and discipline I recommend to anyone seriously interested in Meso-American studies - though, of course, it also reflects my own orientation as artist and poet. To access each icon from Codex Borbonicus , click on the title of the section you're reading.