Mexica; northern ppl who pushed into central MX in wake in collapse of Tula; at first, had clan-based social organization & served as serfs & mercenaries but then relocated to small islands near shore of Lake Texcoco & around 1325 C.E. they began construction of 2 capitals, Tenochtitlan & Tlatelolco; after seized additional agri land, had monarchial system; rulers didn't have absolute power & royal succession wasn't based on primogeniture; council of aristocrats selected new rulers from among male members of ruling lineage; once selected, ruler forced to renegotiate submission of tribute dependencies & demonstrate divine mandate by undertaking new round of military conquests; war infused w/ religious meaning, providing ruler w/ legitimacy & increasing prestige of successful warriors; warrior elite seized land & peasant labor as spoils of war; lower classes received some material rewards from imperial expansion but lost most of ability to influence or control decisions; commoners could achieve social mobility through battle success or by entering priesthood; urban plan organized around clans (fought together as military units); clans' historical control over common agricultural land & other scarce resources, such as fishing & hunting rights, declined; by 1500 C.E. inequalities in wealth & privilege characterized society; kings & aristocrats legitimated ascendancy by creating elaborate rituals & ceremonies to distinguish selves from commoners; Spaniard who participated in conquest of Aztec Empire described 1st meeting w/ Moctezuma II (r. 1502 - 1520):
"many great lords walked before great Montezuma [Moctezuma II], sweeping ground on which he was to tread & laying down cloaks so that his feet should not touch the earth. Not one of these chieftains dared look him in the face. Commoners lived in small dwellings and ate a limited diet of staples, but members of the nobility lived in large, well constructed 2-story houses & consumed diet rich in animal protein & flavored by condiments & expensive imports like chocolate from the Maya region to the south. Rich dress & jewelry also set apart the elite. Even in marriage customs the 2 groups were different. Commoners were monogamous, great nobles polygamous.
150,000 ppl; dike more than 5 ½ miles (9 K) long by 23 ft (7 m) wide to separate freshwater & saltwater parts of LakeTexcoco - allowed significant extension of irrigated fields & construction of additional chinampas - project consumed 4 mill person-days to complete; draft animals & wheeled vehicles absent, so commerce dominated by gold, jewels, feathered garments, cacao, animal skins; merchants provided intelligence for Aztec elite; merchants denied priveleges of high nobility, which was jealous of its power ∴ merchants feared to publicly display affluence; commerce carried on w/o $ & credit; barter facilitated by use cacao, quills filled w/ gold, & cotton cloth; Tenochtitlan & Tlateloco offered goods from Central America & southwestern border of U.S..; Hernán Cortés (1485 - 1547), the Spanish adventurer who conquered Aztecs:
"One square in particular is twice as big as that of Salamanca & completely surrounded by arcades where there are daily more than 60,000 folk buying & selling. Every kind of merchandise such as may be met with in every land is for sale...There is nothing to be found in all the land which is not sold in these markets, for over & above what I have mentioned there are so many & such various things that on account of their very number...I cannot detail them."
combined pop of Tenochtitlan & Tlatelolco & cities & hamlets of surrounding lakeshore was about 500,000 by 1500 C.E.; island capital designed so that canals & streets intersected @ right angles; 3 causeways connected city to lakeshore; worshiped lots of gods - most had dual nature (male & female); contributed cult of Huitzilopochtli (southern hummingbird) - originally associated w/ war, but identified god w/ Sun, worshiped as divinity throughout Mesoamerica - required diet of human hearts to sustain daily struggle to bring Sun's warmth to world; Tenochtitlan architecturally dominated by twin temple devoted to Huitzilopochtli & Tlaloc, the rain-god, symbolizing 2 bases of Aztec economy: war & agri; thousands of sacrifices/yr; sacrifices carried out in front of large crowds that included leaders from enemy & subject states & Aztecs - rebellion, deviancy, & opposition dangerous