By Rosarie Salerno
We know them as the Aztec Nation; they called themselves the Mexica. By the 15th century CE, the armies of the Aztecs were a mighty invincible fighting force; they had conquered the central valley of Mexico. The city of Tenochtitlan, the location of present day Mexico City, was their capital city-state. Their influence was felt far and wide in Mesoamerica, Mexico. There were many conquered cities that were being forced to pay heavy tribute to the Mexica.
The entire life and culture of the Mexicas was driven by their fear of the most powerful god, Huitzilopochtli. Huitzilopochtli, the national god of Tenochtitlan, was the god of the sun, and at the same time, the god of war. In order to ensure the rising of the sun each morning, the Mexicas believed, Huitzilopochtli demanded human sacrifice; soaking the earth with blood. The only way to supply the great number of human sacrifices needed was through the holy wars.
Their conquests were not accidental. They had perfected a war-machine; a tight, well organized, well disciplined, and obedient army. There was no room for individualism. It is doubtful the concept even existed among the common people. The greater community of the tribe was foremost in importance.
The economy of the Mexica did not use a monetary system like Europeans, but a system based upon barter and trade. Warriors were rewarded with status, land, slaves, elaborate dress wear, gold ornaments, and jade. A great part of the tribute from the conquered cities went to the warriors, as well, freeing them to concentrate on their warrior skills instead of a daily-routine existence. The men of Tenochtitlan had transitioned from the peasant-farmer-warrior to the semi-professional soldier.
From birth all boys were raised to be warriors for Huitzilopochtli; reflected in this abridged excerpt of a prayer recited by the midwife at the birth of every male child.
“Loved and tender son, this is the will of the gods. You are a warrior, you are promised to the field of battle. You are dedicated to war. You must give Huitzilopochtli your enemies’ blood, you must feed the earth with corpses. Serve, and rejoice that you may be worthy to die the death of flowers.”
Boys were not allowed to have anything to do with girls at all and were separated from their sisters at an early age. At about the age of 6, all boys from the common citizenry were sent to school, not to learn reading and writing, but to become indoctrinated into the service of Huitzilopochtli and trained in the art of war, to become warrior-priests
In school they learned religion, history, ceremonies and the customs of their clan and community. They learned to fight with clubs embedded with sharp obsidian, lances, spears, and swords. They perfected the use of cotton armor and shields. So important was discipline and obedience to the Mexica society, that if a youth refused to, or was not capable of, becoming a warrior, he could be put to death or be forced into slavery.
By the time the young men reached the age of 15 they were sent into the battlefield along with the warriors. They served as messengers, laborers, and bearers for the soldiers. This exposed them to the reality of war and hardened them into fierce warriors. They remained in school until they captured their first victim. At that time they were rewarded with farm land and a wife. A great warrior could become socially mobile through his military service.
The sons of the high priests, nobility, and bureaucrats, along with a few of the exceptional youths from the common classes, were sent to a different kind of school, more like a university. These boys were to be the new leaders of the tribe; future speakers, judges, and priests. Besides the art of war, they were encouraged to practice the finer arts. They were taught the ancient culture, pictographic writing, astrology, astronomy, theology, mathematics, and metaphysics. These young aristocrats learned etiquette, songs, poetry, rituals, and ceremonies for their station. Their schooling was particularly strong in discipline and ethics. They were even more strenuously and ferociously trained in warfare. These young men were expected to have more courage, strength, and ability than the ordinary soldier. Mexica universities produced disciplined, tough, and sophisticated young barbarians.
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