This is probably the least attractive feature of the otherwise very advanced empire of natives. Nevertheless, human sacrifices are a major part of the Aztec culture as well as the cultures of many other native tribes during that time.
Before the Aztecs were....well, the Aztecs, there were plenty of other tribes in North America and they loved to sacrifice. With that said, these seemingly sadistic rituals were nothing new when the Aztecs waltzed right into Mexico and decided to stay.
In the year 1521, when Hernand Cortés and the rest of Spain waltzed into Mexico and decided to stay, evidence of Aztec human sacrifices was everywhere. As a matter of fact, there was enough evidence to fill multiple reports and books regarding these people. The writing was literally on the wall in the form of paintings, depicting these rituals as a regular custom, so the only question left to ask is “why?”.
If you were to ask Spain that question during the 16th century, you might hear a lot of this:
“Because they’re savages!!”
This of course is coming from one of the many European nations to invade occupied land, kill off most of the native inhabitants and enslave the rest, all while trying to convert them to Christianity.
In actuality, the Aztec sacrifices took place because they had a religion of their own, a much darker religion, but a religion nonetheless.
According to the Aztec “Legend of The Five Suns”, a number of gods sacrificed themselves so that humanity could live. In an effort to thank the gods and pay off a never ending debt, human sacrifices were required. Think of it as a statement from the Aztecs, saying “Hey, if you were willing to die for us, we should be willing to die for you.”
The entire nation seemed to agree with this philosophy and so it was considered an honor to be the next guy on the chopping block.
Representation of tzompantli - Aztec sacrifice skull rack
Now of course, Aztec sacrifice couldn’t happen every day. That’s a good way to eliminate your entire race, and then who would be left to appease the gods?
To make sure that didn’t happen, Aztec human sacrifices took place on specific days, holidays if you will, just with less gifts and more bloodshed.
In a single Aztec calendar year, there are 18 of these “holidays”, one for each month. Here’s a list of some specific requirements for these events:
Along with these 18 different events, there is a ceremony held every 52 years. During this ceremony, a sacrifice is made(who’s surprised?)so that the gods will have enough energy to hold the universe together, because believing in gods that can’t maintain all of existence by themselves is a good idea.
If the gods aren’t strong enough, the world ends, so the Aztecs make this important sacrifice and then wait for the sun to rise the following morning, signifying that they have successfully postponed their demise.
© Xuan Che - Aztec Sacrifice
While all of the Aztec gods were important, there was a commonly accepted hierarchy. Not all gods are created equal you know, unless they weren’t created at all that is.
This one was both the manifestation of the Aztec character and the sun, so he was kind of a big deal. The sacrifice he was given was the one where the warrior who captured him got to eat him and considering dental hygiene wasn’t a thing, this guy probably dawned the cologne that every Aztec man dreamed of, rotting corpse.
He was the most powerful and most feared. The god of darkness, chaos and generally screwing things up for people, was not kind or merciful though having the power to be exactly that.
For his dedicated ritual, a child is the target, which seems fitting for Tezcatlipoca. The child pretends to be the god for an entire month and is given four beautiful women, because a child will know what to do from there. At the end of the month, the kid is dead.
He was the god of fire and had a previous form with a name just as crazy as the rest of these gods. His sacrifice rituals involved food, which obviously means it can’t be that bad, and it isn’t that bad until captives start being burned alive and have their hearts ripped out, while they’re still breathing I might add. The Aztec gods really had a thing for hearts. Of course, the Aztecs would do anything if they were threatened with an all consuming fire. Talk about your plans going up in smoke.
Proof isn’t hard to find when it comes to Aztec human sacrifice. Just waltz yourself down to Mexico City and find hundreds upon hundreds of skulls and other bones near the sites of the old Aztec temples. Seems like the Aztecs had nothing to hide. There’s something to be said about a group of people who killed one another and were quite proud of it. I don’t know what that something is, but I’d say it’s not positive.
© orientalizing - Aztec Sacrifice Offering Box Remains
Guess what, the morbid part is over. Now you can move onto to another lesson of the Aztec culture. This is the worst it can get...probably.