Martin Luther, Albrecht Durer, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Christopher Columbus, Abravanel, the Hongzhi Emperor (only monogamous Chinese emperor ever), Sulayman the Magnificent, Ivan the Great/Terrible, Moctezuma II, King Henry the VII, and Askia Muhammad Toure were all alive at the at the same time during the year 1500.
THE MEXICA/AZTEC MYTHOLOGY. The Aztecs were Nahuatl speaking groups living in central Mexico and much of their mythology is similar to that of other Mesoamerican cultures. According to legend, the various groups who were to become the Aztecs arrived from the north into the Anahuac valley around Lake Texcoco. The location of this valley and lake of destination is clear – it is the heart of modern Mexico City – but little can be known with certainty about the origin of the Aztec. There are different accounts of their origin. In the myth the ancestors of the Mexica/Aztec came from a place in the north called Aztlan, the last of seven nahuatlacas (Nahuatl-speaking tribes, from tlaca, "man") to make the journey southward, hence their name "Azteca." Other accounts cite their origin in Chicomoztoc, "the place of the seven caves," or at Tamoanchan (the legendary origin of all civilizations).
Look at that magnificent bastard: You’d call bullshit on that armor set in Skyrim. No way that’s practical for battle. That does nothing but look awesome on the cover of a Dungeons and Dragons compendium. But that’s not just a painting: That is the very real armor of the Polish winged hussars, who held the title for the most brutal cavalry force in the world for most of the 16th and 17th century. They wreaked absolute havoc on battlefields throughout Europe, all while sporting huge angel wings on their backs.
In the 13th century the Aztecs migrated to central Mexico. Unwelcome anywhere else in Mexico because of their warlike ways, the Aztecs were forced to inhabit a small island in the middle of swampy Lake Texcoco. With ingenuity and brilliant engineering they had turned the swampy island into the city of Tenochtitlan, which would become one of the largest cities in the world. By the late 15th century the Aztecs had far expanded beyond their city, conquering a mighty empire that dominated central Mexico.
As the Aztec Empire expanded, so too did their need for larger religious infrastructure. At the center of the city was the Pyramid of Tenochtitlan, atop of which sat the Temple Mayor. The Temple Mayor served as the center of the Aztec religion, and as the Aztec Empire expanded, the temple itself was rebuilt, renovated, and expanded as well. In 1487 Temple Mayor was rebuilt a sixth time under the oversight of Emperor Ahuizotl.
To consecrate the new temple Ahuizotl ordered the sacrifice of over 20,000 victims to the gods Huitzilopochtli, god of war, and Tlaloc, god of rain and agriculture. The victims to be sacrificed were not the Aztecs themselves, but conquered subjects from the many kingdoms and city states that made up the empire. Every conquered kingdom or city was forced to give a quota of victims, those who refused were destroyed by the Aztec army.
The temple priests worked in teams and shifts, sacrificing an average of 1,000 people a day for the next 20 days. Aztec human sacrifice was a gory and violent death where the priest cut open the chest cavity with an obsidian or flint knife. He then removed the still beating heart and presented it as a gift to the gods. As the sacrifices continued the blood flowed throughout the temple until it ran down the stairs of the Tenochtitlan Pyramid.
In 1519, a band of strange foreigners arrived in Tenochtitlan. Though not as direct as the Aztecs, the Spanish were brutal conquerors as well. With the aid of superior technology, smallpox, and tens of thousands of disgruntled Mexican natives who were tired of supplying victims for the Aztec’s blood orgies, they quickly conquered the Aztec Empire. In 1521 the Spanish destroyed Templo Mayor. Hundreds of years later the foundations of the temple are an important historical site. There archaeologists have found many important artifacts including sculptures, ceremonial objects, beadwork, obsidian/flint knives, and the remains of sacrifice victims.
The Aztec Empire used two calendars, a 260-day calendar for calculating religious holidays, and a 365-day calendar for the civil year. The Aztec sun stone,12 feet wide, illustrating both systems, is perhaps the most famous Aztec art piece today.
Warriors in Aztec society progressed through the ranks based on the number of captives they took in battle. Once a warrior had taken four captives and attained the rank of tequihuanqueh, not only would their upkeep be provided by the state, but they would have met one of the requirements for joining the elite religious-warrior socities known as the Eagle Warriors - Quaquauhtin - and Jaguar Warriors - Ocelomeh. The Eagle Warriors, such as the warrior represented here, were a rank higher than the Jaguars, but the exact extra requirement is unknown. Membership was almost exclusive to the nobility.
Archaeologists have discovered a unique “dog cemetary” underneath Mexico City. Twelve dogs were carefully interred. They date around the Late Post Classic period of Aztec history (1350 to 1520 CE). While dog burials were not uncommon at the time, they were invariably buried with humans, presumably their masters, or near important sites as animal sacrifices. This is the only place where dogs are the site.
Ancient settlements like Teotihuacan could hold clues to the origins of cities.
Before Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés destroyed the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan in 1521, he marveled at its impressive size and wealth. In a letter to his king, he wrote that the city was as big as Seville or Cordoba back home. Tenochtitlan had boulevards, bustling markets, canals, courthouses and temples. The Aztecs didn’t model their capital after a European city, but what Cortés saw was remarkably familiar.
Sure, each city has its own local quirks, architecture, language and cuisine. But recently, some theoretical scientists have started to find there are universal laws that shape all urban spaces. And a new study suggests the same mathematical rules might apply to ancient settlements, too.
Using archaeological data from the ruins of Tenochtitlan and thousands of other sites around it in Mexico, researchers found that private houses and public monuments were built in predictable ways.
"We build cities in ways that create what I like to call social reactors," said Luis Bettencourt, who studies complex systems at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico.
For years, Bettencourt and his collaborators in Santa Fe have been building a theoretical framework to understand modern cities in their most elemental form. Cities magnify opportunities for social interaction; as they grow, they become more efficient, and the productivity of their resources and labor grows in predictable ways. For instance, when a city’s population doubles, there’s typically about a 15 percent increase in the city’s “output” per capita — a 15 percent increase in wages, a 15 percent increase in GDP, a 15 percent increase in patents. (There’s also a 15 percent jump in violent crime; not all of the outcomes of cramming people together are good.) The researchers refer to this phenomenon as “urban scaling.”
In Bettencourt’s eyes, a city isn’t just a brick-and-mortar physical space; it’s also an invention designed to sustain social interactions on a daily basis, to throw a lot of people with different specializations together to solve complicated problems that they wouldn’t be able to tackle on their own.
As it turns out, that invention might be a really old one, dating back to the time when humans first started to be social.
Data on dead cities
During a fellowship at the Santa Fe Institute, anthropologist Scott Ortman heard Bettencourt’s group give a presentation and thought their ideas might apply to ancient cities, too.
"What I realized was that none of the parameters they were discussing in these models had anything to do with modern capitalism, democracy or industrialization," said Ortman, who is now a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "Their parameters are basic properties of human social networks on the ground. And so I thought, ‘Well, gosh, if that’s true, then these models should apply very broadly.”
Ortman banded together with Bettencourt to test whether the models would indeed hold up for long-gone cities. The challenge was to find the right data set. To analyze the productivity of modern cities, researchers are spoiled with census statistics, economic reports, satellite maps and detailed measurements of infrastructure. For ancient cities, they have to look for more subtle clues.
Ortman and Bettencourt turned to a rare set of data on the pre-Hispanic Basin of Mexico that was collected during an extensive archaeological survey in the 1960s and 1970s — before many of the ancient sites in the region were covered by the expansion of Mexico City.
The survey covered 2,000 years of history, from about 500 B.C. up until the beginning of the colonial period in the 1500s. It spanned about 1,550 square miles (4,000 square kilometers) containing thousands of settlements, from small towns with just a few hundred people to grand cities like Teotihuacan and Tenochtitlan, which had an estimated population of 200,000.
In a study published in the journal PLOS ONE last year, Ortman, Bettencourt and their collaborators showed that these ancient settlements got bigger and denser much in the same way modern cities do. When larger, networked cities doubled in population, the space they occupied didn’t double, but instead grew slower, by about 83 percent. This result, Bettencourt said, is a compromise between the need for personal living space and the need to maintain social networks. (If a city doubled in size every time its population grew, it would become too costly to get around.)
For the new study, the researchers wanted to look at the socioeconomic productivity of these cities, so they focused on public monuments (liketemples) and domestic houses, which they thought would be good proxies for public and private wealth.
They found that these diverse ancient settlements generally showed the same increasing returns of urban scaling that’s been observed in modern cities. As cities grew in population, so did the rate at which they were able to produce monuments.
"What’s interesting is that this expresses exactly the same as GDP," Bettencourt said.
The same was true for private wealth. The researchers reasoned that house size would reflect income and accumulated wealth. The surface area of houses got predictably larger as the settlement size grew, and the distribution of house area was even quite similar to the distribution of income that’s observed in cities today, Bettencourt said.
The study, which was published today (Feb. 20) in the journal Science Advances, is the first to apply these archaeological data, and Ortman said it would be an “astounding result” if it holds up across other sites and ancient cultures.
"It implies that some of the most robust patterns in modern urban systems derive from processes that have been part of human societies all along," Ortman said. "I just think that’s an amazing concept."
The idea is winning over some other archaeologists, too.
"What I find exciting about the results is that they suggest that the archaeological record contains a treasure chest of experiments inhuman social life,” said David Carballo, an archaeologist at Boston University who was not involved in the study.
Another archaeologist, Michael Smith, who studies the Aztecs at Arizona State University, was invited to Santa Fe a year and a half ago to take a look at what Ortman and Bettencourt were working on.
"I went up, prepared to tell them this is a ridiculous idea," Smith said. Ancient cities weren’t profit-oriented, they didn’t have capitalist investment like they do today and they were more likely to have rulers with a tight grip on the economy, Smith said, so he didn’t think the same rules would apply to their growth. But he left New Mexico a convert.
"They convinced me that the reason behind the scaling regularities is a more general phenomenon that has to do with the way that people interact within a particular environment," Smith said. "I find this stuff really exciting because it suggests that there’s something really fundamental about human interactions — and human interactions in cities — that transcends modern economies."
Smith wasn’t directly involved in the new study, but he is collaborating with Bettencourt and Ortman to look for more archaeological data sets to test whether these theories about urban scaling hold up for medieval cities, pre-Hispanic farming villages in North America and other settlements.
While the Aztecs put strong emphasis on parents teaching their children properly, they also had mandatory public schooling for all children. Those of a noble class had different schools to attend and schools were also separated by gender. Boys of nobility would be sent to the Calmecac School where they learned from the priests about history, astronomy, art, and how to govern and lead. Boys of lower caste were sent to the Cuicacalli School, which was much more focused on preparing them for possible service in the military as warriors. Girls were sent to separate schools and much more of their education was focused at home where they were taught domestic duties such as cooking and weaving.