History is packed full of terrible atrocities in every corner of the world. Many months ago, History Collection published an article taking a look at the mightily impressive Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. The small section detailing Aztec sacrificial rituals provoked the lion’s share or reader comments. So, an expanded article looking deeper into Aztec sacrifices seemed like the perfect follow-up. if you would like to read more about the impressive “floating” city itself, read the original article here.
(Warning: this article takes a graphic look at multiple methods of human and child sacrifice and may not be suitable for everyone.)
The Nahua Religion and the evolution of sacrifice
One of the main aspects of the Aztec religion (also practiced by many other Nahua tribes) was the relentless hunger of the gods. Blood and hearts, in particular, were prized gifts to the gods. Blood was important as the god Quetzalcoatl was said to have cut himself in several places and the blood gave life to man.
Hearts were said to hold a fraction of the sun’s warmth and power as well as being the seat of the soul. The sun was never taken for granted by the Aztecs either. In fact, the sun we all know and love today was considered to be the fifth in a cycle of dying and reborn suns. So keeping the sun rising was of paramount importance to the Aztecs
From here we can see how understandable it would be to go down the route of sacrifice. common sacrifices involved self-mutilation as simple as biting one’s tongue until blood could drip to the ground for the god’s enjoyment. Of course, the blood draining from a murdered victim was worth far more.
Furthermore, the practice of ripping out a still-beating heart was meant to be a way to reunite the little fraction of the sun’s power back to the sun to keep it going. This return of the heart’s heat to the sun was likely why sacrifices took place atop the highest towers and why sacrifices mainly involved the most expeditious removal of a still beating heart. The efficiency of the sacrifice was important.
Given the power of blood, combat was seen as a type of sacrifice in its own right. The bloodshed in battle would please the gods, but also the blood of prized prisoners of war would be a sacrifice that would make the gods notice. Combat was so revered that the Aztecs arranged “flower wars” with others following the religion.
Meeting at a set place and time, two equally sized armies packed with members of royal families would meet. Traditional ranged weapons were discarded and the weapon of choice was an obsidian-bladed club, the Macuahuitl, causing guaranteed blood-loss.
Death in a flower war was the epitome of a good death (the same “good death for women was through childbirth), but capturing a powerful enemy was nearly as good. The Aztecs did bully and sack towns of the Tlaxcalans, but the flower wars were always an equal and respected tradition until the arrival of Cortez.