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Aztec Culture: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

Aztec civilization flourished in central Mexico more than 500 years ago, building the largest empire in North American history. Learn about their culture, religion, politics, sports, and cities in this lesson.

The Aztecs

How do countries get their names? The Founding Fathers named our nation the United States to demonstrate how we work together. Our neighbor to the south, Mexico, takes its name from a tribe of natives who built a huge empire before Europeans arrived in North America. This empire named themselves Mexica, but today we call them the Aztecs. Aztecs controlled central Mexico for about 100 years, from 1428 to 1521.

Lakeside Views

Imagine living in an area where it is hot all the time, and it doesn't rain often. It would be tough to live in such a dry, hot place. Well, the Aztecs thought so too, so they decided to set up their home city on an island surrounded by a lake. They called this city Tenochtitlan (pronounced tey-notch-tee-tlan) and built it larger and larger until they had no more room on the land. Many Aztecs got to and from their houses with a canoe.

The Aztecs built huge pyramids, with the largest about 150 feet high, about the height of a 15-story building. Anywhere from 300,000 to 700,000 people could have lived in Tenochtitlan when it reached its largest size. At that time, it would have been one of the largest cities in the world. When the Spanish conquered the Aztecs, they built Mexico City over Tenochtitlan. Ruins of the ancient Aztecs can still be seen there today.

Growing Up

Aztec kids had to go to school each day just as you do. Instead of math homework, however, Aztec kids would learn skills they would use as adults. Girls learned how to care for a family, cook, and manage money. Boys learned a trade (such as stone carving) and how to fight. Many boys would be required to join the military as soon as they turned 17.

Warfare played a major role in Aztec culture because they often fought with their neighbors. Famous Aztec fighters, named jaguar warriors, wore a jaguar fur to mark their strength and skill. Aztecs often fought to capture enemies instead of killing them. They did so in order to sacrifice captives to their gods. Aztecs had two social classes: the nobles and the commoners. Their emperor came from the noble class.

Aztec warriors
Aztec warriors

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