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Aztec Pyramids: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

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

The Aztecs of Mexico built huge pyramids for government and religious purposes, some of which still stand today. Learn about the achievements of the Aztecs and the reason for their pyramids in this lesson.

Standing Tall

When you think about pyramids, odds are good you think about Egypt, mummies, and camels, right? While the pyramids in Egypt might be the most famous, there are actually more pyramids in Central America than in Egypt. That's because a number of great Mesoamerican peoples, meaning natives of Central America, built huge pyramids for their leaders and their gods. Since we know about Aztec language and customs very well, we know a lot about their pyramids, too. Some of them are still standing - the next time your family takes a trip to Mexico, you can visit them and even climb them.

Picture of the Aztec peoples
Aztecs

First Pyramids

The Aztecs built some of the largest and most important pyramids, but they weren't the first in Central America. The first pyramids in the region were built about 3,000 years ago by an older civilization called the Olmecs. The Aztecs came much later, only about 600 years ago, but once they began to build, they built big. The Aztecs settled in central Mexico, the region that today is the capital Mexico City, on Lake Texcoco. They built their cities around a central pyramid that had a temple, meaning a religious center, where priests would communicate with their gods.

Model of Aztec pyramid with temple on top
Aztec temple

These temples were one of the most important parts of Aztec religion because they were a center for their religious ritual of human sacrifice. Today's religions generally only demand that you give up a day of the week for your faith, but the Aztecs wanted to do much more to keep their gods happy. They would sacrifice people, often prisoners captured in wars, at the top of their pyramids. This bloody ritual has become one of the most famous parts of Aztec history.

Gods and Men

Each Aztec temple was devoted to a particular god. While the Aztecs had a religion that worshiped a number of different gods, three were particularly important: Huitzilopochtli, god of war; Quetzalcoatl, god of wind; and Tezcatlipoca, god of the night. Each one had their own pyramid, and each pyramid might have an altar or shrine for worship as well as schools, gardens, and even ball courts. The Aztecs played a type of ball game where the winners became famous, but the losers could be sacrificed.

Picture of Aztec temple with sacrifice victims
Aztec temple

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