Who Were the Aztecs AP World History?

The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican civilization that flourished in the 14th to the 16th century. They were known for their complex social structure, religion, and military prowess. The Aztecs are often associated with their capital city of Tenochtitlan, which was located in modern-day Mexico City.

Origins of the Aztecs

The Aztecs originated from northern Mexico and migrated south over time. According to legend, they were guided by a god named Huitzilopochtli who instructed them to settle where they saw an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its beak. This symbol is now featured on the Mexican flag.

Social Structure

The Aztec society was highly structured with various social classes. At the top were the nobles and priests who held most of the power and wealth.

Below them were the commoners who made up most of the population and included farmers, artisans, and merchants. At the bottom of society were slaves who had no rights and could be bought or sold.


Religion played a significant role in Aztec society as they believed in many gods and goddesses that controlled various aspects of life. Their most important deity was Huitzilopochtli, who was associated with war and sacrifice. The Aztecs believed that human sacrifice was necessary to appease their gods and ensure good harvests.


The Aztec military was highly organized and disciplined, allowing them to conquer neighboring regions and expand their empire. They used weapons such as obsidian-tipped spears, clubs, and bows to defeat their enemies. Additionally, they had a system of tribute where conquered peoples would pay taxes or provide goods to support the empire.

Decline of the Aztecs

The Aztec empire came to an end in the 16th century when Spanish conquistadors led by Hernan Cortes arrived in Mexico. The Aztecs initially welcomed the Spanish, but tensions arose, and a battle ensued.

The Spanish had superior weaponry and were able to defeat the Aztecs. Additionally, diseases brought by the Europeans devastated the Aztec population.

Legacy of the Aztecs

Despite their decline, the Aztecs left a lasting legacy on Mexican culture. Their language, Nahuatl, is still spoken by millions of people in Mexico today. Additionally, their art and architecture continue to inspire contemporary Mexican artists.

  • The Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan is one of Mexico’s most popular tourist attractions.
  • The Calendario Azteca or Aztec calendar is a famous piece of art that is used as a symbol of Mexican culture.

In conclusion, the Aztecs were a fascinating civilization that left an indelible mark on Mexican history and culture. Their complex society, religious beliefs, and military might make them an intriguing subject for historians and enthusiasts alike.