Ancient Aztec Civilization
The Aztecs are probably the most well known of all the American Indian Civilizations. The Aztecs ruled almost all of Mexico from the 1300's until the 1500's. Perhaps their greatest accomplishment was the destruction of Hernan Cortez's army. The leader of the Aztec Civilization during the wars against the Spanish was the Great Montezuma II.
Montezuma II was perhaps the most well known Aztec leader in history. When Hernan Cortez arrived in Mexico, Montezuma thought he was the Aztec god king Quetzalcoatl (creator of writing and the calendar, also associated with Venus and Resurrection). He presented Hernan Cortez with extravagant gifts of gold and jewels. Hernan Cortez who was greatly outnumbered by the Aztecs took Montezuma hostage, and Montezuma was later reported to be stoned to death.
A huge part of Aztec life was their religion. The Aztecs believed in the gods, and they were big into sacrifices of both humans and animals. The Aztecs thought the offering of blood to the gods would ensure survival of the planet. Many of the Spanish observers, even those who sympathized with the Aztecs found these rituals to be revolting and horrible. Men considered sacrificing themselves in a major ritual was a great honour. The two greatest ways an Aztec could die was either in battle or in sacrifice. The Aztecs sometimes used prisoners for the less important sacrifices. The person being sacrificed would wear a mask and walk to the top of a pyramid and priests would stretch them out and cut out their heart with a knife. It is uncertain how many people actually died as a result of sacrifices.
The Aztec citizens were grouped into one of three groups - slaves, commoners, or nobility. The children of poor citizens could be sold off as slaves. Slaves could buy their freedom if able. The lower classes of commoners were tenant farmers and could work land but not own it. Upper class commoners were given land and could own it. Nobilities were people who earned their position or were born into it, such as priests and nobles.
The Aztecs had control of many of the villages surrounding them. These village people were required to pay a tribute of feathers, gold, or corn. If these people could not pay tribute they would be captured and taken to Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) where they would then be sacrificed for the gods.
The Aztecs had many major accomplishments, including the ability to control water flow to their crops. They were extremely intelligent, and had a very advanced calendar system. They had advanced building and construction techniques as many of their major cities were built on marshes.
Eventually Cortez defeated the Aztecs and the Catholics would try to wipe all Aztec culture off the face of the planet, but the few remaining Aztec descendants still carry on Aztec traditions today.