Aztec culture was a rich combination of the cultures of the peoples that made up the Aztec empire, including the Mexicas. Hundreds, even thousands of years of tradition influenced the way people lived in the society. Let's take a look at the different social classes and how they lived...
Social classes in Aztec culture
There were two main social classes in Aztec culture. First the nobility or pilli, then the common people or macehualli. Each of these was further broken up into groups of people that had quite different lives.
There were also slaves, which were generally well-treated. Slavery was not hereditary - the children of a slave were free. There were ways for a slave to gain freedom, such as purchasing it.Read more about Aztec social classes.
Growing up Aztec
The Mexica people of the Aztec empire had compulsory education for everyone, regardless of gender or class. In the end, people in the Aztec society were generally well educated, though boys received a wider education than girls.
Girls were taught how to run a home, cook, and care for a family, but they were also taught things like crafts and ways to economically run the home. In this way women had a lot of power in society, though it was behind the scenes.Note
: Mandatory education was historically rare in the rest of the world. Learn more about this and other "Aztec Inventions" here
Boys learned other trades, and were also taught fighting skills and leadership skills.
Though children started off with similar education, it was eventually split into two main branches. First the calmecac
, which was mainly for children of nobles. These children would be educated as priests, teachers, doctors, and leaders of society. Next came the telpochcalli
, where children were taught more about Aztec culture and religion, the trades, and skills particular to gender. It seems that there was some freedom to choose a type of education, and perhaps some children were promoted who showed promise in a specific field. It may also be that vocation was chosen based on the religious "sign" children were born under. Just who could go where is a matter of some debate today.In their mid-teens, adult life would begin.
Girls would marry, or stay in the temple and work. Boys might join the military or begin their trade. Marriages were arranged and again strongly tied to religious belief. Some polygamy was practised, though there was still a "primary" wife.
Adult Aztec culture
The noble class had a variety of vocations open to them. They would have positions of leadership and influence, as mentioned above. They would also have some wealth, and unlike the common people they were allowed to enjoy works of art.
The higher level of nobility, usually hereditary to some extent, were the pilli (singular pipiltin). They would hold high positions in government or in the military.
There were also various classes of common people. There were farmers, who were very efficient. There were merchants, who would travel and trade. These people had a fair amount of freedom to be independent and wear stylish clothes. There were artisans of various kinds. Every type of job needed to run a society that you can imagine.
Another occupation of status was to be an athlete. Aztec culture had its own version of Ulama, a game played in Mesoamerica. The game was very popular and the players were celebrities.
Aztec life was permeated by religion. The cycles of the calendar and rituals associated with it to keep nature in balance and appease the gods were a big part of Aztec culture. For more, see Aztec religion.
Except for the nobility, the people were quite poor, even though great wealth was available in general. The people lived in adobe homes, made of mud bricks. One building was for sleeping and cooking and eating and worship. Another building contained a steam bath. It was believed that the bath was important for good health (a bath is never a bad idea!). Houses of the noble class were bigger, and, as mentioned, were more lavishly decorated. Read more about Aztec homes...
Life was much as it is most places in the world today - relationships, shopping, music, meals, entertainment was all there. There was poetry, dramatic presentations, art and athletics.
A big part of entertainment for the Aztecs was the Aztec ball game. Special occasions drew the spectators, and the players were celebrities.
But in Aztec culture the warrior was glorified for religious reasons. Taking prisoners and sacrificing them to the gods was an increasingly important ritual. Though life was very structured, it seemed close to chaos as the people tried to avoid natural and imagined disaster.
Age and death
As people got older, and more disease arrived, the the religious healer would be called for. Medical science and religious ritual went side by side. When death came, people would be cremated or buried, depending on how they died and the family's choice.
See more photos of Aztec culture and where they lived here. There are more Aztec homes from Yautepec here.