Early Mexican History

By: Jenni Reker[1]

Some of the most advanced and earliest civilizations in the Western Hemisphere were in what is now Mexico. Historians note that hunters lived in the area in 21000 BC or perhaps even before that. Cultivation of crops started in 8000 BC, with squash as the probable first crop. The Olmecs established the first primary Mesoamerican civilization somewhere between 1500 and 600 BC. Mayans were at the peak in the Mexican area around the 700's AD. Toltecs, a warring people, migrated down to Mexico from the north and established their empire in the Valley of Mexico in the 900's. Tula and Talncingo were cities north of present day Mexico City that they founded. Here a great civilization grew that can be seen today in the ruins of what were monuments and building of magnificence.

The Toltecs left the region in the 12th century, pushed out by the Chichimeca, and dispersed all over. The next century seven Nahuatlan tribes came from what was thought to be the area of present day Arizona and New Mexico. The Aztecs were the leading tribe among the Nahuatlan and in 1325 the Aztec established the city of Tenochtitlan. A causeway was built as a dam and a fortress for their island town. Itzcoatl, the first Aztec emperor, spread his civilization's influence throughout nearly all of Mexico in the 15th century.

A highly developed civilization, the Aztecs were artistic and intellectual though dependent on agriculture and particularly on corn cultivation. They became wealthy and powerful, building huge cities and creating a strong organization socially, politically and spiritually. Francisco de Cordoba was the first explorer from Europe to enter Mexico. In 1517 he found traces of the Mayan civilization in the Yucatan in 1517. Juan de Grijalva explored Mexico's east coast the next year and returned to Cuba with tales of the Aztec Empire. IN 1519 Cuba's governor Diego Velazquez, sent Hernan Cortes and his soldiers to the area.

What happened to the Aztecs was that they had divided themselves into 38 scattered and independent tribes who didn't get along well. This played right into the hands of Cortes and his soldiers. As did the Aztec emperor Montezuma's belief that Cortes was the god Quetzalcoatl.

The Aztecs has three classes of society. There were slaves, commoners and nobles. The slaves were like indentured servants. The poor could sell their children into this servitude for a specific period of time. Slaves were also able to buy their way out of slavery and if they somehow managed to escape and reach the royal palace they were freed immediately. Commoners were known by the Aztec name of Maceaultin. All but the lowest group of commoners known as tlalmaitl could own land and could build their houses on that land. The tlalmaitl were tenant farmers, however. The nobles were priests, warriors and those born into nobility.

The Aztecs of that time worshiped many gods, among them the sun god Uitzilopochtli, the moon goddess Coyolxauhqui, the rain god Tlaloc, and the writing and calendar inventor Quetzalcoatl. The Aztecs believed that their sun god murdered his sister the moon goddess. Aztech writing was recorded, often threw pictures, on animal hides or papers.

Called codices, some of these writing still exist. The Aztec calendar, which was designed during Mayan early years had 365 days, 18 months with 20 days each and then five days they called hollow. These five days were supposed to be days of bad luck. There are more than one million Aztecs living today in and around Mexico City, primarily illiterate farmers who barely subsist, take little part in modern Mexican culture and who practice a blend of Aztec religion and Roman Catholicism.


[1] Jenni Reker is the webmaster of Lowr Mexico Ltd which is an excellent place to find mexico links, resources and articles.
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