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The Aztec Account of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico
 
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PostSubject: Aztec Society   Tue Jun 30, 2009 8:10 am

The stratification into social classes of what had been a mere band of nomads developed in a rather unusual way. Once the Aztecs made contact with the advanced peoples who had inherited Toltec culture, they acquired a profound admiration for them and wanted to link themselves to the Toltec world by bonds of kinship. Hence, they chose as their first king, or tlatoani, a nobleman of Toltec origin named Acamapichtli from Culhuacan. He fathered a great many children by various Aztec women, and his descendants formed the nucleus of the social class of nobles, or pipiltin, which increased rapidly both in size and importance. The pipiltin received a much fuller education than other persons, were allowed to own land in their own names and filled the most important posts in government; the king, or tlatoani, could be chosen only from their ranks.

The ordinary citizens formed the social class of the macehualtin.They were divided into what have been called geographical clans, that is, groups of related families living in specific localities and making communal use of the land assigned to them. Like the pipiltin, the macehualtin were required to attend the communal schools, but they were not taught reading, writing, astrology, theology or the other cultural legacies of the Toltecs. They were trained in agriculture and warfare, and some of them became members of the artisan and merchant guilds.

In addition to these two major classes, there were also the mayeques, who worked the land for others as slaves or serfs (though almost always for a limited period of time), and a considerable number of actual slaves. It is necessary to point out that neither the mayeques nor the slaves were clearly distinguished from the macehualtin as social classes.

In Tenochtitlan, Tezcoco and other cities there were groups of wise men known as tlamatinime. These scholars carried on the study of the ancient religious thinking of the Toltecs, which Tlacaelel had transformed into a mystical exaltation of war. Despite the popularity of the cult of the war-god, Huitzilopochtli, the tlamatinime preserved the old belief in a single supreme god, who was known under a variety of names. Sometimes he was called Tloque-Nahuaque, "Lord of the CloseVicinity," sometimes Ipalemohuani, "Giver of Life," sometimes Moyocoyatzin, "He who Creates Himself." He also had two aspects, one masculine and one feminine. Thus he was also invoked as Ometeotl, "God of Duality," or given the double names Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl, "Lord and Lady of Duality," Mictlantecuhtlitli and Mictecacihuatl, "Lord and Lady of the Region of Death," and others.

It is quite clear that to the tlamatinime the long list of names was merely a set of titles for a single god, but the people believed it referred to a whole pantheon of separate deities. This, along with the addition of tutelary gods like Huitzilopochtli, caused the Spaniards to regard the Aztecs as an incredibly idolatrous and polytheistic nation. But a closer analysis of the religious thought of the tlamatinime reveals that at least on the upper social levels, only one god was worshiped in Tenochtitlan: the Lord of Duality, the Giver of Life.
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