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The Aztecs (Peoples of America)
Synopses & Reviews
This book is a vivid and comprehensive account of the Aztecs, the best-known people of pre-Columbian America. It examines their origins, civilization, and the distinctive realms of their religion, science and thought. It describes the conquest of their empire by the Spanish, and their present-day survival in Central Mexico. It makes use of the results of the latest excavations, of all available historical documentation, and of the author's first-hand knowledge of Aztec sites and artifacts.
Aztec civilization was forged by the blending of two different cultural traditions: the ancient agricultural civilizations of Central Mexico and the immigrant warrior tribes from the northern deserts. Michael Smith describes the Aztecs' rapid ascent to regional power. He shows how, in order to feed their several million people, they transformed the landscape - digging canals, draining swamps, and terracing hillsides. From the fruits of these labors sprang craft specialists whose technological and design skills supplied goods for the market-places of every city, town, and village.
The author uses new evidence to reconsider the luxurious lifestyles of the nobility and the role of their castles as seats of government for the empire's city-states. He reinterprets the role of religion in imperial rule and daily life and, in explaining the Aztecs' frequent rituals of human sacrifice, shows how central these were to the workings of their society.
The concluding chapters of the book describe the arrival of Cortés in 1519, his conquest of the empire, and the spread of European diseases which decimated the population and brought the Aztec civilization to an end. Yet the Aztec people and language survived, and form, as the author reveals, a vital part of contemporary Mexican culture.
This is a history of one of the best known peoples of pre-Columbian America. The Aztecs were the upstarts of Meso-America. Until the thirteenth century they were a little-known people practising subsistence agriculture in the north of what is now Mexico. At that time they migrated to the Valley of Mexico, and having first learnt military arts by hiring themselves as mercenaries to the Oaxacans and other established societies, promptly used these skills to subjugate their former masters, and to swallow up a succession of Meso-American kingdoms. By the time Cortes arrived they were the undisputed rulers of a large empire, which they kept subdued by regular human sacrifice and whose people they taxed to the bone (factors used by Cortes to foment rebellion).
Includes bibliographical references (p. -347) and index.
About the Author
Michael Smith is Professor of Anthropology at the State University of New York at Albany. He was born in the Philippine Islands and grew up in New York State. He attended Brandeis University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he studied Mesoamerican archaeology and was awarded MA and PhD degrees. For the last fifteen years his work has focused on Aztec sites, where he is frequently joined by his wife Cynthia, also an archaeologist, and their two daughters. His excavations have transformed knowledge of Aztec daily life and of the way in which their Empire was established and ruled.
Table of Contents
Lists of Figures.
1. The Aztecs of Meso-America.
2. The Rise of Aztec Civilization.
3. People on the Landscape.
4. Artisans and their Goods.
5. Merchants, Markets, and Money.
6. Family and Social Class.
7. City-State and Empire.
8. Cities and Urban Planning.
9. Creation, Sacrifice, and the Gods.
10. Science and Art.
11. Final Glory and Destruction.
12. The Aztec Legacy Today.
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