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Aztec Human Sacrifice History
The practice of Aztec human sacrifice was not invented by the Aztecs but also existed in the previous Mesoamerican cultures. For instance, among other cultures it was practiced in the Inca Empire.
The Aztecs had religious festivities at the end of their 20-day month’s and human sacrifice was an essential feature of these festivities.
Human sacrifice also was part of the legend around the founding of the Aztec capital city, Tenochtitlan which was accompanied by the sacrifice and skinning of the daughter of the king Coxcox of Culhuacan.
Human Sacrifice Rituals
Aztec human sacrifice was an elaborate ritual and an almost standard procedure. The person to be sacrificed was taken to the top of the temple and laid on a stone slab by four priests.
Often the person to be sacrificed was drugged in order to eliminate any resistance. On the stone slab, the abdomen of the victim would be sliced open by a fifth priest using a special ceremonial knife.
The heart of the victim was torn out while still beating. It would be placed in a bowl and the body thrown down the temple stairs.
Child sacrifice was part of Aztec human sacrifice and was performed on regular basis. Children were sacrificed to Aztec god Tlaloc, the rain god. Remains of 42 children sacrificed to Tlaloc have been found in the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan.
Another cruel aspect of this Aztec human sacrifice of the children was that the children were made to cry before the sacrifice. The tears were thought to wet the earth and thus appease the gods. There, if a child did not cry, the priests would sometimes tear of the nails of the child to make him or her cry.
Sacrifice Purpose, Reasons, and Meaning
The main purpose and reason of Aztec human sacrifice was to appease gods and avert their wrath. Besides religious purposes, the Aztec human sacrifice also served a political purpose.
The Aztecs were small in number compared to the other subjugated tribes and thus there was always a danger of an alliance between them that could form against the Aztecs.
To avert this, Aztecs demanded humans as a tribute from the subjugated tribes so that these tribes could constantly raid each other to procure humans for sacrifice. This minimised or eliminated the chance of an alliance between them.
Methods and Instruments Used
The standard method of performing the Aztec human sacrifice was to take the victim to the top of the temple and perform the offering there. Stone slabs and sacrificial knife blades were most important instruments used in the process.
The sacrificial knife blades, made of flint, were used to cut out the heart of the victim who was laid down on the stone slab. The whole process was accompanied by the beating of drums, whistling, and hymns.
Aztec Locations & Buildings
The religious temples, mostly constructed at the top of Aztec pyramids, were the conventional locations of Aztec human sacrifice. For instance, remains of dozens of sacrificed children have been found at the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan.
Similarly, sacrifices were performed on all other major pyramids. Aztec human sacrifice in each temple was dedicated to the specific god of that temple and was thought to result in a specific kind of blessing from that god.
Human Sacrifice and the Gods
Aztec human sacrifices were specific to different gods since different temples were dedicated to different gods. Methods of Aztec human sacrifice for different gods also varied.
For example, victims sacrificed at the altar of the tribal deity of Mexica, Huitzilopochtli, had the standard procedure of being sacrificed at the stone slab with their hearts cut out.
The Aztec human sacrifice for Tezcatlipoca, on the other hand, saw the victims sacrificed in a ritual gladiatorial combat. Similarly, methods varied for other gods such as Huehueteotl and Tlaloc.
Human Sacrifice and Emperors
Emperors of the Aztec Empire had stakes in Aztec human sacrifice since religion was one of the most important legitimising factors of the kingdom.
For this purpose, the emperors made sure that a steady supply of war captives was maintained to be sacrificed during the religious ceremonies.
Thus constant wars became a need for the Aztec emperors in order to appease the priestly class and serve the political purposes as well.
Sacrifice and Religion
While there were political and social factors involved in Aztec human sacrifice, the most important factor was of course religion. Human sacrifice was considered a sure way to appease the gods and continue their blessings.
The antecedents of the Aztec human sacrifice as a religious practice can be found in the previous Mesoamerican cultures, however it is hard to trace its exact origins, But by the time Aztec Empire was established, Aztec human sacrifice was an integral part of Aztec religion.
Aztec Sacrifice in Everyday Life
Aztec human sacrifice was highly valued in Aztec society and was considered highest form of offering to the gods.
In everyday life, the concept of sacrifice was ever-present in the Aztec society. Common people made various kinds of offerings in the form of precious metals and grain to the temples.
These were considered lesser forms of sacrifice. A very important aspect of Aztec human sacrifice was the ritual of blood-letting where people cut themselves to offer their blood to the gods.
Aztec Human Sacrifice Summary
Aztec human sacrifice was one of the most important aspects of Aztec religion and was performed on regular basis. It was part of all religious ceremonies held at the end of each 20-day Aztec month.
Other than the religious reason of appeasing the gods, Aztec human sacrifice also served the political purpose of eliminating the chance of alliance between rival tribes.
Child sacrifice was also regularly performed in the Aztec temples. The victims were often drugged in order to reduce their resistance during the sacrifice.