Just like other traditional societies, Aztec children were looked after by their parents who supported their education and upbringing. The standards of education and upbringing of Aztec children varied according to their social class. A variety of customs and traditions were associated with childbirth as well as other roles that children were expected to play in the Aztec society. Education was provided to all the children in the Aztec society regardless of their social status. Additionally, basic military training was also necessary for all the children once they were in their teens.
Childbirth was an important event in the Aztec society and the status of a woman who gave birth to a child was considered equal to a warrior man. In the Aztec mythology, the baby before being born was a captive in the womb engaged in a struggle to enter the world. The women who died during childbirth were revered and often given the status of a goddess. Various hymns and chants were reserved for the occasion of childbirth. A soothsayer was called upon childbirth to study the astrological significance of the child’s birth. Thus children had a lot of importance attached to them right from the moment of their birth.
Aztec society attached a lot of importance to the education of their children. Education was compulsory for all the Aztec children, although standard of education varied depending on their social status. There were separate schools for the children of nobility and the rest of the children. The schools of the former were known as “calmecac”, although some gifted students from the lower classes could attend these schools. These schools were run by the priests who taught administration and religious subjects. Additionally, students were also taught such subjects as history, astronomy, and reading. The schools for the lower classes were called “telpochcalli”. These schools taught such subjects as history, religion, warfare, and civics. There were different schools for girls and boys.
Aztec children played a variety of games and sports in their spare time. Since it was a deeply religious society, even some of the games reflected religious significance. Common things that Aztec children used in their games included marbles, stones, and arrows and bows etc. One of the most popular games among Aztec children and even the elders was called Ullamaliztli, which was the Aztec version of the ball game. It was played on a tlachtli ball court which could be found on almost every Aztec settlement. Even the Aztec elders played this game with equal interest. Another game Aztec children and elders alike were passionate about was a kind of board game called “patolli”. Small red beans were used to play this game and often betting was also involved in the game.
Aztec drawings reveal quite a lot about Aztec clothing, including the clothing of Aztec children. Before the age of three, it was customary for Aztec children not to wear anything. From age three onwards, the clothes of Aztec children were increasingly similar to their parents. The boys wore a cape which was tied on the shoulder, just like the fathers. However, unlike the elders, little boys did not wear any loincloth. Similarly, little girls used a blouse similar to their mothers but did not wear a skirt. Girls started wearing skirts from the age four and after age five, the skirts became longer. Boys, on the other hand, started wearing loincloths from the age of about 13.
Aztec children were deeply attached to their parents. Parents looked after their education and upbringing with great care. Rare accounts of pre-Columbian Aztec society reveal this attachment between parents and children. For instance, there is the record of a father saying “Nopiltze, nocuzque, noquetzale” to his son, which translates to “Sweet son, my jewel, my precious feather”. Children were taught about their responsibilities at an early age. For example, at the age five, boys would accompany their fathers to the marketplace or help the in gathering firewood. Similarly, girls were taught cooking and weaving by their mothers starting from the same age. Aztec children were given a variety of unique names by their parents, sometimes based on animals. For instance, some known names include “Precious Jade”, “Hungry Turkey”, “Little Plume” etc.
Marriage in Aztec society took place at a relatively younger age. Thus the girls would be married by the age 15 and boys by the age 20. Other than social reasons, one important reason for marrying Aztec boys and girls at a young age was low life expectancy and struggles of life in Aztec Empire. Young Aztec men were at war during a considerable time of their life and their brides looked after the household in their absence.
Aztec society was a deeply religious society and human sacrifices were common. One of the aspects of these sacrifices which would be particularly abhorrent to a modern mind was child sacrifice. Those infants who were born at a particular astrological time were reserved for sacrifice. While the practice might have been uneasy for a lot of people, it was accepted since it was thought to appease the gods. According to the recent findings, the throats of the children were often slit in order to silence their cries.
Aztec children had clearly defined roles and responsibilities in the Aztec society. Since religion was supremely important, various hymns and prayers were reserved specifically for childbirth. The women giving birth were highly revered and in some cases their status was equal to warrior men. Aztec children received education from an early age, first at home and then at the schools. There were different schools for the children of nobility and the common people. Basic military training was also given to every Aztec child. Children could adopt various professions when they grew up but becoming a warrior was the most prestigious job they could have. Sine human sacrifices were common in Aztec society, these sacrifices sometimes also included child sacrifices.