Aztec facts


The Aztec city-capital was Tenochtitlan, the site of today's Mexico City
Aztec place names were very descriptive. Places were named after their histories, after the environmental features of a place, or for the resources they found there.

The name 'Tenochtitlan' is made up of 'tetl', meaning 'rock', 'nochtli', and 'tlan', the word for place. It means 'Among the prickly pears growing among rocks'. Other towns were named after earthquakes or the precious metals that were found there.

Aztec sports included a game called Volodor
To play the 'flying bird game', Aztec athletes would climb to the top of a 60-90ft pole and attach a rope to the top.

Hanging on tightly with their legs, they spread their arms out and used the rope to sail in a spiral all the way down.

A less dangerous form of entertainment was the annual pillow fight – boys filled grass nets with flowers, leaves or scraps of paper, and used it to strike the girls. In return, a girl could defend herself by carrying a cactus thorn in her clothing, chasing the boys away with it.

A modern version of the Aztec language Nahuatl is still spoken
Today there are around 1.5 million speakers of Nahuatl, mainly in mountainous areas in central Mexico.

But some elements of the language have had a huge influence – the English words 'chocolate' and 'tomato' both derive from these words in Spanish, which in turn come from the Nahuatl.

Feathered headdresses were reserved for the elite
Only the ruling classes in Aztec society were allowed to wear beautiful feathered headdresses.

Hairstyle and hair ornaments showed a person's status in society, their profession and their tribe.

Warriors had several different hairstyles, depending on rank. Some wore a stiff ridge of hair that grows down the centre of the warrior's otherwise shaved scalp, others wore a 'column of hair'.

Commoners could be executed for drinking chocolate
The Aztecs roasted and ground cacao seeds to make a thick paste which they dissolved in water.
The drink was considered precious and was only consumed by the higher classes, in religious ceremonies or by warriors before going into battle.

The cacao pod, which is a similar shape to a heart, was sometimes used to symbolise the sacrificed human heart.

Further resources

Photo: Costume design for Ixtlisochiltl by Eloise Kazan

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