Social relationships of Aztecs
This concise summary of Aztec social classes was kindly sent to us by Zoe Ann Steenberge, who has been researching Aztec culture for more than 20 years and has an extensive library on the culture. Zoe lives in Malone, New York, USA, holds an associates degree in Applied Science from North Country Community College, has travelled to Mexico and visited many Aztec sites. She enjoys writing short stories and is primarily concerned with reviving interest in ancient Aztec culture.
Social class refers to the hierarchical distinctions between individuals or groups in societies or cultures. Normally, individuals are grouped into classes based on their economic positions and similar political and economic interests within their culture. The factors that determine class vary from one society to another. Aztec society was rigidly structured within social, political, and religious hierarchies.
Aztec society was composed of eight different social classes which were made up of rulers, warriors, nobility, priests and priestesses, free poor, slaves, servants, and the middle class. The most important of these were the tlatoani (rulers), warriors, nobility, and the high priests and priestesses. The lesser classes were composed of the free poor, slaves, servants, and the middle class.
A succession of less than a dozen rulers carried the Aztec people through from obscurity to empire-builders. The later rulers from 1440-1520 included Montezuma I, Axayacatl, Tizoc, Ahuitzotl, and Montezuma II. These men were all powerful leaders with multitudes of conquests. Each ruler contributed toward cultural works, such as the famous Aztec calendar, an aqueduct, and a ten-mile dike to control the waters of Lake Texcoco. It was the power of the Aztec rulers that contributed, ironically, to the rise and fall of the great Aztec Empire.
Aztec warriors were a select group of exceptionally brave young men, who were well trained in the use of weapons for use in combat, battle, and war. They were the military. Few Aztecs were as privileged as the military men and even young cadets had the respect of royalty and the priesthood. This career was made rewarding by rank, land, and good wages given by the emperor. Warriors of particular valor could enter fraternal orders which practiced various rituals and bestowed privileges. Eagle and Jaguar warriors were the elite and performed secret dances and received additional grants of land.
Rich and wealthy families of noble blood, well bred and respected by the rest of society composed the nobility class. The nobles were firmly in control of society. They ran the government, owned the land, slaves, and servants. They also commanded the army. Power and wealth of Aztec nobility rested on control of land, labor, and tribute. There were three ranks of nobles. The tlatoani, or ruler; Tetecuhtin, the high lords and the Pipiltin who were the regular lords. Each had a different position in society. The nobles enjoyed great wealth and privileges which were rigidly specified by law. The net that held the Aztec empire together was its noble class - individuals of high birth who governed, administered, and reaped the greatest rewards from imperial expansion.
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