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Aztec people When used about ethnic groups the term "Aztec" refers to several Nahuatl speaking peoples of central Mexico in the postclassic period of Mesoamerican chronology, especially the ethnic group that had a leading role in establishing the hegemonic empire based at Tenochtitlan, the Mexica. Other ethnic groups associated with the Aztec empire are the Acolhua and Tepanec ethnic groups and some of the ethnic groups that were incorporated into the empire, and the term is also sometimes used about them. In older usage the term was commonly used about modern Nahuatl speaking ethnic groups, as Nahuatl was previously referred to as the "Aztec language". In recent usage these ethnic groups are rather referred to as the Nahua peoples. Linguistically the term "Aztecan" is still used about the branch of the Uto-Aztecan languages (also sometimes called the yuto-nahuan languages) that includes the Nahuatl language and its closest relatives Pochutec and Pipil.
Aztec culture Aztec culture is the culture of the people referred to as Aztecs, but since all ethnic groups of central Mexico in the postclassic period shared most basic cultural traits, many of the basic traits of Aztec culture cannot be said to be exclusive for the Aztecs. For the same reason the notion of "Aztec civilization" is best understood as a particular horizon of a general Mesoamerican civilization. The culture of central Mexico includes maize cultivation, the social division between noble pipiltin and macehualli commoners, a pantheon (featuring Tezcatlipoca, Tlaloc and Quetzalcoatl), and the calendric system of a xiuhpohualli of 365 days intercalated with a tonalpohualli of 260 days. Particular to the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan was the Mexica patron God Huitzilopochtli, twin pyramids, and the ceramic ware known as Aztec I to III.
Aztec empire The Aztec empire was a tribute empire based in Tenochtitlan, which extended its power throughout Mesoamerica in the late postclassic period. It originated in 1427 as a triple alliance between the city-states Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan who allied to defeat theTepanec state of Azcapotzalco, that had previously dominated the Basin of Mexico. Soon Texcoco and Tlacopan became junior partners in the alliance which was de facto led by the Mexica of Tenochtitlan. The empire extended its power by a combination of trade and military conquest. It was never a true territorial empire controlling a territory by large military garrisons in conquered provinces, but rather controlled its client states primarily by installing friendly rulers in conquered cities, by constructing marriage alliances between the ruling dynasties, and by extending an imperial ideology to its client states. Client states paid tribute to the Aztec emperor, the Huey Tlatoani, in an economic strategy limiting communication and trade between outlying polities making them depend on the imperial center for the acquisition of luxury goods. The political clout of the empire reached far south into Mesoamerica conquering cities as far south as Chiapas and Guatemala and spanning from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans. The empire reached its maximal extent in 1519 just prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors led by Cortés who managed to topple the Aztec empire by allying with some of the traditional enemies of the Aztecs, the Nahuatl speaking Tlaxcalteca.
Human sacrifice While human sacrifice was practiced throughout Mesoamerica, the Aztecs, if their own accounts are to be believed, brought this practice to an unprecedented level. For example, for the reconsecration of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed 84,400 prisoners over the course of four days, reportedly by Ahuitzotl, the Great Speaker himself. This number, however,is not universally accepted. Accounts by the Tlaxcaltecas, the primary enemy of the Aztecs at the time of the Spanish Conquest, show that at least some of them considered it an honor to be sacrificed. In one legend, the warrior Tlahuicole was freed by the Aztecs but eventually returned of his own volition to die in ritual sacrifice. Tlaxcala also practiced the human sacrifice of captured Aztec Citizens.
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