The Aztecs: Facts Behind a Mighty Empire

The Aztec empire was large and mighty in its day, though it was conquered during the 16th century. Learn to appreciate and understand some of the major accomplishments, beliefs and tragedies that impacted this civilization by discovering a selection of the Aztecs facts.

Pyramid of the sun in Teotihuacan park of Mexico Pyramid of the sun in Teotihuacan park of Mexico

The Aztecs: Facts About Their Civilization

Discover key Aztecs facts and milestones related to these ancient people and their empire.

Ancient Aztec calendar coin
  • A thriving Aztec civilization has been traced back to as early as 1325.
  • The Aztec people did not refer to themselves as Aztecs. They referred to themselves as the Mexica.
  • The Aztecs spoke the Nahuatl language.
  • They originally lived in the northern part of Mexico but migrated south to the central portion of the state.
  • Mexico City, the modern Capitol of Mexico, is situated near where the ancient Aztec city-state of Teotihuacán once stood.
  • The Aztec empire was formally established in 1428, under the leadership of Itzcoatl. The empire expanded through conquering other groups.
  • In 1440, Montezuma took over as leader. He was called the Great Speaker and is credited with much of the empire's expansion.
  • Teotihuacán became one of the largest cities in the World. By A.D. 1500, only Constantinople and Paris had larger populations.
  • The Aztecs erected pyramids to the moon and sun within Teotihuacán.
  • The Aztecs are known for amazing stone structures built without the aid of wheels, pack animals or tools forged from steel or iron.
  • Aztec society was polygamous, with men often taking more than one wife.
  • Aztecs often buried deceased family members under the houses in which remaining family members continued to live.
  • The Aztec calendar had 365 days. A year consisted of 18 months. Each month lasted for 20 days, which is a total of 360 days.
  • The Aztecs did not assign names to the last 5 days in the year. Those days were considered to be unlucky.

Religion Facts About the Aztecs

Religion played an important role in Aztec life and culture.

Serpent relief archaeological Aztec site Teotihuacan
  • The Aztecs were polytheistic, which means they believed in and worshipped many gods. This was common to many groups in the same region and timeframe.
  • When Aztecs conquered other groups, the groups were forced to accept the Aztec gods but were also allowed to keep their own gods as well.
  • Scholars believe that the Aztecs' pantheon of deities included more than 200 gods and goddesses.
  • Huitzilopochtli was one of the main Aztec gods. He was worshipped as the national god of the Mexica people and the patron god of the city of Teotihuacán.
  • Quetzalcoatl was another main god. He viewed as the god of learning and wisdom. He was not exclusive to the Aztecs; many other groups worshipped Quetzalcoatl.
  • Centeotl was the corn god. As corn was the Aztecs' principal crop and central to their diet, his role was a significant one.
  • The Aztec religion involved the practice of human sacrifice to feed and appease some of their gods.
  • Templo de Mayor was the primary Aztec temple in Teotihuacán.

Facts Leading to the Downfall of Aztec Civilization

It only took Spanish conquistadors two years to topple the Aztec civilization. They did so with aid from indigenous allies.

  • Montezuma II, who was the 9th ruler of the Aztec empire, was captured and taken hostage by Spanish conquistadors in 1519.
  • From captivity, Montezuma II told others to recognize the Spanish as their leaders. The people reacted by pelting Montezuma II with stones.
  • The primitive Aztec weaponry was not a match for the iron weapons the Europeans brought with them.
  • In 1520, a smallpox epidemic reached Teotihuacán, wiping out 40 percent of the population in just one year.
  • In 1521, the Aztec empire was overtaken by Spanish conquistadors under the leadership of Hernán Cortés.
  • The final battle included a siege on Teotihuacán, during which the remaining Aztecs were trapped inside the city for two weeks.
  • There was not a rebellion against the Spanish after they overtook the Aztec empire.

Aztec Impact Remains

History remembers the Aztec empire as the final great native civilization in the Mesoamerican region. If you found these Aztec facts to be interesting, you'd probably like to learn more about how this ancient culture continues to impact the modern world. Start by discovering a selection of common Aztec words used in English today. From there you might like to explore things related to the Incan Empire, like Machu Picchu.