The Aztec were an indigenous, MesoAmerican group that dominated parts of México from the 14th century to the 16th century. They were a nomadic tribe that spoke the Nahuatl language. In 1325, the Aztec arrived in the Valley of México and founded their capital of Tenochtitlán on an island in Lake Texcoco. In the following two centuries, the Aztec dominated various tribes of central México, becoming the powerful and feared political group.

Agriculture and trade were the foundations of the Aztec economy, with entire empire connected by an intricate web of footpaths to facilitate trade. Aztec society functioned on a class structure, with nobles at the top, followed by artists, tradesmen, and warriors, and ending with slaves. Arts were very important, including poetry, architecture, and dance. It is still possible to see many ancient Aztec ruins scattered across the Valley of México.

In 1521, Hernán Cortés, along with Spanish troops and indigenous allies, conquered Tenochtitlán and defeated the Aztec empire. The Spanish founded Mexico City on the ruins of the Aztec capital. Most of what we know about Aztec history and culture is from studying archaeological evidence and records kept by the Spanish conquistadors, priests, and scholars, as well as literate Aztec.

Text by Maisie Bornstein & Lindsay Clark.
Illustration from the Florentine Codex, late 16th century.