Class in Aztec society

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Aztec society traditionally was divided into social classes . The Aztec social classes grew incredibly sophisticated and complex once the Mexican people settled and began to build their empire. It's been said that the class structure was so elaborate that it impressed the Spanish almost as much as the architecture of the empire.

Social class Hierarchical social stratification

A social class is a set of subjectively defined concepts in the social sciences and political theory centered on models of social stratification in which people are grouped into a set of hierarchical social categories, the most common being the upper, middle and lower classes.

The Mexica people, who later became the nucleus of the Aztec empire, were for a time a nomadic tribe looking for a home. As they moved south, they came into contact with advanced peoples. Many cultures of the day looked back to the impressive culture of the Toltecs, and the Aztecs came to admire the Toltec heritage. In fact, eventually the word for artistic creations would be toltecayotl , for the Toltecs, and the Aztecs themselves would claim to be descended from the great Toltec nobles.

Mexica indigenous people of the Valley of Mexico

The Mexica (Nahuatl: Mēxihcah, Nahuatl pronunciation: [meːˈʃiʔkaʔ] or Mexicas were a Nahuatl-speaking indigenous people of the Valley of Mexico, known today as the rulers of the Aztec Empire. This group was also known as the Culhua-Mexica in recognition of its kinship alliance with the neighboring Culhua, descendants of the revered Toltecs, who occupied the Toltec capital of Tula from the tenth through twelfth centuries. The Mexica were additionally referred to as the "Tenochca", a term associated with the name of their altepetl, Tenochtitlan, and Tenochtitlan's founding leader, Tenoch. The Mexica established Mexico Tenochtitlan, a settlement on an island in Lake Texcoco. A dissident group in Mexico-Tenochtitlan separated and founded the settlement of Mexico-Tlatelolco with its own dynastic lineage. The name Aztec was coined by Alexander von Humboldt who combined "Aztlan", their mythic homeland, and "tec ", 'people of'. The term Aztec is often used very broadly to refer not only to the Mexica, but also to the Nahuatl-speaking peoples or Nahuas of the Valley of Mexico and neighboring valleys.

Toltec Pre-columbian civilization

The Toltec culture is an archaeological Mesoamerican culture that dominated a state centered in Tula, Hidalgo, Mexico in the early post-classic period of Mesoamerican chronology. The later Aztec culture saw the Toltecs as their intellectual and cultural predecessors and described Toltec culture emanating from Tōllān[ˈtoːlːaːn] as the epitome of civilization; in the Nahuatl language the word Tōltēcatl[toːlˈteːkat͡ɬ] (singular) or Tōltēcah[toːlˈteːkaʔ] (plural) came to take on the meaning "artisan". The Aztec oral and pictographic tradition also described the history of the Toltec Empire, giving lists of rulers and their exploits.

Toltecayotl is a Nahuatl word derived from "tōltēcātl" which as used by the Nahuas to refer to the members of the Toltec civilization that preceded them in the basin of Mexico, as well as a generalized meaning of "artisan".

The Mexicans were anxious to claim a Toltec heritage, so they chose a nobleman of Toltec origin as their first king, a man named Acamapichtli. He fathered a great many children by 20 wives, and his descendants became the heart of a new social class in the empire - the nobles or pipiltin (singular pilli). From then on, a king would always be chosen from among the pipiltin.

Acamapichtli Ruler of the Aztecs

Acamapichtli was the first tlatoani, or ruler, of the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan, and founder of the Aztec imperial dynasty. He became ruler in 1375 and reigned for 19 years.

The Pipiltzin were the noble social class in the Mexica Empire. They are below the ruling nobles in the civilization's social structure and above the commoners who achieved noble status due to an outstanding deed in war. These people were members of the hereditary nobility and occupied positions in the government as ambassadors and ministers, the army and the priesthood. The subclasses within the Pipiltzin were: tlahtohcapilli, tecpilli or teucpilli, tlazohpilli, and calpanpilli.

Basically, the ruling positions were not hereditary, but preference was given to those in the "royal families". Originally the pipiltin status was not hereditary, although the sons of pillis had access to better resources and education, so it was easier for them to become pillis. Later the class system took on hereditary aspects. [1]

The nobles had many other privileges. They generally received a fuller education, they were allowed to wear fancier clothes and decorate their houses. They were allowed to hold important government offices. But not all had positions of authority - some were craftsmen, or even palace servants. Those who served with distinction could move up the ranks.

The second class were the macehualtin (people), originally peasants. Eduardo Noguera [2] estimates that in later stages only 20% of the population was dedicated to agriculture and food production. The other 80% of society were warriors, artisans and traders. [3]

The mācēhualtin were the commoner social class in the Mexica Empire, commonly referred to as the Aztec Empire.

Peasant member of a traditional class of farmers

A peasant is a pre-industrial agricultural laborer or farmer, especially one living in the Middle Ages under feudalism and paying rent, tax, fees, or services to a landlord. In Europe, peasants were divided into three classes according to their personal status: slave, serf, and free tenant. Peasants either hold title to land in fee simple, or hold land by any of several forms of land tenure, among them socage, quit-rent, leasehold, and copyhold.

Slaves or tlacotin also constituted an important class. Aztecs could become slaves because of debts, as a criminal punishment, or as war captives. A slave could have possessions and even own other slaves.[ citation needed ] Slavery in Aztec society was in some ways more humane than in Western cultures. While some slaves were punished criminals or prisoners of war, others sold themselves or their children into slavery due to economic hardship. Slaves could free themselves by repaying their purchase price. They could marry and own property, and their children were born free. [4]

Slavery system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work

Slavery is any system in which principles of property law are applied to people, allowing individuals to own, buy and sell other individuals, as a de jure form of property. A slave is unable to withdraw unilaterally from such an arrangement and works without remuneration. Many scholars now use the term chattel slavery to refer to this specific sense of legalised, de jure slavery. In a broader sense, however, the word slavery may also refer to any situation in which an individual is de facto forced to work against their own will. Scholars also use the more generic terms such as unfree labour or forced labour to refer to such situations. However, and especially under slavery in broader senses of the word, slaves may have some rights and protections according to laws or customs.

Traveling merchants called pochteca were a small, but important class as they not only facilitated commerce, but also communicated vital information across the empire and beyond its borders. They were often employed as spies.[ citation needed ]

See also

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  1. "pilli (Aztec social class)". Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  2. Annals of Anthropology, UNAM, Vol. xi, 1974, p. 56
  3. Sanders, William T., Settlement Patterns in Central Mexico. Handbook of Middle American Indians, 1971, vol. 3, p. 3-44.