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The Incas and Aztec (W1: D3-4)

The Inca (W1:D3)- Well known for their great structure, even at high altitudes, the Incas became a powerful civilization that rivaled most, yet they had no written language. They did have a way of counting, using knots on cords, but the significance of the cords was lost when those who knew their system were either killed in the Incan Civil War, or finished off by the Spanish. Because their traditions and history were passed down by oral means and storytelling, historians cannot find much about their exact history. Instead, they have found most of their ancient information from their stories and archeology.

One of the greatest accomplishments of the Inca, besides their high and superior structures, was their network of roads that stretched across their kingdom - about 2,250 miles of roads. These would have been used to transport armies and messages, using runners, not used to transport goods to trade. Every man was a farmer, producing his own family’s food and clothes, and then trading these resources with locals. Much like the Maya, their cities were places of worship and trade, while the smaller cities were those of families trying to separate themselves from the larger body.

The Inca were known for their religion and their belief in a god for each part of nature: The Sun god, Rain god, and more. They would also prepare and keep their dead leaders’ bodies, to give guidance from the afterlife.

Their warlike nature, disease, and then the Spanish, finally ended the rule of their greater civilization.

Activity: Keeping a history by telling it to others was extremely difficult, without the ability to write it down. Ask your parents or guardian for a story of your family. Have them tell you the story at night. In the morning, try to write down what you remember about the story. After you have written the summary, ask that same adult to read your story and tell you, on a scale of 1-10, how close you were to telling the story they told you accurately.





On a scale from 1-10, how close was your writing to the story that was told? ____________________________

The Aztec (W1:D4) - The Aztec were the last great civilization of Mesoamerica. It was started by three nomadic tribes, traveling

throughout central Mexico, until they gathered as one body, in 1325. It is said that their god picked this location: a great lake where a legend foretold of an eagle perched on a cactus, which symbolized that this was where they would build a greatest city - Tenochtitlan. The city was built on an island, surrounded by swamp, in Lake Texcoco. They irrigated the swamp and used the dirt to expand their island, adding gardens and surrounding the city with water. This land became the foundation for the greatest city in all of Mesoamerica, with great dirt causeways. As the population grew, many sought their own city-states, where they could worship in their own way, causing a division among the people.

These other cities would still benefit the Aztecs, for they designed sophisticated irrigation and farming methods to produce crops like maize (corn), beans, squash, potatoes, avocados, and tomatoes, and trade them in Tenochtitlan. They would also hunt coyotes, armadillos, turkey, and other wildlife, and use them for trade. There were divisions, but they were still able to work together, most of the time.

This city-state order of the Aztec was formed by two means. First, families left the larger body to build smaller cities, to better control their culture and the raising of their families. The second was more prevalent; they would take over cities that were already established before the Aztecs, and put them under their rule. To keep from endless wars and more lives taken, the cities created treaties and alliances with each other, including the smaller cities against the larger Aztec cities. Their god was very war-like, and the teachings of him pushed them into a constant war-like state.

The story of their god’s arrival into the world, and how he ruled, is a tale for the most gruesome movie (see the Aztec unit on, which gives you a greater understanding of why they are so well-known for their war-like nature, and even conducting of human sacrifices. They believed these two acts (war and sacrifices) satisfied their god’s lust for blood. Though they were a war-like people, they also understood the nature of man, and not wanting to kill off their entire city in war, they would send out a group of warriors on either side to fight as if the entire army was with them. They would fight and, if they lost, their city would lose, making the winner’s tribe the victor. Those surviving champions, from the losing side, would be sacrificed to their god. These battles were known as the “Flower Wars,” and they happened throughout the civilization, to promote certain tribal dominance.

While being a civilization that fought each other, they also built great temples, and constructed dams, bridges, and other great structures that stood high into the air. Some of these structures still stand today. Much like the civilizations before them, their large cities were a hub for trade, worship, and cultural ceremonies. Tenochtitlan, lacking land to farm, was sustained through its trade with smaller cities, and taxes - known as tributes - from those they conquered.

Beyond this, their early history is not well known, for their codex of history and all other writings were destroyed when Itzcoatl took power in 1427, starting a new reign with “new people,” as he saw it. All former writings were hunted down and destroyed, removing any thought of their past beyond that which could be passed down by oral tradition (storytelling). This is how some were able to preserve the record until the Spanish arrived. When the Spanish came, their friars learned their language and transcribed these stories, preserving them as well as possible, though some items were lost in translation and by being passed down by memory.

During Itzcoatl’s reign, he formed alliances between their three largest cities, Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan, with other client city-states, in an effort to take on their greatest rival - the Tepanec - and conquer their capital. When a city or people were conquered, their ruler was replaced by someone who honored the greater alliance, who then forced them to pay tribute to the larger city-state. Because of these burdens, and the vengeance sought by those lesser cities (near 500), who lost the “Flower Wars,” a great divide had formed among the people. This anger was so high, that when the Spanish arrived, these rival cities and people (including the Tlaxcala, their greatest rivals to the east, and a Republic nonetheless) turned against Tenochtitlan and their newest ruler, Montezuma. Within three years, the great civilization of the Aztec fell.

Activity: Aztec god (Feathery Serpent) - Aztec respected and even worshiped the image and statues of snakes. This was due to the representation of Quetzalcoatl, their god. His name literally translates to “feathery serpent.” This is also seen as a representation of their god coming from the sky (feathery) and moving among the people (serpent). They even presented Hernan Cortes with a sculpture of the serpent, just before he attacked Tenochtitlan; this sculpture is now displayed in the British Museum.

Your task today is to draw your representation of a serpent - one that the Aztecs could respect and honor. Design your image

on a separate sheet of paper and then transfer that drawing to cardboard. With cut tissue paper, and other materials around the house, glue feathers onto the drawing to decorate it. Use other materials to make it stand out. Draw it again below:


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