Where they came from can only be guessed at, and what they left behind has already been well documented, but rarely as in...

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THE AZTECS

Where they came from can only be guessed at, and what they left behind has already been well documented, but rarely as in Davies' broad narrative history has the pre-Hispanic sensibility been so absorbingly dramatized or made sense of The Aztecs, or Mexica, although originally a nomadic tribe, built an astonishingly vast domain through conquests that -- unlike the European pattern of empire -- followed trade, a loosely-knit federation relying on allies and associates (its great weakness) rather than, as with Old World cultures, a system of direct or proconsular government. Nevertheless, among their warrior-rulers Moctezuma I would stand comparison with Julius Caesar and Ahuitzall with Alexander the Great. What has always intrigued historians, of course, is the Aztecs' highly formalized ritual of human sacrifice (and self-sacrifice) on a scale so immense that it's impossible for us to comprehend. But what interests Davies even more is the victims, why they went so willingly -- as if through some mystical transformation the sacrificed became gods and in a sense died as gods and not for the gods. Equally curious -- there seems to have been no hatred or cruelty intended by the slaughters, a concept unbelievable to the conquistadores who themselves killed for retribution as well as gold. Even after the Spaniards introduced Christianity, sacrifices continued for a time, and indeed the friars hit on a ritual of their own -- throwing live animals into an open fire, they discovered, was an effective way to teach the fear of God.

Pub Date: April 1, 1974

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1974