THE AZTECS by Richard Townsend


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 Fine scholarly history of the Aztecs from their 12th-century Toltec origins through the 16th-century Spanish conquest by CortÇs. How was it that, landing on the Tabasco Coast in 1519, Hern†n CortÇs and his 500 soldiers--sons with no inheritance, failed planters, ex-gold-miners, freebooters--were able utterly to defeat Motecuhzoma, Aztec king and most feared ruler in Mesoamerica, and by 1521 conquer the Aztec confederation of city- states, with their population of 350,000? Here, Townsend (Curator, Department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas/Art Institute of Chicago) draws from archaeological discoveries, Spanish records, and recent scholarship to explain the Conquest of Mexico and to illumine less generally known aspects of Aztec history: the everyday lives of kings and commoners; the interlocking calendars and festivals through which priests controlled their subjects; and the 400-year line of warrior/conquerors before Motecuhzoma. Ironically, the Aztec ritual of human sacrifice--in which the hearts of defeated warriors were torn beating from their bodies--contributed to the defeat of Motecuhzoma's own warriors: While CortÇs's men fought to kill, Aztecs attempted to capture enemies for sacrifice. Elsewhere, Townsend's discussion of Aztec schooling reveals the depth of Aztec culture. There were two classes of schools--one for commoners, the other for nobility. In both, boys and girls were taught rhetoric, history, ritual dancing, and singing; in the calmecac for future leaders, the curriculum included law, architecture, arithmetic, astronomy, and agriculture. Interestingly, despite the Aztec success in the building arts and in supplying food for large cities, they had no beasts of burden- -everything was transported by water or by human porters; horses were introduced by the Spanish. A substantial history of satisfying scope and depth. (Illustrations--140--not seen.)

Pub Date: June 29th, 1992
ISBN: 0-500-02113-9
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1992