The Aztecs of ancient Mexico are generally the most widely known of all pre-Columbian peoples of the Americas. The dramatic and heroic story of their conquest and eventual destruction at the hands of the Spanish Conquistadores and the rediscovery in 1790 of the Piedra del Sol, the Sun Stone or Aztec Calendar, are known throughout the world. In 1978, when municipal workers laying underground electrical cable near the Cathedral in the center of Mexico City discovered a huge stone portrait of Coyolxauhqui, the rebellious sister of Huitzilopochtli, the find ignited a serious interest in Mexican archeology and the study of Mesoamerica history. Hidden under the soft soil of the capital city was a prodigious record of the sophisticated Aztec culture written in the blood-soaked stones.
This curriculum unit endeavors to offer a supplement to the present high school textbooks and lesson plans on the Aztec Civilization on the eve of the Spanish conquest. This information is appropriate for World Cultures, Latin America Cultures and Spanish Language courses. The material presented here is adapted from a few of the surviving Aztec books, primarily the Codices Aubin, Borturini, Mendoza, Borbonicus, Borgia, Colombino, Cospi, Dresden, Ixtlixochitl, Laud, Nuttall, Telleriano, Vaticano. Vindobonensis, Fejervary-Mayer, Remensis, Magliabecchiano and Xolotl, as published in facsimile editions or as they appear as illustrations in many scholarly works on the Aztec culture. Although the Aztec culture had been in existence only a few hundred years prior to the conquest, during this short span the Aztecs manage to develop a culture and an art that is one of the most spectacular in world history. This short history of the Aztecs explores many legends and a very complex mythology in an attempt to make the lessons attractive to the teacher and informative and interesting to high school students.
This curriculum unit may be used in conjunction with Christine Elmore’s unit entitled The Indians’ Discovery of Columbus, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, Volume II, August 1992. Elmore’s work was the offspring of the Seminar entitled Writings and Re-writings of the Discovery and Conquest of America. It picks up where this unit leaves off and presents the conquest of Mexico and the subsequent downfall from the perspective of the Aztecs themselves, in the fashion of León-Portilla’s The Broken Spears.