OPPOSITE Aztec soldiers dressed in magnificent uniforms. Eagle warriors, as represented by this statue, were one of the two specially honored classes of Aztec soldiers.
THE AZTECS HAD VERY DEFINITE IDEAS ABOUT SOCIAL classes. The three social classes—nobility, commoner, and slave—were clearly defined and strictly maintained. The nobility or the upper class of Aztec society was thepipiltin. The commoners were part of the macehu-alli. People were born into their class, and few ever rose above it.
The social rules for professions were even more rigid. Children of goldsmiths became goldsmiths, farmers’ children were farmers, scribes’ sons were scribes, and so on.
Although the majority of people had no choice about their lifestyle or career, some highly gifted children did rise above their parents’ status. Young men all trained for the military. A skilled warrior could earn wealth by his brave deeds and could also rise in social status—although the chances for this rise were slim. Another opportunity for success came through talent. Skilled weavers, outstanding singers, and very smart boys could also advance. Boys who showed promise in the mace-hualli school could be sent to the calmecac, a school for nobles.
Another way to rise above low status was to be promised to the priesthood. Parents could commit their children, boys or girls, to the temple at birth. One reason to commit a child to the priesthood was the improved standard of living. Children in the temple were fed, housed, and clothed. They did not need to fear dying of hunger in times of famine.