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5-08-2015, 20:45

Trades, Goods, and Architecture

After school, Aztecs moved on to their professions and began contributing to Aztec society. Nobility served in leadership positions, such as in the military and as high priests. Commoners took positions in service trades or became farmers or tradesmen.

At the marketplace, Aztec men and women sold everything from vegetables they had grown to the cloth they had woven.


Farming was central to Aztec society. Farmers used a sophisticated farming system to grow the food needed to feed the empire’s large population. Their crops included maize, beans, amaranth, and tomatoes. Farmers worked the land and tended to the crops. A higher-level farmer, called a horticulturist by the Spanish, understood the importance of rotating crops each year and knew how to transplant and seed different plants.

Tradesmen worked with precious stones, using obsidian knives to cut and create intricate mosaics and masks. Other stone workers sculpted slabs of rock into large figures. Carpenters crafted the wooden furniture for the nobles’ patios and homes. They also made canoes, flat-bottomed boats, and drums. Feather workers dyed feathers and created beautiful mosaics on shields, headdresses, cloaks, and flags. Basket makers wove all sizes of baskets from reeds, leaves of different plants, and cane. People used baskets to store grains or carry food. Fine baskets held valuable items in the home, such as jewelry.

Other tradesmen wove reeds into mats used on floors in Aztec homes. Metalworkers formed gold into beautiful and delicate jewelry, adding jade, crystal, or turquoise.1 Cloth workers made a variety of cloth from cotton Aztec women prepare offerings of maize and cups of chocolate for the gods. Maize was central to the Aztec way of life.

and fibers from the maguey cactus. Pottery workers made everyday items, such as clay griddles for baking tortillas, as well as finer pieces meant for use in temples. Vendors at the marketplace sold the many goods and foods produced locally as well as goods that traders brought from far away.

This Aztec mask is believed to represent the sun god Xiuhtecuhtli. The mask, which measures 6.5 inches (16.8 cm) tall and 6 inches (15.2 cm) wide with a depth of 5.3 inches (13.5 cm), has a wooden base that is covered with a mosaic of turquoise stones, mother-of-pearl shell, and white conch shell. The individual pieces were glued to the mask using pine resin. The eyes are carved from mother-of-pearl shell and gilded with a very thin sheet of gold. The mask’s teeth are carved from white conch shell.

The mask also features raised turquoise bumps that look a bit like warts. Experts believe the warts may mean the mask represents the god Nanahuatzh, who had boils, or large bumps, all over his face. According to Aztec legend, when the universe was taking shape, Nanahuatzh jumped into a huge fire and became the sun.

Holes located at the top of the mask suggest it was made to be worn. The mask, which has been on display at different locations in the United Kingdom and Germany, now resides at the British Museum. It is believed to have been created sometime between 1400 and 1521, during the height of the Aztec Empire.

Alcohol and the Aztecs

The Aztecs practiced moderation in many aspects of daily life, so public drunkenness was not acceptable in their society. Octli alcohol was only permitted on certain occasions, and people were not allowed to drink more than four cups at a feast. Drunkenness was punished severely, sometimes with a sentence of death. Only elder commoners were allowed to drink as much octli as they wanted, and they could drink outside of ceremonial occasions as well.


One could find a variety of foods at the market— from squash and beans to tropical fruits to deer and rabbit. The main staple in the Aztec diet was maize, used to make tortillas and tamales. The Aztecs developed many different tamale recipes with various kinds of fillings, showing the sophistication of their cuisine. Popcorn was also an important part of the diet. The Florentine Codex lists many Aztec recipes.

The Aztecs raised only a few kinds of animals for food, including turkey, duck, and dogs, along with bees for honey, so vegetables and fruits made up the bulk of the commoners’ diet. Meat and fish were reserved for the nobility. Some other sources of protein included salamanders, tadpoles, and insects. Amaranth, a high-protein grain, combined with beans gave Aztecs much of the protein they needed.

Vegetables included different kinds of squash, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, jicama, and nopal cactus. Greens were also an important part of the diet.

The Aztecs had many kinds of fruit to choose from as well, including guavas, avocados, papayas, and custard apples, just to name a few. Different spices flavored their foods—from epazote, used with beans, to different chilies and vanilla.

Chocolate was a prized drink among the nobles. Alcohol was not used by the nobles but was acceptable for older commoners to drink. From the fermented sap of the maguey cactus, the Aztecs made a lightly alcoholic drink called octli.


Aztec cities were filled with a variety of buildings— from simple common homes to multiroomed royal palaces and impressive public buildings. The Aztecs reused architectural styles from neighboring peoples and predecessors to show their power, especially from the great empire of Teotihuacan. Laws prohibited commoners from building homes more than one homes contained two or three rooms built around a central.



While Aztec commoners ate two simple meals a day, Montezuma II enjoyed meals of variety and extravagance. He sat behind a gilt screen so that others could not see him eat.

Young maidens served him several hundred dishes at each meal. Dwarfs, jugglers, and acrobats also entertained the ruler while he ate. Montezuma ate at a table covered with a white tablecloth using white napkins. These were luxuries no commoner could afford.


Temples were very important religious structures within Aztec cities. Made from stone, some temples sat on platforms atop large pyramids with steep stairs leading up to the temples. The Great Temple in Tenochtitlan is one of the finest examples of Aztec architecture.

Many fine and impressive stone sculptures were created for Aztec temples. The images they depict are both terrifying and powerful. The massive statue of Coatlicue reaches a height of more than eight feet (2.5 m) and depicts the Aztec earth goddess with two fanged serpents where a head should be. Her necklace is made of human hearts and hands with a skull at its center, and her skirt is made of writhing snakes. Another famous sculpture is the large stone disk of Coyolxauhqui.