Aztec (Mexica) art

The Aztecs called themselves the Mexica. They formed part of a larger ethnic group known as the Nahua, who spoke Nahuatl. Unfamiliar with this language? You might know a few words: chocolate, chipotle, coyote, tomato, and avocado derive from Nahuatl words. Even the name Mexico, adopted after Mexicans gained independence from Spain in 1821, comes from Mexica.

1325-1521 C.E.

Beginner's guide

Learn about the language, origins, politics, religion, calendar, and art of the Mexica.

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More on the Aztecs (Mexica)
More on the Aztecs (Mexica)

The Mexica people formed their capital when they saw the sign they had been promised: an eagle perched on a cactus.

Codex Borgia
Codex Borgia

Thirty-three feet long, the Codex Borgia records historical, ritual, mythological, and botanical information.

<em>Monolith of Tlaltecuhtli (Earth Lord)</em>
Monolith of Tlaltecuhtli (Earth Lord)

Capable of being male or female, the Earth Lord Tlaltecuhtli is shown here as a woman who has given birth.

Stone kneeling figure of Chalchiuhtlicue
Stone kneeling figure of Chalchiuhtlicue

This Mexica water goddess was believed to have presided over the fourth, or most recent, sun.

Serpent mask of Quetzalcoatl or Tlaloc
Serpent mask of Quetzalcoatl or Tlaloc

Identifying which god this mask represents has proven a slippery task.

Mosaic mask of Tezcatlipoca
Mosaic mask of Tezcatlipoca

The turquoise, shell and other materials used on this mask were collected from the far reaches of the Aztec empire.

Double-headed serpent
Double-headed serpent

Snakes shedding their skin was a powerful metaphor for the Aztecs and is reflected in their pantheon of gods.

Aztec (Mexica), an introduction
Aztec (Mexica), an introduction

During the twelfth century C.E. the Aztec (or Mexica*) were a small and obscure tribe searching for a new homeland.

Tlaloc vessel
Tlaloc vessel

This vessel represents the goggle-eyed deity associated with rain and crops, critical for the agricultural Aztecs.

<em>Coyolxauhqui Monolith</em>
Coyolxauhqui Monolith

The family drama that lead to Coyolxuahqui’s dismemberment represented here has great soap opera potential.

Aztec feathered headdress
Aztec feathered headdress

The Mexica were long-distance traders, and Tenochtitlan received luxury goods from distant conquered cities.

<em>The Sun Stone</em> (or <em>The Calendar Stone)</em> (Aztec)
The Sun Stone (or The Calendar Stone) (Aztec)

So ubiquitous that it has been used on currency, this unfinished stone records Aztec history and a future prophecy.

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