The Aztecs were an indigenous group of Mesoamerican tribal peoples whose influence dominated that region between the fourteenth and early sixteenth centuries. They predominantly spoke a native language called Nahuatl, and they lived a nomadic existence prior to the twelfth century. See also: Agricultural science (plant); Agriculture; Bean; Corn; Domestication (anthropology); North America
Mesoamerica, which includes the area of Mexico and the adjacent northern part of Central America, is where maize (corn) and beans were first domesticated in the Americas. They became the major founder crops of many New World agricultural systems. Because of the economic strength and productivity derived from these domesticated communities, this region eventually saw the rise of complex urban societies, including the Maya and Aztec civilizations. These societies flourished prior to the Spanish colonization of the Americas.
The groups who spoke the native Nahuatl language referred to themselves collectively as the Tenochca or Mexica peoples. According to pre-Columbian traditional lore, the original Tenochca tribes initially inhabited a legendary place known as Aztlán, which was situated in north or northwest Mexico. This name Aztlán is the basis for the origin of the term “Aztec” (however, the Tenochca peoples did not refer to themselves as Aztecs). After a period of wandering in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the nomadic tribes settled in the central basin of México, eventually founding the city-state of Tenochtitlán in 1325. The present-day location of Mexico City was built on top of the ancient ruins of Tenochtitlán.
With the help of a massive and efficient army, as well as advanced and intensive agricultural techniques, the Aztecs developed into a powerful city-state and empire. They were able to conquer other regional peoples and were able to consolidate and organize their power throughout all areas of society, including politics, religion, commerce, and architectural enterprises. Modern archeological endeavors and investigations have uncovered a rich history and period of numerous achievements. One of the most notable archeological artifacts to be discovered is the Aztec Calendar Stone (or Aztec Sun Stone), an intricately carved stone calendar measuring 3.6 meters (12 feet) in diameter and weighing 25 tons, which highlighted the role of the Sun in Aztec belief and religion. See also: Archeoastronomy; Archeology; Astronomy; Calendar; Ethnoarcheology; Sun
After the arrival of the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés in 1519, the Spanish forces (along with the help of other Mesoamerican tribes) decimated the Aztecs and laid waste to Tenochtitlán in 1521, effectively ending the Aztec empire.