National Geographic : 1916 Jul
THE LUSTER OF ANCIENT MEXICO buscades, sudden surprises, and the light skirmish of guerilla warfare. Yet their discipline was such as to draw forth the encomiums of the Spanish Conquerors. "A beautiful sight it was," says one of them, "to see them set out on their march, all moving forward so gayly and in so admirable order !" In battle they did not seek to kill their enemies so much as to take them prisoners, and they never scalped, like other North American tribes. The valor of a warrior was estimated by the number of his prisoners, and no ran som was large enough to save the devoted captive. Their military code bore the same stern features as their other laws. Dis obedience of orders was punished with death It was death also for a soldier to leave his colors, to attack the enemy be fore the signal was given, or to plunder another's booty or prisoners. One of the last Tezcucan princes, in the spirit of an ancient Roman, put two sons to death, after having cured their wounds, for violating the last-mentioned law. THEIR "HOUSES OF GOD" The Mexican temples - teocallis, "houses of God," as they were called were very numerous. They were solid masses of earth, cased with brick or ,stone, and in their form somewhat re semble the pyramidal structures of an cient Egypt. The bases of many of them were more than a hundred feet square, .and they towered to a still greater height. .. They were distributed into four or five stories, each of smaller dimensions than that below. The ascent was by a flight bf steps, at an angle of the pyramid, on the outside. This led to a sort of terrace, br gallery, at the base of the second story, which passed quite round the building to another flight of stairs, commencing also at the same angle as the preceding and directly over it, and leading to a similar terrace; so that one had to make the cir cuit of the temple several times before reaching the summit. In some instances the stairway led directly up the center of the western face of the building. The top was a broad area, on which were erected one or two towers, 40 or 50 feet high, the sanctuaries in which stood the sacred images of the presiding deities. Before these towers stood the dreadful stone of sacrifice and two lofty altars, on which fires were kept, as inex tinguishable as those in the Temple of Vesta. There were said to be 600 of these altars on smaller buildings within the inclosure of the great temple of Mex ico, which, with those in the sacred edi fice's in other parts of the city, shed a brilliant illumination over its streets through the darkest night. CEREMONIALS OF PEACE From the construction of their temples all religious services were public. The long processions of priests winding round their massive sides, as they rose higher and higher toward the summit, and the dismal rites of sacrifice performed there, were all visible from the remotest corners of the capital, impressing on the spec tator's mind a superstitious veneration for the mysteries of his religion and for the dread ministers by whom they were interpreted. This impression was kept in full force by their numerous festivals. Every month was consecrated to some protect ing deity; and every week-nay, almost every day-was set down in their calen dar for some appropriate celebration; so that it is difficult to understand how the ordinary business of life could have been compatible with the exactions of religion. Many of their ceremonies were of a light and cheerful complexion, consisting of the national songs and dances, in which both sexes joined. Processions were made of women and children crowned with garlands and bearing offerings of fruits, the ripened maize, or the sweet incense of copal and other odoriferous gums, while the altars of the deity were stained with no blood save that of animals. SThese were the peaceful rites derived from their Toltec predecessors, on which the fierce Aztecs engrafted a superstition too loathsome to be exhibited in all its nakedness, and one over which I would gladly draw a veil altogether, but that it would leave the reader in ignorance of their most striking institution, and one that had the greatest influence in form ing the national character.