National Geographic : 2010 Nov
those erected by the ancient Egyptians but rather the symbol of the sacred mountain of Coatepec. e mountain was the site of a cosmological soap opera: e newly born sun god Huitzilo- pochtli slew his warrior sister, the moon goddess Coyolxauhqui, and ung her to the bottom of the mountain. With regular doses of such sac- ri ced warriors, the Mexica believed, the gods would be sated and the life cycle would go on. Without such sacri ces, the gods would perish and the world would end. " e sacred moun- tain is as important as the cross in Christian- ity," says Carrasco. For the Mexica, as for most Mesoamerican cultures, "there was this repeti- tive destruction and creation." Paying homage to the sacred mountain meant marching colorfully garbed captive soldiers up the stairs of the pyramid, forcing them to perform ceremonial dances, and then cutting out their hearts and rolling their corpses down the steps. Rounding up the requisite prisoners to be sacri- ced later was an ongoing campaign. Ritual bat- tles were staged on speci c days, on neutral land, with the explicit purpose of capturing prisoners, not territory. As the Aztec scholar Ross Hassig notes, each war "was formally initiated by burn- ing a large pyre of paper and incense between the two armies." e Mexica did not speak of "holy wars," because for them there was no other kind. Combat and religion were inseparable. , Ahuitzotl led his army through several cities to the north- east to gather victims for his coronation rites in Tenochtitlan. Annoyed that several enemy lords failed to attend his crowning, the new ruler perished---perhaps by poison, perhaps by his younger brother's hand. His very name connoted violence; in Nahuatl parlance, the ahuitzotl was a vicious otter-like being that could throttle hu- mans with its muscular tail. Ahuitzotl's 45 con- quests, the hallmark of his 16-year reign, were all colorfully memorialized in a Spanish vice- roy's manuscript known as the Codex Mendoza. His armies conquered swaths along the Paci c coast, down into present-day Guatemala---and thus "expanded the empire's territorial reach to unprecedented limits," according to Carrasco. Some of these battles were purely exhibits of su- premacy or to punish recalcitrant local leaders. e majority were to ful ll two bedrock lusts: tributary goods for Tenochtitlan and victims for the gods. e rst rule of Aztec dominion was well in place by the time Ahuitzotl acquired power: Take the conquered region's best stuff. "The merchants and traders played the roles of spies," explains Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, the ar- chaeologist who oversaw the massive excava- tions at the Templo Mayor that began in 1978. Once they reported back about the resources a town possessed, the imperial forces would pre- pare their attack. " e military expansion was an economic expansion," says Matos Moctezuma. " e Aztec didn't impose their religion. ey just wanted the products." Not even gold held as much significance among the Mesoamerican peoples as jade, which represented fertility---and which in Cen- tral America could be found only in the mines of Guatemala. Unsurprisingly then, Ahuitzotl established trade routes into those lands---ac- quiring not only the metamorphic green stones but also, says López Luján, "quetzal feathers, gold, jaguar skins, and cacao, which was their money that grew on trees." With this abundance of riches, Tenochtitlan became a mercantile pow- erhouse as well as a cultural one---"the richest art center at that time, as Paris and New York would be later," says López Luján. e Aztec bling became part of the ornately ritualized spirituality of Tenochtitlan. e Tem- plo Mayor was not simply a burial pyramid like JUSTIN SWEET MOST OF THE BATTLES WERE FOUGHT TO FULFILL TWO BEDROCK LUSTS: TRIBUTARY GOODS AND VICTIMS FOR THE GODS.