Aztecs Facts for KS2 Children and Teachers
The Aztecs is a fascinating topic to study, full of exciting stories, amazing innovations and one or two more gory elements! Check out these Aztecs facts for KS2 children and teachers to find out more about this intriguing civilisation...
Who were the Aztecs?
The Aztecs were a civilisation from Mesoamerica. They referred to themselves as Mexica or Tenocha but today they are known as Aztecs. ‘Aztec’ means ‘someone who came from Azlan’ which is a mythical place in North America.
The Aztecs were originally farmers and warriors who had lived in North America but who had to leave their land. This was probably because their crops failed or there was not enough water. They journeyed south to Mesoamerica.
They travelled until they found their ‘promised land’. This was a swampy area that they managed to build into a city that spread into a whole empire.
When was the Aztec civilisation?
The Aztec civilisation lasted from 1100 to 1522. This was during the period of the Middle Ages and Tudors in British history.
Where did the Aztecs live?
The Aztecs lived in an area that used to be known as Mesoamerica but that we now call Mexico.
A map of the Aztec Empire in 1519
The City of Tenochtitlan
When the Aztecs found their ‘promised land’ after more than one hundred years of wandering, they found their destination on a swampy island in the middle of Lake Texcoco. There were lots of obstacles to settling here:
- There was no wood or stone on the island
- The water was salty
- They had no animals or wheels* to help them transport materials
- It was surrounded by volcanoes
- There was the threat of earthquakes
Despite this, they managed to build a floating city called Tenochtitlan (say Tay-nok-teet-lan) which became one of the biggest cities in the world at the time. They used reeds to build the city on but as they began conquering neighbouring tribes, they started getting access to other materials.
Tenochtitlan was designed on a grid structure. There was a central square with royal palaces and temples. Water causeways ran through the city with bridges that could be removed if an enemy attacked.
The city of Tenochtitlan
*There is evidence that the Aztecs were aware of wheels because some have been seen on Aztec toys but they never used the wheel for any other purpose.
Teachers: If you're looking for a more detailed lesson on Tenochtitlan, check out our ready-to-teach lesson with lesson plan, slides and printable resources.
What did the Aztecs believe?
Religion was a crucial part of life for the Aztecs. They believed in lots of different gods who controlled everything, including the sun, moon, stars, weather, disease, farming and travel. They believed that they had to keep these gods happy in order to gain their blessings. They did this in a variety of ways, such as singing, dancing, praying and offering gifts to the gods.
The Aztecs believed that the world they lived in was actually the fifth world and fifth sun and that four worlds and suns had already been destroyed. They were terrified that the end of the world they lived in would come about if they didn’t keep the gods happy. To do this, they had to offer the gods a human sacrifice.
A person being offered as a human sacrifice to the gods
Human sacrifice is when a person is killed as an offering to the gods. It was a great honour to be chosen as a human sacrifice and it guaranteed you a place in paradise. Men, women and children were all sacrificed to the gods in a ceremony, part of which involved throwing the person down a steep flight of temple steps!
Most Aztecs lived on chinampas. These were floating islands that were weighed down so they wouldn’t float away. Each family would live on their own chinampa where they would build a house and plant vegetables to eat.
Most Aztecs lived in one-room homes that were built from mud bricks. They would eat, sleep and cook all in the same room.
What did the Aztecs eat?
Aztecs ate what they could grow or catch from the land or water. They grew crops such as maize (sweetcorn), pumpkins, squash, peppers and sweet potatoes. Lots of their food was spicy because they grew lots of chillies. They didn’t have milk, butter or sugar but they could sweeten their food with honey.
What did the Aztecs wear?
There were very strict rules about what you could wear in Aztec society. Only rich people were allowed to wear clothes made from cotton. Most ordinary people wore clothes made from cactus or aloe plants. Women would weave the fibres from these plants on a loom to turn them into cloth.
Aztec men wore loin clothes and cloaks while women wore ankle-length tunics and a sleeveless tunic. The clothes of ordinary Aztecs were very plain because only rich people could wear brightly-coloured or patterns clothes.
Aztec children were highly prized and cared for by their parents. The birth of a child was celebrated with feasts and festivities. Aztec parents were strict with their children and expected them to behave in a certain way. Boys were brought up to hunt, farm, trade at markets or be warriors, like their fathers, while girls were taught to weave, cook and take care of the home like their mothers.
Going to school was mandatory for all Aztec children although boys and girls were educated separately and he kind of education you received depended on your social status and how wealthy you were.
Aztec children had toys such as bows and arrows, dolls and whistles. They also had games such as patolli which was a board game or a ball game called ullamaliztli.
Aztecs playing patolli
How did the Aztec Empire end?
In 1519, a Spanish ‘conquistador’ (an adventurer and soldier) called Hernán Cortés landed in Mesoamerica with 508 soldiers. This area had only just been discovered by Europeans and Cortés had heard that the area had gold. He was on a mission to find as much of it as he could. When he reached Mesoamerica, he headed straight for Tenochtitlan, the Aztecs’ largest city.
Aztec emperor Moctezuma and the Aztec people thought Cortés was the snake-god Quetzalcoatl. They offered Cortés and the other conquistadors gold and other gifts in the hopes that they would go away.
The Aztecs greet Cortés
However, the conquistadors decided to attack the Aztecs so they could take all the riches of the land for themselves. As well as weapons the Aztecs had never seen, the Spanish also brought a disease called smallpox with them. Within three months, almost all the Aztecs had been killed either in battle or because of smallpox.
The Aztec city of Tenochtitlan was destroyed and a new city was built. This city is now known as Mexico City.
Top 10 Fascinating Aztecs Facts:
- Cacao beans (the beans used to grow chocolate) were often used as money by the Aztecs.
- The Aztecs were the first people to introduce Europeans to chocolate!
- The Aztec family was such an important part of society that women who died in childbirth were given the same honours as warriors killed in battle.
- When the conquistadors arrived on horseback, some Aztecs believed that horse and rider were one strange creature because they had never seen horses before.
- It was not uncommon for poor Aztec families to sell their own children into slavery.
- Aztec men were allowed to have more than one wife. The first wife he married was his principle wife and any wives after that were less important.
- Aztecs commonly buried family members right underneath the family home.
- Around 600 people a year were killed in Aztec society in order to appease the gods.
- The aim of war for the Aztecs was not to kill people but to capture them so that they could be offered as sacrifices to the gods.
- Children would be sacrificed if there was a drought because it was believed that their tears would bring rain.
Aztecs making chocolate
Teachers: If you're looking for in-depth lessons on the Aztecs, check out our Aztecs Cross-Curricular Topic for KS2, with Art, DT, History, Geography and Computing lessons.