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AZTECS


170


AZTECS


offensive and defensive, after the manner of the "League of the Iroquois". The events preceding the formation of this league are stated in many ways, according as information has been obtained from one or the otlier of the tribes entering into it, each claim- ing, of coui'se, the leading part; but it is certain that the Mexicans held the niilitarj' leadership, and proba- bly received the greater part of the spoils. From the formation of this league dates that extension of Mexican sway which has led to the erroneous con- ception of a primitive Mexican nationality and empire.

The first aggressions of the confederates were on the tribes of Xochimilco and Chalco, at the southern outlet of the valley. They seem to ha\e been re- duced to tribute and the condition of tributaries and military vassals. Then, in the second half of the fifteenth century, raids began upon Indian groups dwelling outside of the lake basin. These raids were conducted with great shrewdness. East of the val- ley, powerful tribes of the Nahuatl linguistic stock, such as Tlaxcala, Huexotzinco, Cholula, and Atlixco, grouped about the great volcano Popoca-tepetl, were carefully avoided at first. The war parties of the confederates circumvented their ranges, pouncing upon more distant groups, nearer the coast. The same thing took place with Indians south of the valley, where the League extended its murderous inroads to Oaxaca. The vanquished were either exterminated or dispersed, if they resisted too well or attempted to recover their independence; or else were reduced to the pajTuent of a tribute, annually collected by special gatherers dispatched from the valley, and' of whom the tributaries were mortally afraiS. This tribute consisted of products of the land, and of human victims for sacrifice. Besides, the subjected tribes were bound to service in war. The social condition of the \anquished was un- changed; they kept their self-government, their autonomy. The extent of Mexican, in the sense of confederate, sway has been exaggerated; neither Yucatan nor Guatemala was affected, and what have been represented as Mexican "subjects", or "colo- nies ", in those countries were tribes of Nahuatl lan- guage established in the South at a very early date, and having no connexion with Mexico and its Indians except the tie of common speech. Hence the so-called "Mexican Empire" was composed of a confederacy, territorially restricted to the lake basin, and outlying tribes, autonomous but tributary. All attempts of the Aztecs and their allies to overrun, in the manner above described, the more powerful tribes residing even in their immediate A'icinity, failed. An attack on the Tarascans of Mchuacan under the war-chief Axayacatl, about 1475, resulted in disastrous defeat. The wars with Tlaxcala, Cholula, and Huexotzinco, as well as with Atlixco, ended usually in dra-n-n battles, with no <iecisive advantage for either side. Still, it is not ■unlikely that the confederates woiJd ultimately have succeeded, since they had, through their raids on the ■coast-tribes, cut off "their adversaries from the supply of salt, and also surrounded them almost com- pletely, cutting off their resources in the direction of the sea.

This was the condition of affairs when, in 1519, Cortez landed at Vera Cniz, then an uninhabited beach. He recognized the weak points of the situa- tion, and successively brought over to his side the enemies of the league, then one of its members, Tezcuco, and finally, with these auxiliaries, captured the lake-stronghold of the ancient Mexicans, or Aztecs, putting an end to their existence as a tribe. The degree of culture which the Mexicans, or Aztecs, had reached was not superior to that of any of the sedentarj- tribes of the Mexican tableland, and in some respects it was below that of the Indians


of Yucatan, Honduras, or Chiapas. Their social organization rested on the basis of localized clanship twenty clans (Calpulli), with descent in the male line, forming the autonomous units which the tribe en- veloped like a sheU. The representatives of these clans, one for each, constituted the supreme tribal authority, the council, or Tlatocan, and were elected for life or during good behaviour. These in turn, with the sanction of the religious chiefs, selected a head war-chief, or Tlacatccuhtli (Chief of Men), and an administrative head, who bore the strange title of Cihita-Cohuatl (Snake Woman), and probably had more religious attributes. It was the former whom the Spaniards understood to be a monarch, whereas he was properly but a chief executive, subject to removal. Moctecuzoma (Montezuma) was deposed while a captive of Cortfo, and there are indications that one of the earlier chieftains (Tizoc), suffered a similar fate. The twenty clans were grouped in four principal quarters, each had its own war-chief with a special title. The four were subordinate to the Chief of Men, who was also ex ofjicio the com- mander-in-chief of the joint forces of the confederacy. Each clan administered its own internal affairs, the tribal council only intervening in case of dissensions between clans, and managing intercourse with the two other members of the league.

The religioas organization of the Mexicans had become very complex. The numerous Shamans (called priests by most authors) were grouped into four subdivisions, the medicine-men (Tlama-cazqui, probably), the hunters (Otomitl), and the warriors; above all of whom were the two Teotecuhtli as heads of worship. This organization was perpetuated, as among many Indian tribes to-day, by selection and training. The basis of the creed was a rude panthe- ism. Monotheism was unknown. Nor are there any trace* of early Christian teachings. The so-called "cross" of Palenque is, fii-st, not a work of the Mexicans, but of Maya tribes, and, second, it is not a cross but an imperfect Swa- stika . In con- sequence of the pantheistic idea of a spiritual essence pervad- ing creation, and individual- izing at will in natural or hu- man forms, num- berless fetishes, or idols, were manufactured, which entailed a very elaborate cult and a very sanguinar}' one, from the time that historical deities (deified men) began to assume preva- lence. The chief idols of tht Mexicans wen historic persor ages, probablv Shamans of very early times, sur- roimded by a halo of miraculous deeds, hence credited with su- pernatural powers and, finally, supernatural de- scent. These feti.shes (Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalooiuiatl, etc.) were sometimes of more than human size, of stone and wood, elaborately carved and bedecked


WAR AND Death