Who Were the Aztecs?

(This is taken from John D. Baldwin's Ancient America, originally published in 1871.)

The Mexicans, or Aztecs, subjugated by Cortez, were themselves invaders, whose extended dominion was probably less than two hundred and fifty years old, although they had been much longer in the Valley of Mexico. There were important portions of the country, especially at the south, to which their rule had not been extended. In several districts besides those of the Mayas and the Quichés the natives still maintained independent governments. The Aztec conquest of the central region, between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, was completed only a few years previous to the arrival of the Spaniards, and the conquest of this region had not been fully secured at some points, as appeared in the readiness of the Tlascalans and others to act in alliance with Cortez. But the Aztecs did not come from abroad. They belonged in the country, and seem to have been originally an obscure and somewhat rude branch of the native race.

It is very probable that the Colhuas and Nahuas or Toltecs of the old books and traditions, together with the Aztecs, were all substantially the same people. They established in the country three distinct family groups of language, it is said, but the actual significance of this difference in speech has not been clearly determined. These unlike groups of language have not been sufficiently analyzed and studied to justify us in assuming that they did not all come from the same original source, or that there is a more radical difference between them than between the Sclavonic, Teutonic, and Scandinavian groups in Europe. These ancient Americans were distinct from each other at the time of the Conquest, but not so distinct as to show much difference in their religious ideas, their mythology, their ceremonies of worship, their methods of building, or in the general character of their civilization.

If the Toltecs and our Mound-Builders were the same people, they probably went from Mexico and Central America to the Valley of the Mississippi at a very remote period, as Colhuan colonies, and after a long residence there returned so much changed in speech and in other respects as to seem a distinct people. The Aztecs appear to have dwelt obscurely in the south before they rose to power. They must have been at first much less advanced in civilization than their predecessors, but ready to adopt the superior knowledge and methods of the country they invaded.




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