The Aztecs and the Incas

The Aztecs and the Incas are two of the most memorable ancient Indian tribes
because of their accomplishments and the way that they flourished and became two of the
most prominent tribes in the Americas. The Aztecs, also known as the Mexica, dominated
central and southern Mexico from the 14th to 16th centuries and are best known for
having established an empire based on conquest, tribute paying and the religious sacrifice
of humans and animals. The Quechian-speaking Incas established an extensive Andean
empire in South America shortly before the conquest of the New World by the Europeans.
These two empires arose from lowly beginnings. The Aztecs were forced to
occupy the swampy area the western side of Lake Texcoco after the fall of the Toltec
civilization. They converted their disadvantageous beginning into a powerfully advanced
empire within two centuries, partially because of their belief in a legend. The legend goes
on to say that they would establish a great civilization in a marshy area where they would
see a cactus growing out of a rock and perched on top, an eagle eating a snake. Priests
supposedly saw this in 1325 upon arrival and founded the great city of Tenochtitlan. As
the Aztecs grew in number, they established superior military and civil organizations.
The Incas, on the other hand, had no legend to guide them. They were originally a
small warlike tribe inhabiting the south highland region of the Cordillera Central in Peru.
They moved into the valley of Cuzco in at about 1100 and for roughly the next 300 years,
raided and whenever possible, imposed tribute on neighboring peoples. Until the middle of
the 15th century, however, the Incas undertook no imperialistic expansion or political
consolidation. The empire reached it?s greatest extent in the reign of Huayna Capac. By
this time, the Incas controlled a territory roughly the size of the Atlantic Coast states of
the US.
The capital city of the Aztecs was an artificial island, formed by piling up mud
from the lake bottom, called Tenochtitlan, inhabited by over 100000 people, twice the
population of any European city at the time. Tenochtitlan means ?Place of the Cactus? and
under Montezuma, it became the most powerful city in Mexico. It had an advanced water
supply system, with public fountains and reservoirs throughout the city. Laid out into a
grid pattern, it was divided by canals- ?roads? for canoe traffic- and into four districts,
each with it?s own temples, schools and markets. The edges of the city had simple housed
for the poor; the center had grand houses for the rich. Markets were held every five days
and people from everywhere came to sell goods, exchange gossip and news. Officers
patrolled the streets and thieves would be tried and punished on the spot. Tenochtitlan was
indeed a very organized city.
The Incan empire was an agriculturally based theocracy rigidly organized along
socialistic lines. The entire domain was also divided into four great regions or quarters and
these regions were subdivided into provinces and various other lesser socioeconomic
groups. While Tenochtitlan had a system of canals and paved roads to keep the city
together, there was a great network of stone roads connecting all parts of the realm to the
capital city of Cuzco. Trained runners, working in relays, covered up to 400 km a day
delivering messages. Like the Aztecs, who often traveled around their city in canoes, the
Incas had Balsa wood boats which provided a rapid means of transportation along rivers
and streams.
Although the Incas had neither horses, nor a system of writing, authorities in
Cuzco were able to keep in close touch with developments around the empire with this
system. Communication was also enhanced by keeping numerical records of troops,
supplies, population data, and general inventories by means of knotted and colored string
called quipus. The imperial administrators had everything under control.
While the Incans had no form of writing, the Aztecs used pictographic writing,
hieroglyphics, recorded on animal hides. Some of these writings still exist today. The
hieroglyphics can also still be found on the ruins of ancient temples. They used a calendar
system developed by the earlier Mayan civilization.
Both civilizations had numerous gods and paid sacrifices to them. The Incans had
the gods of sun, stars and weather. Their goddesses were of the earth, moon and sea. They
had numerous and elaborate ceremonies and rituals, primarily centered on health and
agricultural concerns. Live animals were often sacrificed at important ceremonies; humans
were sacrificed occasionally to the gods.
The Aztecs also had gods which ruled over daily life. Among these were
Uitzilopochtli, the sun god, Coyolxauhqui, the moon