Basis of Survival

Like all agrarian based empires, the Aztecs were fundamentally tied to the land. They relied upon the farmer as the purveyor of food. The Aztecs relied upon four plants as their main source of substinence: maize, which was revered above all plants as the life source, beans, sage, and amaranth. (Soustelle, 151) The common people were not privileged in their choice of dishes, relying mainly upon beans, maize, pimentos, tomatoes and a number of other vegetables and fruits that were able to grow in the Central American soil. Those peoples outside of the cities and who had enough time were able to hunt game such as rabbits, hares, deer, wild pigs, and several types of birds. (Soustelle, 152) However, as meat was quite difficult to acquire, the commoners relied upon insects as a source of protein. The nobility was far more privileged in their consumption of food. The ate well and often and from a variety of different dishes. They enjoyed roasted and seared meats, various tamales, delicious soups and numerous pastries. The emperor himself chose among three hundred types of dishes for every meal.

Alcohol was not a problem for the Aztecs until after the fall of the empire. It was used in certain rituals, but was extremely discouraged outside of the religious order. In order to curb the consumption of alcohol and the possibility of social degeneration, severe penalties were instituted for those who chose to step outside the social norm. For the noble capital punishment was instituted for the first offense, and for the plebeian, the repeat offender was executed. Those whose productive lives were basically over, the elderly or the infirmed, were allowed to drink, but did so usually in private and without excess, definitely without tempting the young and middle-aged.

The homes of the common Aztecs were made of sun-dried bricks arranged in an unglamorous fashion; the peasants lived in huts with thatched roofs. An average house consisted of a kitchen, a room where the family slept, and a small shrine. (Soustelle, 121) Bathrooms were built separately. (Soustelle, 121) The number of rooms increased with the wealth of the family. The homes of the emperor and the nobles were huge constructions with both private and public quarters. (Soustelle, 121) The shrine in each home consisted of a hearth, a symbol of the fire-god which rested in the middle of room. They slept on woven mats and their rooms were sparsely decorated with small chairs a table or perhaps a desk. Surrounding the building, the Aztecs usually kept small meticulous gardens for aesthetic purposes.

The Aztecs were also very vain people, spending much of their time in front of a mirror to make themselves all the more attractive. For women, purposeful staining of the the teeth red or black was popular. It was also thought that having yellow skin was desirable so women stained their skin with the resin of the axin tree to look more yellow. However, the noble women used cleanliness as the main attractant. The common people usually used tattoos to improve their look. Women also wore earrings, necklaces and bracelets on their arms and ankles. Men sometimes pierced their septums and put gold loops or metal jewels through them as well as piercing their lips and ornamenting them likewise. Jewels, coupled with feathers, could be used to indicate an individuals rank in society

Cotton and other textiles, obtained from the surrounding fauna, was used to make clothing materials. The men usually wore loincloths with a cloak over their shoulder like a toga. Women also dressed in the toga, but often times were colorful blouses made by the skillful Aztec tailors. Most of the people usually went barefoot.

Written by Talli Somekh.