Back in the 13th
Century, the Aztecs, as we call them today, were known as Chichimecas, which translates as 'barbarians'. They were the last of their kind and as legend has it, they left a mythical island called Aztlán in search of a place to settle. Following a long migration period, Lake Texcoco was the chosen spot for settlement, as the Aztecs’ guardian god, Huitzilopochtli, sent them a sign: an eagle atop a cactus eating a snake. On their chosen land, the Aztecs reigned for more than 500 years in the region that today is called Mesoamerica, aka the Mexica or Aztec Empire.
The Aztecs were imperialists, and in the centuries that they reigned as mythically inspired warriors, they managed to take 400 or more towns, extending their empire beyond the Mexican border and into Central America. Family and religion were pivotal elements of Aztec society, and brutal rituals such as sacrificing human hearts and blood to keep the sun and, in turn, life itself moving, are gory proof that superstition was also cemented into daily life alongside a staunch belief in myths and legends. Similar to the roots of Christianity, they believed that the earth was the centre of the universe and above, there were 13 heavens where their gods lived, and below, nine underworlds of which Mictlantecuhtli, god of death, ruled the lowest one.
Although the Aztec empire eventually fell after eight long months of being under siege by the Tlaxcalans (allies to Hernán Cortés and his fellow Spanish conquistadors) the Aztec people survived, their descendants living on today in Mexico. Mexico still upholds the eagle perched on a cactus as its national emblem and today there are many places in Mexico where traces of the Aztecs remain.
Learn more about the AZTECS, showing at the Australian Museum until February 1, 2015.