Native people who controlled central Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest (16th cent.), with a Nahuatlan language of the Uto-Aztecan stock (see NATIVE AMERICAN LANGUAGES). Until the founding of their capital, Tenochtitlán (c.1325), the Aztec were a poor nomadic tribe in the valley of Mexico. In the 15th cent. they became powerful, subjugating the Huastec to the north and the MIXTEC and ZAPOTEC to the south, and achieving a composite civilization based on a TOLTEC and Mixteca-Puebla heritage. Engineering, architecture, art, mathematics, astronomy, sculpture, weaving, metalwork, music, and picture writing were highly developed; agriculture and trade flourished. The nobility, priesthood, military, and merchant castes predominated. War captives were sacrificed to the many Aztec gods, including the god of war, Huitzilopochti. In 1519, when CORTéS arrived, many subject peoples willingly joined the Spanish against the Aztecs. Cortés captured MONTEZUMA, who was subsequently murdered, and razed Tenochtitlán.
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