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Bloody sacrifices

Mesoamerican pyramid gathering.
Mesoamerican pyramid gathering.

Ancient and pre-Columbian Mesoamericans worshiped many gods such as Tlaloc, Huitzilopochtli, and Quetzalcoatl-Kukulcan. They asked their gods to protect them from danger by making special offerings, called sacrifices. Sacrifices included flowers, vegetables, precious stones, and live animals. The Aztecs believed that they needed to make bloody human sacrifices to make the gods happy.

The Aztecs built a great pyramid 200 feet high in the middle of the city of Tenochtitlán that served as a holy site. Two temples were built on top of the pyramid (Templo Mayor). One temple was dedicated to Tlaloc, the god of rain. The other was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, the god of the Sun and war. Human sacrifices were performed outside these temples. Human sacrifice victims were usually prisoners-of-war. Priests held the victim over a bed-sized flat stone. While the prisoner was still alive, another priest cut open his chest, took his heart out, and held it up to the sky. A ceremonial knife made of obsidian or flint and decorated with jade was used by the priest to cut open the victim. Sometimes hundreds of human sacrifices were made in a day. The dead bodies of sacrificed prisoners were thrown down the 113 steps of the pyramid onto a round stone at the bottom.

According to most native worldviews, the gods had offered their own blood in order to generate humankind, and the sacrifice most sought by the gods in return was human flesh and blood. After Hernán Cortés's arrival in Mexico, the Aztecs sent him tamales (ground maize cakes) soaked in blood, a foodstuff appropriate for a god. Humanity lived in the thrall of this blood debt, and human sacrificial victims were offered repeatedly to forestall the demise of the world and to seal the treaty made with the gods. The Aztecs believed that they were living in the fifth sun, the gods having created and destroyed four previous eras, and that human sacrifice helped to keep the gods at bay.

Mesoamericans probably also recognized that human sacrifice was a way to exterminate enemies, diminish the number of young men in an enemy's army, and to humiliate publicly one's opposition. Slaves were sometimes purchased for sacrifice ...despite the belief that sacrificial victims ascended directly to heaven. Human sacrifice was not used as a punishment within society for crimes; and execution and human sacrifice were not confused.

Royal descendants of the last Aztec emperor: Montezuma II's grandson (Diego Luis) moved to Spain and married Francisca de la Cueva de Valenzuela, a Spanish aristocrat. Their son, Don Pedro Tesifón de Montezuma y de la Cueva (Montezuma II's great-grandson), was made a Count by Philip IV of Spain in 1627. Nowadays, Montezuma II's descendants are dukes in Spain.