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 its 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 its 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 goddess, and Tlaloc, the rain god. Prisoners were often used for less important sacrifices and captured warriors of conquered tribes were also sacrificed. Note how the Aztecs had a sun god, a rain god, and a moon goddess, and the Incas had a moon goddess, sun god and a weather god, which obviously relates to the rain. Both civilizations used a form of caste system. The Incans had three general categories: Incas by blood-relatives of Incans; Incas by privilege-people ruling in conquered lands; and peasants-commoners.
The Aztecs had a bit more complicated system: Tlahtoana-rulers; Pipiltin-nobles; Macehualtin-commoners; Mayehqueh-serfs attached to private estates; and Tlatlaclohtin-somewhat like indentured slaves. Both of these societies flourished greatly and fell under the conquest of the New World by the Spaniards. The Aztecs were easily conquered by Cortes in 1521, who was naively welcomed by Montezuma, who thought he was the god Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent. The Spaniards beheaded the last so-called ruler of the Incas, and with his death, the Incan history became part of Perus history. Every civilization has parallels, and every civilization has differences. Whats been covered here is just a small bit of the many similarities and differences that could possibly be found. Some of the similarities and differences are plainly visible while some are a bit harder to find.
There could be more that even the most knowledgeable historians dont know about because of one simple aspect- we were never there. No matter how much we know about any ancient civilization, I believe that for every secret found, ten more are hidden.