The Human Sacrifice in Aztec Religion

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The Aztecs Society and their Civilization

The Aztecs society was mainly comprised of American Indian individuals, who conquered and ruled a prominent empire in Mexico during the 1400s. The Aztecs possessed one of the greatest civilizations, building the largest cities in Europe during that time. They practiced an exceptional religion that highly impacted both their individual and societal lives because it primarily focused on human sacrifices. The Aztecs constructed towering temples, documented huge sculptures, and performed remarkable ceremonies with a chief purpose of sacrificing humans and worshipping gods. The Aztec Empire was ended by the Spaniards in 1521 after leaving a long-lasting impact on the entire Mexican culture. This paper focuses on the human sacrifices by the Aztecs and its importance to both them and their religion.

Aztec Settlement in the Valley of Mexico

The Aztecs mainly lived in what is presently referred to as Valley of Mexico, an elevation housing many prominent cities and considered the mainland of the great empires. They were the final indigenous group to enter the Mexican valley, developing their own lifestyle, agricultural techniques, political system, social structures, and religion (Jennings 51). They were led southwards by their powerful leader Huitzilopochtli, and during the way they stopped and planted crops, built temples, and offered human sacrifices in honor of their gods (Jennings 53). The Aztec's community continuously grew in number, establishing superior military organization, and they lastly settled at a place where a snake was spotted on a cactus consuming a snake (Jennings 54). This sign was initially foretold by their powerful leader and patron god, Huitzilopochtli.

Aztec Religion and Human Sacrifices

The religion of Aztec society was significantly important, and natives devoted their considerable time practicing religious activities. They initiated wars in order to obtain slaves for human sacrifices. The religion of Aztec was based on ancient Mesoamerica traditions, worshipping older gods and still adding newer ones to the list. The Aztec’s religious ceremonies emphasized on offering animals, birds, incense, and flowers in honor of their gods (Jennings 74). Unfortunately, they included human sacrifice to the list of offerings, blood and heart being the acknowledged as the supreme gifts. The Aztec’s god of war and sun was the most observed god and demanded the most supreme gifts.

Human Sacrifices and Rituals in Aztec Society

Animals and human sacrifice were considered as the primary characteristic of the Aztec religion. For warriors and soldiers, the ultimate honor was to die during the battle or volunteer oneself as a sacrifice, especially in major rituals (Macdonald 117). Prisoners and slaves were sacrificed during the less significant rituals. During the major human sacrifice rituals, the priests took the victim to the pyramids’ height and stretched them over a curved stone (Macdonald 124). The Aztec’s high priest sliced the victims’ chest to evict the heart as a god’s tribute. They believed that their gods required blood and human hearts to remain strong, the reason why the sacrifices were so special.

Sacrifices to Honor Goddesses and Religious Celebrations

Women were beheaded and consumed as a sacrifice to the goddess mother who was responsible for corn growing. Children sacrifices were performed to honor two gods, the god of fire, Xiuhlecuhutli, and the god of rain, Tlaloc. Sacrifices to the god of rain were chocked or drowned, while those sacrificed to the god of fire were boiled or roasted to death (Macdonald 141). The Aztec performed various religious celebrations in which both the commoners and nobles participated. They organized colorful performances and participation in order to please their gods.

Religious Ceremonies and Rituals in Aztec Society

The performances and ceremonies were organized at the pyramids' steps or at the great plazas. These performances involved talented musicians who relied on dancers and other musical instruments to parade through the city streets and around the great pyramids (Macdonald 156). The religious activities were also held inside walled temples, especially at the top of the greatest pyramids. During the ceremonies, the priest climbed the huge stairways to offer the gift to the Aztecs gods. The Aztec's religious centers included the priests’ living quarters, gardens, and a rack for holding the victims’ skull (Macdonald 203). The Aztec’s priests instructed people on how to offer blood sacrifices, both from the human sacrifice and even their own bodies. The Aztec’s priests were also the primary teachers of the drama, music, and dances that were performed during the religious ceremonies.

The Fascinating Ritual of Honoring the God of Rulers

The most fascinating ritual of the Aztec society was honoring the god of rulers, Tezcatlipoca. The Tezcatlipoca ritual was held every year where an attractive young man was selected from a warriors’ group to impersonate the god (Macdonald 211). The impersonator would live a luxurious life for the whole year, learning how to speak graciously, carry flowers, hold a smoking tube, and even play the flute. During the year, the impersonator moved freely around the city streets, and people bowed and greeted him with gods’ respect. During the progress, the impersonator was presented before Montezuma to receive presents of both turquoise and gold (Macdonald 217). A few days before the main ceremony, the impersonator changed his clothes, dressed again as a warrior, and was given four women to entertain him before he dies (Macdonald 224). At the great ceremony, the impersonator was sacrificed, and another young male was selected for the similar cycle.

Impact and End of the Aztec Empire

According to Keen, “around 20,000 people were sacrificed a year in the Aztec Empire, but special occasions demanded more blood, including 80,400 human sacrifices during the temple dedication in 1487” (Keen 175). The Aztec society acknowledged that they were in a blood debt with their gods. They believed that they avert from natural disasters by paying the blood debt through human sacrifices. On this regard, the Aztec observed an 18 months calendar, dedicating each month to a particular god (Keen 215). The human sacrifices also struck remarkable fear to the empires’ non-members, consolidating power through the practice.

The Conquest of the Aztec Empire by the Spaniards

In 1521, the Aztec empire was conquered by the Spaniards through various approaches. In defeating the Aztecs, the Spaniards relied on disease advantages, natives’ prophecy resemblance, alliance with Aztecs enemies, and technological superiority (Testi 289). The Spaniards also relied on horses in organizing strategic and tactical combats, conquering the natives who had never witnessed these animals (Testi 309). Therefore, the Spaniard's victory over the natives was also necessitated by the psychological advantages.


In conclusion, The Aztec’s society was mainly comprised of American Indian individuals, who conquered and ruled a prominent empire in Mexico during the1400s. They believed that they were indebted by their gods who created them and the universe. They offered human sacrifices in order to yield heavily, have a positive weather, among other reasons. The Aztec believed that the best form of sacrifices was blood and human hearts. Their methods of human sacrifice included mainly heart extraction, decapitation, and skinning. However, in 1521, they were conquered by the Spaniards who relied on disease advantages, natives’ prophecy resemblance, alliance with Aztec’s enemies, and technological superiority.

Work Cited

Jennings, Gary. Aztec. Tor, 2016.

Keen, Benjamin. "The Fifth Sun: Aztec Gods, Aztec World". American Indian Quarterly, vol 5, no. 2, 1979, p. 174 - 279. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/1183763.

Macdonald, Fiona. The Aztec Sacrifice. Franklin Watts, 2011.

Testi, Dario. "The Fall Of The Aztec Empire". Mediterranean Journal Of Social Sciences, 2011. Walter De Gruyter Gmbh, doi:10.5901/mjss.2011.v2n3p236.

November 24, 2023


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