Brutal Aztec Human Sacrifices Were Believed to Serve the Aztec People for This Unbelievable Reason
Brutal Aztec Human Sacrifices Were Believed to Serve the Aztec People for This Unbelievable Reason

Brutal Aztec Human Sacrifices Were Believed to Serve the Aztec People for This Unbelievable Reason

William McLaughlin - January 24, 2018

Brutal Aztec Human Sacrifices Were Believed to Serve the Aztec People for This Unbelievable Reason
A sacrificial gladiator, his club is covered in feathers rather than blades of obsidian. Wikipedia

The Horrific Varieties of Aztec Sacrifices

In regards to Aztec sacrifice, many people just think of the graphic heart-wrenching at the top of the towering temple, but there were many ways sacrifices were performed, often changing to suit a specific god. A key point to understand is that while prisoners of war were a huge source of victims, sacrifices were also gathered from all ranks of Aztec society. Noble children could be and were offered up for sacrifices.

The Aztec origin myths have them flaying and wearing the skin of great chief’s daughter as supposedly bestowing a great honor to the family, that particular king didn’t follow quite the same religion and ousted the Aztecs where they eventually found the site of Tenochtitlan.

Brutal Aztec Human Sacrifices Were Believed to Serve the Aztec People for This Unbelievable Reason
Tongue piercing and cutting as self-sacrifices were quite common. mexicolore.co.uk

During a day of sacrifice, the populace gathered at the base of the grand temple, but there were so many things to do and see aside from the main sacrifices atop that temple. While waiting for the victims atop the temple, many viewers would stab or bite themselves as their own sacrifices. Once the victims reached the top of the temple they were held down on a rounded stone that forced their chest upwards.

The priests well-practiced hands quickly cut into the abdomen and cut/ripped out the heart as quickly as possible. The crowd watched the beating fade along with the life of its owner. If it was a PoW the captor had rights to the body, otherwise, the remains were thrown down the high staircase to tenderize the meat. The torso was often sent as food to the various animals kept by the city (Cortez was amazed by Montezuma’s zoo) and the limbs were consumed by the masses.

Brutal Aztec Human Sacrifices Were Believed to Serve the Aztec People for This Unbelievable Reason
The Aztecs did consume their victims but also used the other remains, such as sharpened bones for self-sacrifices. Wikipedia

While eating, the crowd might gather around another type of sacrifice, this time giving the victim at least the illusion of a fighting chance. The greatest of the captured warriors might find themselves chained to a pillar and facing four armed warriors, himself armed with a light club covered with feathers. The four warriors took no mercy and beat their victim to death, though occasionally the victim gave as good as he got and wounded or even killed one of the warriors.

This was a sacrifice to Tezcatlipoca, god of war, though he had many roles as one of the most powerful gods. Another victim for Tezcatlipoca was a volunteer who spent a year living as the living representative of the god. Given absolute reverence, respect, and the constant company of four beautiful women, the young man would end the festival and his year by marching himself up the steps of the temple and giving his life to the priests.

Brutal Aztec Human Sacrifices Were Believed to Serve the Aztec People for This Unbelievable Reason
Tezcatlipoca’s representative on earth being sacrificed after playing and breaking his flute on the way to the top of the temple. mexicolore.co.uk

Xipe Totec (the flayed one) was a god of the seasons. His sacrifices involving shooting multiple arrows into a victim near a field. This would have been more away from the city but the blood leaking from the wounds supposedly represented the needed rainfall. Furthermore, victims of the flayed god were, understandably, flayed. The priests took pride in cutting the skin off in one piece. The skin was then worn by the priests for the duration of the monthly festivals, sometimes several weeks.

Going along with the seasons and the importance of rain, the rain god Tlaloc required children. On their way to be sacrificed by being burned alive, the children had to be crying to represent the rains falling. If the child wasn’t crying the priests often tore their fingernails off to get the desired result.

The victims here were burned a short while before being pulled out and consumed as well. Archeological findings suggest that victims were already suffering from painful conditions (large cavities, abscesses) and so the victims may have often been chosen because they cried frequently.

Brutal Aztec Human Sacrifices Were Believed to Serve the Aztec People for This Unbelievable Reason
A Tzompantli (skull rack). The Tzompantli recently uncovered in Tenochtitlan had over 700 skulls found with it. Wikipedia

The Scale of Aztec Sacrifices and place among history’s greatest evils

Though some types of sacrifices were rare, for example, only one representative of Tezcatlipoca was killed per year, many others were a daily occurrence. For special occasions, tens of thousands could be killed in a single day. The celebration for the re-consecration of the Aztec grand temple reportedly saw 80,000 sacrificed within a week. Surely a high estimate but even the lower ranges are astounding.

That said, we can only look in awe at the sheer scale of the sacrifices brought about by the Aztecs and other Nahua followers. The terrible reign of the Inquisition in Europe lasted over 350 years. A high estimate on the number of dead, that includes unofficial sources and counts those who perished in prisons waiting for trial, is given as 125,000.

Brutal Aztec Human Sacrifices Were Believed to Serve the Aztec People for This Unbelievable Reason
A scale model showing the many times the grand temple was enlarged with likely a new ceremony each time. Wikipedia

Officially only 2-3 people were sentenced to death per month during the Inquisition. Though even cursory looks at the methods of torture and execution put the killings on the same morally horrifying level as the Aztec sacrifices. Looking at witch hunts throughout hundreds of years in Europe and America, we get average estimates of 40-50,000 dead with extremely high estimates of 100,000.

With Aztec sacrifices, we get low estimates of 20,000 killed every year. In 15 years the lowest estimate of Aztec victims would see more dead than the highest estimates for the inquisition and witch hunts combined. Sticking between the low of 20,000 and the high of 250,000 per year, the Aztecs and the followers of the religion would claim tens of millions of lives throughout their existence as a major power in Mexico.

Brutal Aztec Human Sacrifices Were Believed to Serve the Aztec People for This Unbelievable Reason
Though the scale was quite different, horrific executions in Europe during the Inquisition were also brought about by misguided religious ideas. Wikipedia

 

Though horrific, we can at least understand why the Aztecs and related tribes had such practices, it was literally so that the sun may rise, and the rains may fall. It was a matter of surviving a hostile world with demanding gods. Compare this to other evils of the word; Hitler knew exactly what he was doing when he instituted the Holocaust, his evils were motivated by hate. Compare that to Stalin who murdered millions in systematic purges. His motivation was pure power.

Comparing the evils of civilizations is not an attempt to demonize one culture or race or prove either was better, but bringing such evils to light helps further one of the most important functions of history; learning to not repeat the worst parts. We are ever watchful for the next “Hitler” (and wary of dictatorships in general) because we know just how much death and destruction the ideas of one man can bring.

While looking for lessons in an abandoned sacrificial polytheistic religion might seem comical, remember that just last year Greece officially recognized the revival of the polytheistic Hellenic religion including Zeus, Aphrodite and all the others previously only studied as myths.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

The Conquest of New Spain: Bernal Diaz

Aztec – Mexicolore

History on the Net: how many were killed as human sacrifices?

BBC News: Aztec tower of human skulls uncovered in Mexico City

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