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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Aztecs Trade and Tribute

written by Tim Wood illustrated by Philip Hood

The Aztec civilization has held the interest of historians and archaeologists ever since the ruins of their first cities were uncovered. Even today people want to find out all they can about the Aztec way of life. Author Tim Wood's book The Aztecs helps to answer many questions about how the Aztecs lived. The selection that follows describes two topics Aztec trade and Aztec writing.

Trade and Tribute
Much of the wealth of the Aztecs came from tribute sent to Tenochtitlan by the other cities in the Empire. Gathering tribute was very well organized, with Aztec tax gatherers, called calpixques, stationed at key points throughout the Empire to supervise the system's operation.

Gathering Tribute
Every few months, lists of the tribute required from each city were sent out from the capital. If the cities refused to send the tribute, war was declared. Throughout the year, but especially at harvest time, a constant stream of goods was carried into Tenochtitlan to be stored in the city's warehouses.

The Aztecs also acquired the goods they needed by trade. The traveling merchants, called pochteca, led very different lives from those of other Aztecs. They lived in separate areas in the city and all belonged to a merchant guild. They had their own laws and judges and worshipped their own god, Yacatecuhtli the "Lord Who Guides" or "Lord Nose"—to whom they made offerings so he would protect them on their journeys. The children of merchants were allowed to marry only the children of other merchants.

Merchants were afraid of being envied by the nobles, so they hid their great wealth, dressing in plain cloaks and headdresses made of cactus fiber.

Trading Expeditions
The pochteca went on long trading journeys to all comers of the Empire. When preparing for an expedition, great care was taken. They chose a lucky date and cut their hair for the last time until they returned. Their departure was announced in the marketplace so that other people could join the trading expedition. The merchants left the Valley of Mexico carrying goods belonging to many different merchants, each of whom shared in the profits—or losses of the venture. The pochteca were heavily armed and took large numbers of soldiers with them.

Since the Aztecs had no pack animals they had never even seen horses or oxen—all their trade goods were carried by porters in bundles on their backs.

They returned with luxury goods from all corners of the Empire, such as fine cloth, dyes, cacao beans, gold, cotton, feathers, jade beads, and copper.

As well as adding to the great wealth of the Aztecs, the merchants were useful in other ways. Some acted as spies, reporting to Aztec generals about the wealth of other cities and the size of their armies. Sometimes they were told to cause trouble in an area that the Aztecs wanted to attack. They would find a way to insult a local chief so that their expedition would be attacked. The Aztec armies would then march in to restore order and make sure the trade routes were safe and to collect prisoners for sacrifice.

Hiding Their Wealth The merchants always returned secretly, arriving at night with the goods in their canoes or packs, well covered. Everything was then hidden in the house of another trader. Merchants were always very careful to keep their enormous wealth and trade secrets hidden from other Aztecs.


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