How strong are the Aztecs


The main reason for the exhibition are two unique feather shields and a valuable green stone figure, which are now in the collections of the State Museum of Württemberg and can be seen for the first time in the context of Aztec culture. Starting with the periphery of the Aztec Empire (approx. 1430 - 1521 AD) and the natural and cultural diversity of Mexico, the exhibition approaches the interior of the empire and its capital Tenochtitlan. After passing through the ruler's palace of the Emperor Moctezuma, the visitor enters the innermost part of the empire: the holy district with the main temple Templo Mayor.

The Aztec stone sculptures impress with their lifelike and detailed representation, often combined with calendar symbols, characteristics of certain deities or the combination of different gods. Valuable mosaic masks, featherwork and gold jewelry give an idea of ​​the splendor the conquerors found at the court of the Aztec ruler. A separate thematic section in the exhibition is dedicated to the colorful illuminated manuscripts. As a special feature, the exhibition presents the latest research and excavation results. The Templo Mayor excavation project and the attached museum are making recently discovered, never-before-exhibited offerings available. 2

The Aztecs: 500 years after the invasion

In 1519 the Spaniard Hernán Cortés and his troops invaded the Aztec Empire. This invasion culminated in 1521 with the fall of the largest indigenous empire in Central America. 500 years after these events, this exhibition tries to tell the history of the Aztecs from their own perspective, starting from the outside and penetrating into the heart of the empire.

The Aztec Empire was ruled by an alliance of three city-states: Tenochtitlan, Tlatelolco, and Tlacopan. It was a multi-ethnic empire that spanned many different cultures, languages, and peoples. All of these peoples paid tribute to their masters. The name "Aztec" itself is a creation of European scientists. The inhabitants of Tenochtitlan, the capital, called themselves "Mexica". They spoke the Nahuatl language. Although the Europeans went to great lengths to destroy local cultures, the indigenous resistance ensured that many aspects of this great civilization are preserved to this day. Native languages, foods, and rituals have persisted over the centuries and are now spoken, eaten, and practiced by billions of people around the world.

Cosmos: creation of the world

According to the Aztecs, the world was created by gods. Humanity owes its existence to them. In the beginning there were only the two creator gods. The two original gods were male and female, this duality continues to structure the world. Together these two created the other gods - there are hundreds of them. They created the universe and all living things.

As the world was created, space and time were also formed. The time and calendar began with the first sunrise. The world was divided into four corners. In the middle of these corners is the central tree, the axis mundi, around which everything revolves. To this day, the gods maintain their creation. It is a difficult task for which people thank them. Only when they are honored and presented with gifts will they continue to care for humanity. Creation must be renewed at regular intervals by being re-enacted in rituals.

Society: everyday life and sacred nature

The core of the Aztec Empire lay in the densely populated valley of Mexico. Before the conquest of the Aztecs, 50 city-states (altepeme) dominated the valley. They competed politically, but a network of trade routes and markets ensured a widespread exchange of goods and ideas. The population was multiethnic, with more than 40 languages ​​spoken.

The valley of Mexico was heavily urbanized. Each city-state had a capital centered around a temple, palace, and marketplace. The elite, the priests, but also craftsmen and traders lived in these capitals. Outside the cities, people were farmers. The families were self-sufficient and grew their own food. They also wove their own textiles, made their own ceramics, and created their own tools. Plants, animals, and the landscape all had religious value. The ritual calendar structured people's lives. He determined the best moments for sowing and planting, but also helped plan important life events.

War: An empire built on conquest and tribute

Wars played an important role in Aztec history and society. Its military superiority established it as a regional power in the Valley of Mexico. Access to tribute through the conquest of other city-states was the main driver of the war. Before attacking, the Aztecs tried to win a province with an army by offering protection against tribute.

Aztec society consisted of two classes: the common people "Macehualtin" and the nobles "Pipiltin". Both success and bravery in war were important avenues for social advancement. A guarantee of advancement to meritocracy was the capture of enemy warriors. These warriors were brought to the capital as prisoners of war. After living in the city for months or years, they were executed during the rituals at the Templo Mayor. The concept of war was deeply anchored in Aztec society. A woman who died in childbirth was honored as a fallen warrior.

City and palace: living in luxury

Tenochtitlan was one of the largest cities in the world in 1519 with an estimated population of around 200,000. It was located on an island in Lake Texcoco and was designed so that every house was accessible by canoe. Dams with roads secured the transport links to the mainland. Aqueducts supplied the city with fresh water. Numerous markets provided a wide range of food and goods. Among them was the largest market in the empire, the Tlatelolco market. Products from all over Mesoamerica were bought and sold here.

The elites lived in great luxury in the center of the city. Materials of great value such as quetzal feathers, gold and obsidian reached Tenochtitlan as tribute payments, where they were turned into luxury objects. The palace of "Huei tlatoani", the ruler of the Aztec empire, was both his home and the administrative center of the empire.

Templo Mayor: Center of the Universe

At the heart of the Mexican cosmos was the Sacred District, the place where religion, state power and economic activities converged. It measures around 440 x 380 meters and consisted of numerous temples, schools and universities, ball playgrounds and natural elements. Here priests performed daily rituals, noble young people received their training and the "huei tlatoani" (emperor) was installed. Tributes collected throughout the empire were deposited here as gifts to the gods. These gifts and offerings ensured the continued existence of the world and human life. With them the Mexica thanked the gods for the suffering they went through when they created the universe. The gods of the conquered peoples were guarded in the temple of Huitzilopochtli, which confirmed the superiority of the Mexican patron god. Foreign rulers were invited to rituals and ceremonies. In this way the Mexicans were able to demonstrate their enormous wealth and power.

The legacy of the Aztecs

The Aztec legacy is appropriated in a variety of ways. Contemporary Mexican culture has grown from indigenous and European roots. Indigenous religions and Christianity, traditional and modern medicine, indigenous languages ​​and Spanish coexist and have merged into a unique combination.

Mexico itself is named after the Mexica. The eagle and cactus, the founding symbols of Tenochtitlan, appear on the Mexican flag. Every day, archaeologists discover new remnants of Mexican life. Today, more than 1,500,000 people speak Nahuatl. Many live in rural communities and cities in Mexico, but there are language communities in the United States as well. A lack of opportunities has prompted many people to migrate. Nevertheless, the indigenous peoples were able to preserve their language and many aspects of traditional culture in an environment of migration and globalization. Despite 500 years of colonization and discrimination, indigenous Mexican culture is definitely still very much alive.

October 12, 2019 to May 3, 2020

  • October 12, 2019 May 3, 2020 /