12 Facts That Prove the Aztecs Were Ahead of Their Time
The Aztec civilization was one of the largest and most powerful in the Americas. Far from being a small ethnic group, they built a great empire full of magnificent monuments, which was efficiently administered through a complex system of government with a structure very similar to that of many countries today. Undoubtedly, the Mexica (another name for the Aztecs) were far ahead of their time in some fields, even more so than the Europeans of that time.
Today, at Bright Side, we invite you to take a trip back in time and enter the great city of Tenochtitlan to discover more about who the Aztecs were and how they lived.
1. They allowed mobility between social classes.
Aztec society was divided into three large social groups: the pipiltin, who, although not the most powerful, were the most privileged class; the macehualtin, the “common” people of the town, the plebs; and the tlātlācohtin, the poorest social group, made up of criminals, prisoners of war or people who because of their debts were servants.
Interestingly, while in other societies, people were born wealthy or poor and, in many cases, that lasted a lifetime, in Aztec culture, everyone could climb or descend in status. They thought that everything and everyone had their proper place in the universe, and it was a moral duty to find their own, hence the possibility that everyone, by their own merits, could change their social class.
2. The social class to which you belonged was made clear.
Aztecs followed a strict protocol regarding clothing, hairstyle, and accessories. These were directly linked to their status or role in society. Peasants wore a loincloth called maxtlatl, while nobles, priests, and high-ranking warriors could also wear the tilma, a rectangular blanket worn in different ways. Only the higher social classes wore shoes.
Peasant women also wrapped a rectangular blanket called cueitl around their waists. They then fastened it with a rope or belt to make a skirt. Inside their homes, they didn’t cover their breasts, but when they went out, they wore a camisole called a huipil. The nobles were the only ones who had the privilege of wearing the quechquemitl, a poncho-like garment that fell down the front and back in a triangular shape.
3. Both men and women had plenty of different hairstyles.
Both men and women took great care of their hair and adorned it with jewelry, ribbons, or elaborate headdresses. The men, for the most part, wore bangs and shoulder-length hair, while the warriors wore their hair in ponytails or shaved it off, leaving long locks in high ponytails or braided and decorated in different ways.
Women generally had long and loose hair, but on special occasions, they braided it. However, the female companions of the warriors could be easily distinguished from the rest since they had shorter hair.
4. They had very peculiar beauty routines.
While mirrors, as we know them today, were not invented until much later, the Aztecs already had a similar tool to reflect their image. It was made of a shiny black stone called obsidian. Men did not have great beauty rituals, but they did adorn their bodies with accessories or jewelry, depending on their status.
Women used to change the color of their skin or hair or put on make-up. The most common practice was covering their skin with dirt or yellow clay to lighten their skin tone. They’d also use a plant called xihuiquilitl to dye their hair blue or purple.
5. Hygiene, both personal and public, was very important.
The city streets were swept daily, and the Aztecs also created complex systems for waste disposal. The objective was to pollute their environment as little as possible, especially the water. The Aztecs bathed daily and used natural products such as soap, scrubs, perfumes, and deodorants.
There was a highly developed awareness of the importance of personal hygiene. They also took care of their buccal health. They used a product similar to what we know today as chewing gum to clean their teeth and freshen their breath.
6. They were forerunners in what we know today as saunas.
The temazcales, a name in the Aztec language that means “sweat house,” were buildings used for steam baths with hot stones, something similar to what we know as a sauna. These types of baths were part of the daily routine of personal hygiene.
In addition to maintaining cleanliness, it had medicinal use, since it was used to treat different ailments when combined with medicinal herbs. At the same time, they also had religious use. The steam was believed to be like a divine breath that purified both the physical and spiritual body.
7. They developed complex measurement systems.
It would have been impossible for them to build those great temples, houses, or palaces without having a measurement system to help them accurately calculate each part of their architectural constructions. In addition to creating their mathematical system, they developed different measurement codes.
The most popular is that of time, the Aztec calendar of 365 days, very similar to the Gregorian calendar that we use internationally. But they also developed a system of length measurements similar to our metric system, which, when studied in depth by mathematicians, proved to be very accurate, having only in some cases small margins of error.
8. They had a very advanced knowledge of medicine.
The Aztecs are one of the pre-Hispanic cultures most noted for their healing techniques, treatments, and extensive knowledge of botany and healing plants. In addition to stopping infections and suturing wounds with hair, they were also capable of healing broken bones with immobilization techniques or extracting dental pieces almost painlessly using natural anesthetics.
The effective way the Aztecs treated illnesses and healed wounds attracted the attention of the conquistadors, so much so that they preferred to be treated by indigenous doctors rather than by European doctors.
9. These two edible products were worth more than gold.
Despite not having an official currency, trade was vital to Aztec society. The established payment system was barter, the exchange of goods. Both corn and cocoa were essential when trading. Corn was the basis of Aztec gastronomy.
Due to its multiple uses and properties, cacao was considered a luxury. It also had the bonus of being easy to transport and count, allowing for pre-established payment prices. For example, a piece of fruit could be “bought” for one cacao seed, while a rabbit would cost about ten seeds and a blanket between 65 and 100 seeds.
10. They had community midwives who attended to all expectant mothers regardless of their social class.
The tlamatlquiticitl were women prepared and instructed on a medicinal, emotional, and spiritual level to treat women during pregnancy and childbirth. They periodically visited the pregnant women to check that everything was in order, and if it was not, they prescribed treatments. The midwife would stay at the pregnant woman’s home five days before the due date.
She prepared the room to receive the baby, stayed up to 4 or 5 days after the birth, and left after having confirmed that everything was in order and that both the mother and the baby were progressing favorably. The Mexica considered childbirth a battle, and women who did not survive it were fallen warriors deserving of respect and revered for their bravery.
11. Parents didn’t name their babies.
Joy and celebration preceded a baby’s arrival in Aztec society. But to name this new family member, the parents or the midwife first had to inform the priests exactly when the baby was born. With this information, the priests would consult the Aztec calendar to know under what sign he was born and what his omen for the future was.
Based on all this information, the priests would then name them as they saw fit. The baby’s name would be shared publicly a few days later during a ceremony that would take place in the family home, similar to what we know as a baptism. Citlalli, Tenoch, Izel, Zuma, or Yaretzi are some traditional Aztec names.
12. Modern languages have inherited many words from the Aztecs.
“Guacamole,” “tomato,” and “avocado” are just some of the most famous Aztec words that we use on a daily basis and that come from Nahuatl, the Aztec language. Modern Spanish actually has an extensive list of words coming from Nahuatl because when conquistadors arrived in Aztec lands, they discovered a large number of new products, especially plants and other edibles. Having never seen them before, they did not know what to call them, so they simply kept the same words used by the indigenous people.
What tradition of your culture are you most proud of?