Historical Perspective

Montezuma II
The Aztecs began as a nomadic tribe called the Mexica. During the twelve-century A.D. they moved into the central Mexican basin. They were a crude people and were driven from place to place before they finally found refuge on a marshy island in the middle of Lake Texcoco. The native inhabitants of the region could not be bothered to settle there, on account of its miserable state. Yet the indomitable will of the Aztecs eventually transformed this poor piece of land into an impressive city which when the Spanish arrived 200 years later, in 1521 A.D. thought it could rival any of the great cities they had seen in Europe. It was from this city that the Aztecs based their empire. They waged ritualistic war against their neighbors to take captive for their religion of human sacrifice, which they believed was required to prevent the end of the world. However their world did end with the arrival of the Spanish. The Spanish had only a few hundred men, but they were armed with weapons for which the Aztecs were ill prepared for. These were guns, horses, smallpox and legions of native allies. For in the years that the Aztecs achieved empire, they created a lot of enemies who resented their dominance. So it was in 1521 A.D. that the last of the Aztec Emperors surrendered the city and its empire to Hernando Cortez.

According to legend, the Aztec god of the Sun and War, Huitzilopochtli commanded the Mexicas to make a pilgrimage to find and settle in the first place they saw an eagle with a snake in its beak, sitting on a cactus. So in the year 1168 A.D. the Mexica people (later called the Aztecs) started moving south into central Mexico from what is believed to be the four corners area of the present day United States, and called Aztlan by the Mexica. The area they tried to settle in was however already occupied by a number of native tribes and city-states, which most likely were the remnants of the Toltec civilization. The Mexica themselves spoke the same Nahuatl language as these groups. However the Mexica were a crude people with religious practices that even offended the blood religion of these earlier Mezo-American peoples. So they were not welcomed into the area readily. In 1248 A.D. they managed to find a place where they were allowed to settle on. This was an island in the middle of Lake Chapultepec. However, conflict between them and their neighbors (the Tepanecs, the Culhuas, and the Xochimilcas) eventually arose. These tribes then allied against the Mexicas and drove the survivors to a marshy island in the middle of Lake Texcoco. Thus in 1325 A.D. the birth of the Aztec Capitol, Tenochtitlan began. The Mexica's warlike nature made them good warriors and so in this period they served as mercenaries for the various city-states that existed around the region.

By 1428 A.D. the Mexicas came into their own as the century of serving as the hired soldiers of other city states made them more and more powerful and militarily skilled. It was then that they began to develop their city with great fervor. Building great temples, causeways, roads and even aqueducts to supply the needs of the growing city. This period also saw the Mexicas develop culturally assimilating the Gods of the other Mezo-Americans in the region into their own. They created more sophisticated structures of government and religion. Under king Itzacoatl, the Mexica began on the path to Empire by conquering the various tribes and city-states of Central America. They also formed what was called the "Triple Alliance" with two other city-states, Tezcoco and Tlacopan. By the end of the next century they extended their sphere of influence from a small island to an Empire that stretched from the Gulf coast to the Pacific and as far south as Guatamala. They also began to call themselves Toltecs, which in the Nahuatl language means "wise ones" or "craftsmen", and the culture that dominated the peoples of the empire was called Aztec.

Aztec Temple Ruins

Depiction of Ritual Sacrifice
The culture of the Aztecs was indeed a rich if bloody one. They possessed a highly advanced calendar that was even more accurate then the modern calendar. They had a thriving trade economy, and developed advanced farming techniques that transformed swarmy land into productive agricultural terraces and gardens. The Aztecs were divided into two main social classes, "commoners" and nobility. One could advance their station by displaying great skill and bravery in war. The nobility was taught governing or priestly duties and rituals. While all male children were taught Aztec religion, history, a trade or craft, civics, and the art of war and combat. The warriors strove to the ranks of the Elite Eagle or Jaguar Warrior.

Three gods dominated the Aztec religion. Huitzilopochtli "Hummingbird Wizard", the Aztec patron deity and god of the Sun and War. Tezcatlopoca "Smoking Mirror", the god of darkness and destruction. Qeutzalcoatl "Plumed Serpent", the god of light and good. The predominant aspect of the Aztec religion was human sacrifice. It was believed that the gods would only nourish humanity with the riches of the earth if they were in turn nourished by the blood and flesh of human sacrifices. It was further believed that there are gods in conflict with each other, and the gods of the creation needed to be kept strong to ward off the destruction of the world. Throughout Mezo-America, the practice of bloodletting and mutilation (of self and of sacrificial victims) were common, but the Aztecs also believed the hearts of the sacrificial victims provided the gods with the most nourishment. Their religious beliefs thusly lead the Aztecs to go on widespread campaigns of conquests and ritualistic warfare.

The Aztec conquests were thus initiated to create a regional hegemony for the purpose of obtaining a pool of victims for their religious sacrifices, and to exact tribute. However they did not purposely try to obtain any particular sense of loyalty from these conquered peoples towards the Aztec Empire. It was for this reason that when the Spanish arrived in 1519 A.D., they were able to find native allies among these subject peoples, in particular the Tlaxcaltecas to join them against the Aztecs Empire. Indeed even the Tezcoco who were of the "Triple Alliance" defected to the Spanish when they were converted to Christianity en-masse, many willingly and others by force.

The Aztec Emperor Montezuma II, upon hearing of the arrival of the Spanish sent forth many missions to find out more about the nature of these strange visitors, and to somehow deter them from coming to Tenochtitlan, with gifts or by magic spells. But with each mission, what he learned terrified him, and he believed them to be gods. So when the Spanish finally arrived at the Aztec capitol, Montezuma gave them a warm welcome hoping to appease them. They entered the city, installed themselves at Montezuma's palace and placed him under guard, demanding of him treasures and provisions. It was the time of the Aztec celebration in honor of their patron deity, during the height of the celebration, the Spanish massacred the participants. This resulted in a siege of the palace, and the death of Montezuma. The Spanish eventually tried to escape the siege and many of them and their Tlaxcaltecas allies died in the process but their escape was successful nevertheless. The Aztec convinced that the Spanish would not return conducted life as usual, now under their new king Cuitlahuac, who had warned not to let the Spanish enter the city.

Statue of Eagle Warrior
Soon however a great plague struck the city and many perished. After almost a year, this time the Spanish returned and besieged the Aztec capitol. The fighting was furious with the Spanish making incursions from their ships, which they had brought into Lake Texcoco to aid in the siege. Each time the Aztecs would try to capture them and their Tlaxcaltecan allies for the sacrificial altars and to this end they did succeed. Capturing and sacrificing more then 50 of the Spanish, great numbers of their native allies and forcing them to retreat many times. However, each incursion by the Spanish also downed many of the Aztec warriors. Eventually the siege was proving to be successful causing much misery for the inhabitants, and more and more of the city came under Spanish control. Of the 300,000 warriors who defended the city, only 60,000 were left. Eventually the Aztecs were forced to capitulate and surrendered the city, indeed the Empire to Cortez.

This is how the Aztec Empire passed into history, creating what became New Spain, its people and land being exploited ruthlessly. In 1821 A.D. Mexico finally gained its independence. This was not the end of the turmoil for these descendents of the Aztecs, but by the late 20'th century, it is a democracy with important trade relations with its neighbors.

Statue of Jaguar Warrior

Overall Strategy for Players Using Aztecs

Painting of Aztec War Party
The player using Aztecs should try to capitalize early from their ability to gain resources from enemy units they destroy. Rushing will most definitely be something the Aztec player should try to master. This should be done almost immediately as the game starts since military units will also contribute to the Aztec economy to keep the machinery of the Empire going. If one is unable to finish off an enemy outright with a rush, keeping the pressure on with constant harassment and raids is advisable, in particularly outlying enemy settlements and trade units where you can do your damage with as little risk to yourself as possible. So attack often and attack early. They should use their military to keep their enemies in check while enriching their own economy. In the later ages the Aztecs have the best infantry in the game, but they will be vulnerable to anti-infantry units. So attacking the enemy economy units and areas that supply resources (like Petroleum) that gives these units is vital. This will leave the powerful Jaguar Infantry to mop up against enemy infantry knowing they wont meet too many units such as tanks or aircrafts which the Aztecs do not have any advantage in. The civilization will definitely not be for someone who like to play defensively, but should be good for people who like to attack, and let the computer run their economy for them.

When playing against a computer opponent that is using Aztecs. The computer AI will not be very amicable to peace, as they depend on war to survive. However, if one is able to obtain an Aztec ally they will be good for doing a lot of the dirty work while you ramp up your own economy for the long game.

Aztecs as modelled in Rise of Nations

Unique units

  • Light Infantry Line
Atl-Atl (Ancient Age)
cheaper, faster, deadlier version of slinger.

Royal Atl-Atl (Classical Age)
cheaper, faster, deadlier version of javelineer.

Xopili Atl-Atl (Medieval Age)

  • Archer Line
Heavy Archer (Medieval Age)
Aztec replacement for crossbow.
  • Modern Infantry Line
Jaguar Infantry (Modern Age)
fast speed, more powerful then other modern infantry.

Jaguar Assault Infantry (Information Age)

Unique powers (Power of Sacrifice)

  • Receive free Light Infantry whenever you build a new Barracks,
    one at start, two with classical and a military research,
    three with gunpowder age and 3 military research
  • Receives 15 bonus resources per age up to 60 for each enemy killed
  • Plunder from enemy buildings increased 100%

Written By: One Dead Angel


Acoyauh's Aztec Lore, Washington State University,