Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico

Aztec Human Sacrifice and Cannibalism
Aztec Human Sacrifice and Cannibalism

Wikipedia gives the Aztec account of “The Massacre in the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan during the Fiesta of Toxcatl” in 1520 starting from the actual attack, but conveniently avoids the description of what happened before.

But the book The broken spears : the Aztec account of the Conquest of Mexico , contains the missing parts, omitted by Wikipedia, which give the “massacre” its proper context.

The “fiesta” which is described here in the following extract from that book is a ceremony leading to ritual human sacrifice, as was customary for Aztecs and other pre-Columbians. The Spaniards, who had witnessed something similar before, were trying to stop this atrocity.

If you saw someone being attacked with violence and cruelty by a stronger person in the street, wouldn’t it be your duty to try to stop the assault? On what moral grounds can this intervention be condemned?

Here is the extract quoted from the book The broken spears : the Aztec account of the Conquest of Mexico, with emphasis added; remember that this is one of the Aztecs’ own accounts of what the Aztec celebrants did:

On the evening before the fiesta of Toxcatl, the celebrants began to model a statue of Huitzilopochtli. They gave it such a human appearance that it seemed the body of a living man. Yet they made the statue with nothing but-a paste made of the ground seeds of the chicalote, which they shaped over an armature of sticks.

When the statue was finished, they dressed it in rich feathers, and they painted crossbars over and under its eyes. They also clipped on its earrings of turquoise mosaic; these were in the shape of serpents, with gold rings hanging from them. Its nose plug, in the shape of an arrow, was made of gold and was inlaid with fine stones.

They placed the magic headdress of hummingbird feathers on its head. They also adorned it with an anecuyotl, which was a belt made of feathers, with a cone at the back. Then they hung around its neck an ornament of yellow parrot feathers, fringed like the locks of a young boy. Over this they put, its nettle-leaf cape, which was painted black and decorated with five clusters of eagle feathers.

Next they wrapped it in its cloak, which was painted with skulls and bones, and over this they fastened its vest. The vest was painted with dismembered human parts: skulls, ears, hearts, intestines, torsos, breasts, hands and feet. They also put on its maxtlatl, or loincloth, which was decorated with images of dissevered limbs and fringed with amate paper. This maxtatl was painted with vertical stripes of bright blue.

They fastened a red paper flag at its shoulder and placed on its head what looked like a sacrificial flint knife. This too was made of red paper; it seemed to have been steeped in blood.

The statue carried a tehuehuelli, a bamboo shield decorated with four clusters of fine eagle feathers. The pendant of this shield was blood-red, like the knife and the shoulder flag. The statue also carried four arrows.

Finally, they put the wrist bands on its arms. These bands, made of coyote skin, were fringed with paper cut into little strips.

The Beginning of the Fiesta

Early the next morning, the statue’s face was uncovered by those who had been chosen for that ceremony. They gathered in front of the idol in single file and offered it gifts of food, such as round seed cakes or perhaps human flesh. But they did not carry it up to its temple on top of the pyramid.

All the young warriors were eager for the fiesta to begin. They had sworn to dance and sing with all their hearts, so that the Spaniards would marvel at the beauty of the rituals.

The procession began, and the celebrants filed into the temple patio to dance the Dance of the Serpent. When they were all together in the patio, the songs and the dance began. Those who had fasted for twenty days and those who had fasted for a year were in command of the others; they kept the dancers in file with their pine wands. (If anyone wished to urinate, he did not stop dancing, but simply opened his clothing at the hips and separated his clusters of heron feathers.)

If anyone disobeyed the leaders or was not in his proper place they struck him on the hips and shoulders. Then they drove him out of the patio, beating him and shoving him from behind. They pushed him so hard that he sprawled to the ground, and they dragged him outside by the ears. No one dared to say a word about this punishment, for those who had fasted during the year were feared and venerated; they had earned the exclusive title “Brothers of Huitzilopoehth.”

The great captains, the bravest warriors, danced at the head of the files to guide the others. The youths followed at a slight distance. Some of the youths wore their hair gathered into large locks, a sign that they had never taken any captives.

Others carried their headdresses on their shoulders; they had taken captives, but only with help.

Then came the recruits, who were called “the young warriors.” They had each captured an enemy or two. The others called to them: “Come, comrades, show us how brave you are! Dance with all your hearts!