Transcript The Renaissance
The Aztec Social Hierarchy
How did the Social System of the Aztec Reflect their Worldview?
Aztec society was highly structured, based on agriculture and trade, and guided by a religion that was part of every aspect of life. The Aztecs worshipped gods that represented natural forces necessary to their agricultural economy.
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The Aztec had a hierarchical system of authority divided into three social classes: upper, middle, and lower: Nobility • The pipiltin (pee-PEEL-teen), the upper class, was the ruling class made up of nobles, high-ranking warriors, and high ranking priests.
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Members of this class occupied the top positions in government, the army, and the priesthood. They also held the jobs of administrators, judges, and clerks.
The most revered nobleman was the emperor who was referred to as ‘the great speaker’. As well as being the political ruler, he was also considered to be the highest ranking priest.
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Think it Through
In modern texts we refer to Moctezuma as the “emperor” of the Aztec people. But to the Aztecs he was the “Great Speaker”. What do the differences in titles suggest about how Western society views Moctezuma’s role compared with how the Aztec people viewed it?
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Members of the pipiltin were expected to conduct themselves in an exemplary way and follow a strict code of behaviour. They were expected to be role models for the commoners.
When any pipiltin broke the laws of the empire, they were punished even more severely than a commoner.
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Commoners were divided into two classes: • The macehualtin (may-say-WALL-teen) or middle class, was able to improve their status by gaining recognition in the military, or by becoming priests, merchants, artisans, or long distance traders.
A small number of macehualtin managed to become very wealthy, usually through trading, and were able to purchase their own land.
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• The mayeques (mah-YAY-kays) worked the land of the nobles. They were also required to build and maintain temples of the cities and the palaces of the nobles.
Although the land belonged to the nobles, the mayeques were guaranteed a piece of land that they could cultivate for life and even pass on to their children. They received a share of the produce after tribute and taxes were paid.
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The lowest in status were the tlacotin (tlah KOH-teen), the slaves. No person was born into slavery. An individual could sell himself or herself into slavery if unable to pay a debt.
Sometimes a person was made a slave as punishment for a crime. The owner of a slave did not own the person, but only the work of the person. Slaves were able to own property and marry. It was also possible for slaves to buy their freedom.
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The Aztec Social Hierarchy
Emperor Nobility and Priests Merchants, Artisans, Soldiers Farmers, Fishers, Women Slaves
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Take Home Points
• The Aztecs lived in a hierarchical society which was highly structured, based on its agricultural and trading economy.
• The emperor (or great speaker) was chosen from the ranks of the nobility (pipiltin) and, even though the Aztecs knew he was a human being, they treated him as if he were a god.
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• The commoners were divided into two classes, the macehualtin or middle class, and the peasants or mayeques, the lower class. • The commoners provided all the labour to keep the economy of the empire flourishing and made up most of the military.
• An individual was born into a particular social class generally remained a member of that class.
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