Aztec Human Sacrifice

I know this subject of human sacrifice is beaten and tired, but it interests me a great deal.  The Aztecs believed that sacrifices to the gods would keep the universe in balance. They had mainly two types of sacrifice: human and animal. Human sacrifices fulfilled both religious purposes and socio-political purposes.

Human sacrifices could either consist of self-sacrifice, such as bloodletting or sacrificing the lives of other people. The latter being the means of justification the Spanish used for their actions of persecution.  The Aztecs believed that they were the people whom the gods had chosen to feed them and keep the world in order and considered themselves the chosen people of the sun.  After some time, sacrifices also served as political propaganda.  The sacrifice of war captives, often obtained through flower wars as well as political warfare, and slaves (although men, women and children were also sacrificed) helped to validate the connections the priests and rulers had with the gods. These rituals also helped to strike fear into external rulers and common subjects negating ideas of intimidation, resistance, and other types of non-cooperation.

The victim, often dressed to represent the god they were being offered to, were led up the temple stairs and stretched over the sacrificial stone by four priests. The fifth priest would then extract the still beating heart.  In the case of sacrifices to the god Tlaloc, the heart would then be placed in the hands of his statue.  The Templo Mayor of the capital city of Tenochtitlan is a famous example of these type of sacrifices, where the bodies were kicked down the steps after the removal of the heart. The head was then cut off the body and placed in the skull rack. Heart sacrifices were the most common but not the only type of sacrifice.

The Xipe Totec cult also performed ceremonial gladiator and arrow sacrifice.  The gladiator ritual consisted of a type of mock battle. The  captive was tied to a large stone and given fake weaponry made of feathers.  His opponent would be equipped with real weapons and then carry on to ‘defeat’ the captive. The arrow sacrifice involved the victim being tied to a wooden frame with their arms and legs spread. Arrows were then fired at the victim, ensuring that the blood would run into the ground. Some sources say that the Xipe Totec priests would then remove the victims skin so that they could wear it.

These were just some of the forms of sacrifices the Aztecs made. There were many forms, sadly I couldn’t really find anything on animal sacrifices that they made. I have to wonder if the rituals for animal sacrifices were any different or maybe even more brutal than human sacrifices made.

3 thoughts on “Aztec Human Sacrifice”

  1. Regardless of how much has been written about it, human sacrifice is a very interesting topic. What could possess someone to wish to publically murder another person in order to appease the gods? Granted, when looking at a culture’s practice, it is important to view the culture through its own beliefs and avoid bias, but the motivation is still interesting. The Aztecs felt they were saving the world, that it was their rightful duty. If anything, human sacrifice is better than some of the horrible ways criminals have been publically executed over the ages, such as crucifixion or being burned at the stake. The number of ways people have contrived to violently (and publically) kill one another is quite disturbing if really taking the time to think on it. It goes to show that humans have always had a sort of obsession with violence. However, human sacrifice was not violence for the sake of violence, this was no gladiator games or the like. It was to save the world and keep the populace in check, which actually makes sense. When all is said and done, the things a person will do for their religion is astonishing, from suffering persecuted to performing human sacrifice, to providing offerings to a dead divine king decades after his death. While people have always discussed human sacrifice with horror, it is important to remember what it actually was, and its original purpose. The Aztecs truly did believe their gods required nourishment, and as far they were concerned it was necessary casualties. I certainly do not condone human sacrifice, but I do believe it is important to understand different cultures, even if they perhaps did things I disagree with. Archeology and anthropology have done a great job in doing this over the past few decades, and I really appreciate the vast improvement from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

  2. The idea of sacrifice has always been a fascinating topic to me. We covered it briefly while learning about the ancient states of the Old World, such as the bodies found in the royal graves of Ur, or tombs in ancient China. The evidence showed that these servants were sacrificed, and more importantly, willingly. The circumstances were different from the New World, however. Those servants were sacrificed to serve their master in the afterlife. Sacrifices in the New World were more cosmological in scope, to please the gods and ensure a good harvest, or to keep the entire world intact, OR to even nourish the gods. On the New World, we discussed sacrifice a lot more. It’s hard to wrap my head around the whole concept of it; that people found it so important to the survival and progression of society that they felt it was of the utmost necessity.

    Some of the more fascinating aspects of sacrifice revolve around the Mesoamerican ball game. The captain of the losing team would be beheaded by the captain of the winning team. It’s as if the ball game court were a grand stage, and the players were acting out some sort of cosmic drama, the light vs the dark, resolving conflict, ensuring the continuing presence of the light, keeping the dark at bay. Truly fascinating.

  3. I also find sacrifice to be an interesting topic. It is strange to think that human sacrifice happened in the western hemisphere so recently. This practice is such a curiosity because murder is such a taboo subject today, not only because of the laws we have in place, but because our conscience tells us that murder is wrong.
    Human sacrifice was such a dramatic practice, incomparable to any practice that is performed today. To offer something so precious as a human life, or to cause harm to oneself by offering one’s own blood, requires an extreme faith in ones beliefs. It is intriguing to see the spiritual devotion of the Aztecs because of the world we live in today, where science has come to trump over religion, so that the majority of people do not possess such intense spiritual beliefs, nor do people physically manifest their beliefs in the form of such extreme religious practices anymore.
    Prior to this class, I had not known that the practice of human sacrifice in association with the Aztecs has been so exaggerated throughout history. We are entertained when the Aztecs sacrifice individuals in movies and in other forms of media, but do not realize the harm this causes. This exaggeration paints the Aztecs to be barbaric for the sake of being barbaric, which, as it happens, was the goal of the Spanish when they conquered the Aztecs. The Spanish depicted the Aztecs as barbaric as a means of showing Europeans back home that their defeat of the Aztecs was warranted.

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