Chapter 11

 The Americas on the Eve of Invasion

Although American societies during the postclassical era was marked with much diversity, an elaborate culture, highly-developed agriculture, and large urban/political units, it was relatively isolated until the arrival of the Europeans such as Columbus and Cortez.  


The Native Americans proved to be very adaptable to their environments, and have innovated their technology and culture to help them withstand the negative aspects of their environment. The Toltecs, first to settle in the Mesoamerican region, created the base for the future civilizations such as the Aztecs. The Aztecs, overpowering the Toltecs, furthered prospered in the Mesoamerican region and became a major powerhouse of this era. After moving into Lake Texcoco for protection purposes, the Aztecs created chinampas in their capital city, Tenochtitlan, to sustain their rapidly growing population.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                In the Andes, the Incas took power. Working with their mountainous region, the Inca  civilization created aqueducts to collect and distribute clean drinking water. For a food source, they created a steppe system to create reliable ground for agriculture. Because the mountains often separated neighboring cities, their advanced use of an advanced road system and tambos kept them united. 

Theme 2: Development and Interaction of Cultures

Religion was a very important part of the ancient Native American civilizations. They based their lives around pleasing the gods, and the religious leaders were the most powerful in the society. The Toltecs, as one of the first civilizations, used to hold rituals and sacrifices for the sake of their gods. The Aztecs and Incas, who were influenced by the Toltecs, also did similar things in the name of religion.

The Native American civilizations built the basis of modern society today, inventing things such as the calendar, aqueducts, canals, the drill, and irrigation. They also used the earth to its full potential, living on agriculture, building their homes out of earth, and creating burial sites for their dead.

Indians - Misnomer created by Columbus who thought he reached the Indies. Therefore he was referring to the native inhabitants as Indians.

Implies social and ethnic commonality among Native Americans that did not exist. Still used today to refer to the Native Americans


 Toltecs - Nomadic people who took advantage of the power vacuum after the collapse of Teotihuacan. 

 Established capital at Tula around 968. Its culture an adaption of sedentary peoples and a militaristic ethic, which included the cult of human sacrifice. Later Mesoamerican people suchas the Aztecs remember Toltecs as the givers of civilization

                                                                   Toltec statues ➛


Aztecs - aka The Mexica. Winners of the struggle of the unstable world of the post-Toltec Mesoamerica around the lakes. A very intrusive and militaristic group that had a reputation of tough warriors and religious fanaticism. Main city of Tenochtitlan held religious and political importance. 

Cultural heartland of Mesoamerica. Conquered many surrounding regions and created a stratified society with an association of clans with one powerful ruler. Furthered the practice of human sacrifice for religious and terror. Split the gods into three major types. One is fertility,  second is creation, and third is warfare and sacrifice. Fatalistic view of world. They spoke Nahuati, the language of the Toltecs.

Artist depiction of Aztec empire

TENOCHTITLAN  Founded in c. 1325 on Marshy Island on Lake Texcoco. Capital of Aztec Empire.                                                              

"Foundation of Heaven"               (5 sq. miles)

Center of Aztec power. Held as a sacred place. Outstanding design and agriculture. About 5 square miles with 150,000 residents. Had aquaducts bringing in fresh water. Each city ward controlled by calpulli. Tributes came from allies and dependents.

Hernando Cortez account when arriving in Tenochtitlan, August 1521. 

 "This great city of Tenochtitlán is built on the salt lake, and no matter by what road you travel there are two leagues from the main body of the city to the mainland. There are four artificial causeways leading to it, and each is as wide as two cavalry lances. The city itself is as big as Seville or Córdoba. The main streets are very wide and very straight; some of these are on the land, but the rest and all the smaller ones are half on land, half canals where they paddle their canoes. All the streets have openings in places so that the water may pass from one canal to another. Over all these openings, and some of them are very wide, there are bridges. . . . There are, in all districts of this great city, many temples or houses for their idols. They are all very beautiful buildings. . . . Amongst these temples there is one, the principal one, whose great size and magnificence no human tongue could describe, for it is so large that within the precincts, which are surrounded by very high wall, a town of some five hundred inhabitants could easily be built. All round inside this wall there are very elegant quarters with very large rooms and corridors where their priests live. There are as many as forty towers, all of which are so high that in the case of the largest there are fifty steps leading up to the main part of it and the most important of these towers is higher than that of the cathedral of Seville. . . ."

Huitzilopochtli - Aztec patron god. Central figure of cult of human sacrifice and warfare. identified with the old sun god.                      

Because of his constant need for human blood and hearts to keep him fighting for light, the Aztecs participated fanatically in human sacrifice. 

RELIGION Polytheistic: Worshiped gods based nature (sun, water, fertility, fire, corn, sky, war, ect.) 

Many practices of blood sacrifices, feasts, dancing, and penance (self inflicted punishment) to worship their gods. There were at least 128 major deities, each with a male and female form. There was little distinction between the human world and the world of the gods.

Three Major Cults of deity:                                                                                                               TLALOC: the gods of rain, fertility, water, and maize                                         HUITZILOPOCHTLI: the gods that dealt with cosmology and creation     NEZHUALCOYOTL: King of Texcoco, unites all gods

POLITICS The Aztec Empire was a collection of city-states that only became united when coming into power.

City states, known as Calpulli, had its own leader (tlatoani) and judge (Cihuacoatl) chosen by nobility (PIPILTIN), usually a part of one kin group. Their main duty was to care for the people, shrines, temples, and palaces. 

Tlacaelel - Ingenious architect of the Aztec Triple Alliance.        

Pipiltin - Noble social class of Aztec Empire                    

 Much of Aztec life was based on the calpulli system. Distributed land equally, organized labors gangs, organized military units, and maintained a temple and a school. Eventually, social gulf grew between commoners and nobles as the empire grew. 

Calpulli- While wandering the Aztecs divided in to 7 calpulli (groups) which they later expanded and adopted into their imperial position. Calpullis were governed by family heads but not all families were equal. The distinguished classes of the Calpulli had access to high offices, private lands, ect. Often achieved through military service, marriage, or coming from a good lineage. 

People were generally equal in terms of gender rolls, but men always became warriors and farmers, and women took care of domestic duties and weaving. Within a Calpulli, all children were given "universal education," and seen as "precious gifts from the gods."

Chinampas - Form of irrigated agriculture. Included beds of aquatic weeds mud and earth that had been placed in a frame and rooted to the lake floor. This formed artificial islands about 17 ft long and 100 to 330 feet wide. This narrow construction allowed water to reach all the plants. Very high yield (four corn crops a year). Helped feed the empire and keep it strong because of a surplus of food. 

 Pochteca- Aztec Merchant class. Specialized in long distance trade of luxury items. Such as plumes of tropical birds and cacao.

 Markets were highly regulated and under the control of inspectors and special judges. The state controlled the use and distribution of commodities and redistributed vast amounts of tribute, tribute amounts were assigned based on whether conquered people had resisted Aztec rule or accepted it. 


The Aztecs created a CALENDAR in a WHEEL shape, and is based off of a 18 month cycle--each month having its own ritual sacrifice. 

The Aztec used CANALS and IRRIGATION to control the flow and placement of water in Tenochtitlan.

They did not use iron or bronze, instead they used OBSIDIAN, CHERT, STONE, and COPPER for their tools such as the DRILL.

Their use of advanced woodwork created their RETRACTABLE GATES, and WOODEN PILLARS for the structure and leveling of buildings. They had STUCCOED, or plastered, buildings.



Tawantinsuyu- After about 1300 C.E. in the Andean cultural hearth, a new civilization emerged and eventually spread its control over the whole region. The Inca Empire, or Twantinsuyu, was a highly centralized system that fused different ethnic groups into an imperial state. Extensive irrigated agriculture supported a state religion and a royal ancestor cult. With notable achievements in architecture and metallurgy, the Incas, like the Aztecs, incorporated many elements of the civilizations that preceded them. 

They began to expand their influence in the twelfth century and in the early sixteenth century, they exercised control over more territory than any other people had done in South American history. The empire consisted of over one million individuals, spanning a territory stretching from Ecuador to northern Chile.  

Inca socialism- Some early Spanish rulers saw the Incan society as tyrannical, but others saw it to be a utopian society. 

Like the Aztec society, the state redistributed the resources on the basis of necessities.  

Pachacuti- (r. 1438-1471) they launched a series of military alliances and campaigns that brought them control of the whole area from Cuzco to the shores of Lake Titicaca.

The Incan armies were constantly on the march, extending control over a vast territory. Pachacuti’s son and successor, Topac Yupanqui, conquered the northern coastal kingdom of Chimor by seizing its irrigation system, and he extended Inca control into the southern area of what is now Ecuador.  

Political Structure The Incas had an aristocracy-based political structure where few were able to hold positions in the political world. Inca government was well organized and created balance amongst the four quarters that the empire was divided into. 

SAPA INCA - Inca King, a descendent of the sun god Inti
Looked over Ttahuantin-Suyu

TTAHUANTIN-SUYU - The land of the Inca Empire
Divided into four quarters

APUS - The Supreme Council
16 selected, 4 for each land quarter

APUCUNA - The governors that saw over designated quarter

OFFICIALS - Army Officers
Noble Classes

TAX COLLECTORS - One for each community
Enforced important law: PAY YO TAXES

LABORERS / WORKERS - Majority of population
Reason for Hierarchal political system
Backbone to Inca economy


HEINEMANN / RAINTREE - punishment for crimes  
Put in prison for serious crimes, and 
eventually pushed off of a cliff
Minor crimes result in binding, or cutting off 
of hands

SERVICE TAX - When one fails to pay taxes, they offer 
their time in community labor force

Mita- Was a mandatory public service in the society of the Inca Empire. Mita was effectively a form of tribute to the Inca government, in the form of labor. 

All citizens who could perform labor were required to do so for a set number of days out of a year. They work all these hours in order for them to pay for there food and debts.

 Curacas- Local rulers often from conquered lands were allowed to maintain their positions, and were privileged by the Inca in return for their loyalty. They were exempt from tribute obligations and usually received labor or produce from those under their control. For insurance, the sons of such chieftains were taken into Cuzco for education.

Split Inheritance- a practice in which all political power and titles of the ruler went to his successor but all his palaces, wealth, land, and possessions remained in the hands of his male descendants, who used them to support the cult of the dead inca’s mummy for eternity.

This system provided a legitimate reason to continue conquering other nations. Supreme efforts were made by rulers to secure as much land as possible, to ensure not only wealth for one's descendants, but also a secure place for eternity.

Temple of the Sun - in Cuzco, was the center of the state religion, spread throughout the empire. In it confines the mummies of the past incas that were kept.

Like the Aztecs, the Incas held the Sun God to be the highest deity. Worship of the Sun God was spread throughout the empire while they prohibited the worships of local gods.  


Tambos- were placed about a day’s walk apart to serve as inns, storehouses, and supply centers for Inca armies on the move.

Tambos also served as relay points for the system of runners who carried messages throughout the empire. The Inca probably maintained more than 10,000 tambos.   

Quipu- A system of knotted strings utilized by the Incas in place of a writing system. 

It worked like an abacus, and with it the Incas took censuses and kept financial records. It was given to runners as messages that needed to be delivered, usually for long distances.



Terrace farmlands

Freeze-dried foods

Use of gold and silver




Hanging bridges

System of measurement - based on the number 10

Calendar - Kept track of religious holidays / ceremonies. 10days a week, 3weeks a month, 12months a year.

Time markers - large towers marking beginning of new month

Musical Instruments - wind and percussion (drums, flutes, panpipes)

Skull Surgeries 


From 100 B.C. to 1300 A.D., the Anasazi civilization grew in the dry lands of the American southwest. The Anasazi are called the Ancient People. They lived in groups of houses that the Spanish later called pueblosThe Anasazi had many gods. Like other Native peoples, nature was represented by their gods. The sun god, and the rain god were a few of the Anasazi gods.

The Anasazi learned how to farm in the dry lands. They grew corn, squash, and beans. They planted seeds deep in the dry soil to get the most water. They stored water in holes and ditches to use during droughts. The Anasazi were always prepared for droughts. They saved dried corn in clay jarsThey stored enough dried corn to feed their people for two years during a long drought.

Anasazi abandoned homes.


The term Hopewell describes a broad network of economic, political, and spiritual beliefs and practices among different Native American groups. That culture is characterized by the construction of enclosures made of earthen walls, often built in geometric patterns and mounds of various shapes. The culture is known for a network of contacts with other groups.

Famous for its practice of burying its dead in large burial mounds and its people have often been termed the "Mound Builders" 

Metates-A mortar, a ground stone tool used for processing grain and seeds. 

In traditional Mesoamerican culture, mutates were typically used by women who would grind maize and other organic materials during food preparation.


Tihuanaco and Huari

(c. 550-1000)-Breakup of the large "intermediate horizon" states of Tihuanaco and Huari, several smaller regional states continued to exercise some power. Unlike the breakdown of power that took place in postclassic Mesoamerica, in the Andean zone many large states continued to be important. 

 Viracocha- A creator god, was another god supported by the state religion, and was considered very important. 

Popular belief was based on animism that endowed many natural phenomenon with spiritual powers.


 Huacas- Included mountains, stones, caves, tombs, and temples. Were considered holy shrines. 

At these places, animals, goods and humans were sacrificed.

 Yanas- A class of people who were removed from their ayllus and worked permanently as servants, artisans or workers for the Inca or the nobility.

Lower than ayllu peasantry.  

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