Did the Aztecs really practice human sacrifice?6:55 PM
The Aztec civilization which flourished in Mesoamerica between 1345 and 1521 CE has gained an infamous reputation for bloodthirsty human sacrifice with lurid tales of the beating heart being ripped from the still-conscious victim, decapitation, skinning and dismemberment. All of these things did happen but it is important to remember that for the Aztecs the act of sacrifice - of which human sacrifice was only a part - was a strictly ritualised process which gave the highest possible honour to the gods and was regarded as a necessity to ensure mankind’s continued prosperity. The Aztec gods and goddesses also required the living hearts of humans for nourishment. All hearts were good, but the bravest captives were considered to be particularly nourishing to the Aztec gods.
Estimates suggest 20,000 people a year were sacrificed by the Aztec royalty. After the sacrifice, the heads of victims could be displayed in racks (tzompantli), depictions of which survive in stone architectural decoration, notably at Tenochtitlán. The flesh of those sacrificed was also, on occasion, eaten by the priests conducting the sacrifice and by members of the ruling elite or warriors who had themselves captured the victims.
Top images: Aztec human skulls with decorated with the mosaics
|A jaguar-shaped cuauhxicalli. |
This altar-like stone vessel was used to hold the hearts of sacrificial victims.
|Tecpatl obsidian sacrificial knife, Aztec|
|Mosaic ceremonial knife|
|Aztec zoomorphic death whistle, click on image to listen|