Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Engineering An Empire: The Aztecs



Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

This very fascinating show from The History Channel has been posted onto You Tube and is well worth watching. The incredible engineering achievements of the Aztecs do indeed rival that of ancient Egypt and Rome. Just the ingeniousness of their chinampas are enough to marvel at. Brutality is a hallmark of just about every empire in every human culture that has existed, the Aztec Empire being no exception. Yet overshadowing all of this was their practice of human sacrifice. This broke one of the strongest human taboos, only a step or two above the one against cannibalism. It was central to their religious beliefs and even their founding myth stems from a particularly nasty ritualized murder. That the Aztecs could produce such a sophisticated society yet be so incredibly barbaric at the same time is amazing. We can look at ancient Egypt or Rome and overlook their own brutality in conquests or murder for sport in the Colosseum, but human sacrifice evokes a visceral emotional response that cannot be ignored. While Hernan Cortez was probably interested more in booty than anything else, for all the glory of Tenochtitlan as the "Venice of the New World", the walls of it's grand temples coated with fresh human blood must have to them literally appeared to be something out of the very mouth of Hell. I doubt there is a religion or culture at that time that if it had had the might wouldn't have likewise destroyed the Aztec Empire like Cortez did. Still, for all of Cortez' own brutality towards the Aztecs the greatest threat to them came from the blood of the Spaniards. That may be ironic in some way, but the cost of 90% of their people to disease the Europeans carried was indeed very tragic.

All in all a great show and I highly recommend it. Altogether these 5 parts are less than an hour long.

2 comments:

Leah said...

According to Victor Davis Hanson in his book Carnage and Culture, cannibalism was part and parcel of the human sacrifice of the Aztecs.
We in the West today consider human sacrifice to be taboo, but that is only after the Judeo Christian traditions started influencing much of the modern world.
Great cultural achievements and morality do not go hand in hand. The Aztecs are a prime example, as are the Nazis.
I'm always driving Lefties crazy when I mention that Catholicism was a blessing in Central America. Of course the Virgin of Guadalupe becomes such an icon. Any God that offers personal salvation over human sacrifice is going to be embraced.

John said...

Good point. It was an interesting show but it's difficult to find much laudatory given their religious practices prior to Cortez. It doesn't excuse the behavior of the Spanish of course but the Aztecs weren't a culture I'd care to emulate.