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Lost Civilizations: The Aztecs

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Tuesday, October 5, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0118
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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The coronation of Motecuzuma I, Tovar Codex

When Hernando Cortés and his company of conquistadores landed near present-day Veracruz, Mexico, in April of 1519, he kept hearing “Motecuhzoma, Motecuhzoma, Motecuhzoma.” This was Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin, king of the Mexica and emperor of the powerful Aztec empire. It had only been in existence for about 90 years, yet in that short time it had spread from its heartland in the Basin of Mexico to dominate diverse peoples from coast to coast and throughout most of central Mexico.

The Aztecs created a sophisticated and vibrant civilization. We know a great deal about them from recent archaeological discoveries and a vast documentary record. Frances F. Berdan, professor emerita of anthropology at California State University San Bernardino examines some of the most interesting (and often misunderstood) aspects of Aztec life. They include how the Aztecs fit into a world of widespread ethnic diversity; how they built and maintained an expansive empire (considering that they lacked use of the wheel, beasts of burden, and iron tools); and how human sacrifice fit into Aztec life.

She also covers some of the civilization’s greatest achievements, including the splendid capital city of Tenochtitlan, one of the largest cities in the world at that time; the stunning luxury crafts in feathers, precious stones, and gold that astounded Europeans; and the elegant poetry that grappled with personal emotions and great philosophical questions.

Berdan is the author of The Aztecs: Lost Civilizations.

Additional programs in the Lost Civilizations series

October 26 - The Sumerians

November 16 - The Barbarians

December 7 - The Indus

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