The History of Mexico – The Early Days
Mexico has a very interesting history and there have been some highly developed cultures living there, including the Toltecs, Olmecs, Aztecs, and Mayas. These cultures existed a long time before the Spanish conquest, which was in the early sixteenth century.
Unlike the other civilizations, the Mayas never disappeared and there are still Mayas and Maya descendants in Mexico today, in sizeable populations. A lot of the Mayan languages are still spoken today.
The Olmecs were the first ancient civilization to live in Mexico and this was around 1000 BC. They lived around the Tabasco and Veracruz areas, building cities and huge stone head carvings and spreading out across southern and central Mexico. This civilization disappeared around 400 BC. There were other civilizations after the Olmecs, including the Zapotecs, Teotihuacan, Maya, Toltecs, Mixtecs and more.
The Toltec people continued the classic urban culture (Toltec means “craftsman”) and the Chichimec settled in the north. This means that the Aztecs were originally Chichimec when they migrated to Mexico.
These civilizations had great achievements in architecture, mathematics, pottery, arm, textile weaving, and astronomy. They were also able to predict lunar and solar eclipses. The Aztecs were a small tribe living in the area where Mexico City is today and they were ruling the biggest empire Mexico had ever seen by the end of the fifteenth century. They spent two centuries in warfare and migration and then renamed themselves “the Mexica” and that is how the Spanish discovered them in the sixteenth century.
The Aztecs had two social classes – the nobility at the top and the commoners at the bottom. Rather than being born into one of these classes, you could rise up by, for example, being brave in war or being extremely skilled in something. Aztec males went to school to learn about religion and history, and also about war as well as various crafts.
Aztec women were viewed as being subordinate to Aztec men and they were expected to behave with high moral standards and chastity. Most religious and government functions were closed off to the women. Aztecs had simple, harsh laws and nearly every crime was punished by corporal punishment, mutilation, or death. The Aztecs believed in slavery but this had nothing to do with skin color. Slaves were temporary and were captured in wars and battles instead.
The Arrival of the Spanish
The Spanish explorers arrived a few years later and took over. The Aztecs were defeated and Spanish rule lasted for three hundred years. Mexico was one of Spain’s best-loved colonies, largely because of its great mineral wealth and fertile plains. The country was heavily taxed and not allowed any autonomy. There was nearly always fighting throughout the land because of the repression of the native Indians.
A Catholic priest named Miguel de Hidalgo y Costilla led an armed rebellion at the turn of the nineteenth century but he was captured and executed before Mexico saw independence. His actions began the war of independence however and Mexican Independence Day is celebrated every year on September 16. In fact, this is one of the major holidays in Mexico.
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