A short and sweet summary of the culture that pioneered chocolate.

Our Global Neighbours is a blog series containing stories from and about cultures around the world.

Aztlan, rather a legendary than real place, was the original home of seven groups of Nahua speaking people. They were Xochimilca, Tlahuica, Acolhua, Tlaxcalan, Tepaneca, Chalca and Mexica – who all lived in seven separate caves at Aztlan.

On 24 May 1064 AD – according to tradition – these people began their migration to the Valley of Mexico. Guided by a priest they went on a journey. On the road their god Huitzilopochtli appeared and forbade them to call themselves Azteca, he insisted they should be known as Mexica.

It just happened that the Mexica group was the last to arrive in their new homeland and found all suitable places occupied by other Nahua. So they perched themselves on the edge of Lake Texcoco and in time built the city-state of Tenochtitlan. It became the city of splendour and regional prosperity unparalleled in the ancient Americas.

Aqueducts brought fresh water from the mountains and many homes in Tenochtitlan had baths. The palace of the ruler had not only baths but also fresh and salt water aquariums, botanical and zoological gardens and a splendid aviary.

Among many public buildings in Tenochtitlan was the largest ball 'stadium' in the country called Teotlachco and the school where the children of noble families would learn singing, rituals, reading and writing and the complexity of the Mexica Calendar. This was preparation for civic and ceremonial duties. Boys of 15 would enter military training and learn how to use wooden swords armed with razor-sharp obsidian blades.

The common currency in Mexica state was cocoa beans. In appropriate situations the currency was made into a drink, flavoured with vanilla and chili – much enjoyed by rulers and nobles. The Spanish invaders were not impressed, complaining this delicacy was bitter. But the Spaniards were fascinated with cocoa-related habits and the golden vessels in which the beans were kept and the drink served. They opted, however, to flavour their own cocoa drink with honey or sugar.

The Spanish conquest of Mexica is one of the most horrific and genocidal chapters of global history. In a bitter twist, the 19th century scholars, including celebrated Prussian naturalist Alexander Humboldt and American historian William Prescott, decided to call ancient Mexica people Aztec. This was to make a distinction between the pre-Columbian and colonial-modern people of Mexico.

Additional information:

The cocoa beans persisted as semi-official currency in parts of Central-America through most of the colonial period. 

Aztecs exhibition opens and related events commence at the Australian Museum on 13 September 2014.


AD or the Common Era indicates the period of time between year one and the present in the Western Calendar.