Sacrifices to specific gods
Huitzilopochtli was the sun god and the main deity in the Aztec religion. Most of the sacrifices went to him because the Aztecs believed that the sacrifices returned energy to Huitzilopochtli so he could continue the battle against the god of night. The Aztecs believed if he did not renew his energy, he could not survive the next cycle of 52 years. When the Aztecs sacrificed to Huitzilopochtli, the victim would be placed on a stone slab, then the priest would ceremonially cut through the abdomen with an obsidian dagger. Then the heart would be held to the sky in honor of the sun god. Then the body would be carried away and either cremated or given to the warrior responsible for the capture of the victims. He would cut the body into very small pieces and send them to important people as an offering. In exchange he would received fine blankets, jewels, slaves, etc. This was a system for rewarding successful warriors.
Tezcatlipoca, generally considered the most powerful god, was the god of night, sorcery, and destiny. The Aztecs believed that he was the reason for war. One reason the Aztecs gave sacrifice to Tezcatlipoca was so that there would be peace. Another reason that they gave him sacrifice is so that their destiny would be an honorable one. Of the captives, the most brave were sacrificed to Tezcatlipoca in the gladiatorial sacrifice but to the Aztecs the most important and emotive sacrifice was of a young Aztec. This was done by taking a handsome young volunteer and letting him live a luxurious life for a year. This youth would represent Tezcalipoca on earth; he would also get four beautiful women as his companions until the day he was to die came. He would continually go through the streets of the city playing his flute. On the day the Aztecs have a feast in Tezcatlipoca’s honor, the youth would climb the pyramid, break his flute and surrender to the priest who would sacrifice him. This was one of the more solemn festivities of the Aztec. Sahagun compared it to the Christian Easter.
Huehueteotl was the senior deity and also the fire god. To appease him, the Aztecs would hold large feasts and at the end they would burn people with their hearts taken out. If they didn’t please Huehueteotl, the Aztecs believed that a fire would strike their village. Huehueteotl preferred to have the bodies of newlyweds thrown into the altar—just before the couple died the bodies were pulled out and the hearts were cut out as a second offering to him.
Tlaloc was the god of rain. The Aztecs believed that, if sacrifices weren’t given to Tlaloc, the rain wouldn’t come and their crops wouldn’t grow. Another thing that was believed to happen if sacrifices weren’t given to Tlaloc was that the leprosy and rheumatism, diseases believed to be caused by Tlaloc, would infest the village. The Aztecs believed Tlaloc required the tears of the young and as a result sacrificed thousands of children at once so their tears would wet the earth.
Sources of victims for human sacrifice
Not all inhabitants of Mesoamerica were candidates for human sacrifice. The main victims for human sacrifice had to be captive warriors who were from a Nahuatl culture. In order to acquire captives in time of peace, the Aztec resorted to a form of "ritual warfare", or flower war. The "flower wars" were originally a treaty made between the cities of Texcoco, Tenochtitlan, Tlaxcala and Huexotzingo. The treaty was motivated by a famine in Mesoamerica in 1450. The Aztecs believed that sacred wars were needed to end the famine. By 1455, there was again prosperity in the region, so the sacred wars (xochiyáoyotl) were continued.The cihuacoatl (consuelor) Tlacaelel is credited with originating the idea of the flower wars in order to ensure a supply of captives in times of peace. The capture of prisoners for sacrifices was called nextlaualli, "debt payment to the gods" so that the sun could survive each cycle of 52 years. The flower wars not only gave the Aztecs a constant supply of prisoners even in what were otherwise times of peace, but became an important part of their religion. Smaller numbers of Aztec prisoners were also sacrificed in Tlaxcala and Huexotzingo.
Tlaxcala was a Nahuatl culture that was never "conquered" by the Aztecs. As a condition of remaining independent, the Tlaxcalteca agreed to continue provide victims for human sacrifice by means of the "flower wars". The high price of their freedom, paid perenially in human lives, was a major reason why the Tlaxcalteca became allies of the Spaniards. By the time of the conquest, this ritual war had escalated to the level of a real war, and it was accepted that it was only a matter of time until the Aztecs would try to conquer Tlaxcala. Almost a hundred years of conflict had led to a lot of hate and bitterness between the rival cities with related cultures. Because the objective of Aztec warfare was to capture victims for human sacrifice, Aztec battle tactics were designed primarily to injure the enemy rather than kill him. This way, the prisoner could be killed later in a ritual sacrifice. After towns were conquered, their inhabitants were no longer candidates for human sacrifice (unless they were offered voluntarily). Probably this would have changed if Tlaxcala had been conquered, or accepted the alliance of the Aztecs, when they began to provide support to the Spaniards.Slaves also could be used for human sacrifice, but this was not considered as honorable as a war captive. Probably this was the source of children and women required for some sacrifices, but the historical sources do not speak much on the origin of this victims. What is told in detail is that merchants could only offer slaves—those slaves were paid at premiums rates. This was because only slaves that had been sold more than four times were considerers as possible victims; they also had to be young and healthy. Since a slave could not usually be sold without his/her authorization, those slaves were particularly rare.
Afterwards, the body parts would be disposed of in various ways: the viscera were used to feed the animals in the zoo, the head was cleaned and placed on display in the tzompantli, and the rest of the body was either cremated or cut into very small pieces and offered by he warrior as a gift to important people, in exchange of presents. This has been confirmed by archaeology, since the body of some of the victims indicate removal of muscles and skinning (José Luis Salinas Uribe, INAH, 2005). Not necesarilly all the skulls in the zompamtli were victims of sacrifice. During the siege of Tlatelolco. The Tlatelolcas built three more tzompamtli. Two for their own dead, and one for the Spanish (which included two horse skulls).Other kinds of human sacrifice, which paid tribute to various other Aztec deities, approached the victims differently. In these, the victim could be shot with arrows (in which the draining blood represented the cool rains of spring), died fighting (gladiatorial sacrifice), burned (to honor the fire god), flayed after being sacrificed (to honor Xipe Totec, the flayed god), or drowned.
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