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Chapter Nine. The Gods Return: Conquest and Conquest Society (1502–1610)

Matthew Restall and Robert Schwaller


As the sun set on the Basin of Mexico, a procession of priests moved out of the ceremonial center of Tenochtitlán towards the city's eastern causeway. Once on the bank of Lake Texcoco, they walked up the Huixachtlán mountain to the temple at its summit, where they were visible from almost anywhere in the Basin. All fires in the Aztec Empire had been extinguished. As the Fire Drill constellation (Orion's Belt) became visible in the evening sky, priests removed the heart of a specially selected sacrificial victim and placed a fire drill in his chest cavity. First sparks, then a small flame, became the first fire of the new 52-year calendar round. A great bonfire was created, turning bundles of sticks into torches that were taken down into the city to light fires in the temples—beginning with the two great temples to the deities of war and rain, then to lesser temples, to private homes, and out to the temples, towns, and villages of the empire. The New Fire Ceremony was performed, in one form or another, for at least a thousand years. The one described above took place in 1507, and would prove to be the last. It exemplified how the Mexica appropriated old traditions in the valley for the religious and political purposes of perpetuating their economic control over some 60 city-states across half a million square kilometers in central and southern Mexico—the entity we call the Aztec ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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