The ancient Aztecs considered their children in high regard, they were thought of like a piece of treasure, something to be careful with and protected. The Aztec family was an important part of society, so much so in fact women that died giving birth were given the same honour as that of a might Aztec warrior that died in battle. Therefore it is not hard to see how important children were in the world of the ancient Aztecs, they were educated, trained and cared for by their family long after they had married or even had their own children.
Birth for Aztec children
Aztecs welcomed life with feasts and celebration, it was a joyous time and children were valued greatly in the Aztec Empire, seen as the future protectors of their society. There are in fact historically noted songs from ancient Aztec times that even compares the children to Jade and other precious stones, so its no wonder childbirth was though of as a momentous occasion.
The typical Aztec midwife would be an older lady, and she would deliver the baby, and a mighty war cry was given upon delivery. As we mentioned earlier the importance of childbirth, meant the Aztecs equated the suffering of giving birth with a warrior’s effort to capture an enemy.
Rather strangely however the midwife would proceed to pronounce the role of the child right after its birth. Boys were typically dedicated to war, and it was seen as their destiny. On the other hand, girls were predestined to do the house chores, create a family and make and repair clothes. These roles were symbolized by burying the umbilical cord of the girl under the house whereas the boys were given to a warrior to be buried in a battlefield.
After the delivery of the Aztec baby, a soothsayer came to foretell the child’s fate according to astrological study of the child’s birth date. The information given were used by the parents to name the child during a bathing ceremony if it was determined to be a good day for naming. Aztec Names were based on animals or objects like, ‘Precious Jade’, ‘Hungry Turkey’, ‘Little Plume’ or as unique as ‘He who laughs at Women’. Next were the gifts for the Aztec child, depending on their sex, the children were given gifts of bow and arrow or a weaving tool and a broom and basket for girls, the Aztecs had very traditional ideas about gender roles in society.
Aztec children were typically lovingly raised by their parents, and the children were taught by example in their home. By the age of 5 boys went with their fathers to the marketplace, to gather firewood or to go fishing. The mothers taught girls to weave and the children helped out in cooking. All of them were expected to help in gardening and farming if required, which was an essential skill for all Aztec children to learn as it formed the foundation of their society.
Infant sacrifice in the Aztec society
Some Aztec children who were born at the right astrological time would be ‘bought’ and kept as a human sacrifice. This is of course quite shocking in modern times but for the ancient Aztec people it was not shocking but quite normal. In recent archaeological findings, Aztec children were found to have slit throats, and perhaps it was a way to silence their cries. As much as Aztec parents loved their children, this practice was accepted to appease the Gods and in consolation, it was believed that the children go to paradise of Tlaloc.
The behaviour and discipline of the Aztec children
Aztec people were thought to have been strict but loving with their children. When the Aztec children went out with their parents, they were taught to behave a certain way when socializing or encountering other people. The parents taught the children to work hard and be humble, and generally be respectful. Aztec girls were taught to be submissive, demure and to not talk back to adults. Both Aztec boys and girls were also taught that stealing, gambling, drinking and gossiping were bad.
Aztec parenting as we mentioned earlier was considered strict but fair, and if Aztec children misbehaved then their punishment would be quite harsh. An bad Aztec child for example would be that they would be forced to inhale chilli pepper smoke which burnt their eyes, nose and mouth. In this manner, Aztec people often used punishments to implore good behaviour and teach their children the consequences of their actions.
Education for Aztec children
Eduction for Aztec children did depend partly on your families status, the children of noble people would have more opportunity that those of a farmer. For example the children of Macehualtin or the commoners went to telpochcalli school to learn military skills, religion and history. Aztec boys had a separate school from girls, the Aztecs considered it import to the learning to keep the two sexes separate. One thing that was unique during ancient times in Aztec society, was that free education is mandatory by Aztec law and even the slaves were allowed the same privilege.
Aztec children who did well in school would be sent to calmecac, which was in essence a superior education experience. The calmecac was also the school attended by the children of Pilli or the nobility. The Aztec priests at these schools taught everything about religion, governing, astronomy, history and poetry. Aztec children who attended this school would later on become priests or government officials and leaders.
Aztec boys started their education at 15 years old at the calmecac. Those who did not attend this school went to cuicacalli, a junior military academy, which would give them more skills in the important art of war. Aztec girls learned more at home, they would learn how to weave cloth which started at age four, and later they would learn cooking at twelve years old, and after that Aztec girls were more or less considered to be ready to be a good wife. For noble girls, at age 12 or 13 they were chosen to serve the priestesses or go under training to become one themselves.
Aztec children and games
Play and sport was also important in Aztec society and Aztec children were taught this from a young age. The Aztecs had ball court structures for their game called Ullamaliztli, which was a game played using a rubber ball. The Aztec children also had Patolli which was a popular board game, and the children would also play with stones and bows and arrows, just like most children.
In addition to the games and fun, music was important for Aztec children and they were taught how to play musical instruments and to sing the many important Aztec songs.
Marriage for young Aztecs
Marriage in Aztec society took place relatively young, of course in the times of the ancient Aztecs, you might not live a very long life due to the inherent struggles of life in those times. Young Aztec girls were often married by the age of 15 to males who would graduated school in their 20’s. The Aztec men at this age were fully prepared to go to war, so the women Aztec girls took care of the household, until her husbands return.
The life of Aztec children in summary
It is clear that valuing the family structure and raising the Aztec children well contributed to a better society. It is evident that this important culture of valuing the children and raising them properly helped make the Aztec children productive citizens. The children were of the Aztecs were given lots of respect and education and often quite define life paths, and this most likely contributed to the greatness of the Aztec Empire.