Amerindian comparative civilizations Maya Aztecs Inca summary




Amerindian comparative civilizations Maya Aztecs Inca summary


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Amerindian comparative civilizations Maya Aztecs Inca summary


Prior to 1492, the western and eastern hemispheres had very little contact with one another. Even though Christopher Columbus was certainly not the first to go from one hemisphere to the other, his voyage does represent the beginning of sustained contacts, a trend that was a major turning point in world history. However, during the period between 600 and 1450 C.E., large empires emerged in the Americas, just as they did in Europe, Africa, and Asia. One group - the Maya - adapted to the jungles of Central America and the Yucatan Peninsula. The two largest organized relatively late in the era: the Aztecs of Mesoamerica, and the Inca of South America.
The Maya civilization flourished between 300 and 900 C.E., occupying present day southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. Early on, they were probably dominated by the mysterious people of Teotihuacan, a large city with several impressive temples that controlled central Mexico for many years. They developed agricultural techniques that allowed them to successfully raise crops in the tropics. At first they practiced slash and burn methods, but they learned to build terraces next to the numerous rivers designed to catch the rich alluvial soil. Their agriculturally based civilization thrived, and they eventually built more than eighty large ceremonial centers, as well as many smaller settlements.
Civilizations had long existed in what is now central Mexico before the appearance of the Aztecs. The Olmecs were there by 800 B.C.E., and many groups followed. During the 10th century a powerful group called the Toltecs established a capital at Tula, about 50 kilometers from modern Mexico City. The Toltecs came to control much of the area around them, but their civilization fell into decay by the end of the 12th century, just about the time that a new group, the Mexica, began to grow. They eventually became known as the Aztecs, a name meaning "the place of the seven legendary caves," or the place of their origins. The Aztecs migrated into the area and settled in an unusual place: an island in the middle of a swampland of Lake Texococo, a site that the Spanish would later build as Mexico City. There they established the great city of Tenochtitlan, and they expanded their empire by conquering nearby people and extracting tribute from them. By the middle of the 15th century, they dominated a huge area that extended almost coast to coast.
The Inca civilization developed during the 14th and 15th century on the base of older civilizations, such as the Chavin, Moche and Chimu. By the late 15th century, their empire stretched for almost 2500 miles along the Andes Mountain range from present-day Equador to Chile. Their capital was Cuzco, high in the mountains in Peru, and the city was connected to all parts of the empire by a complex system of roads and bridges. The term "Inca" was at first a title for the ruler of Cuzco, but it eventually referred to all people that spoke the native language, Quechua. Like the Chavin before them, the Inca lived on the narrow, dry seacoast to the west of the mountains and in the jungles to the east, but they centered their civilization in the mountain valleys of the Andes. Unlike the people of Mesoamerica, the South Americans made use of domesticated animals. Llamas and alpacas served the highlanders not only as pack animals on the roads, but they also provided wool, hides, and dung for fuel.







Priests had highest social status; warriors also highly valued
War captives often became slaves (and sacrifices); mysterious demise of civilization about 900 C.E.

Rigidly hierarchical society, with a strong military elite who received land grants and tribute from commoners; large gap between rich and poor
Priests also elite; learned complex calendars, presided over all important religious rituals
Skilled craftsmen, merchants middle status
Large number of slaves, mainly household servants
Patriarchal society, but women received high honor for bearing warrior sons; women who died in childbirth equally honored to men who died in battle

Rigidly hierarchical society, with the Inca and his family having status of gods
Main classes: rulers, aristocrats, priests, and peasants
Military and administrative elite for large army and bureaucracy
Small merchant class and fewer skilled craftsmen than Aztec; trade controlled by the government
Carefully selected virgin women served the Inca and his family


Religion central to civilization; cities were ceremonial centers with great temples; practiced human sacrifice to their many gods; Tikal main city with population of about 40,000; jaguar an important symbol
Two elaborate calendars used for agriculture and for religious rituals
Flexible and sophisticated writing that used both symbols and pictures
Inherited Olmec ballgame, with losers executed and sacrificed

Religion central to civilization; cities were ceremonial centers with great temples decorated with gold; practiced human sacrifice to their many gods
Principal gods &endash; Tezcatlipoca ("the Smoking Mirror") and Quetzalcoatl ("the Feathered Serpent")
Tenochtitlan &endash; major city of 200,000 + large suburbs Inherited Olmec ballgame, with losers executed and sacrificed
Elaborate calendar, writing system

Religion important, with Inti, the sun god, the major deity; Impressive temples, palaces, public buildings; used skillfully cut giant
stones with no mortar decorated with gold
Quechua native language, but no writing; use of a counting device, the quipu to keep elaborate records
Elaborate road system, with two roads (one on the coast and one in the mountains) running the entire length of the empire
Rich textiles, jewelry, and pottery made by general population


Agricultural based; built platforms to catch alluvial soil; main crop maize, but also cacao bean (source of chocolate) and cotton; no domesticated animals for work

Agricultural base; designed "floating gardens" of trapped soil to raise crops in swampy areas; raised maize, beans, squashes, tomatoes, peppers, and chiles; no domesticated animals for work
Exacted extensive amount of tribute from conquered people; established significant trade with others in western hemisphere, including luxury goods such as jade, emeralds, jaguar skins, and sea shells

Agricultural and pastoral base; designed terraces in mountain valleys to raise crops; variety of crops, depending on elevation, included potatoes, maize, beans, peppers, chiles, coca leaves (stimulant), guinea pigs
Large professional army
Peasants owed compulsory labor to the state; women gave tribute through textiles, pottery, and jewelry


Organized into city-states with no central government for the civilization; city of Chichen Itza dominated some other states; frequent fighting among city states; defeated ones became human sacrifices

Ruled by a central monarch in Tenochtitlan that did not have absolute power; council of powerful aristocrats made many decisions, including who the new ruler would be; winning wars and elaborate rituals increased legitimacy of rule
No elaborate bureaucracy

Highly powerful centralized government, with the Inca (the ruler) believed to be a god; Inca theoretically owned all land; elaborate bureaucracy kept in touch with subjects; used quipu to keep extensive records
Elaborate road system reinforced the Inca's power


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