When you think of the Aztec, what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of the Spanish conquistadors or their beautiful capital at Tenochtitlan. What comes to mind for a lot of people is their practice of human sacrifice. In class, we learned a lot about the civilizations of the Maya and the Inca but not much about the Maya. Chapter 13 of the assigned readings talks about the Aztec and how they came to power and their collapse. One paragraph in the chapter, although morbid and disturbing, caught my attention. “The victim was stretched out over the sacrificial stone. In seconds, a priest with an obsidian knife broke open his chest and ripped out his still beating heart, dashing it against the sacrificial stone.” (pg. 340) These sentences refer to the ritual of human sacrificed practiced by the Aztec priests.
The Aztec believed that they owed everything to the gods who created themselves as well as the world around them. The would perform sacrifices in order for a good crop yield or good weather among other things. They believed that the best way to repay them was to offer up blood to them in regular rituals. Although many just assume this was human blood, they also sacrificed animals as well. Some offerings weren’t outright killings as well. They would have been cutting oneself and offering the blood shed to the gods. Archaeologists estimate that a few thousand people would have been sacrificed each year. Some were members of the Aztec community but they believe that most were prisoners of war. Instead of killing their enemies in battle, they would sometimes capture them and take them back to the capital to be offered up to the gods. In one ritual, the prisoners were forced to walk up the many stairs of the temple. Once they reached the top, the priest would cut open their stomach from throat to stomach. They would rip out their heart to offer it to the gods. The bodies were then pushed down the stairs. At the bottom, the body would be dismembered or carried off depending on the ritual.
Its hard to believe this sort of activity happened regularly, especially as a public event where people would gather in the square to watch. Human sacrifice was not only an Aztec event. It happened all over the world in several different cultures. It was a part of their religion and a way to please the gods so the Aztecs would avoid disaster. No amount of human sacrifice could have stopped their collapse at the hands of the Spaniards.
Chapter 13 of the textbook
Senseless Human Sacrifice
Through out history human sacrifice has been practiced for many reasons but these senseless acts when mostly preformed because of a civilization’s belief in the repercussions or enlightenment that it would bring to them. Although most sacrifices were done for religious reasons, there are also other reasons that people sacrificed people.
One form of sacrifice that was practiced in the pharaoh civilization was that when the pharaohs were buried, they were buried with their servants as well and these servants were still alive before they were buried. The belief was that they would serve the pharaoh in the afterlife. They sometimes drugged the servants before they put them in the tomb with the pharaoh. This made them more willing to be buried alive with their ruler.
Did you know that Fiji used to have no widows? It’s true but that is because they were strangled as soon as their husbands died. This was done because they believed that a husband and wife should be buried together. And what is worst about this practice is that the woman’s brother was the one that had to do it. He had to honor this task to please the families.
Honor is a crazy thing to mess with in different countries, for example in Japan men would cut themselves to restore their honor. In a ritual known as Seppuku, men who has dishonored themselves were bathed, dressed in a white robe, given a last meal, and after we was done eating, a knife or small sword was placed on the plate. The warrior would read a death poem and then he would open his robe and stab himself. Then a kaishakunin or his second in command would perform a kaishaku, where he would slit his throat.
As crazy as those seem, it does actually still happen in our world today. In 2003, a couple from India kidnapped a six-year-old boy and sacrificed him because they wanted to have a baby boy of their own. And to top it off they already had a daughter. Recently in 2011, a farmer wanting a better harvest sacrificed a seven-year-old girl and offered her liver as an offering. This is all because of a mythology that believed if they offer a child under twelve then their crops will flourish after the sacrifice. Someone’s beliefs can be a strong driving force for a ritual like this and it is down right murder but in their eyes they are not doing anything wrong.