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The book The Daily Life of the Aztecs, authored by Jacques Soustelle, is about the Aztec society which existed between the fifteenth century and early sixteenth century, before it was overthrown by the Spaniards. Soustelle uses Spanish records and other historical documents to give an account of the life of the Aztecs years prior to the end of their civilization.
As described in the book, the Aztec society was very sophisticated and it was hierarchical in nature. The society’s population was composed of city dwellers leading an urban lifestyle. They were also a scholarly people who kept excellent records with respect to their religion, rituals, ancient mythology, the beauty of their land, etc. To make the chronicles, they used a pictographic form of language which was mostly figurative and phonetic in nature. Most of the society records were, however, damaged when the Spaniards invaded the civilization in the fifteenth century. Soustelle describes the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs as a very horrific incident. According to him, the Spaniards considered the Aztecs to be untamable savages incapable of anything noble. Moreover, they abhorred the civilization’s religion considering it as hopeless, a mumbo-jumbo, and devilish.
The larger Aztec society comprised of many small independent and self-sustaining units. These smaller units were united by shared functions and similarities to form the Aztec civilization. Thus, this society had developed through a bottom-up approach where the main unit is made up of independent smaller parts, rather than a top-down approach where the main part is in control of other smaller units. Family and lineage formed the building blocks of this society. Thus, a person’s family line determined his or her social status with those from ruling classes enjoying the highest social standing. The extended family was a fundamental social unit as well. People’s lifestyle depended largely on their family affiliations since large family networks used to live together, forming what was known as Calpolli. The Calpolli was made up of interrelated families. The leader of this social unit was a local chief who was elected from one of the families. The chief traded land for loyalty from the other members of the Calpolli.
There was a clear distinction in the society between the nobles and the common people. The nobles also enjoyed some privileges which the common people did not enjoy. For example, it was the nobles’ right to be shown loyalty by the commoners living on their land. The nobles, in turn, allowed commoners to use their land and other properties. Moreover, it was mandatory for commoners to pay taxes and to be enlisted in the army. The Aztec civilization was highly organized with clear and effective fiscal and legal systems. Mobility from one social class to another was a difficult affair but not impossible.
Education was compulsory for all children irrespective of their gender, social status, or location in the society. It was the parents’ responsibility to educate their children up to the age of fourteen, after which the responsibility passed over to the authorities. Part of the education involved learning sayings and how o make speeches.
Weak Points of the Book
The weakest point of the book is that Soustelle’s account of the Aztecs is based on Spanish Chronicles and documents and not material facts such as archaeological discoveries. The author also fails to elucidate whether the Aztecs viewed time from a cyclical perspective or from a linear perspective. Moreover, the author seems to add personal opinion when describing the Spanish Conquest over the Aztecs.