The Mexica were originally known as the Aztecs. It is said that the name Mexica was derived from the name of their war god and legendary leader Mexitli. These were Mesoamerican people who thrived between the 14th and the 16th centuries in central Mexico and established a capital called Tenochtitlan, upon which Mexico City is currently built upon (Diaz, 1993). When the Spaniards first arrived in 1519, lead by Hernan Cortez, this group was already highly civilized and was said to be at its height. The Spaniards discovered that there already existed a social hierarchy that was based on three classes.
At the top of this class were the nobility, this was followed by the priesthood, who were powerful in a religious and political sense, and the military and merchants (Carrasco, 1998). The presence of civilization was even more evident in the fact that the Mexica already had an establishment political system in the form of a centralized government (Diaz, 1993). The high level of civilization is also manifested by the tribute system that was in place, the establishments of roads, which also acted as the communications system, and an established religion.
This religion however is also the reason why the Mexica are sometimes considered as both savage and civilized. The early Christians who encountered the Mexica found the human sacrifice to be the most striking feature of this civilization (Carrasco, 1998). If the accounts of the Mexica, as told in the various texts found, are to be believed as accurate, approximately 84,000 were sacrificed in a 4 day period during the construction of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487.
The presence of an established political and social system and the prevalent practice of human sacrifices during that period are what make this civilization both savage and civilized.
Carrasco, D. (1998) Daily Life of the Aztecs: People of the Sun and Earth Greenwood Press, Greenwood Publications Diaz, G. and Rogers, A. (1993) The Codex Borgia: A Full-Color Restoration of the Ancient Mexican Manuscript. Dover Publications, New York.