Two of the most influential and powerful postclassical Mesoamerican empires belonged to the Inca and Aztec people. While both civilizations had different geographic locations and government structures, these two civilizations have similar methods of living standards and belief systems. The Incan and Aztec empires existed at approximately the same time period in history. The first emperor of the Incan empire, Manco Capac, founded the Incan civilization in the early 13th century and eventually the empire stretched from modern day Chile to modern day Columbia.
Founded in the 14th century, the Aztec Empire was formed from the alliance of three city-states (The Tepanecs, Acolhuas and Texcoco) in modern-day Central Mexico. The structure of governments differed between the Incas and Aztecs. The Incas had a sole emperor, the “Sapa Inca”, who ruled over the entire civilization. At the height of its power, the Incan empire also had four provincial governments and a central government, which was run by nobles.
Aztec civilization government was a collection of city-states (7 areas with individual rulers who distributed everything) whose people spoke a common language. Both the Incas and Aztecs had seats of central government. The Incan Empire was based in Cuzco, while Tenochtitlan was the Aztec capital. Both the Aztecs and Incas revered and had their own god-like interpretation of the sun. The Incas were receptive of other belief systems, but also acted as a theocracy since all members of the Incan Empire had to worship the sun god, Inti.
Also, the Sapa Inca was perceived to be a descendant of Inti. The name of the Aztec’s sun god, Huitzilopochtli, was also the god of war. Incas and Aztecs were also notorious for practicing human sacrifices to their gods. The Incas primarily lived in mountainous settings, which did not make for good agricultural grounds. To solve this problem, Incas developed flat terraces by carving mountain slopes; farmers grew crops on the terraces such as potatoes, which was the main food source for the Incas.
Aztecs also used terrace farming, but also had flatlands available for farming. Irrigation was used for flatland farming. In Aztec culture, maize was the primary crop. The Incan and Aztec Empires collapsed at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors in the mid-16th century. Francisco Pizarro led the Spanish campaign against the Incas. Pizarro caught the Incas in the middle of civil war and took advantage of the situation. Spain defeated the Aztecs under Hernando Cortes with the aid of the Aztecs’ enemy, the Tlaxcala people.
However, the crushing blow for both the Incas and Aztecs was smallpox, a disease of European origin. Smallpox was devastating, since they had no cure or immunity for the disease. The Aztec and Incan peoples thrived on the same continent under very different political systems. However, despite the many similarities and differences socially, economically, militarily and religiously – foreign invaders caught both cultures unprepared to defend and immunize their political systems and their people from extinction.
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