I just saw a post claiming that Spanish colonial sources shouldn't be counted as proof for Aztec/Mexica human sacrifice. while this is a valid take, it needs more nuance. this sent me on a 40 minute rabbithole researching indigenous sources for Aztec human sacrifice. as I am a model of restraint and tolerance, I have made my own post to comment on this. So! Aztec human sacrifice.
Point 1: the Aztecs absolutely did practice human sacrifice, but it’s been exaggerated and sensationalized for centuries.
The Aztec practice of human sacrifice is one of the most sensationalized and bloody cases of mass killing in history, but perhaps one of the least under- stood. Although the Aztecs were highly sophisticated and expressive creators of great architecture, poetry and art, the most enduring image of their society is the brutal ritual of human sacrifice which was the focus of their religion.
Point 2: The Spanish also practiced large-scale state-sponsored murder. The reason the Aztecs are the culture portrayed as the violent irrational ones is in a large part due to racism.
the Aztecs pursued a policy of human sacrifice which brought about the deaths of thousands of individuals, both natives of Tenochtitlan and strangers captured in war. The deaths of these sacrificial victims occurred in the same period that the Iberian church and state were executing heretics and opponents in bloody displays of ritualized violence, but it is the ceremonies of the Aztec people which have preoccupied the modern mind and created the perception of a brutal and heartless people, standing out- side of the norms of human behaviour.
Point 3: The actual number of people human-sacrificed is less clear. Spanish sources have alleged numbers such as 20,000 per year, but this is a fairly dubious figure, due to the abovementioned racism and also because older sources often just make up large round numbers. this paper characterizes these numbers as “sometimes hysterical and largely unsubstantiated claims.” to be entirely fair, the people making up numbers were not all Spaniards, one of them was “indigenous writer Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl.”
Point 4: and here some indigenous sources for said human sacrifices:
The Annals of Cuautitlán (a work in Nahuatl, probably copied from earlier sources) claimed that 80,400 people were sacrificed in the dedication of Templo Mayor over the course of four days. This number has been questioned by later historians (at the very least, it’s logistically implausible. They had only four people conducting the sacrifices). But despite the exact figure, it’s clear that the Aztecs were performing sacrifice at a large scale.
but dedicating the temple was a special occasion. estimates made from analyzing accounts of the Aztec calendar estimate that about 500 people were sacrificed per year in the capital. (this is from the Florentine Codex, which was a study by a Franciscan friar. however, it was co-authored by Nahua writers, illustrated by them, and written in Nahuatl. so in my books it counts at least partially as an indigenous source.)
so the author of this paper concludes that the actual number of sacrifices was about 1,000 to 20,000 a year.
there’s more out there and I can look them up for people if they’d like to know more. but for now I shall stop because the rabbithole has already eaten 40 minutes of my time.
source: I’m drawing most of this from Caroline Pennock’s paper, “Mass Murder or Religious Homicide? Rethinking Human Sacrifice and Interpersonal Violence in Aztec Society” from 2012 (you can read a free copy of it here: https://www.ssoar.info/ssoar/handle/document/37888). This is a very interesting paper and it’s worth checking out.