Emperor, City-States, Laws, Punishment, Expansion, Tribute
The Aztecs were ruled by an emperor, who lived in the palace in the capital city. There were many cities in the Aztec empire. The emperor placed one noble in charge of each city. The nobles were supposed to report to the emperor and run their city as the emperor directed. But in truth, most nobles ran their cities any way they wanted. Like the Mayas, the Aztecs developed city-states, cities with their own way of running things day by day.
However, the laws of the Aztec people were for all people, in all cities. These laws were written down. If you broke the law, your punishment was listed, along with the law. Everybody knew what would happen to you if you broke a particular law. Many of the laws included a punishment of death if you broke the law. The laws were very harsh.
There was one way to escape punishment, but it was only good onetime. This was called the one time forgiveness law. If you confessed your crime to a priest before your crime was discovered, you would be forgiven once. You would receive no punishment for that crime. However, if you ever broke another law, you would be punished.
The Aztec government was well organized, but both the emperor and the nobles had their hands full with the problems of a growing population. They needed to grow more food, to build more schools, to fill more storehouses, and to create more temples. They also needed more captives, people they could sacrifice to feed their hungry gods.
Around 1400 CE, the Aztecs decided the answer to many of their problems was war. The Aztecs demanded tribute from conquered tribes. Tribute was paid in the form of food, clothing, building supplies, captives, and whatever else of worth the conquered tribe might owe. Either the tribe paid the tribute, or Aztec warriors would sacrifice the entire tribe to the Aztec gods.