Aztec Government for Kids - Emperor, City-States, Laws, Punishment, Expansion, Tribute Illustration

Aztec Government

Emperor, City-States, Laws, Punishment, Expansion, Tribute

The Emperor: The Aztecs were ruled by an all-powerful emperor who ruled over all the people. The emperor lived in the imperial palace in the capital city of Tenochtitlan. The palace was huge. It even had its own zoo. The ground floor of the palace housed government officers and the shops of the most talented craftsmen.

City-states: 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.

Laws: The laws of the Aztec people were for all the people in all cities. These laws were written down. If you broke the law, your punishment was listed, along with the law. There were Aztec courts, but the laws were clear. If you could not prove your innocence, everybody knew what would happen to you if you broke a particular law. One of the thing you learned in school were all the laws and how to behave. Many of the laws included a punishment of death. Laws were tough. Codices warned of the punishment you would receive for breaking the law.

One time forgiveness law: There was one way to escape punishment, but it was only good one time. 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.

Expansion: 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, build more schools, fill more storehouses, and create more temples. They also needed more captives, people they could sacrifice to feed their hungry gods.

Tribute: The Aztecs decided the answer to many of their problems was war. They were incredible warriors. They almost always won. The Aztecs demanded tribute from conquered tribes. Tribute was paid in the form of food, clothing, precious stones, building supplies, and captives. The first four the Aztecs kept for themselves. The last tribute, captives, they gave to their gods. Other tribes hated and feared the Aztecs. If they discovered the Aztec military approaching, sometimes they simply ran away, leaving everything they owned behind, in the hopes that the Aztecs would not track them down, but would take all the possessions they had left behind as ample tribute, and continue on to fight someone else. It did not always work. The Aztecs needed a constant supply of captives to feed their hungry gods.


Why do scholars believe that the Aztecs, who were ruled by one all-powerful emperor, was actually government by city-state?

Compare the Aztec government to the Maya govenment. How were they the same? How were they different? 

What tribute (tax) was paid to the Aztecs by conquered tribes?

What was the one time forgiveness law?