Aztec History – Bibliography

George Vaillant published “Aztecs of Mexico ” (Doubleday & Co.) in 1944, and in it he attempted to present a comprehensive history that included cultural, economic, religious and social aspects. As can be expected, this work and many of its interpretations have been superceded by much subsequent scholarship, but it is still useful for its very “broad view” of the subject.
A useful and relatively recent trilogy that culminates with an analysis of the Aztecs as successors to a Toltec cultural heritage is Nigel Davies’ series:
1. The Toltecs Until the Fall of Tula (1977)
2. The Toltec Heritage: From the Fall of Tula to the rise of Tenochtitlan (1980)
3. The Aztec Empire: The Toltec Resurgence (1987)
The series is published by the University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, OK).
A similar analysis in scope, though more terse in presentation, is Brian Fagan’s “The Aztecs ” (1984, Freeman, NY). In the same category as a useful general overview of the subject is Frances Berdan’s “The Aztecs of Central Mexico: An Imperial Society ” (1982, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, NY), a college textbook.
These modern syntheses draw heavily on Spanish and Aztec sources dating to the period of the conquest. The number of such sources is truly huge and its examination is giving a large body of scholars a full life’s work. Even though such sources are voluminous and ponderous, and their study requires specialized knowledge in such fields as archaic Spanish, classical Nahuatl, colonial law, etc., there are at least a few that are de rigeur for persons attempting to understand Aztec history. Foremost among these would be Fray Bernardino de Sahagún’s “Co’dice Florentino, Historia General de las Cosas de la Nueva España .” Sahagún was a Franciscan friar who set about collecting as much of the culture of the vanquished Aztecs as possible. He worked with fellow friars versed in Nahuatl and with “informants” who were from the learned echelons of Aztec society, most of whom lived in and understood the period immediately preceding the conquest. The breadth of the work is numbing (ethnology, theology, history, plant and animal systematics, cosmology, philosophy, natural healing, mythology, etc.) and the original is liberally sprinkled with much commentary expressing a strict catholic judgement of the culture described. Abridged and sanitized versions abound in Spanish, but for English readers the recommended way to approach this work is via Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J. O. Anderson’s translation “Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain ” (1950-75, Univ. of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, 12 vols.)
Other sources that are indispensible to understand Aztec history, but which must be read with a discerning eye are Chimalpain’s “Diferentes Historias Originales de los Reinos de Culhuacan y México y de Otras Provincias ,” Hernando Cortez’ “Cartas de Relación ” (a series of five letters written by the conqueror to king Charles V, published in Spanish by Porrúa Hermanos and in English by Norton & Co. as translated by J. Bayard Morris), Diego Duran’s “Book of the Gods and Rites and the Ancient Calendar ” (translated by Doris Heyden and Fernando Horcasitas in a 1971 edition by the Univ. of Oklahoma Press), and Fernando Alvarado Tezozomoc’s “Crónica Mexicayotl ” (1975, UNAM, Mexico City).
A classic analysis of the Aztec mind is Miguel Leon-Portilla’s “Aztec Thought and Culture ” (Univ. Oklahoma Press, 1963; several printings), a translation of the author’s 1956 Spanish original: “La Filosofía Nahuatl ” (UNAM, Mexico City).
An equally classic work examining existance in the time of the Aztecs is Jacques Soustelle’s “La Vida Cotidiana de los Aztecas en Vísperas de la Conquista ” (1956, Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico City, many printings), a translation from the original French work published in 1955.
Given the importance of art forms as expression of the Aztec mind and worldview, a useful, recent, and very powerful presentation of this aspect of Aztec culture is Esther Pasztory’s “Aztec Art ” (1983, Abrams, NY), published after, and incorporating much of the knowledge derived from, the 1978 discovery and excavation of the foundations of the Aztec Templo Mayor in downtown Mexico City.
There is also an abundance of work on Aztec literature as a source of insight into Aztec thought and history, and much scholarship has equally been devoted to various aspects of Aztec history postconquest (just one example is an analysis of Zapata’s agrarian uprising during the 20th century Mexican revolution as linked to Aztec views and customs of land tenancy; q.v. Jesús Sotelo Inclán’s “Raíz y Razón de Zapata ,” 1979).