For the Aztecs, violence was all-meaningful and sacrifice was required for life. The Aztecs believed that violence was strongly associated with land because land satisfied the gods. Mesoamerican conception of land valued place rather than space. The Aztecs were dependent on the land and had a reciprocal relationship with it. This relationship involved violent acts, such as human sacrifice. The co-relationship the Aztecs shared with land influenced their interpretation of violence, because land intertwined with violence in their daily rituals and religious practices.
Mesoamerican violence was connected to the significance of landscape in Aztec religion and life. The Valley of Mexico was a dangerous and swampy area, which consisted of caves and lakes. Not only was the land a source of imagination, the landscape inspired the Aztecs and shaped how they thought about religion. Although the landscape was mysterious and dangerous, it had great implications to Aztec rituals and daily activities. Author Philip P. Arnold writes in his book Eating Landscape: Aztec and European Occupation of Tlalocan: “Occupation of the land was thus organized through human ritual actions. Ritual occupation was cosmogonic because it participated in those processes perpetually involved in the ongoing regeneration of life” (Arnold, 130). These human ritual actions involved violence because human sacrifice was necessary for the ongoing regeneration of life.
The surrounding mountains also had a great significance to human rituals. The Aztecs perceived landscape as literally edible and eating. Arnold writes: “The human-food-mountains were then arranged in particular patterns so that they would represent a living landscape…these altars found the focus of ritual activity, while at the same time articulating the conditions of occupying the valley. Ritual feeding at the altars underscored an appropriate mode of occupying Tlalocan” (Arnold, 139). Landscape was a pertinent aspect of Aztec rituals. Its orientation dictated ritual activity and it was largely incorporated with the violent consumption in ritual feeding.
Although the Aztecs were dependent on water for food and sites of religious rituals, water was violent and involved consumption. Arnold writes, “Water that originated in the untamed world of Tlaloc consumed the land and people in its descent to the lake system” (Arnold, 145). Aztecs believed that water literally consumed people into the earth. Water was also associated with human sacrifice.
Another Aztec correspondence involving violence was the relationship between consumption and their agricultural system. Aztecs believed that human existence paralleled the agricultural system because each required creation and destruction. In the Aztec’s agriculture system, agricultural fruits, such as corn, were harvested and destroyed. Arnold writes: “Just as the human representatives were sacrificed, divided, and consumed, so too were the mountain images of food destroyed, made hard, and consumed” (Arnold, 111). There was a correspondence between agriculture life and consumption, and human life and consumption. There was also a correspondence between child sacrifice and corn. Arnold explains that “the children sacrificed were referred to as human paper streamers…some paper streamers may have been surmounted by a representation of a human head symbolizing the children” (Arnold, 81). Human paper streamers represented plant life and the upcoming planting season. Similarly, children were considered the fruit of the people and of the earth. In order to maintain life through agriculture, people sacrificed children to the gods.
The Aztec consumption of land was incorporated with their every day life and ritual practices. Violence and the landscape were incorporated with almost every facet of Aztec life because they are key components in this reciprocal and cyclical relationship that the Aztecs shared with the landscape, the gods, and the cosmos.