How Did Aztec Society Differ from Inca Society? The Ultimate Comparison

How did the Aztec Society Differ from Inca Society?

It is a common misconception that the Aztec and Inca empires were one and the same. In fact, these two civilizations differed greatly in their structure, governance, and economy. This article will provide an in-depth comparison of the Aztec and Inca societies, highlighting the key ways in which they differed.

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The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican civilization that ruled over present-day Mexico from around 1300 until 1521. The Incas were a South American civilization that ruled over present-day Peru from around 1438 until 1532. While both empires were quite large, the Aztec empire was significantly larger than the Inca empire.

The Aztecs had a well-developed social hierarchy, with a large number of classes and professions. The Incas had a more centralized government, with all power concentrated in the hands of the emperor. The economy of the Aztec empire was based largely on agriculture, while the Inca economy was based largely on trade.

Let’s dive into some other prominent differences between these two great civilizations.

Size of the Aztec Empire compared to the Inca Empire

Aztec and Inca societies were two of the largest empires in the pre-Columbian Americas. The Aztecs ruled over a territory that extended from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, while the Incas controlled a vast kingdom that stretched from Ecuador to Chile. Both empires were highly centralized, with large populations that were tightly controlled by their respective rulers.

However, there were also some significant differences between the two societies. For instance, the Aztecs had a much larger population than the Incas. This is presumably because the Aztecs had a longer period of time to grow their empire; by the time the Incas rose to power, the Aztecs had already been ruling for centuries.

Additionally, the Aztec society was more stratified than the Inca society. The Aztecs had a rigorous class system, with distinct classes for nobility, priests, merchants, and peasants. The Incas also had social classes, but they were not as pronounced as those of the Aztecs.

Finally, the Aztecs were known for their brutal practices, such as human sacrifice, while the Incas were generally considered to be more peaceful. Ultimately, both societies were highly complex and vastly different from each other.

2. Military

Aztec Military Power

The Aztec and Inca societies were two of the most powerful empires in pre-Columbian America. Both societies had a strong military tradition, and both were able to expand their territories through conquest. However, there were some significant differences between the two militaries.

The Aztec society was based on a system of universal conscription, meaning that all able-bodied men were required to serve in the army. The Inca society, on the other hand, had a professional army that was drawn from the nobility.

In addition, the Aztec military was organized into units of soldiers called “Calpulchane,” while the Inca military was organized into units of soldiers called “Quechua.” Also, the Aztec military placed a greater emphasis on defense than the Inca military, which tended to focus more on offense.

3. Economy

When it comes to the economy, there are a few key differences between Aztec society and Inca society. For one, the Aztecs were heavily reliant on trade, while the Incas were more self-sufficient. The Aztecs also had a barter system, which allowed them to trade goods and services without using money. In contrast, the Incas used a quipu system, which was a form of record-keeping that involved knots and strings.

Furthermore, the Aztec economy was primarily based on agriculture, while the Inca economy was based on both agriculture and mining. And, the Aztecs had a highly centralized government that controlled all economic activity, while the Incas had a decentralized government that allowed for more regional autonomy. Despite these differences, both societies had thriving economies that provided for their people.

4. Social hierarchy

In Aztec society, there was a clear social hierarchy. At the top of the Aztec social pyramid were the emperor and his family, followed by the nobles. Below the nobles were the priests, soldiers, and merchants. At the bottom of Aztec society were the peasants, who made up the vast majority of the population. In contrast, Inca society had a more fluid social hierarchy.
While the emperor and his family were still at the top of the Inca social pyramid, nobility was determined not by birth but by merit. As a result, it was possible for someone of humble origins to rise to a position of power within Inca society.
This system allowed for greater social mobility than in Aztec society, where one’s position was largely determined by birth. However, it also meant that Inca society was more unstable, as ambitious nobles often vied for power.

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5. Religion

Representation of an Aztec God from the Aztec Religion

Most people are familiar with the Aztec civilization, one of the great Mesoamerican cultures which flourished in central Mexico prior to the Spanish Conquest. The Aztecs were a warrior society and their religious beliefs were closely intertwined with their military culture.

In contrast, the Inca civilization, which was located in present-day Peru, placed greater emphasis on agriculture and astronomical observations. While both civilizations worshipped a variety of gods and goddesses, they had different religious practices and beliefs.

The Aztecs believed that human sacrifice would please their gods and ensure continued prosperity. As a result, they engaged in ritualized combat in which the losers were sacrificed. The Incas, on the other hand, did not practice human sacrifice. Instead, they mummified their dead rulers, who were believed to become stars after death.

Both civilizations believed in an afterlife and had elaborate burial rituals. However, while the Aztecs buried their dead in subterranean chambers, the Incas entombed their elite in above-ground structures called Kanchas.

While the Aztec and Inca societies had different religions, both cultures placed a great deal of importance on worshiping their gods. Their beliefs and practices reflect the unique values and priorities of each civilization. By understanding these ancient religions, we can gain insights into the lives of these fascinating cultures.

6. Technology

Aztec society was renowned for its many advances in art, agriculture, and architecture. But when it comes to technology, the Aztecs were surprisingly behind the times. The Incas, who lived in what is now Peru, were far ahead of the Aztecs in terms of technological development.

For example, the Incas had a complex system of roads and bridges, while the Aztecs did not even have a wheel. The Incas also had a sophisticated system of irrigation, which allowed them to grow crops in the desert.

In contrast, the Aztecs relied on Chinampas, which were essentially floating gardens that were prone to drying out during periods of drought. The Incas also had a better understanding of astronomy and mathematics, and they developed a unique system of writing known as quipu.

Clearly, the Incas were Superior to the Aztecs in terms of technology. However, it is important to remember that the Aztecs had their own strengths, such as their mastery of agriculture and their intricate system of trade.

7. Language

The Aztec Alphabet

Aztec society had a complex language structure that included several dialects, while the Inca society had a single, standardized language. The Aztec language was divided into two categories: classical Nahuatl, which was the language of the Aztec elite, and popular Nahuatl, which was spoken by the majority of the Aztec people.
In addition, there were several local dialects that were spoken in different regions of the Aztec Empire. This linguistic diversity meant that Aztec society was highly stratified, with those who spoke classical Nahuatl occupying a higher social position than those who spoke popular Nahuatl or a local dialect.
In contrast, the Inca society had a single, standardized language that was spoken by all members of society. This helped to create a sense of unity and cohesion within the Inca Empire. It also made it easier for people to communicate with one another and to trade goods and services.
Unlike the Aztec language, which was divided into multiple dialects, the Inca language was relatively simple and uniform. This helped to create a more egalitarian society where everyone could communicate with one another on an equal footing.

8. Art

A representation of the Aztec Art

The art of the Aztec civilization was highly stylized and featured distinct characteristics that set it apart from other cultures of the time. In contrast, the art of the Inca civilization was more naturalistic and often focus on realistic depictions of subjects.

One of the most notable differences between Aztec and Inca art is the use of color. Aztec artists tended to use brighter, more vibrant colors in their paintings and sculptures, while Inca artists favored a more subdued palette. This difference is likely due to the different climates and geographical conditions of the two regions; the Aztec Empire was located in a tropical area, while the Inca Empire was located in a more temperate zone.

Aztec art is also characterized by its use of geometric shapes and patterns. In contrast, Inca art often features curvilinear designs and soft, organic lines. This difference reflects the different cosmologies of the two cultures; the Aztecs believed in a universe governed by strict laws, while the Incas saw their world as being alive and interconnected.

While there are many differences between Aztec and Inca art, both cultures produced beautiful works that reflect the unique worldviews of their respective civilizations.

9. Literature

While the Aztec and Inca empires were both highly advanced civilizations, their literature differed in both style and content. Aztec society was focused on war and conquest, and this is reflected in their writing. Much of Aztec literature is concerned with stories of heroic battles and great warriors. In contrast, Inca literature tended to be more peaceful and reflective.
Many Inca texts are religious in nature, containing prayers and hymns to the gods. There are also a number of works of historical importance, documenting the Inca empire and its customs. While the Aztecs and Incas had different outlooks on life, their pieces of literature reflect the respective cultures in a fascinating way.

10. Architecture

The Aztec Architecture

When it comes to architecture, the Aztec and Inca societies had some major differences. For one, the Aztecs constructed their buildings out of adobe bricks, while the Incas used stone blocks. The Aztecs also favored a more vertical style of architecture, with tall temples and pyramids, while the Incas preferred a more horizontal style, with lower buildings that were often built into the slopes of mountains.

Another key difference between the two cultures was the way they decorated their buildings. The Aztecs tended to use a lot of bright colors and patterns in their designs, while the Incas favored a more muted color palette. The Aztecs also frequently adorned their buildings with sculptures and carvings, while the Incas usually kept their architectural features more simple.

Despite these differences, both the Aztecs and the Incas produced some stunning examples of architecture that continue to impress us today. So whether you prefer the towering temples of the Aztecs or the humble dwellings of the Incas, there’s no denying that both cultures were masters of their craft.

Final Thoughts

While the Aztec and Inca empires were both highly advanced civilizations, they had some major differences in their cultures. These differences can be seen in everything from their art to their literature, and they provide a fascinating glimpse into the two cultures. So whether you’re interested in the history of these great empires, or you just want to learn more about their cultures, be sure to check out our other similar guides.

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