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The Aztecs were a bloodthirsty race who came to central Mexico in the 14th Century and conquered the indigenous civilisation of the Toltecs. The Aztecs built a massive city, Tenochtitlan, as their capital. (The present-day Mexico City was later built on the same site). The period of Aztec rule was destined to be a short one – less than 200 years later, another equally bloodythirsty race arrived – the Aztecs were conquered by the Spanish, who destroyed their nation with a combination of blind luck and local support from the people oppressed by the Aztecs.
The Aztecs spoke a language called Náhuatl. One of the characteristic features of this language is the -tl- combination used as a single consonant. This can make Náhuatl look very hard to pronounce, particularly when it occurs at the start or end of a word, such as in the word tlatlatilcuahuitl which means 'firewood'. The English words tomato and chocolate both come directly from Náhuatl, in which they were tomatl and chocolatl.
The Aztecs claimed in their legends that they came from a place called Aztlán. This was a shortening of the Náhuatl phrase áztatl tlantli which means 'the place of cranes/herons.' It has a secondary meaning - 'place of whiteness'. Where exactly Aztlán was located is not known. It was supposed to be north of Mexico City, an island in the sea. Some people locate it in north-western Mexico.
The Náhuatl for a resident of Aztlán was Aztecatl. This was translated into Spanish as Azteca and from there into English as Aztec, hence our name for the people themselves.
A New Aztlán
The United States and Mexico fought a war in 1846-1848. In the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo, which marked the end of this war, some parts of Mexico were ceded to the United States, and Mexico gave up its claim on other areas which had been in dispute. The areas affected include the modern states of California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Eastern Colorado and Texas. Some people refer to these states as Aztlán and have proposed that they should be handed back to Mexico or set up as an independent republic. With the growth in the number of Spanish-speaking people in these states, the Aztlán movement may be something to watch in the future.