Slavery in Ancient Aztec, Mayan and Inca

The Aztecs

  • The Aztec empire was located in what is today known as “Mexico.” They were incredibly advanced agriculturally, having developed irrigation methods well before their European counterparts. Though the empire was vast and wealthy, many Aztecs would flee their

    country for the possibility of employment in the “new world.”

  • Ritualistic sacrifice was known to have taken place in the Aztec empire. Some estimates suggest as many as 84,000 were once killed during a four day period. Puts the Iraq war numbers into perspective, huh?
  • Games were especially important to the Aztecs. They played a sport akin to the Mesoamerican ballgame named tlachtli or ollamaliztli. It was a furious sport combining the athleticism of basketball, the brutality of football, and the strategy of baseball. However scoring was very low so it was really boring.
  • Aztecs used common items like cocoa beans and cotton for currency. When Europeans were handed the cocoa in exchange for goods they ate the cocoa thinking this was the custom. The Aztecs in turn would ingest European coins and paper money. The Europeans would laugh and the Aztecs would stare back embarrassed, sometimes crying out of shame. Eventually the Europeans, led by Hernando Cortés, would slaughter the Aztecs not ravaged by Smallpox.

Slavery in Aztec society was in some ways more humane than in Western cultures. While some slaves were punished criminals or prisoners of war, others sold themselves or their children into slavery due to economic hardship. Slaves could free themselves by repaying their purchase price. They could marry and own property, and their children were born free. 

An Aztec slave market (right) (Historia … de Nueva España). The slave has a wooden collar around his neck, which could indicate either ill treatment by the owner or bad behavior by the slave. A collared slave could gain freedom by running inside the ruler’s palace.


  • The Mayans were incredibly advanced scientifically. They developed many concepts before their European counterparts. Such concepts and advancements included absolute zero, telepathy, “to be continued…” episodes, and post-rock, and irrigation.
  • Mayan art was especially skillful and renown in foreign lands. Of particular note was the attention made to the depiction of female breasts. Large, drooping bosoms were considered a sign of fertility in Maya. Lopsided, turned out breasts were even more attractive, as well as those bespectacled by acne and hair. Take that, Hefner!
  • Like the Aztecs, the Mayans sacrificed humans, including children who they believed to be pure. Too bad they didn’t have Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” on the case!


  • The Incas dominated a large area of land in what is now modern day Peru. They lacked a written language, but were pioneers in early phonograph recordings, predating Thomas Edison by hundreds of years. Early Inca 45s are prized by music snobs for their raw production value. They can fetch up to twenty bucks on eBay.
  • Francisco Pizarro is believed to have conquered the Incas with 180 men, 1 cannon and only 27 horses. He often needed to talk his way out of potential confrontations that could have easily wiped out his party. Try that against a suicide bomber in Iraq!!!
  • Unlike the Mayans and Aztecs, the Incas were quite agriculturally advanced, having developed a system of irrigation to rival their European counterparts.


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