When it comes to examining ancient civilizations, one of the main ways is through an analysis of the artifacts that were left behind by these civilizations. While many of the artifacts of ancient civilizations are often destroyed when they are concurred, there are still artifacts which remain. These artifacts of contain symbols which show up in a variety of different ways within the civilization. Two societies in which symbols were found throughout their culture is that of the Aztecs and Incas. While both of these civilizations were conquered leading to the fall of their respective empires, the artifacts of these cultures are filled with different types of symbols which were politically important (Conrad and Demarest). Analysis of these symbols can help us gain an understanding of the type of society that existed. One symbol which was of particular importance to the Aztec culture was that of the Eagle, and understanding where it was used can help us to understand the social structure of the Aztec culture.
A symbol in this instance is an embodiment of an aspect of the culture. It is the physical representation of an aspect of the culture and can have different meaning in different cultures. in contrast, a sign is form of communication, such as a character used in language. Finally, a culture is defined the common beliefs, practices and customs of a population. The Aztecs were a pre-Columbian society based in central Mexico. The capital of the Aztec empire was known as Tenochtitlan, which in modern day is where Mexico City is. One of the major components of Aztec culture was a complex and diverse mythology combined with a variety of different religious traditions. One of these traditions was that of practicing human sacrifice. In addition, the Aztecs were known for their architecture and their artistry. Within the Aztec society the Eagle was often displayed both in artistic paintings and throughout much of their architecture. In the Aztec culture, the eagle was often used with respect to battle.
The eagle warriors were a special forces unit of infantry soldiers in the Aztec army known as cuauhocelotl which is derived from the words for eagle and jaguar warrior. There were remains were often preserved in a special vessel: “This condensation of battlefield to city is further represented in the use of the ritual eagle vessel, the cuauhxicalli, a circular wooden or stone vessel in which the heart and blood of the sacrificial warrior is placed. In a dis- play of the spreading of charismatic power, the vessel is carried throughout the city and symbolically saturates” (Carrasco). These warriors were the bravest soldiers. As well, unlike many of the other ranks of the military which were restricted to the nobility, commoners were occasionally a part of this unit. They were highly regarded and feared throughout the Aztec society (Trejo).
The eagle was a brave animal. It was also considered to be courageous and fearless. It is for this reason that it was applied to the best soldiers in the Aztec army. The eagle was found throughout Aztec architecture. It was used to represent the sun and the warriors and was found on many structures, like the Aztec House of the Eagles. This building was used by the eagle warriors to conduct rituals. But, after the conquest of the Aztec empire by the Spanish, much of the architecture featuring eagles, representing their elite warriors, was destroyed (Moctezuma).
In contrast to the Aztecs the Inca were a society which was found in the western cost of South America, in the area which is currently known as Ecuador to the south of Chile. The Inca’s capital was based in Peru. Within the Inca empire, although the Inca’s had their own distinct culture, regions which were conquered could keep their culture in exchange for loyalty to the empire. However, the Inca Empire operated with one official language (Patterson).
Unlike the Aztecs in which the eagle was representative of warriors, the Inca did not associate the eagle with warriors. In fact, the eagle was not a prominent symbol. While there has been mention of a prophecy known as the prophecy of the Eagle and Condor which is often implicated as being attributed to the Incas. However, the literature surrounding this prophecy indicates that there is evidence to substantiate this claim (Wihak et al.). As such, while the eagle appears to have been a symbol of great importance for the Aztecs it was not of great importance to the Incas. When researching symbols used by the Inca army, there does not to be one symbol associated with the whole army. This is likely because the Inca army was multicultural. However, these cultures did not mix. Instead each unit was made up of a single culture. While there were elite units, like that of the eagle warriors, there does not appear to be a particular animal symbol associated with these units (Patterson).
Overall, when it comes to understanding an individual culture, one method is to research one of the symbols. In Aztec culture, the eagle was an important symbol used to describe brave and fearless individuals. As well it was used throughout their architecture as a symbol for bravery. In contrast, the eagle was not a prominent symbol within the Inca culture. As such this can provide insight into the mindset of each of these two cultures. The Aztec warriors were brave like the eagle, and there were many ritualistic practices surrounding this group of warriors. In contrast the Inca army, which was multicultural, did not use the eagle as a prominent symbol.