General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 27 May 2019/12 Rabbit
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Dr. Caroline Dodds Pennock

Question for March 2017

Did they allow divorce? Asked by Ibstock Place School. Chosen and answered by Dr. Caroline Dodds Pennock.

Aztec judges at work; Florentine Codex, Book 8
Aztec judges at work; Florentine Codex, Book 8 (Click on image to enlarge)

Aztecs were allowed to get divorced, but there was quite a lot of family and social pressure for couples to try and sort their problems out and stay together if they possibly could. A Spanish judge, Alonso de Zorita, writing after the conquest, even claimed that the Aztecs had special rooms set aside for judges to hear and decide on ‘connubial [marital] disputes and divorce’. If a couple wanted to get divorced, they went in front of a judge, who would try and encourage the husband and wife to resolve their differences, but if this proved impossible then they were given a divorce.
Before marriage (at least in the case of richer families), documents were drawn up listing the assets which the husband and wife each brought to their partnership. These ‘prenuptial contracts’ were carefully saved by their parents and their district leaders so that, in the event of a divorce, the couple’s property could be fairly divided according to their initial contribution. Because parents were expected to teach children appropriate skills and behaviour, any boys stayed with their father, and the girls went with their mother, so that the parents could carry on bringing up their children properly after the divorce.

The fact that men and women were treated the same way during a divorce is something I find particularly interesting, because it shows that men and women had equal rights under the law (something which is historically quite unusual). Both men and women were allowed to ask for a divorce, and both could remarry freely after their separation, apparently without shame.
It’s hard to tell exactly how common divorce was in Tenochtitlan, but the Dominican friar Diego Durán suggested it was ‘common amongst the natives’, which suggests that it did happen reasonably often, and certainly more than in sixteenth-century Spanish-Catholic society.

Image from the Florentine Codex (original in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence) scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994.

Dr. Caroline Dodds Pennock has answered just this one question

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