General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 22 Sep 2017/11 Vulture
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Professor Michael Coe

Question for September 2010

Were there any laws governing when you could get married and have children? Asked by Fleetville Junior School. Chosen and answered by Professor Michael Coe.

The famous wedding scene, Codex Mendoza folio 61; note the bride being carried to the ceremony at night (bottom section)
The famous wedding scene, Codex Mendoza folio 61; note the bride being carried to the ceremony at night (bottom section) (Click on image to enlarge)

Yes, there were such laws. Marriages were arranged by go-betweens, the two sets of parents had to agree, and the ceremony took place at night when the couple sat together on a mat, and their cape and dress were tied together.

Further information provided by fellow panellist Dr. Caroline Dodds Pennock adapted from her book ‘Bonds of Blood’:-

For most young men and women, marriage was a key moment in their development to adulthood and a time of personal commitment to a lifelong partner. This was not only a moment of personal change but also a time of great significance for family and community.

Courting in full swing...
Courting in full swing... (Click on image to enlarge)

Although young people may have had chances to fall in love, families and influential members of the community wielded considerable influence in the choice of a wife/husband and in how the marriage was organised. When a mother or father decided that their son was ‘already matured’, they broached the subject of marriage to him, saying ‘Let us find thee a woman. Seek permission: take leave. Let the masters of the youths, the rulers of the youths [school headteachers] learn of it.’

The age at which a young man was considered ready for marriage is not completely clear, but usually seems to have been at around 20. The close supervision of young men and women makes it unlikely that most Aztecs selected their own partners through gradually loving courtship. Marriage without parents’ permission was extremely rare.

Marriage was so central to Aztec culture that ‘if a youth did not marry after having passed the age for marriage, he was dismissed from the house’ (the warrior house of which the youth was a member) and of whose elders permission was requested for marriage. Marriage appears to have been a condition of entrance into full membership of the community.

Picture sources:-
• Image from the Codex Mendoza scanned from our own copy of the 1936 James Cooper Clark facsimile edition, London
• Photo of couple on a swing (Museum of Xalapa) by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

Professor Michael Coe has answered 5 questions altogether:

(Talking of jigsaw puzzle pieces) why do there seem to be two 5-number domino pieces at the bottom of the Movement sign in the middle of the Sunstone?

Were there any laws governing when you could get married and have children?

Did the Aztecs have ‘cenotes’ [sacred wells or sinkholes] or caves?

If you’re so into Aztec stuff, would you like to have lived in Aztec times?

Who invented the 20-day calendar?

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