General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 24 Nov 2017/9 Rain
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Food stores

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Danny, school pupil: Where did the Aztecs store their food? (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Stone sculpture representing the storage of corn/maize
Stone sculpture representing the storage of corn/maize

The short answer is ‘in granaries’.
Famine was a constant worry to the Aztecs and their rulers. It was famine, rather than malnutrition, that proved the biggest threat to the population. Hunger was a common fact of life during the year, especially during June and July, the season between the two harvests. Worse, there could always be emergencies due to swarms of locusts and/or rodents (rats and mice), or particularly heavy rain or snow storms.
Feeding a valley-wide population of some 1 million people was no joke, and a four-year drought around the year 1450 ended in a disastrous famine. At that time, one report tells of the three rulers of the ‘Triple Alliance’ government working together to distribute the saved-up stores of grain of 10 years and more.

Filling a granary, Florentine Codex Book 7
Filling a granary, Florentine Codex Book 7 (Click on image to enlarge)

In the case of their most important crop, corn/maize, a ‘typical’ Aztec farmer harvested ripe corn cobs in September, plucking the ears and tying them up in bundles. ‘Some of the shelled maize was kept in jars around the house, and the rest was stored in great bins made of planks or of wickerwork plastered with mortar’ (Warwick Bray).

Exhibition model of wooden corn storage bin, Mexico City
Exhibition model of wooden corn storage bin, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

According to Book 8 of the famous Florentine Codex, an entire building in the city of Tenochtitlan, called the Petlacalco, was used to house these food storage bins. The building had its own full-time official, called a ‘Keeper of the Storehouse’.
The Codex records that more than 2,000 measures of dried maize kernels were kept there - enough, apparently, to give a 20-year supply to the city. Other bins contained dried beans, chía (grain), amaranth seeds, coarse salt, chiles and squash seeds. Most of this food supply was, as shown in the Codex Mendoza, probably collected by the Aztecs as tribute.

Maize and beans/chia storage bins - tribute from Coyolapan - in the Codex Mendoza, folio 44r
Maize and beans/chia storage bins - tribute from Coyolapan - in the Codex Mendoza, folio 44r (Click on image to enlarge)

It was in these large food storage bins or huts, by the way, that pregnant women had to stay during the night of the ‘New Fire Ceremony’, to avoid being turned into demons! At least this all-important Aztec festival only happened once every 52 years...!

Sources of information:-
Everyday Life of the Aztecs by Warwick Bray (Dorset Press, 1968)
Daily Life of the Aztecs by Jacques Soustelle (Stanford University Press, 1961)
Handbook to Life in the Aztec World by Manuel Aguilar-Moreno (Facts on File, 2006)
Florentine Codex, Book 8: facsimile edition by Arthur Anderson and Charles Dibble, (Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1953)
The Codex Mendoza, Vol. II, by Frances F. Berdan and Patricia Rieff Anawalt (University of California Press, 1992)

Picture sources:-
• Stone sculpture in National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City: photo by Ana Laura Landa/Mexicolore
• Image from the Codex Mendoza scanned from our own copy of the 1938 James Cooper Clark facsimile edition, London
• Image from the Florentine Codex scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994
• Model corn bins: photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

Why did the Aztecs worship maize?

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