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Aztec criminal being strangled, Florentine Codex

Basic Aztec facts: AZTEC PUNISHMENTS

What were the consequences of being a naughty child, a haughty priest or a wayward adult in Aztec society? The Aztecs lived in the Valley of Mexico from 1325 to 1521. They were highly organised, and had firm rules and laws that people could not break! Let’s find out what they were and how they might be punished. (Written by Julia Flood/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: An Aztec mum punishes her daughter by making her sweep the house clean at night!
Pic 1: An Aztec mum punishes her daughter by making her sweep the house clean at night! (Click on image to enlarge)

From an early age, Aztec children knew the value of family and hard work. They would learn to do daily chores at home with their mums and dads. From the age of four, boys would carry water, buy goods at market, and learn fishing and farming from their fathers. Girls were taught by their mothers to weave, grind corn, make tortillas, and look after the house. All this was quite tiring, but kids couldn’t rest too long! Parents annoyed by their child’s laziness or lack of skills might punish them...

Pic 2: An Aztec father tells off his son by threatening him with cactus spines
Pic 2: An Aztec father tells off his son by threatening him with cactus spines (Click on image to enlarge)

Punishing the young
Young children under the age of 10 were usually forgiven for mistakes like oversleeping, gossiping, mumbling, and dressing shabbily. Still, their parents might threaten them with the sharp spines of a maguey cactus. See the spines here (pic 2), lying between father and son...

Pic 3: An Aztec mother pierces her daughter’s wrist with cactus spines
Pic 3: An Aztec mother pierces her daughter’s wrist with cactus spines (Click on image to enlarge)

At the age of nine, a child might be pierced by the spines – you can see a girl’s wrist being pricked here (pic 3)... The Aztecs thought children under the age of ten couldn’t commit really bad crimes but if they did, their parents could take them to court! By twelve, children could be punished for their bad behaviour in a variety of ways. This son (pic 4) is lying naked and bound while his father tells him off. The boy’s tears show that he has learned his lesson.

Pic 4: An Aztec father ticks off his son while the boy is forced to lie on damp soil
Pic 4: An Aztec father ticks off his son while the boy is forced to lie on damp soil (Click on image to enlarge)

If you look at the picture below (pic 5) you will see a boy being held directly over smoking chillies. The girl to his right is threatened with the chillies by her mother. Both are crying – perhaps from feeling bad after what they’d done or maybe from the smoke burning their eyes!

Pic 5: The acrid smoke of chillies burns your eyes! An Aztec mum and dad hold their children over burning hot peppers
Pic 5: The acrid smoke of chillies burns your eyes! An Aztec mum and dad hold their children over burning hot peppers (Click on image to enlarge)

Aztec society believed in obedience, honesty, politeness, respect, moderation, modesty and energy which were seen as moral ideals. Adults and children alike were subject to them. Although it may look like rebellious children received tough treatment from their parents, we must remember that punishments were not used often and only in order to make them good citizens and workers.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on May 11th 2014

emoticon Q. How do we know Aztec teenage boys obeyed their dads?
A. They were bound to...!

Learn more about adult crimes and punishments...

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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: The Aztecs had the general idea that if you wronged someone, you had to pay back the ‘value’ of what you’d done: for instance, if you stole something from someone in the market, you would be made to work for that person until you’d paid back the price of what you’d stolen. Then you were free.
If you committed a serious crime, like killing someone, you’d be stoned to death - grim!
They were super strict, but at least seemed to have a notion of ‘fair play’ or ‘fair’s fair’...