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Curfew in Tenochtitlan for the Aztecs, Florentine Codex


For most Mexica (Aztecs) night-time was for staying at home! Fighting battles, travelling, trading, studying, working, playing games - none of these things generally went on at night, when dark and sinister forces might be lurking. At sunset (around 6 pm) the boom of large drums and conch shell trumpets signalled the end of the working day - and this was not just in Tenochtitlan but in all Aztec towns. All markets closed for the day, local traders upped sticks and headed home, and visitors had to find a bed for the night in local hostels. Chroniclers commented on how a heavy silence fell on the community... (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Of course people couldn’t instantly get home. It’s likely the 6 pm signal was a first warning, to give you time to pack up and find your way home - which could be quite far from where you worked. A later ‘blast’ was probably sounded around 9 pm, by which time you HAD to be indoors - what we call a curfew. This made it easier for the state (government, police...) to ensure that all was quiet, and the city safe from intruders. As the Aztec empire expanded, more and more enemies were made, so security was a big issue. Book 8 of the Florentine Codex stresses the role of the ruler himself (he can be seen in the picture) in this:-
’He kept careful vigil... He himself sometimes set forth by night, circled the city, and beheld what was done... For the ruler slept not, nor any of the Mexicans’. Well we reckon that’s a bit OTT, but it shows just how seriously security was taken!

Both in the ruler’s palace as in officials’ houses all over the city, fires were kept alight all night, and a small army of youths took turn to keep guard.
’None slept in his [own] home. The task of the youths was to go into the forest, in order that watch be kept within the city; for nightly there was light and fires were burned; thus was guard maintained...’

Historia de la Vida Cotidiana en México: 1 Mesoamérica y los Ambitos Indígenas de la Nueva España by Pablo Escalante Gonzalbo, Mexico City, 2004
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.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Aug 18th 2016

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Mexicolore replies: Fair point. Perhaps we should have put ‘around the middle of the evening...’