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Aztec slaves, Florentine Codex

Basic Aztec facts: AZTEC SLAVES

Yes, the Mexica (Aztecs) had slaves, but they weren’t really like slaves the way we think of them.... (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: A mother and son who ended up as slaves after their town was conquered by the Aztecs; Codex Mendoza
Pic 1: A mother and son who ended up as slaves after their town was conquered by the Aztecs; Codex Mendoza (Click on image to enlarge)

Main points:-
• You WEREN’T born a slave
• Slavery was more of a punishment or penalty for something you’d done wrong
• The children of slaves were free
• Slave owners owned the labour, NOT the individual person
• Slave owners were obliged by law to feed, house and clothe slaves and to treat them fairly
• Slaves could marry freely, own goods, even a house and land and their own slaves.

Pic 2: A Mexica slave is sold at market; Codex Mendoza
Pic 2: A Mexica slave is sold at market; Codex Mendoza (Click on image to enlarge)

• Slaves were NOT used for public labour works, more as personal servants for their owners
• A person might voluntarily become a slave, in times of famine, or to pay off a debt. Once the debt was paid, he was legally free. So it was a temporary status
• As a slave you couldn’t be sold without your agreement!
• You might have to become a slave if you got into trouble as a thief, gambler, or you were a ‘political prisoner’, captured in war (see pic 1).

Pic 3: Run for it! Illustration by Felipe Dávalos: spot the young slave trying to escape...
Pic 3: Run for it! Illustration by Felipe Dávalos: spot the young slave trying to escape... (Click on image to enlarge)

• Slaves were graded. If you were unruly or disobedient, or captured in war, you could be downgraded to a ’wooden-collar slave’
• In that case, you COULD be sold at a market (pic 2), to be offered to the gods
• Slaves cost between 20 and 40 cotton capes, depending on their condition and skills
• Slaves were given a sporting chance at the market: if you could escape to the ruler’s palace without being caught, you were FREE!

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on May 13th 2020

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