5 Important Mesoamerican Civilizations That Existed Before the Aztecs

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5 Important Mesoamerican Civilizations That Existed Before the Aztecs

The Aztecs come to mind first when it comes to Mesoamerican civilization. This civilization has great significance in history. However, there were many civilizations that lived in these lands before the Aztecs. These Mesoamerican civilizations lived in advanced cities with incredible cultural artifacts. Today we will take a short excursion with you into history and talk about the most important civilizations of Central America. Let’s examine the details together.

1. Olmec

The Olmecs lived between 1200 BC and 400 BC in the Gulf of Mexico, in the modern states of Tabasco and Veracruz. Although this civilization is very famous, we actually don’t know much about it. In fact, “Olmec” may not have been the original name for this civilization. This name, which means “rubber people”, was given to them by the Aztecs. The Olmecs are believed to have turned the latex from the rubber tree into everyday objects. They are also believed to have invented the popular Mesoamerican “ball game” played with rubber balls.

The Olmecs were a well-developed people for their time, with their own complex writing systems, calendars, urban planning, and ritual sites. Yet we know very little about their religious beliefs, their divine places, and the statues that adorn them. The most recognizable artifacts of the Olmec civilization are the colossal carved heads, 1.5 to 3.5 meters in height.

Olmec settlements in Central America indicate that this civilization had an extensive trade network. Artifacts made of Guatemalan jade and obsidian have been found at Olmec sites. The influence of the Olmec civilization continued in the region for centuries, influencing future cultures in many ways, including the Mayans and Aztecs.

2. Teotihuacan


As the Aztecs expand their empire, they discover a mysterious city that was abandoned centuries ago. This discovery surprised them so much that they believed that the people who built the city had divine powers. That is why they called the ruins Teotihuacan, or “the place where the gods were created.”

Unfortunately, we know very little about the Teotihuacan people, who settled the area around 100 BC and reached their heyday 500 years later. The Grid System City, with more than 5,000 buildings, is believed to be home to a population of between one hundred and twenty thousand and two hundred thousand.

While the Teotihuacan civilization was at its peak, living conditions were also good. The townspeople lived in apartments with whitewashed floors and murals.

When Teotihuacan mysteriously collapsed around AD 550, the townspeople may have burned the city to the ground. Thus, the secrets of civilization were buried in history forever. At the present time, unfortunately, we cannot read the inscriptions of this civilization, we do not understand their religion, we do not even know if they had a certain ruler, or an elite class, or an army. As archaeological studies and research continue, we may one day find answers to these questions.

3. The Zapotec


The Zapotec civilization, which flourished in the southern highlands of Mexico, was founded around 500 BC. The Zapotecs established trade relations, first with the Olmecs and later with the Maya people. The capital of civilization in Monte Alban was strategically located. The Zapotecs were also very successful in the fields of architecture and engineering. Moreover, they had a highly organized management system. They formed the first version of the calendar and the syllabary writing system for the emblem used by the Mayans and Aztecs in later centuries.

It is not known why the Zapotec civilization disappeared. But experts believe that famine and interstate violence may be the cause. Among the reasons was the rise of the Mixtec civilization, which captured and occupied many of the Zapotec lands, and the later arrival of the Aztecs, who subdued both.

4. Mixtec

Early settlements of Mixtec societies date back to 1500 BC, but civilization really began to flourish after 500 AD. Although this civilization called itself Ñuu Dzavui, meaning “Rain Nation,” the Aztecs and later Spanish conquistadors referred to them as the Mixtecs, or “people from the land of the clouds.”

For 1,000 years after the rise of the Mixtec civilization, they continued to expand their kingdom. What distinguished the civilization from other Mesoamerican cultures were the deerskin scrolls. Apart from the Maya codices, these Mixtec codices are the only original historical documents to survive the Spanish occupation. These documents contain invaluable information about civilization.

The Mixtec city-states were united under a single kingdom in the eleventh century. After this development, they extended into the Oaxaca Valley. By 1350 AD, they controlled many Zapotec regions, including Mount Alban, and became the primary power there. The rule of the Mixtec people did not last long, as a new force was coming from the north.

5. Yeasts

The Mayan origins remain unclear. But as far as we know, this civilization arose between 1500 BC and 200 BC in the north of what is now Belize.

The Maya flourished with the Olmec civilization. These two civilizations have been trading goods and ideas for centuries. After the fall of the Olmecs, the Maya continued this exchange with the Teotihuacan civilization.

Despite being one of the oldest civilizations established in Mesoamerica, the Maya civilization only reached its peak in 200 AD. At the time their empires included more than 40 cities stretching across Belize, Guatemala and the Yucatan Peninsula with a population of about 2 million. These towns and settlements were connected to each other by a series of limestone roads called sacbeob. Since fresh water was scarce in the jungle, they used subterranean tanks, irrigation canals, and a rainwater management system.

From AD 900, the power of the Maya greatly diminished and their cities were abandoned. The Maya preserved remarkable manuscripts full of their history. Unfortunately, they were destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors who were responsible for the downfall of this great civilization.

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