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What is Hegemony?

The popularity and fame of the Aztecs are unrivalled even in the current day. However, the empire was once a group of Nahuatl-speaking hunters and gatherers in Aztlan, Mexico. It is rumoured that Aztecs wandered for a long time till they settled in Tenochtitlan because of God’s sign. The area, which was rich in resources, food, and water became the basis for their bountiful empire. With time, the Aztecs became proficient in creating innovative technology, powerful political alliances, a strong military base, and trade practices, all of which contributed to building a wealthy and powerful nation. This is the reason why when Hernan Cortes first tried to conquer the Tenochtitlan and the Aztec Empire, he failed miserably until the final acquisition and the subsequent fall of the Aztec Empire. This paper will look at the Hegemonic government of the Aztec Empire along with the strengths and limitations of such governance in the context of the Aztec Empire.

Hegemony can be defined as the control of the political, economic, and military resources of one state over other conquered states. In other words, it denoted the ascendency of power in other states or governments and has been called indirect imperial rule over other states. Hegemony allows the dominant power to control the cultural, political, economic, and religious aspects of the inferior state, absolving their control. In cultural aspects, the dominant power can control the social norms and social structure of a state. This could also include exerting control over the working class by those in power. Economic hegemony involves a state’s control over the economic resources and funds of the subordinate state. Political hegemony is the most direct hegemonic control. It includes the political control of the weaker state, which includes both internal and external politics. The inferior country is then deluded to a position where it only becomes a supplier for the dominating state. This form is harmful to the submissive state as they are not allowed the freedom of actions and rights. It becomes more harmful when the control becomes parasitic on the weaker country. 

The Aztec Empire, also known as the Triple Alliance, had a hegemonic government, which enjoyed indirect control over the smaller tribes and people. The Aztec Empire was comprised of smaller city-states called Alteptl. Each city-state was ruled by a leader and an administration, keeping the Emperor or the Huey Tlatoani at the supreme power. The tlatoani was the supreme owner of the land and all the provinces, who received the tributes and handled the people and buildings related to the cultural aspects, military, and government of the empire. Although the Aztec Empire was ethnically diverse, the people had to give in a certain amount of tribute to the central government. The government of the Aztec Empire did not require any control over their lands as long as the territories and the provinces paid the tribute, support the government and the empire, and include the Aztec god, Huitzilopochtli, in their religion. The territories gained their income from agriculture, which was bountiful because of the rich land and easy access to water. The empire was also not connected to all the distant parts of the land which made it harder to contact the central government at Tenochtitlan, nonetheless, the state-maintained control through other means. The state used their military and political power to control the rise of its power as well as for maintaining control. Hassig also believes that military expansion is an important source of control over the territories to maintain their submissive attitude towards the state. Moreover, the “perception of power” through military strength rather than actual power was an important factor that allowed the central government to maintain the same coercion the government. Moreover, the strategy of the Aztecs to control the land was through the “duck shoot” strategy. This method ensured that the state first targets the smaller territories before conquering them. Thus, the emperor maintained tight control over the provinces, ensuring the continuation of the hegemonic government.

Hegemonic Government of the Aztec Empire

The hegemonic government of the Aztec Empire allowed for many advantages for the Empire. Firstly, the government controlled large areas of land through hegemony. This allowed the empire to grow to exponential heights that it is famed to be. Not only the land but also the emperors and rulers were dedicated to growing the Aztec Empire. In turn, the Aztec Empire provided protection and many other amenities to the Aztec government. Secondly, the empire allowed each of the provinces to have their independence as long as they paid the tribute. This relationship between the city-states and the emperor allowed both of them to have freedom from each other. Rather than experiencing regular interference from the emperor, the provinces had the freedom to rule in their area according to their choice. Thirdly and finally, this freedom allowed for various ethnic groups to develop freely in the Aztec Empire. The Aztecs were ethnically diverse because of the ethnicity of the various groups under the control of the empire. The subsequent result transformed the empire to become an amalgamation of a utopian state with many cultures living freely. Moreover, with the inclusion of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli and their religious practices, the city-states became more diverse and culturally rich. Overall, the city-states and the Aztec Empire received many advantages due to their association with each other. These methods are politically empowering but degenerative to the weaker state or government.

While there are many advantages to the hegemonic power of the Aztecs, there were some limitations of hegemony in the Aztec Empire. Firstly, while the land conquered was huge and allowed the Aztecs to gain much power, it was still against the wishes of the provinces who could not possibly want to lose their freedom and identity against the bigger culture of the Aztecs. Further, while the Aztec government could have provided many amenities to the provinces, the emperor was more focused on attaining a higher tribute from the provinces. Secondly, the condition set by the government was harsh and culturally pervasive. It was offensive for some of the states to ensure the continuation of the religious practices for the god, Huitzilopochtli. Some states were also offended because of these religious practices as they were culturally different from theirs. Finally, the show-off of the military power was threatening as well as persistent to the city-states. This left many of the people belonging to smaller provinces feeling dissatisfied with the treatment of the Aztecs towards them. This is one of the reasons that the Aztec Empire diminished. After the first Spanish invasion, Cortes collaborated with local Aztec provinces that wanted to rebel against the tax collectors. The forces of the Tlaxcalan added their military power of about 10,000 to 20,000 soldiers along with that of the Spanish forces of 500 Spaniards to defeat and raze the Aztec Empire to the ground. The hegemony that the Empire was renowned for led to its eventual fall. 

To conclude, the Aztec Empire was once the mightiest in Mesoamerica, known for its government, innovations, art, military, and economical opulence. An important feature of the empire is its government, which was hegemonic in nature. Hegemony is the type of government that asserts unfair control over any other state in a cultural, historical, economical, religious, lingual, and political context. In the Aztec empire, in return of giving up their control over their land to the empire and the emperor, a certain fee, and doing the religious practices of the Aztec god, Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec empire left the provinces alone. However, while this method was influential in increasing the power and control of the Aztecs along with giving an overall richness to the culture, it also angered many rulers of those provinces. Therefore, the ultimate fall of the Aztec Empire was because of the revolt of the smaller provinces.

Apple, Michael. ‘On analyzing hegemony.’ Journal of curriculum theorizing 1:1 (2018), 10-27. https://journal.jctonline.org/index.php/jct/article/download/374/pdf

Carballo, David M. Collision of Worlds: A Deep History of the Fall of Aztec Mexico and the Forging of New Spain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. 

Darder, Antonia. ‘Cultural hegemony, language, and the politics of forgetting: Interrogating restrictive language policies.’ Affirming language diversity in schools and society: Beyond linguistic apartheid, ed. P Orleus. New York: Peter Lang, 2014, 35-53.

Gibson, Charles. ‘Structure of the Aztec Empire.’ In Handbook of Middle American Indians, Volumes 10 and 11. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2021, 376-394.

Hassig, Ross. Polygamy and the Rise and Demise of the Aztec Empire. New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 2016.

Learn, Joshua R. ‘The Fall of the Aztec Empire: What Really Happened in the Battle of Tenochtitlan.’ Discover. < https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/the-fall-of-the-aztec-empire-what-really-happened-in-the-battle-of > (13 August 2021).

Smith, Michael E. ‘The Aztec Empire.’ In Fiscal regimes and the political economy of premodern states, ed. Andrew Monson and Walter Schneidel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, 71-114.

Stoltman, Joan. The Rise and Fall of the Aztec Empire. Greenhaven Publishing LLC, 2017.

Storey, Rebecca. ‘Polygamy and the Rise and Demise of the Aztec Empire by Ross Hassig.’ The Americas 75:2 (2018), 401-402. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/692324

Tymoczko, Maria. ‘Cultural hegemony and the erosion of translation communities.’ A Companion to Translation Studies (2014), 163-178.

White, Samuel and Ray Kerkhove. ‘The Aztecs.’ In The Laws of Yesterday’s Wars, ed. Samuel White, Leiden: Brill Nijhoff, 2021, 69-100.

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