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Durham e-Theses
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An anthropological study of sacrifice with special reference to Aztec material

Nicholson, P. J. (1970) An anthropological study of sacrifice with special reference to Aztec material. Masters thesis, Durham University.



Human. and animal sacrifice can perform similar functions, but the essential difference is that human sacrifice is always a social affair; a victim offered for the benefit of society rather than of an individual. The Aztecs, migrant hunters who settled on the Mexican Plateau, in the fourteenth century, believed that human sacrifice was necessary to feed the sun and maintain the harmony of the universe, and that they were the people chosen to perform this duty. Sacrifices occurred at intervals according to a ritual calendar, and at major public ceremonies every twenty days following the agricultural cycle. The structure of sacrifice was similar to that described by Hubert and Mauss, following a set pattern which varied according to the particular purposes of the sacrifice, and the god whose impersonator was being immolated. Of the many gods worshipped, each had their own priesthood and temple necessitating a huge and complex priestly organisation. Religion became the driving force in every aspect of life especially the activities of war; Holy War to obtain prisoners for sacrifice became an obsession of the state. The Aztec emperor was head of the 'church' and occupied a semi- divine status, involving the performance of important ritual duties. The sun and war cult strongly influenced the worship of agrarian deities indigenous to the Valley of Mexico, and a synthesis was formed from the two ideologies which is reflected in the details of some ceremonies. The sacrificial rites, while containing elements of homage, were more than mere gifts to the gods, they were basically redemptive for man as a whole, and were rites of rebirth for the gods whose impersonators were sacrificed. In many sacrifices the god was believed to enter into the victim and the sacrificial flesh was eaten in a communion. Although much of the war and sun cult was absorbed from previous cultures on the Plateau., under the Aztecs the incidence of sacrifice developed into a series of hecatombs, only interrupted by the Spanish conquest.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:1970
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 Mar 2014 16:26

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