Also, these cotton capes were so valuable that a family or individual lucky enough to own twenty or more could support themselves for an entire year in the city of Tenochtitlan; these capes could also be used to barter for more expensive items like gold jewelry and necklaces made from jade (Van Tuerenhout, 184).
Out of all the goods that were available in the Aztec marketplaces, two were of primary importance for the people of the empire, being obsidian and ceramics. Because of its excellent cutting abilities and the large number of blades that could be fashioned from a single core, obsidian, also known as black volcanic glass, was one of the most valued and widely-traded goods in the Aztec Empire. Part of the explanation for this is that the Aztecs lacked metals like iron and had no knowledge pertaining to the smelting of iron ore. Although they did possess the ability to smelt copper ore and to make bronze, these metals did not hold a sharp edge and wore out rather quickly. But obsidian, with its extremely keen edge, was used for various purposes, such as for cutting cloth, wood and other naturally-occurring materials. Obsidian was also used for cutting food and meat and was often used in religious ceremonies involving the dismemberment of human sacrifices to the Aztec gods. As to ceramics, various household items like mixing bowls, plates and even eating utensils were made from the abundant supply of special types of clay found in almost all regions of the Aztec Empire. Almost all ceramic items, with the exception of those made in the home, were manufactured by highly-skilled pottery makers who often ran their businesses as a kind of store with their goods on display for all potential buyers (Van Tuerenhout, 217).
In 1987, Frederic Hicks published an extensive article related to evidence to support the application of an economic model to the Aztec civilization. Basically, Hicks argues that the Aztec economy just before the arrival of the Spanish conquerors was on the verge of a market-integrated system, similar in nature to many current national and international market economies. In this article, Hicks outlines four basic requirements needed to achieve such an economy.
First, the presence of full-time specialists who do not produce their own food, i.e., the pochteca; second, the presence of people who produce the basic necessities of life, i.e., the common merchants; third, a market economy which brings the specialists and the common merchants together, and fourth, the presence of a state to maintain order and to provide mechanisms for dispute resolution, i.e., the Aztec nobility and monarchy. Clearly, Hicks was on the right track, for the Aztecs did indeed possess all of these characteristics with the possible exception of some type of system which integrated all of the markets into a single entity (Van
In conclusion, the various economic systems and business practices related to the Aztec civilization seem to have all worked together "in a dynamic and complex economy that brought the Aztec Empire into a single economic, social and cultural unit" (Hassig, 234) despite the fact that the Aztecs were a somewhat primitive society as compared to what was occurring in Spain during the early years of the 16th century. From an economic standpoint, the growing population of the Aztecs made the increased production of food mandatory and the craftsmen who produced the goods and commodities for the marketplace required merchants like the pochteca to sell their goods, much like today's business owners who rely upon steady customers.
This market system, although primitive, was the primary link that allowed the various market sectors and regions to come together to create an extraordinarily dynamic economy. An added bonus was that this system made it possible for the average person/consumer to get ahead economically, perhaps an early example of entrepreneurship. Thus, as Francis Berdan sees it, the Aztec economy with its merchants and business people was highly commercialized and dynamic; however, it was not what we now call a capitalist economy, for there was no paid labor and land was not bought and sold as a commodity (256). In essence, the Aztecs, despite living and working in some of the harshest environments of Mesoamerica before and after the Spanish Conquest, managed to prosper under a system of fairness and equality based upon commonly-shared needs like food, clothing and various household goods even with the presence of a rigid system of hierarchical social classes.
Berdan, Francis. The Aztecs of Central Mexico: An Imperial Society. New York:
Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1982.
Hassig, Ross. Trade, Tribute and Transportation: The Sixteenth Century Political Economy of the Ancient Aztecs. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.
Hooker, Richard. "Civilizations in America: The Mexica Aztecs." 1996. Internet.
Retrieved October 5, 2008 at http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/CIVAMRCA/AZTECS.HTM.