FACT CHECK: Did The Aztecs Sacrifice Their Leaders In Times Of Famine Or Pandemic?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Reporter

An image shared on Facebook claims the Aztecs “sacrificed their leaders to the gods in case of famine or pandemic.”

Verdict: False

While the Aztecs did practice human sacrifice, there is no evidence they sacrificed their leaders in case of famine or pandemic, according to experts.

Fact Check:

The image features what appears to be a section of the Codex Tudela, a pictorial manuscript crafted in the 16th century about Aztec society, depicting an Aztec human sacrifice. “The tribes of the ancient Aztecs sacrificed their leaders to the gods in case of famine or pandemic,” reads text included in the image. “I’m not hinting at anything, just a beautiful custom.”

While the Aztecs, a Mesoamerican people who flourished between the 13th and 15th century, are known to have practiced human sacrifice, there is no evidence they sacrificed their own leaders “in case of famine or pandemic.” The sacrificial victims were most often selected from captive enemy warriors but could also be from the losing team in ritual ball-games, children or slaves, according to World History Encyclopedia.

Experts on the subject confirmed Aztec Leaders were not sacrificed in times of famine or pandemic. (RELATED: Did Katy Perry Say Cannibalism Is ‘Super Healthy And Good For You’?)

“They most certainly did NOT sacrifice their leaders in times of crisis!” Camilla Townsend, a history professor at Rutgers University with a specialty in early Native American and Latin American history, told Check Your Fact via email.

Elizabeth Boone, a professor of art history at Tulane University, specializing in Pre-Columbian and early colonial Latin American art, concurred. “Not true,” said Boone in an email. “They usually sacrificed war captives, enslaved people, and specially chosen individuals, but not their own rulers.”

Boone further stated that “There is no evidence” that sacrifices were used to end famine or pandemics.

“To the contrary, sacrifices were made regularly in specific ritual contexts: to celebrate the building of a great temple, for example, or more commonly to honor and ‘feed’ different gods during festivals dedicated to them,” she explained. “It was all carefully prescribed.”

Caroline Dodds Pennock, author of “Bonds of Blood: Gender, Lifecycle, and Sacrifice in Aztec Culture,” told History Extra that human sacrifices were “prominent and regular” and the practice appears to be related to “a reciprocal relationship between the gods and humans.”

“Human sacrifice was intended to pay back the debt that was formed when the gods let blood from themselves to create the world,” Pennock said.

Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Reporter
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