In the Aztec culture, war and the priesthood were the only paths “toward prestige, honors and riches,” with free land and slaves given as rewards for valor while subjugating neighbors. In the century prior to Spanish conquest, the merchant class included “slave traders whose centers of operation were in some of the large cities, but who kept purchasing bases in the furthermost cities.”
Slavery existed in all classic period Mesoamerican cultures: in Maya culture, the condition of slavery was passed down from one generation to another, often as punishment for offenses against the ruling class. “The majority of slaves, however, were prisoners of war or foreigners bought from traders. The destiny of these slaves was uncertain, and many must have ended their days as sacrificial victims.”
Slavery Way Down South
“Aztec conquests always had religious or economic motives . . . in the principal cities of the Aztecs and their allies lived an artisan group who were in constant need of raw materials for the manufacture of consumer goods which were traded among the Aztecs themselves or exchanged for products from their neighbors and tribute-paying subjects.
Equally important was the development of the quasi-feudal system with an increasing demand for agricultural land and serfs for the benefit of the growing nobility. Last but not least was the need for slaves to be sacrificed to the gods as state and religion merged into one unified system.
In the last years of their brief history, the Aztec nation included more than 300 vassal tribes which never amalgamated into a political or administrative entity.
While Aztec merchants traveled the trade routes, transacting business and paving the way for new conquests, the warriors and governors exercised dominion by exacting tribute and gathering the designated quotas of prisoners to be sacrificed to the many gods of the Aztec pantheon.”
(Pre-Columbian Cities, Jorge E. Hardoy, Walker and Company, 1973, excerpts pp. 124; 128; 228)