After enlarging the
In A Patriot’s History of the United States (2004), Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen pass along this 80,400 figure without a note of skepticism.
[I]t was sacrifice, not science, that defined Aztec society, whose pyramids, after all, were execution sites. A four-day sacrifice in 1487 by the Aztec king Ahuitzotl involved the butchery of 80,400 prisoners by shifts of priests working four at a time at convex killing tables who kicked lifeless, heartless bodies down the side of the pyramid temple. This worked out to a “killing rate of fourteen victims a minute over the ninety-six-hour bloodbath.”
Schweikart and Allen, A Patriot’s History, 5.
They document this quote of the killing rate as reported by Hanson with the first of several references to Carnage and Culture in A Patriot’s History. Indeed, over the next several pages, Hanson’s book appears as the principal source for their central argument regarding the reasons for the success of the Spanish conquest of
Ahuitzotl purportedly organized the butchery of 80,400 prisoners during a four-day blood sacrifice at the 1487 inauguration of the Great Temple to Huitzilopochtli in Tenochtitlán—an enormous challenge in industrialized murder in its own right.
Hanson, Carnage and Culture, 194-195.
Schweikart and Allen’s uncritical acceptance of this 80,400 figure in Hanson is noteworthy in light of other numbers in his book that they reject. In particular, A Patriot’s History gives 100,000 as the number of Aztec dead during the 1521 victory of Cortés in the conquest of Tenochtitlán, “many from disease resulting from Cortés’s cutting the city’s water supply” (6). In the depopulation sidebar that interrupts their narrative of the conquest of Mesoamerica, they suggest that in
But that was a small percentage of the actual losses in the two-year struggle for
. Disease, hunger, and constant fighting had essentially wiped out the population of Tenochtitlán. The final tally of the dead would eventually reach more than 1 million of the people surrounding Mexico City . Lake Texcoco
Hanson, Carnage and Culture, 193.
Estimating the Dead in 1487
One of several principal sources informing Hanson’s chapter on Tenochtitlán in Carnage and Culture is Hugh Thomas, Conquest: Montezuma, Cortés, and the Fall of Old
The innumerable prisoners who died on fourteen pyramids over four days, with long lines of victims stretching from the site of the temple in four directions, as far as the eye could see, at a festival in 1487 to mark the inauguration of the new temple to Huitzilopochtli in Tenochtitlán, had no precedent. No evidence exists which enables anything more than a good guess.
Thomas, Conquest, 25.
Between 11,520 and 80,400, Schweikart and Allen might have suggested that estimates of the dead during one four-day ceremony in 1487 reveal a plus or minus reliability factor of nearly 700 per cent. They argue against “overestimates of millions” based on the 400 per cent variation in estimates for the population of the Inka (Inca) in
Another View of Aztec Sacrifices
Charles C. Mann does not mention this event in 1487. In 1491: New Revelations of the
At the time, [
’s] population was about three million, perhaps a tenth that of the Mexica empire. Arithmetic suggests that if England had been the size of the Triple Alliance, it would have executed, on average, about 7,500 people per year, roughly twice the number Cortés estimated for the empire. England Franceand Spainwere still more bloodthirsty than , according to [Fernand] Braudel. England
Mann, 1491, 134.
Mann’s assertion deserves scrutiny for his assumption that a larger population would have an equivalent proportion of candidates for execution. Moreover, his arithmetic relies on a rough estimate of
I am not interested here in whether European military culture is morally superior to, or far more wretched than, that of the non-West. The conquistadors, who put an end to human sacrifice and torture on the Great Pyramid in
Mexico City, sailed from a society reeling from the Grand Inquisition and the ferocious Reconquista, and left a diseased and nearly ruined New Worldin their wake.
Hanson, Carnage and Culture, 6.