Aztec Economy and Trade

If you could travel back in time and wander through an Aztec marketplace in a large city such as Tenochtitlan, you would witness a well developed economy and system of trade.

The Aztecs traded anything and everything. If you wanted food, you could buy rabbits, birds, dogs, fish, turkeys, and other proteins. Or, if you were in the mood for produce, you could purchase chili peppers, maize (corn), or tomatoes. Don't forget to buy some salt to bring the flavor out. If you did not want to prepare food yourself, you could purchase ready-made dishes like cornbread, pies, and drinks.

In addition to foodstuffs, you would find many crafted goods for trade in an Aztec market. These included clothing, obsidian blades, pots, dishes, leather goods, shoes, and baskets. If you were in the business of making goods yourself, you could buy the raw materials including cotton, feathers, beads, semi-precious and precious jewels, coral, wood, and many others. Perhaps you were a healer. In that case, you could find many herbs and medicinal plants available for sale.

All of these things were sold by farmers and craftspeople. There were also traveling merchants who purchased goods in one Aztec town or city and transported them to another place to resell them. These merchants helped spread news throughout the Aztec empire, and the marketplaces themselves served as places for socializing and business deals. You could even find someone to cut your hair for you.

Unlike many other ancient economies, the Aztec trade system was not primarily one of barter. In other words, instead of always trading one good for another, the Aztecs had “money.” I had many teachers tell me jokingly that they could be bribed with chocolate. Well, in Aztec times, you could buy many things with cacao beans, the main ingredient in chocolate. Cotton cloth was also often used as currency to purchase an item. I don't know about you, but I think I'd rather have chocolate.

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