Aztec economy

I was watching “Pirates of the Carribean” tonight and part of the plot invovles a chest of Aztec coins.

I was wondering though…Did the Aztecs have the capability of making Gold Coins? And If so, did they have a currency system, or did they rely on a barter system like many cultures did?

I believe the Aztecs used mostly barter. I think the first sophisticated monetary system showed up Mexico sometime in t he 1700’s, but I’m not sure of that date.

I’d probably check that date, as this is well within Spanish rule.

The Aztex did have some sort of primitive currency system going on. One notable item used as currency was cocoa beans. From here:

According to Cameron, A Concise Economic History of the World, long distance trade existed in the Americas from about 1500 BCE. Cacao beans were used as a form of money by the Olmecs in Mexico, between 700 and 300 BCE.

From that, I would guess that the Aztecs (who came later) had a form of money.

The following website suggests that the first gold coins in the Americas were stamped in 1526, after the Spanish conquest. That would make sense, as gold was used mostly for utilitarian purposes by the Incas and also, apparently, by the Aztecs as well.

Cacao beans were the main, everyday currency. As a guide to their value, there’s a surviving list of market prices from 1545 (a generation after the Spanish arrive) amongst which are: a rabbit cost 100 beans, an avocado 3, a large tomato 1 and you could get 5 green chiles for one bean. There was even a tradition of counterfeiting beans.
Cotton cloaks (quachtli) were effectively a larger unit of currency, with particular sizes being assigned particular values - for example, a cloak of one size might be worth 100 cacao beans. One estimate is that a commoner in Tenochtitlan could survive on 20 quachtli a year.

As for gold coins, these would certainly have been within their metalworking capabilities - many of the few surviving gold pieces are exquisite - but it’s just never something they did. More generally, gold items were common alongside other luxury goods in the system of tribute that was a major feature of their society.

There’s a good discussion of the Aztec economy in chapter 5 of The Aztecs (Blackwell, 1996, 2003) by Michael E. Smith.

“Gold was used for utilitarian purposes?”

Maybe I’m showing my ignorance, but exactly what utilitarian purposes does gold have? It’s too soft and malleable to be good for much of anything, metalwise. I was under the impression they used it for jewelry and decoration, but not much else.

Obviously the aztecs used them to design faster microchips :smiley:

Correct. There’s also the oddity that they regarded gold (and silver) as the excrement of the Sun.

Master -

Ok, you got me. Poor choice of words.

  1. From what I read, the Aztecs used gold for jewelry, etc.

  2. I seem to recall that the Incas used gold for certain household objects. But my memory is fuzzy, and I suspect that they must have used it as an alloy.

I’m srry but I read this article and it didnt help at all please fix it!!!

Um, to what article are you referring? And what’s wrong with it, and who do you think would be fixing it?

Which, interestingly, is technically true, even if the Sun from which they were… excreted… isn’t the current one.

Did the Aztecs work any metals other than gold and silver? Did they have copper, bronze or iron tools?

While it’s not relevant to the Aztecs (so far as I know), in Japan, gold paint was often used indoors to make rooms brighter. It would be equivalent to painting with glitter, so that any light which came into the room would be reflected instead of absorbed by the walls.

By “often used” I mean in palaces and temples, not in the average home.

Sooooo… is anyone going to fix this article or not!!!


There. I fixed it.

(If you wanted a definite article, you need to give me a domain first.)

Man. I saw “Master Wang-ka” and got all excited…

When one Meso American city conquered another tribute was given by the loser. This tribute was in goods such as very valuable Quetzal feathers, cotton cloaks, raw commodities such as obsidian, red dye, cotton and salt, manufactured items like weapons and other war gear, and food (chillies, maize, cacao, etc…). Cacao beans aren’t technically a true currency per se, since they are a consumable commodity. But they are awful handy to fill in for that purpose.

They used some copper but no iron or bronze.

Albrecht Dürer, on seeing the first Aztec artifacts in Europe, expressed his wonder. (His travels had exposed him to most European art & he knew that he was a master. Then he discovered there were other masters across the great ocean sea!)

(Full quotation in this .pdf; of course, all the precious metals were later melted down.)

Back to the Aztec economy. The varioustypes of traderfilled several niches in Aztec society. The Codex Mendoza, created after The Conquest by native artists & annotated in Spanish (since the Aztecs, unlike the Maya, never quite developed written language) has a section detailing tributes paid by each town to what might be called the Aztec Empire. Coins were not used but the economic system went a bit beyond “primitive barter.”

Sounds like someone is going to have to do their own homework. Shucks.