The Aztec Empire

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20 Scopus citations


Aztec fiscal organization does not conform well to existing historical or comparative models. In terms of evolutionary development, technology, and societal scale, Aztec society can be lined up with early Mesopotamian society, yet Aztec fiscal organization was nothing like that described by Michael Hudson for the ancient Near East. There were few important non-state institutions like Mesopotamian temples, and state taxation was far more regular and routinized, including payments in money. Similarly, when we compare the Aztec case to models of fiscal development in Europe, it does not easily fit into the developmental sequence of tributary state – domain state – tax state – fiscal state (see Chapter 1). In overall economic and political complexity the Aztecs ought to line up most closely with domain states, but their system of taxation in many ways was more typical of the tax state. Yet the political scale and military organization were nothing like polities in the latter category. Briefly, the Aztecs had a true system of taxation, following standard definitions: “In contrast to tributes, taxes are normally recurrent, predictable, routinized, and based on statutory obligations.” Yet the overall scale and dynamics of the Aztec state are quite a bit smaller than most of the cases considered in this volume. In this chapter I summarize the Aztec economic and political system, review what is known about taxation and state revenue, and address a few of the questions motivating the present book. Although some topics in Aztec political economy have been subjected to comparative interrogation (such as city states, empires, markets, and long-distance trade), students of the Aztec state have so far resisted comparative perspectives on taxation and the fiscal aspects of warfare. More than this, Aztec specialists have yet to produce a thorough and systematic analysis of taxation and fiscal organization. This chapter is a step in that direction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationFiscal Regimes and the Political Economy of Premodern States
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages44
ISBN (Electronic)9781316105436
ISBN (Print)9781107089204
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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