Ancient Cultures of Central Mexico


Pre-Columbian civilizations in central Mexico built fascinating cities and developed cultures steeped in ritual. This course focuses on Aztec (Nahua) history and society, with its distinctive pairing of warfare and religion. Learn how Aztec cities and myths developed via migration, trade, and war with neighbouring indigenous populations, and how earlier Mesoamerican cultures shaped their cosmology. You will discuss histories recorded in codices and rituals that played out in the ball court arenas and temple precincts.

Recommended reading list:

Target audience:
This course will appeal to anyone who is interested in knowing more about the temples, codices, and lifeways of the ancient Aztecs and some of their pre-Columbian neighbours.

Learning objectives:
By the end of this course, you will have:

  • Increased your knowledge of the major Pre-Columbian cultures of Central Mexico.
  • Compared the variety of religious and cultural practices of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.
  • Considered ways that distinct indigenous communities adapted culturally from interaction with their neighbours.

Course outline:
Each session includes two one-hour lecture presentations and time for questions and discussion.

Session 1

  • The Aztecs' Predecessors and Neighbours: Olmecs, Toltecs, Zapotecs, and Mixtecs
  • Myths & Rituals: The Mesoamerican Ballgame, Cosmology and Ritual Battles

Session 2

  • History of Aztec Migration and Transformation from Chichimec Origins: The 'Tira de Peregrinacion'
  • Key Aztec Gods: Quetzalcoatl, Huitzilopochtli, Tlaloc, Coatlicue, and Huehuecoyotl

Session 3

  • Temples and the Construction of Urban Environments
  • Agriculture & Food Preparation Methods

Session 4

  • Mesoamerican Codices & Maps: Numbers, Pictographic Records
  • Famous Artefacts and Artwork: Aztec Calendar, Stone Sculpture, Ceramics, Mosaics

There is a short break halfway through each session and you are welcome to bring your own refreshments if you wish.

Nancy Marquez has a PhD in history and holds degrees from Stanford University, United States, the University of Notre Dame, United States, and Victoria University of Wellington. She nurtured her interest in archaeology at university, which included fieldwork experience in America and Italy. In October 2019, Nancy toured Mesoamerican temple ruins and museums in south-central Mexico in preparation for this course.

“Nancy was keen to encourage discussion”, European Baroque Influences in East Asia, 1557-1815 (2019)

Relevant links:
School of History, Philosophy, Political Studies and International Relations

For further information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140
Phone 04 463 6556, Email:

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email about a week before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.