The Aztecs then were neither backward primitives nor were they helpless. In fact, they were a warrior people who often depended on other conquered peoples for innovation while themselves further mastering the art of war. Compared to the Spanish their weapons were primitive yet they were extremely effective for all of that. Despite lacking steel blades, they had clubs studded with sharpened rocks that could disembowel a horse with a single blow. Their weapons were extremely deadly and extremely effective and, in fact, not terribly different as to their basic level of technology from what the Spanish used in vanquishing them. Firearms were very few in the Spanish army that landed with Cortes and they did most of their fighting with swords, lances and crossbows rather than the canon or the harquebus which would have been of significantly less value anyway given humid, jungle conditions they were operating in and the fact that they were so slow to fire the enemy would have been upon them before they could fire more than one or two shots. In any event, even if the Spanish had been armed with “futuristic” flintlock muskets the Aztecs should have been able to overwhelm them easily by sheer weight of numbers.
There was, of course, much that was great and glorious about the Aztecs and their culture. The dispassionate observer could also point out that the Spanish could commit acts of cruelty on their own as any people are bound to but even the most irreligious and dispassionate observer would have to admit, I think, that the Aztec religion was horrific. Naturally, the Aztecs did not think this was so, this was simply their religion, however, those who wish to downplay this aspect of Aztec culture (usually in an effort to vilify the Spanish) do a disservice, not only to the truth, but to the Aztecs themselves by belittling what was, to them, the heart of the spiritual beliefs. It should be remembered that it was the Aztecs themselves who left behind the accounts which emphasized this and according to the Aztecs themselves, on certain special occasions, they might sacrifice tens of thousands of people every day on their numerous pyramids. Two wrongs, of course, do not make a right but this fact should not be forgotten or the horror of it shrugged off in an effort to portray the Aztecs as the innocent victims of Spanish cruelty. Again, they had many admirable qualities and accomplishments, but they were far from being as pure as the wind driven snow. The Spanish were horrified by this and even tried to convince Emperor Montezuma II of the barbarity of it, saying that such practices were unworthy of so great a man as he.
In fact, if anything, the Aztecs might have been “more hierarchical” than the Spanish. The Aztec Emperor was treated with extreme reverence, as a semi-divine figure, the earthly representative of the gods and had the most exalted position. He had the best of everything, including women (Montezuma II reportedly had around 1,000 wives and concubines all to himself) and slaves carried him on a litter everywhere he went or spread fine mats in his path as he walked as his person was considered too sacred for his feet to even touch the ground. This was obviously a far different position from the politics of the monarchies of western Europe in the High Middle Ages in which dealings between monarchs, nobles and common people had more of a contractual style about them. And, aside from the Aztec Emperor there was also an aristocracy and a priestly class who held special privileges. There is nothing, of course, wrong with any of that, but it is, again, another aspect of the Aztec civilization that many today seem to prefer to leave out.