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Rethinking the Aztec Economy book cover
April 2017
The University of Arizona Press

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Rethinking the Aztec Economy

Edited by: 
Deborah L. Nichols
Frances F. Berdan
Michael E. Smith

With its rich archaeological and historical record, the Aztec empire provides an intriguing opportunity to understand the dynamics and structure of early states and empires. "Rethinking the Aztec Economy" brings together leading scholars from multiple disciplines to thoroughly synthesize and examine the nature of goods and their movements across rural and urban landscapes in Mesoamerica. In so doing, they provide a new way of understanding society and economy in the Aztec empire.

The volume is divided into three parts. Part 1 synthesizes our current understanding of the Aztec economy and singles out the topics of urbanism and provincial merchant activity for more detailed analysis. Part 2 brings new data and a new conceptual approach that applies insights from behavioral economics to Nahua and Aztec rituals and social objects. Contributors also discuss how high-value luxury goods, such as feather art, provide insights about both economic and sacred concepts of value in Aztec society. Part 3 reexamines the economy at the Aztec periphery. The volume concludes with a synthesis on the scale, integration and nature of change in the Aztec imperial economy.

"Rethinking the Aztec Economy" illustrates how superficially different kinds of social contexts were in fact integrated into a single society through the processes of a single economy. Using the world of goods as a crucial entry point, this volume advances scholarly understanding of life in the Aztec world.


Michael E. Smith, a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at ASU, is an archaeologist with two research themes: the Aztecs, Teotihuacan and other societies in ancient central Mexico; and comparative urbanism. He has directed fieldwork projects at numerous sites in the provinces of the Aztec empire in central Mexico.

Praise for this book

“A superb new contribution to the literature on premodern goods and economies, and Aztec society in particular.”

David M. Carballo
Author of "Urbanization and Religion in Ancient Central Mexico"

“An essential contribution to Mesoamerican studies, and a statement of progress toward understanding premodern economy and society generally.”

Stephen Kowalewski
Co-author of "Origins of the Ñuu: Archaeology in the Mixteca Alta, Mexico"