Aztec society dominated Central America from the 13th century through the 15th. Not only were the Aztecs great military minds, but they also had a wonderful social structure.
With Tenochtitlan as the capital city and state, the Aztecs used their military prowess to bring most neighboring societies under their rule. As far as the social setting went, the Aztecs had clear lines between the nobles, the commoners, and their slaves. They also had intricate commercial, religious, and political organizations that kept the massive empire running.
The Aztecs were also a highly superstitious society that held Aztec symbolism in high regard. They had symbols for almost everything, including various gods, warriors, nobles, and life.
So what was the Aztec symbol for family? Did they even have one?
Did the Aztecs Have a Symbol for Family?
The simple answer is not that we know of to date.
As much as the Aztec people had symbols for almost everything, there doesn’t seem to be a record of Aztec symbols that directly translated to family. This probably has a lot to do with the Aztec family structure and how it was set up in Aztec civilization.
Aztec Family Structure
We first need to understand that we all see the world based on our cultural beliefs and understanding. This lens makes us somewhat incapable of conceiving any other kind of social structure that doesn’t conform to ours.
That being said, the Aztec civilization had a family structure, but it wasn’t exactly like what is considered a basic family in the west. What the west considers a nuclear family didn’t exactly exist in ancient Aztec society.
Yes, they had families made up of a father, a mother, and children, but it didn’t end there. The Aztec society, or family, was one big congregation of related people. No word in Nahuatl (the ancient Aztec language) defines the concept of a nuclear family as we understand it. Some Nahuatl words attempt to define the concept of family as envisioned by the Aztecs.
- Cemithualtin: This word directly translates to “those of one courtyard or patio.” It is derived from the words “cem,” which means “one,” “ithual,” which means “patio,” and “tin,” which means “plural.” This term referred to an extended family or people who shared a single living unit or courtyard.
- Cencaltin: This word directly translates to “those of one household.” It comes from “cem,” which means “one,” “calli,” which means “home,” and “tin,” which means plural. Conceptualized, this word describes the people living in one household or courtyard, which is considered the closest definition of a nuclear family in Nahuatl.
- Cenyeliztli: This loosely translates to the act of living together. It comes from “cen,” which means “one,” “yel,” which means “life,” and “iztli,” which is a non-suffix. It’s assumed to be another definition of a nuclear family as we know it today.
- centalaca: A loose term for people with a common ancestor.
- ticemehua: This means “for all to be from or of the same lineage.”
The biggest problem with using these words in any context is that they could be misleading, as much of what we know of Nahuatl is borrowed from translated texts. These often had a great deal of word-for-word translation that could distort the meaning. Most of the meaning could be quite literally “lost in translation.”
That being said, Aztec families were extremely close-knit, with children being considered gifts from the gods.
Calli: The Aztec Symbol for Family?
The Nahuatl word “calli” meant “house.” This symbol comes closest to representing family in the Aztec culture.
Technically speaking, “calli” was the third day of the tonalpohualli, governed by the Aztec deity “Tepeyollotl.” This day, in particular, was strongly associated with the family bond and tranquility.
Like the Aztec name, the symbol for calli is a house. This day was designated for family and spending time with loved ones. Traditionally, the Aztecs spent this day cementing important relationships, including those with family and very close friends.
Universal Symbol for Family
While the Aztecs might not have a defined symbol for family, many other cultures around the world do. Here are some of the most common family symbols from across the globe.
Triquetra: Celtic Symbol for Family
Also referred to as the “trinity knot, “the Triquetra is a Celtic symbol that speaks to the unbreakable bond of family. It typically symbolizes the three aspects of life (mind, soul, and body).
The Phoenix and the Dragon: Chinese Symbol for Family
Many cultures often use the phoenix as a symbol of rebirth and strength. To the Chinese, however, when the phoenix and the dragon are put together, they represent family.
The phoenix represents female energy, while the dragon represents male energy. Combined, this symbol represents new families or marital love.
The Rattle: Egyptian Symbol for Family
The Egyptian symbol for family was the rattle because it was closely associated with Bes, the Egyptian deity tasked with protecting families.
Hearth: Greek Symbol for Family
Like the Egyptians, the Greeks’ symbol for family is closely associated with the deity tasked with protecting families.
In ancient Greece, the hearth, which is the center of the home, represented the Greek goddess Hestia, the goddess of family and the hearth. As such, this symbolism became synonymous with family and has since been recognized as such across the globe.
Rhyton and Patera: Roman Symbol for Family
Even though Rhyton and Patera are technically deities, they were considered minor in ancient Roman culture. Rhyton and Patera were tasked with protecting the homes of Roman families. As such, they became a symbol for family.
The closest Aztec symbol for family is “calli,” even though scholars don’t entirely agree that the Aztec people had a specific symbol for family.