A member of the American Indian people dominant in Mexico before the Spanish conquest of the 16th century. The Aztecs arrived in the central valley of Mexico after the collapse of the Toltec civilization in the 12th century. Their rich and elaborate civilization centred on the city of Tenochtitlán, which boasted vast pyramids, temples, and palaces with fountains. Aztec rulers (the last and most famous of whom was Montezuma) tended to be despotic, and captives taken in war were offered as sacrifices to the gods.
The name comes via French or Spanish from Nahuatl aztecatl ‘person of Aztlan’, their legendary place of origin.