The Aztecs sacrificed humans primarily to carry out their religious beliefs. These people believed they were an honored race, chosen by the gods to maintain the continuity of the world and to keep the sun moving across the sky from east to west. They were convinced that Huitzilopochtli, their designated sun god, depended on them for nourishment in the form of human blood, the sacred force of life.
There are multiple theories concerning the purpose of this practice. Fear undoubtedly played a part. Reports of brutality sent messages of domination to Aztec citizens and to adversarial neighbors. The sacrifice was practiced by a specialized priest who pulled the heart from the victim, usually at the top of a pyramid structure. The body was then kicked down the steps, and the head was cut off and positioned on a skull rack.
Men, women and children were selected for sacrifice. The tears of a very young child or newborn baby were believed to elicit rain from the gods. It is hard to know how bloodthirsty the Aztecs really were, since reports issued by Spanish conquistadors and various European observers may have been exaggerated in an effort to legitimize Spanish conquest.