Historical Social Research

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Caroline Dodds Pennock, Mass Murder or Religious Homicide? Rethinking Human Sacrifice and Interpersonal Violence in Aztec Society [Abstract]

The Aztec practice of human sacrifice is one of the most sensationalized and bloody cases of mass killing in history, raising essential questions about cultural definitions, personal perceptions and the interrelationship of different forms of violence. Produced as part of a project on the long-term history of interpersonal and mass violence in Latin America, this article assesses the available sources for human sacrifice rates in pre-colonial Tenochtitlan, and lays the groundwork for a comparative analysis of homicide rates, by estimating the number of victims of human sacrifice. Offering an analysis which addresses key themes and structures in the history of violence, this study attempting to reconcile the frequency of ‘official’ violence with the apparent unacceptability of interpersonal aggression, and interrogates the sensationalism and cultural sensitivities which have often hindered impartial and empathetic studies of the human sacrifice in Aztec society.