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City of Sacrifice: The Aztec Empire and the Role of Violence in Civilization Paperback – December 8, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0807046432 ISBN-10: 0807046434

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (December 8, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807046434
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807046432
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #698,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


A brilliant, provocative, timely, and eternal book.... We know that power, whatever its origin-sacred, natural, ethnic, contractual, or democratic-is an expression of violence. Davíd Carrasco now demonstrates a shattering, unsentimental truth: civilizations themselves are born and maintained by violence. —Carlos Fuentes

About the Author

Davíd L. Carrasco is professor of history of religions at Princeton University. Author and editor of many books, he is editor in chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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Customer Reviews

2.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By no longer a customer on August 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Fascinating study of Aztec religion in the context of the communal life of the City and the promotion of a common cosmology and morality. Unlike many authors of Aztec religion, Carrasco doesn't shy away from presenting the most grim aspects of Aztec human sacrifice, (from the drawing of thorns through the tongue to the heart wrenching sacrifice of children to the phantasmagoric ripping of hearts from chest cavities). In presenting these grim aspects, Carrasco asks the question "why" and offers one possible explanation in the context of the notion of communal city life and the preservation of a common cosmology and morality via ritual and myth, even if violent. Carrasco admits, refreshingly, that this is not the only explanation, and, in fact, we may never fully understand what would prompt any civilization to such wholesale spiritual slaughter, but Carrasco is one of very few scholars in religious studies willing to critically and objectively deal with the notion of violence in religion. One caveat: this is not a casual read and familiarity with Religious Studies and the work of Burkert and Eliade is assumed. At times the text can be hard going and the completion of the book has the abruptness of falling off a cliff. But for readers interested in the study of religion and how it shapes us, this book is an important addition to your bookshelf.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Cebes on November 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author rightly points out that scholars have largely avoided the topic of Aztec sacrifice, no doubt for political reasons (for fear that describing the horrible brutality of these practices might appear to be a justification for the European conquest). It is thus good to see someone face the topic directly. Nonetheless the book is a disappointment. Carrasco is addicted to unnecessary pseudo-technical jargon: "locative cosmology", "ortho-visus", "orientatio", "heterogeographical," etc., and to such mind-numbing phrasings such as "forefronting the locative nature of the city's final narrative." It is a challenge to choose the worst-written sentence in this book, so I'll pick two: "In this book, I extend the meaning of orientatio to include both the discovery and organization of central place and the sacrificial performances that have the power to reorganize, redistribute, and regenerate the central place as a culturally and politically meaningful environment." "The text and its interpretations suggest a redirecting of terms toward an expansion of categories to join a hierarchy of meaning to a unity of meaning when exploring synesthesias in urbanized societies." Unfortunately, all too often bad writing is an indicator of sloppy thinking. The author seems to spend as much time telling us what he will accomplish in this book as actually accomplishing it (he constantly announces that he will "carry the discussion further" or "gain some insight" or provide a "new understanding" or "enlarge our understanding"). The book does present some interesting facts about the practice of Aztec human sacrifice, but in the end, the interpretations are rather thin (and of course couched in pseudo-profound lingo, e.g."alignments are viewed as integral but subordinate to larger symmetries").Read more ›
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Christopher D. Hampson on October 24, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In City of Sacrifice, David Carrasco explains his picture of Aztec cosmology by describing various Aztec rituals and traditions, drawing on his archaeological experience as well as his interpretation of Aztec art and myth. We may begin and end the book uncomfortable with human sacrifice, but Carrasco's understanding of the worldview behind it puts it in some perspective.

I find this work to be valuable first as a description of Aztec practices. Carrasco's accounts of the major Aztec festivals are interesting and enjoyable (the chapter titles include "Give Me Some Skin" and "Cosmic Jaws") although often macabre. I appreciate that Carrasco has worked on the archaeological dig in Ciudad de México and understands firsthand the primary sources-- artifacts, remains, sculptures, paintings-- that form our basis of understanding for Aztec culture. Second, I enjoy Carrasco's picture of Aztec cosmology, a cosmology that has lines (both vertical and horizontal) as well as a center, a periphery, and a lynchpin between the worlds. This is clearly the influence of Mircea Eliade, one of my favorite theorists of religion. Thinking of religion in terms of cosmic geometry is a really interesting exercise, and enables us to envision how others have ordered the world around them. You will want to pick up "The Sacred and the Profane" by Eliada as a companion read to Carrasco.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. Li on October 19, 2006
Format: Paperback
David Carrasco's fascinating account of Aztec cosmology and religious practices, City of Sacrifice, provides the reader with an innovative look at the culture. Moving beyond the shock-value of purported human sacrifice within the religious rituals of the Aztec people, Carrasco moves to focus on the broader context of these ceremonies: the symbolism used, the relationship between "center and periphery" as expressed through the physical movement and placement of the rites, and the manipulation or renewal of time, place, and personal identity. He extends his study further by examining the association of such religious acts with other aspects of society, from social class to foreign affairs. Carrasco's examples come from archaeological findings as well as writings, images, and relics representing both European and Aztec perspectives and interpretations.

Carrasco's interpretation and arguments add a valuable voice to the discussion of the role and purpose of possible human sacrifice and consumption in the pre-colonial period. His clear and informative analyses of archaeological remains, such as the Codex Mendoza and the Coyolxauhqui Stone, illustrate compelling themes that run throughout Aztec culture and that carry great importance. Carrasco deftly applies theories from the study of religion in new and flexible ways to the evidence that he has uncovered within Aztec society. His novel ideas help to advance the study and understanding of cultures and religions across time and around the world.
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