Review Article

Aztec political economy

Gary M. Feinman

Books reviewed

Kenneth G. Hirth. The Aztec economic world: merchants and markets in ancient Mesoamerica. 2016. xviii + 382 pages, 50 b&w illustrations, 20 tables. New York: Cambridge University Press; 978-1-107-14277-0 hardback $125.
Deborah L. Nichols, Frances F. Berdan & Michael E. Smith (ed.). Rethinking the Aztec economy. 2017. vi + 310 pages, b&w illustrations, tables. Tucson: University of Arizona Press; 978-0-8165-3551-4 hardback $65.
Deborah L. Nichols & Enrique Rodríguez-Alegría (ed.). The Oxford handbook of the Aztecs. 2017. xxix + 748 pages, several b&w illustrations. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 978-0-19-934196-2 hardback £97.


For those in search of current perspectives on the Aztec with a focus on matters economic, I heartily recommend a deep dive into these three volumes. Each book offers an insightful vantage on what we presently know about this pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican empire, as well as how new discoveries over the last 60–70 years force serious rethinking of both the long-term history of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and key tenets that underpin pre-industrial political economies more broadly. Empires were a relatively rare phenomenon in the pre-industrial world, especially in the ancient Americas, and few have been so skilfully studied through a multi-disciplinary approach that integrates both historical texts and archaeology.


  • Gary M. Feinman
    Field Museum of Natural History, 1400 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605–2496, USA (Email: gfeinman [at]