Pochteca were professional, long-distance traveling merchants in the Aztec Empire providing luxury and exotic items from faraway lands. They were a small, but important class as they not only facilitated commerce, but also communicated vital information across the empire and beyond its borders. Evidence of the effects of long distance trade by pochteca is found at Paquime (Casas Grandes) in Northern Mexico, where trade in exotic birds such as scarlet macaws and quetzal birds, marine shell and polychrome pottery was based, and extended into societies of New Mexico and Arizona. Scholars such as Jacob van Etten have suggested the pochteca traders are responsible for the diversity of pre-columbian maize, transporting seeds throughout the region.
The pochteca held a special status in Aztec society. They were not nobles, but their position was higher than any other non-noble person. They had their own guild and were very choosy and particular about who could join their ranks. They led a different lifestyle to those of other Aztecs for they lived in a separate area of the city, belonged to a merchant guild, had their own laws and judges, and worshiped their own god called Yacatecuhtli. His name means “the lord who guides” to whom they made offerings so that he would protect them on their dangerous journeys for trade. Through the merchants, the Aztecs were able to acquire goods needed through trade. Their children were only allowed to marry the children of other merchants in the guild. The pochteca went on very long, dangerous trading expeditions to all corners of the Aztec Empire. Some pochteca acted as spies reporting to Aztec generals about the wealth of other cities and the size of their armies.