Most of the victims who were chosen for sacrifice were captured warriors, though children and slaves may have also been sacrificed (Moctezuma 1985). The practice of sacrificing warriors mirrors a myth that describes the god Huitzilopochtli brutally slaying the leaders of a rebellion against him by ripping out their hearts (Moctezuma 1985). The sacrificing of captured warriors served to reinforce subservience and promote acquiescence. This was also used as intimidation for unconquered peoples who may have been resisting the Aztecs (Moctezuma 1985).
Draper (2010) discusses the ceremonies and rituals carried out by several Aztec rulers. He mentions one of the fiercest rulers of the Aztec Empire and his name was Ahuitzotl. Ahuizotl was convinced that he needed thousands of people to be sacrificed on the day he was sworn in as ruler of the empire, so he lead his army on a mission to collect people from villages around Tenochtitlan and use them as sacrifices to appease the gods.
The sacrifice of slaves was typically a form of punishment for disobedience. People may have been sold into slavery by their families to cover debts. They also may have sold themselves into slavery for the same reason. Slaves may also be people who failed to make proper tribute and were sold into slavery by nobles (Moctezuma 1985). Other sacrificial victims may have been certain types of criminals.
Ingham (1984) mentions in his article that sacrifice may have been a form of population control, as is believed by some researchers, while other feel that it has more of a religious basis (Ingham 1984). Scholars also propose that cannibalism may have been practiced as a means of ingesting certain nutrients that were otherwise unavailable to them (Ingham 1984).