In Aztec culture, trade was an important part of life. Yet, it was conducted somewhat differently than the "traditional" way. For one, the Aztecs had no metal money. They did have a currency, however. Cacao beans were treated as a precious substance by the Aztecs, who used them to make chocolate. This currency was most often used in local markets, at which one could buy tools, clothes, and—for a hefty price—jewelry. Another use of this currency was by caravans of merchants that traveled south towards the region that is now Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras. These merchants traded rare items such as jewelry for other rare items such as rubber, cotton, and products made from animals (like feathers of tropical birds and jaguar skins).
Just as the Aztecs had no plows or other inventions to help them in farming, they had no wagons or other vehicles for transporting their goods. Therefore, when merchants traveled south, they transported their merchandise either by canoe (if it was possible) or by slaves, who carried large amounts of goods on their backs. If the caravan was likely to pass through dangerous territory, Aztec warriors accompanied the procession to provide much-needed protection from animals and rival cultures. Conversely, merchants often provided a military service to the empire by spying on the empire's many enemies while trading in the enemy's cities. Thus, there was a symbiotic relationship between the military and the merchants: each helped the other and consequently, both were successful.
The merchant class in the Aztec empire was a special subgroup. Although they were below the nobles (mainly priests and warriors), they were above the common farmers. This special merchant class was called pochteca, and was mostly hereditary. The pochteca class was somewhat removed from the rest of Aztec society. So much, in fact, that the pochteca often had a separate section of the city. They also formed their own guilds (the Aztec precursor to today's trade organizations and unions) and often enjoyed special privileges.