Feb 6, 2012

Weapons & Warriors: Aztecs Warriors To Subdue or Not To Subdue

Art by Steven DeVon Jones
The Aztec economy was structured around a religious and militaristic society. The religion had a demand for human sacrifice. Since the war prisoner was a more valuable offering, the Aztec culture leaned heavily towards a militaristic culture. Every member of society was required to go through a basic military training once they reached a certain age. This not only helped keep the borders safe from invaders, it also swelled the number of members of the Aztec army.

The majority of the Aztec army were the common people with just enough training to be organized and deadly. Deadly, however, was not the goal of the army. The expansionist Aztec empire required prisoners for their rituals, so the only way to really get a promotion, was to capture your enemies as opposed to slaying them. This single purpose of the Aztec military made them unique from every military in the world. They conquered their enemies and forced them to provide sacrifices. If they did not hand over the prisoners, the Aztecs would just take them through raids.

The only way to escape poverty in the Aztec culture and become a noble citizen was to get promoted through the military. Once a man captured four or more prisoners during his service, he becomes eligible to be a Jaguar or Eagle warrior. These warriors were the Aztec equivalent of a knight. Not only were they the most elite of the military, they were better equipped. Despite the prestige of this title, there were no shortages of these warriors either, which revealed how the Aztecs were fully invested in their beliefs.

The Jaguar Warrior wore the pelts of Jaguars, and used a Jaguar skull as a helmet. The jaw bone lined the warrior’s jaw to make the jaguar appear as if it was roaring. These warriors focused primarily on guerilla style tactics and raids. They infiltrated enemy lands and attacked key strategic points or villages and swept away numerous prisoners.

The Eagle Warrior was the military backbone. They wore a wooden breastplate and covered themselves in feathers and other various wood or bone armor that protected wrists and shins. They wore a helmet in the shape of an eagle. Their face was revealed through the mouth or under the beak.

Not everything about the Aztec culture was war, expansion, and sacrifices. They were also very advanced compared to several cultures around the world at that time. They had their own writing, math, and science. Although they had never used metal for anything until the conquistadors arrived, but they developed all kinds of things that even Europeans had never thought to do.

The Aztec capital was built in a wet area with as much water as land and as their population swelled, they moved their crops and farming to the lakes where they floated pieces of land on the lake. This was not only a great way to keep the crops watered it also made room on land for their ever growing population.

One thing they learned from the conquistadors was that metal was a devastating weapon, and they began to fashion their clubs and axes with copper. However, this development was too late to save them from the conquistador invasion.

The downfall of the Aztec Empire didn’t occur because they were facing a technologically superior foe. The Conquistadors were better equipped with steel armor, swords, gunpowder, and they had horses that the Aztecs thought were Gods. The Aztecs had never seen an animal of that size that could move so swift and be so strong. So they revered the Conquistadors as something like a man, but more because they rode the Gods. This is why they let them into their city. They were conquered through betrayal and deceit.

The Conquistadors did not come to make peace. They allied with the Aztec’s disgruntled neighbors and then struck at the heart of the Aztec capital, slaying their priests and working their way out from there. This first assault threw the empire into chaos. There are several accounts written by the conquistadors that describe how the Aztecs continued to fight until there not enough of them left to stop the neighboring lands from taking over. Not only did the swords of the conquistadors slay many, so did the disease the Europeans had brought with them. The Aztecs never really stood a chance.

For those allies of the conquistadors who thought they had gained powerful allies and brought down the Empire that had leaned on them for so many generations, they too were betrayed in the end. The conquistador’s greed was never satisfied, so they eventually butchered them as well.

One of the biggest strengths of the Aztec army was the ability to conquer without slaying everyone. They had the techniques to take prisoners by the thousands. This became a serious flaw against a force that was well trained in taking no prisoners. In dealing death and destruction, the conquistadors were obsessed with only power and gold. They wanted the wealth of the Aztecs and to return home to Spain as heroes of the crown and earn their rewards.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.


  1. https://imagizer.imageshack.us/v2/1043x514q90/674/7fz1bH.jpg esta es mi replica de la maquahuitl, una poderosa arma utilizada por los Aztecas, y otras culturas..

    1. Translation "This is my replica of the maquahuitl, a powerful weapon used by the Aztecs and other cultures..."

      Es un diseño impresionante. Hermosa... I hope I type that correctly. My Spanish is not so good.