Apr 17, 2013

Weapons & Warriors: The Tepoztopilli of the Aztecs

This weapon could be considered a cross between an axe and a spear. Its fat head and razor sharp edges made it possible to slash or chop like a pole-axe, but the pointed tip and long shaft also made it ideal for thrusting like a spear. Although it was enough like a spear to be throwable, the wide head made it less reliable than other ranged weapons used by the Aztecs. Most likely, this was used against charging enemies, before the Aztec infantry drew clubs and Macuahuitl for closer combat.

The Tepoztopilli art by TL Jeffcoat
The length of the entire Tepoztopilli is around 5 to 6 ft (almost 2 meters) and is one solid piece of wood. The head is about a half foot long and edged with obsidian shards. Each obsidian razor was glued into slots with a plant resin. Like the Macuahuitl, the obsidian edges are potentially sharper than a steel razor. One of these shards is sharp enough to shave with. The pieces were spaced out along the head so that after they penetrate the enemy, the sides of the shards could catch and either break off into the body or hook the spear and cause even more damage.

A spear that refuses to leave the body makes for a deadly distraction on the battlefield. Even worse than being killed by these things, the Aztecs did their best to not kill opponents and excelled at disabling them instead. You need a living person to cut the beating heart out for sacrifice.

I have read in a couple places that there was speculation on whether or not the head was permanently attached. I don’t have any trusted sources for that, but it would have been a great idea to carry around one shaft and several heads. Every time a spear was caught, the shaft could then be removed and a new head jammed on.

If you don’t believe volcanic glass is deadly, then you are mistaken. Although the Aztecs would rather capture an enemy than kill him, their obsidian edged weapons were sharp enough to slice down to the bone, and the wood added an extra bludgeoning impact. If the obsidian hit a soft area, like the neck or inner thigh, arteries would be severed. The opponent then would bleed out in minutes.

The last known authentic Tepoztopilli was lost in a fire in Spain in 1884. A sad day for weapon history enthusiasts, but there are plenty of drawings and decent replicas produced still today.

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.

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