Aztec Warfare

Aztec Empirical supremacy maintained it's stability through subjugating any opposition or neighboring cities that dwelled close near.

Religious Identity

Aztecs had always been involved in warfare for two main reasons:

  1. Reaping the tribute and capturing people for sacrificial purposes to satisfy their gods.
  2. Being bred for war was a part of the Aztec culture: great and brave warriors were highly regarded.

As the Aztec empire expanded, however, another major purpose of Aztec wars was to expand the size and power of the empire.

Mythology of Aztec Warfare

In the midst of Aztec mythology you can find some unique (and gruesome) stories. Warriors believed the god of sun and war "Huitzilopochtli" first act of war was to kill his rebellious sister "Coyolxauhqui" with no remorse along with his four hundred siblings. In the mythological teachings the dismembered counterparts of coyolxauhqui and his four hundred siblings became the moon and stars.

Consistent reality mirrored the Aztec spiritual belief, that every twenty four hours of the day represents the conflict between their ancestral gods, "Huitzilopochtli" the sun and "coyolxauhqui" the moon along with the four hundred siblings the stars.

Becoming Warriors

Young Aztec men became warriors at the young age of 17. Aztec warriors were expected to be brave and noble. Both free commoners and nobility underwent military training. Those who were of noble lineage, however, also received training in religion, politics, or history by the priests.

The priests, too, engaged in warfare, as the overall purpose of the Aztec warriors was to serve and pay respect to the gods. The pride the Aztecs felt in warfare was even made evident by their system of government, which required new rulers to prove themselves first on the battlefield.

Warfare Campaigns

In order for the aztec community to benefit as whole from a series of battle campaigns many cities and lands had to be subjugated to obtain the religious tribute they desired. Tribunal purposes, trade and agriculture was the principal foundation for Aztec warfare.

When Aztecs prepare to conquer a land for these purposes they would send out something similar to central intelligence. These particular people were called "Pochteca". Pochteca where priceless to the emperor because the reports they provided from their investigations help launch accurate successful conquest.

Ancient Communication

In order to ensure the success of a military campaign, a lot had to happen off the battlefield.

The emperor developed an elite group of experienced runners in order for messages to be carried throughout the empire. Messages being delivered outside of Tenochtitlan needed to reach the farthest outpost in a timely manner, to convey the quantity of warriors and supplies needed for upcoming conquests.

The insightful information gathered for the emperor came from, and was spread through the aid of, spies, ambassadors, pochteca and messengers. Without the help of these warriors' contribution the lack of intelligence would have made attacks tremendously less effective. Aztec society highly revered these men with the upmost respect and honor.


The use made of fortifications by Aztecs was not central to Aztec warfare. A fair example would explain how, Aztecs maintained various fortifications at Oztuma. This is where a garrison was constructed keep all the rebellious Chontales in check.

More fortifications was built, such as the Quauhquechollan near Atlixco. This fortification was built in order confront traditional enemies of Tlaxcalteca, Chololteca and Huexotzinca. The Aztecs practice clever strategies during warfare, building fortifications near enemies city states would provide a tactical mobility of troops in the event of war.

Ruins of the old city of Tenochtitlan

© beanqueen.killer - Tenochtitlan

Choice of weapons

Weapons were among the greatest of Aztec accomplishments. They would use projectile styled weapons firsthand (dart throwers, spears, slings, bow and arrows), but also razor sharp clubs, swords and daggers for close range combat.

The atlatl, in particular, also known as the “spear thrower”, was the primary weapon in Aztec warfare - so powerful that even the Spanish conquistadors feared it more than any other weapon. This was with good cause, as the atlatl was capable of easily penetrating the Spanish metal armor.

Suffering Defeat

The reign of the Aztec empire had many successful victories, but very rarely do historical teachings outline their defeats.

One of the worst defeats came from the "Tarascans". In 1479 CE this long time enemy wiped out over twenty eight thousand warriors that were led by Axayacatl. It only took two battle engagements for the Tarascans to accomplish such a victory.

Flower Wars

There's more than one reason the flower wars took place, but one of the key reasons was the famine between 1450 and 1454.

The Aztec crops failed tremendously throughout the empire because of bad weather. The famine caused the Aztecs to believe that the gods were displeased with them and required human sacrifice to be appeased.

Since the famine plagued their rivals as well, eventually Tenochtitlan decided on an agreement with the Tlaxcala, Cholula and Huejotzingo to war for captives. The warriors were given orders not to kill their enemies, but to capture them. After each side potentially reached the right amount of captives, the war would end.

Fun Facts

  • 200,000 warriors could be mobilized for for large scale campaigns.