The life of Aztec warriors was one of constant battle. The primary purpose for this continual Aztec warfare was to take prisoners to be sacrificed to their gods. As the Aztec empire expanded, however, another major purpose of Aztec wars was to expand the size and power of the empire.
Young Aztec men became warriors at the young age of 17. Aztec warriors were expected to be brave and noble. Yet, 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.
Those Aztec warriors who demonstrated the most bravery and who fought well became either jaguar or eagle warriors. Of all of the Aztec warriors, they were the most feared. Both the jaguar and eagle Aztec warriors wore distinguishing helmets and uniforms. The jaguars were identifiable by the jaguar skins they wore over their entire body, with only their faces showing from within the jaguar head. The eagle Aztec warriors, on the other hand, wore feathered helmets including an open beak.
Ceramic warrior statue © Tobias Boyd
The Aztec warriors carried a variety of weapons, including stabbing javelins, wooden spears, ob sidian knives, and clubs. In addition, they flung firestones at their enemies using slings made of wool. Most of the Aztec weapons were actually designed to stun and capture opponents rather than to kill them. In this way, opponents could be easily brought back to the temple for sacrifice. To protect themselves, Aztec warriors used round shields, which they fringed with feathers. The remainder of the costumes worn was dependent upon military ranking of the Aztec warrior.
Aztec warriors could move up in ranking by capturing enemies. After capturing four enemies, they were eligible to become either a jaguar or eagle Aztec warrior knight. These military orders were primarily comprised of nobility. Warriors who were of a commoner background, however, could enter into the ranks of nobility by capturing enemy warriors. But, this form of promotion was uncommon. In addition, there were two orders of Aztec warriors, otontin and cuahchicqueh. These Aztec warriors were considered to be elite and vowed to never retreat from battle.