Aztec Warriors

In Aztec society, men and boys underwent rigorous military training to become warriors. Warriors were often held in high esteem in Aztec society and were frequently relied upon to conquer lands for the Aztec empire.

Social class often mattered less than skill as a warrior, and both commoners and wealthy Aztecs could often find success in warrior society because of this. Commoners who achieved the highest warrior rank were afforded luxuries reserved for those highest in Aztec society.

Aztec Warrior Ranks

Advancing in rank as an Aztec warrior afforded increased social and military influence. Various articles of clothing were awarded to each rank, allowing the warrior to distinguish themselves in civilization and on the battlefield. These costumes became increasingly ornate as a warrior advanced to higher ranks. Notable examples of costumes that high ranking warriors would wear are the Jaguar and Eagle.

In order to advance in rank, Aztec warriors were expected to show fearlessness, bravery, and most importantly the ability to capture enemy soldiers. As young warriors captured more enemy soldiers they would be afforded additional benefits and ranks. There were four possible ranks a warrior could achieve. In order of lowest rank to highest, the rank progression was Tlamani, Cuextecatl, Papalotl (butterfly), and Cuauhocelotl (Jaguar or Eagle).

Warriors who reached the highest rank of Jaguar or Eagle were granted land, societal influence, guards, rare jewelry, and supplies normally reserved for elite members of Aztec society.

Advancement of warriors through the ranks

Advancement of warriors through the ranks

Appearance of Aztec Warriors

Aztec warriors carried an assortment of weapons including spears, bows and arrows, daggers, and clubs. Some warriors also carried stones to stun and capture their enemies. Many of their bladed weapons were made of obsidian and were decorated beautifully.

To protect themselves, many also carried round shields. These shields, typically 76 cm in diameter, were made of fire hardened cane or solid wood and copper. Often the shields were decorated and featured hanging cloth and leather pieces.

Specific clothing depended on the rank of the Aztec warrior. Warriors in the lowest rank carried an obsidian club and shield. They wore a red loincloth and decorated capes. Warriors in the next rank wore a black and red outfit and a cone shaped hat. The third highest rank, butterfly, aptly wore a butterfly banner.

Those in the highest rank wore ornate headdresses and capes that depicted either an eagle or jaguar. They were also allowed to wear jewelry - a luxury not afforded to lower social classes. Whether the warrior chose to become an Eagle or Jaguar knight was dependent on which god he worshiped.

Representation of Aztec Warriors

Representation of Aztec Warriors

Life as an Aztec Warrior

When an Aztec initially decided that he wanted to become a warrior he would begin military training. Training was difficult and frequently began at a young age. Military schools led by veteran Aztec warriors accepted students as young as 15 and trained them in combat and warfare.

Young warriors were encouraged to practice fighting against each other. The victor of these fights was rewarded with advanced training programs and additional supplies. During the core of training however, heavy focus was placed on teamwork and the ability to capture enemy soldiers.

When sent to battle, capturing enemy soldiers was one of the most important parts of being a warrior. These captives served a particular purpose to the Aztecs. As Aztecs practiced human sacrifice, they required the captives to sacrifice during times of famine. A notable example of this is the Aztec Flower Wars.

Aztec Warrior

© Travis - Aztec Warrior

The Flower Wars were a first glimpse into actual combat scenarios for many young Aztec warriors. The Flower Wars began between the Aztecs and their primary enemy, the Tlaxcala, after a period of long famine.

In order to satisfy what both societies perceived as a punishment from an angry god, an agreement to war only for captives was reached. These captives were sacrificed to the offended god and would be scheduled whenever famine or other natural disasters occurred. Because of this, the career of some inexperienced Aztec warriors ended in sacrifice to Tlaxcala gods.

However, The Flower Wars were not the only time a young warrior could be exposed to combat. Religious festivals in Aztec cities featured combat rituals that were similar to gladiatorial fights. Captives would be pit against Aztec warriors and were sometimes killed during these fights.

When called to battle, warriors would march long distances as they did not ride horses. Young warriors would accompany veterans to become accustomed to warfare. Often, the life of a warrior was a short and bloody one, but the rewards for those who survived were plentiful.

Warriors spent their time in a variety of ways when not in battle. Unlike commoners, higher ranking warriors were allowed to have concubines and typically owned land of their own. Because of their success as a warrior, they were encouraged to marry and have children. Many learned trades passed down from their fathers, although others taught and trained new warriors.

The ceremonies surrounding an Aztec warrior's death depended on whether he died in battle or of natural causes. More often than not, warriors died while at war. The warrior's body would be burned on the battlefield itself rather than transporting it back to the city.

One of the warrior's arrows would be brought back and burned in the city instead. Mourners would mourn for 80 days and would not bathe for that time period. Warriors who died in the city were mourned in a similar process, but typically had their bodies burned in the city itself.

Representations of Flower Wars

© Mabarlabin - Representations of Flower Wars

Facts about Aztec Warriors

  • Any male could be a warrior despite his social class.
  • Warriors began training at ages as young as 15.
  • Aztec warriors advanced in rank primarily by capturing enemy soldiers.
  • Warriors were highly regarded in Aztec society.
  • There were four possible ranks for a warrior.
  • Jaguar and Eagle were the highest Aztec warrior rank.
  • Warriors in the highest rank were given special privilege in society.
  • Warriors often died young in battle.