General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 24 Mar 2019/13 Lizard
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Our In-House Team

Question for November 2009

Which was the Aztecs’ most fearsome weapon? Asked by Kettlefields CP School. Chosen and answered by Our In-House Team.

An artist’s impression of a maquahuitl
An artist’s impression of a maquahuitl (Click on image to enlarge)

The Aztecs/Mexica fought with a range of weapons which, while seeming ‘primitive’ on a technological level, were in their way highly effective and which had evolved in some cases (such as the atlatl dart thrower) over many centuries and via many cultures.

A modern imitation of a maquahuitl displayed in the British Museum Moctezuma exhibition
A modern imitation of a maquahuitl displayed in the British Museum Moctezuma exhibition (Click on image to enlarge)

Their offensive weapons are sometimes divided into projectile weapons - designed to strike the enemy from some distance away, and shock weapons for use in hand-to-hand fighting. Of these, perhaps the most fearsome of all was the maquahuitl, a cross between a broadsword and a club. Basically of two kinds - the smaller and most popular one-handed type and the much larger two-handed model - they were made of (usually oak) wood, studded with razor-sharp obsidian blades stuck into grooves along the edge(s).

Some have claimed that the maquahuitl was able to cut the head from a (Spanish) horse with a single blow. Cleverly designed, it was impossible to remove or break the blades (obsidian, though super-sharp, is also, being a volcanic glass, brittle and can break easily) as they only protruded a little way from the grooves.

As Professor Manuel Aguilar-Moreno has pointed out, it was the shock weapons of the Aztecs that often determined the outcome of battles. The maquahuitl must have been a truly fearsome weapon, though of value only in hand-to-hand combat...

Picture sources:-
• Artist’s impression: drawn specially for Mexicolore by Felipe Dávalos
• Imitation maquahuitl: photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

Handbook to Life in the Aztec World by Manuel Aguilar-Moreno, Facts on File, New York, 2006

Read more on the maquahuitl

Our In-House Team has answered 21 questions altogether:

Did the Aztecs have different types of chewing gum to today’s?

Did the Aztecs have a god of snow?

Which parts of the Day of the Dead festival go back to the Aztecs?

Why did they put holes [gaps] in the [upright huehuetl] drums?

Was Snake Woman an Aztec empress?

How big was the Aztec army?

Did they have First Aid?

Which pet was the Aztecs’ favourite?

Why did they call them ‘chinampas’?

Did the Spanish have an interpreter when they conquered the Aztecs?

Which was the Aztecs’ most fearsome weapon?

Why was the Sun God called Tonatiuh?

Did they send post (mail)?

Did they have the same seasons as we do?

What did they do with the shells of armadillos after eating the meat?

Why didn’t Aztec houses have doors?

Which was the biggest group [job sector] in Aztec society?

Why is it better to support loads on the forehead and not on the shoulders?

When children were punished, how long were they held over smoking chillies for?

What was the Aztecs’ greatest fear?

Why did the Aztecs believe gold was the poo of the Sun God?

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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: Thanks, Zoe. We take to schools a splendid one-handed maquahuitl made by a professional knapper and friend of ours, Paul Wilding, based here in London.