General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Sep 2017/9 Jaguar
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What were Aztec shields made of?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Matt Troup: Do you know what material shields were made from? Leather or wood, etc? It seems like the most minute of details, but I’d like the (Aztec) videogame I’m working on to be respectably accurate... Hope all is well at Mexicolore. (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Detail from ‘Aztec battleline’ - illustration by Adam Hook
Detail from ‘Aztec battleline’ - illustration by Adam Hook (Click on image to enlarge)

Thanks for asking, Matt. To answer this question, we can’t find a better summary than that provided by Professor Manuel Aguilar-Moreno (on our Panel of Experts) in his excellent reference book Handbook to Life in the Aztec World (p. 135) -

Aztec military shields (‘yaochimalli’) came in a variety of designs and materials. Many were made of hide or plaited palm leaves. A description made by a conquistador describes a shield called a ‘otlachimalli’ as being made of a strong woven cane with heavy double cotton backing. Earlier accounts describe shields of split bamboo woven together with maguey [cactus] fibre, reinforced with bamboo as thick as a man’s arm and then covered with feathers.

‘Cuauhchimalli’ shields were made of wood. Others were made with a feather facing over which was laid beaten copper. Some shields had such innovative designs that they rolled up when they were not needed in fighting and could be unrolled to cover the body from head to toe. Shields were covered with painted hide, feathers, and gold and silver foil ornamentation. There was variation in the feather ornamentation by colour, type, and design, according to the owner’s status, merit, and so forth.

(Aztec battleline illustration courtesy of Osprey Publishing)

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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: They had both. See more examples in our little feature on the Aztec shield: it’s called chimaili and it’s in the ‘Aztec Artefacts’ section.
Mexicolore replies: These differences are set out to some degree in the Codex Mendoza. We’ve hinted at some of the factors involved in our answer to another, more recent, shield-related question, further up this page: look for ’Did war shield symbols represent cities?’ in the right-hand menu...