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Aztec Eagle and Jaguar Warriors, Tovar Manuscript

Which was the highest rank in the Aztec army?

Our teaching team always present Eagle and Jaguar Warriors (right) as joint highest rank in the Aztec army. Spurred on by a question from a bright young Year 6 boy during our recent visit to Widney Junior School in Solihull, we feel it’s time we ‘came clean’ on this point. Strictly, they weren’t...! (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Eagle and Jaguar Warriors, Florentine Codex Book 2
Eagle and Jaguar Warriors, Florentine Codex Book 2 (Click on image to enlarge)

Our questioner was actually asking about rank and the number of warriors you had to capture, suggesting there might have been a difference between Eagle and Jaguar Knights. As far as we understand, it was the same number of enemy warriors - FOUR - that you had to nab, whether you were an Eagle or Jaguar Warrior. Indeed, such high-ranking warriors were sometimes jointly called the cuauhtlocelotl (eagle-jaguar warriors), so it’s clear they enjoyed the same status - and benefits: to wear fine jewellery and costumes in public, to dine, wear cotton and sandals in the royal palaces, to drink alcoholic pulque - and eat human flesh! - in public, to keep mistresses...

An assortment of high-ranking Aztec warriors; Codex Mendoza fol. 64r (detail)
An assortment of high-ranking Aztec warriors; Codex Mendoza fol. 64r (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

But there were in fact higher ranks still! Professor Manuel Aguilar-Moreno explains, in his book Handbook to Life in the Aztec World: ‘The orders of the otontin (Otomies) and the cuauhchicqueh (‘Shorn Ones’) were the highest military orders. Capturing FIVE or SIX enemies qualified a warrior entry to the otontin order, and he was given... an emblem symbolic of heroism. He also carried a maquahuitl and a shield decorated with a design of four crescents, and he was allowed to wear his hair bound in a tassel with a red ribbon.
’In order to enter the cuauhchicqueh order, warriors had to take many captives and perform more than 20 brave deeds. The cuauhchicqueh order was of higher status than the otontin and included in its membership many high-ranking commanders...’

In the picture on the right, from the Codex Mendoza, you can see all three of the highest ranks in the army, together with two others and a general. The general you can easily spot (bottom right), and the Eagle Warrior too (top right); the other two are far harder, so we’ll tell you: a Shorn One (very highest rank) is shown bottom middle, and an Otomí bottom left. Happy now?

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Apr 11th 2014

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