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General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Feb 2017/5 Wind
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The Mexica (‘Aztecs’) at war

Basic Aztec facts: AZTEC WEAPONS

Mexica (‘Aztec’) weapons were simple, but really effective, and were of two basic types: close-up weapons for hand-to-hand fighting, and long-range weapons for attacking from a distance...
(Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Watch our sneaky introduction to the atlatl...!

Pic 1: A codex picture of the ancient ‘atlatl’ - dart or javelin thrower
Pic 1: A codex picture of the ancient ‘atlatl’ - dart or javelin thrower (Click on image to enlarge)

The best known long-range Aztec weapon was the atlatl or dart-thrower (pic 1) with a range of up to 150 metres. It was first used in ancient times in North America as a hunting tool. It simply extends the length of your arm - just as a ball-thrower for a dog does...

Pic 2: Can you spot the sling being used in this painting of Moctezuma, once captured by the Spanish, being attacked by his own people?
Pic 2: Can you spot the sling being used in this painting of Moctezuma, once captured by the Spanish, being attacked by his own people? (Click on image to enlarge)

Other ‘projectile’ type weapons included the good old bow and arrow, the sling (made of cactus fibre thread) (pic 2) and the throwing lance - a simple wooden dart that could be hurled with the power of the human arm alone.

Pic 3: Aztec warriors wielding broadswords
Pic 3: Aztec warriors wielding broadswords (Click on image to enlarge)

When it comes to close-range weapons, the Aztec army’s favourite was the maquahuitl, a long wooden staff (pic 3), studded with half a dozen razor-sharp blades made of obsidian (a volcanic glass). Some call it a ‘broadsword’ - you could almost call it a ‘broadSAW’ (the Spanish said it was so sharp it could cut off a horse’s head with one blow!)

Pic 4: A codex picture of club-wielding Aztec warriors
Pic 4: A codex picture of club-wielding Aztec warriors (Click on image to enlarge)

Other hand-to-hand weapons included a long thrusting lance, equally studded with obsidian pieces and used to stab the enemy, and an ancient wooden club topped with a blunt ball that could fracture a man’s skull (pic 4).

Pic 5: The Aztecs at war: in this codex picture you can see both close-range and ‘projectile’ weapons being used...
Pic 5: The Aztecs at war: in this codex picture you can see both close-range and ‘projectile’ weapons being used... (Click on image to enlarge)

Remember that, whatever type of battle the Aztecs engaged in, their main objective was to capture enemy warriors (later to be victims of human sacrifice) rather than to kill them. The Spanish, on the other hand, were quite happy just to ‘take out’ as many Aztec soldiers as they could, and they could always identify high-ranking Aztec warriors because of the magnificent costumes they wore.

Learn more about the atlatl...

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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: Try this: http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/ask-experts/when-the-aztecs-went-to-war-did-they-use-any-special-tactics
Mexicolore replies: In a hearth: fire was used to harden the tips of wooden lances
Mexicolore replies: ‘Cos we haven’t time or space to add one. Might do one of these days.........
Mexicolore replies: We like to think we’ve covered all the main ones, but yes, there would have been plenty of others of secondary importance: farmers also used the tlaltepoztli, a hoe or spadelike tool with a metal base. Carpenters used plumbs for straightening, evening and polishing edges. Metalworkers used moulds (especially when employing the ‘lost-wax’ technique for making fine pieces of jewellery). Weavers used the backstrap loom (still used today in Mexico). Writers used cactus needles as quills. And so on...!
Hope this helps...
Mexicolore replies: Not machetes as they had no steel blades in those days. The closest would be the all-powerful maquahuitl (the obsidian-bladed broadsword, in either single-handed or double-handed versions). Nasty!
Mexicolore replies: Well you’re only really talking about wood and obsidian. There were plenty of trees around the Basin of Mexico, and obsidian could be mined in areas close to volcanoes (and Mexico has around 40 volcanoes!)
Mexicolore replies: Dozens of wars and hundreds of battles! For starters, three city-states alone were engaged in 75 years of almost continual warfare against the Aztec-led Empire of the Triple Alliance. Each new emperor - and there were a dozen or so - launched into a series of new campaigns lasting several years against kingdoms and city-states both near and far. By the way, the Aztecs didn’t win every time: to give you one example, in 1480 the Aztec army was badly defeated by the neigbouring Tarascans - no Aztec emperor ever tried to take these fierce warriors on in battle again!
Mexicolore replies: Thanks for writing, Tammy. Pictures are always a problem, especially if you’re looking for ‘the real thing’, ‘cos they rarely exist! That’s why we have to make do with pictures from codices, artists’ illustrations, photos of models, carvings, etc. Just to give one example, there ARE no actual, original, Aztec weapons like the famous maquahuitl still around!
Note our answer to Katia’s similar question, below...
Mexicolore replies: You’re right, Katia. At least we do have some close-up pictures of some of these weapons on other pages, e.g. -
• Homepage - ‘Mexica Weaponry’
• Homepage - ‘The Aztecs and the Atlatl’
• Aztec Artefacts - ‘Maquahuitl’