General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 18 Apr 2021/2 Flower
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‘Aztec Warrior’
‘Aztec Warrior’
Professor John Pohl’s books on Aztec Warfare
Covarrubias drawing of a chimalli


Chimalli means shield in Náhuatl. The Aztecs were a warrior race, and your status as a soldier was determined by the number of enemy warriors you had managed to capture in battle. (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Mexicolore’s animation of the famous ‘chimalli’ jewellery piece from Monte Albán

Picture 1
Picture 1 (Click on image to enlarge)

“A military costume consisted of either a feathered fitted garment resembling a jumpsuit or a tunic and kilt, plus a headdress or a standard worn on the back, and a shield” (Esther Pasztory). As you moved up the ranks you were entitled to wear an ever more magnificent costume - with matching shield: impressive to look at, but it made you an easy target for the conquering Spanish...
Of the 8 surviving pieces of Aztec featherwork, 5 are shields. One of the best known (click on ‘Featherwork shield’ in the right hand menu, and click on the link to ‘Vienna’s Mesoamerican Featherworks’, below) is now in Vienna’s Museum für Völkerkunde, and was found - together with a fan and the famous quetzal headdress some think may have belonged to Moctezuma II - in a storage chest at Ambras Castle in the Tyrol.

Picture 2
Picture 2 (Click on image to enlarge)

Above (Pic1) is a painting of it by the famous Mexican artist and writer Miguel Covarrubias. At the time Covarrubias made his illustration the design was thought probably to be of the ‘water-dog’ ahuizotl (the name glyph of the last great conquering Aztec ruler, 1486-1502), but scholars now believe it is more likely to represent some symbolic feathered canid (maybe a xiuhcoyotl “Turquoise-Coyote”, one of the standard Aztec warrior costumes, or maybe some hybrid beast such as the quetzalcuetlachtli “Quetzal-feather-Coyote”).
The design is made of blue cotinga feathers over a red-feather background, with gold used for the eyes, teeth, claws and for the outline of the fire-water band (an Aztec symbol for war).

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Picture 3 (Click on image to enlarge)

On the right (Pic 2) is an illustration from the Codex Mendoza (original in the Bodleian Library, Oxford) showing “The Brave Ticocyahuacatl” (one of the titles for a warrior-prince). (Above him is the classic Aztec 4-arrows+shield motif associated with warfare and the Aztecs’ tribal god Huitzilopochtli). His shield bears the commonly seen stepped fret design that could be used with a number of different costumes.

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Picture 4 (Click on image to enlarge)

The same design was reproduced in Aztec and Mixtec jewellery - a beautiful illustration of this can be found in the Codex Tepetlaoztoc (Pic 3 - notice the 4 arrows and shield!)

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Picture 5

We take a replica of a similar Mixtec design of pendant, made of gold and turquoise (Pic 4) with us to schools. Pieces just like this - in fact over 500 objects of gold, silver, turquoise, jade, pearls, rock crystal, and more (Pic 5) - were found buried in the famous Tomb 7 of Monte Albán, Oaxaca, by the famous Mexican archaeologist Alfonso Caso on January 6th. 1932: one of the richest ever archaeological finds in all the Americas (Pic 6).

Picutre 6
Picutre 6

Miguel Covarrubias’ painting shows how one of these tombs (no. 104) looked during the excavations at Monte Albán that began in earnest in 1931 (Pic 7).

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Picture 7 (Click on image to enlarge)

In the British Museum (Mexico Gallery) is a magnificent Aztec turquoise mosaic shield with a solar disk motif in the centre (Pic 8): go and see it!

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Picture 8 (Click on image to enlarge)

Note for teachers and pupils
if you want to find out more about Aztec military costumes, try looking at some of the websites created by ‘Wargaming’ keenies, using hand painted model figures; some of them really go to town on their research! The one below is quite superb, with a downloadable illustrated essay.

Learn more about turquoise

Turquoise encrusted shield

Vienna’s Mesoamerican Featherworks

‘A Simple Guide to an Aztec Wargaming Army’
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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: Along with the spiral, scholars tend to associate it with the whole idea of movement, the generation of new cycles and the weaving into being of the 5th Sun. James Maffie refers to it in his article for us on ‘Aztec Philosophy’ -
Mexicolore replies: Thanks! Whilst the figure in the shield, most agree, represents a coyote of some kind, no-one, as far as we know, associates it with Netzahualcóyotl. Manuel Aguilar-Moreno simply writes that ‘the animal represented may be a coyote associated with warfare and a military Aztec order’.
Learn more from our feature on Vienna’s Mesoamerican Featherworks, here -
Mexicolore replies: Thanks, Fernando. Sorry for the lack of comment facility on the step-fret page (Resources): we’ve corrected this now. As to your question, according to one of the classic Náhuatl dictionaries (by Fray Alonso de Molina), xicalcoliuhqui chimalli means ‘twisted gourd vessel shield’: from xicalli (gourd vessel) and lcoliuhqui (twisted or leaning thing). Hope this helps?