General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 19 Apr 2021/3 Alligator
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Drawing by John Pohl of a veteran Aztec soldier accompanied by two novices

Did the Aztecs have initiation rites for new warriors?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Ricardo Vidal: Did the Aztecs have any initiation rites for introducing new warriors into their ranks, or did they just allow anyone to join?(Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore).

‘An early Aztec king awards a valiant warrior a “xicalcoloiuhqui” shield, a “tlahuiztli” [cotton suit], a feather back ornament, and a cape ornamented with a pictograph for a star; illustration by John Pohl
‘An early Aztec king awards a valiant warrior a “xicalcoloiuhqui” shield, a “tlahuiztli” [cotton suit], a feather back ornament, and a cape ornamented with a pictograph for a star; illustration by John Pohl (Click on image to enlarge)

Initiation rites - not exactly. But we can give you some insight into the early stages of Mexica warriors’ lives. Here we quote from the excellent Handbook to Life in the Aztec World by Manuel Aguilar-Moreno, talking about the commoners’ school telpochcalli, where most youths were trained for war:-
’The youths were taught discipline by realising domestic chores. These included sweeping the house, cleaning, building walls, and farming. The youths were also expected to work with teams of other boys in public works as a means to facilitate cooperation and strengthen a sense of civic duty; these teams collaborated particularly in the cleaning and repair of the aqueducts, canals, and causeways that criss-crossed the city... Other exercises included training in martial arts and transporting large pieces of firewood and branches from the forests to the city to heat and decorate the school...

A Mexica novice warrior acts as a porter to a veteran fighter, Codex Mendoza
A Mexica novice warrior acts as a porter to a veteran fighter, Codex Mendoza (Click on image to enlarge)

‘It was common for the telpochcalli masters to be only slightly older than the students themselves. Among the duties of the masters was to watch and observe the new boys to determine who was physically fit and who showed respect and good judgment. This often was achieved by intimidating the youths with insults and physical bullying. This method of training was seen as essential in determining who would thrive in the life and death situations of real combat...
’Prior to full participation in battle, the youths were introduced to combat situations in a variety of manners. Their first combat training was symbolical and took place in the principal religious festivals held annually... The most important events to the warriors were the staged [gladiatorial] battles... Also encouraged among the students were mock battles between the youths of both the telpochcalli and calmecac [school for nobles]. These would be held as competitions in which participants were rewarded with food and gifts. It was during these mock battles that the veteran warriors of different ranks and specialisations would teach the boys to handle basic weapons such as slings, bows, arrows, and spears...

‘At the age of 20, those youths who wanted to become warriors went to war, but before the novice could go to war, he had to have a sponsor to accompany him. The youth’s parents achieved this by approaching veteran warriors with food, drink and gifts in order to entice the best sponsor for their son.’

Picture sources:-
• Both drawings by John Pohl: the first was scanned from Handbook to Life in the Aztec World (2006), the second from Aztec Warrior AD 1325-1521: Weapons, Armour, Tactics by John Pohl (2001).

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Mexicolore replies: You’re welcome. It was a great question. Thanks for writing to us.