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Ruler of Texcoco Netzahualcóyotl, Codex Ixtlilxóchitl

Drumming up support in battle

Effective communication in battle was vital to the Mexica (Aztec) war machine. Two main techniques were employed for this: raising banners/flags/standards and playing certain musical instruments. such as conch shell trumpets, whistles and drums. We know, for example, that in the battle of Azcapozalco Aztec generals carried on their backs a small drum, mainly to signal to the lower ranks that battle should commence... (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

At first glance, you don’t notice the drum shown being carried by Nezahualcóyotl, the ruler of Texcoco (an ally of the Aztecs), in this image from the Codex Ixtlilxóchitl (fol. 106r) - probably as it’s painted blue by the artist and so fails to stand out from the ruler’s warrior costume behind. We have evidence too in the writings of the Spanish chroniclers of the time; for instance, the friar Tomás de Torquemada mentions that ‘the Texcocan king carried a drum on his shoulders which he played at the start of a battle, while others blew large shell trumpets’. Whistles and human battle cries combined with these instruments to whip up the fighting spirit of the army.

Guerreros Aztecas by Marco Antonio Cervera Obregón, Ediciones Nowtilus, Madrid, 2011, pp. 78-79
Image scanned from our own copy of the ADEVA facsimile edition of Codex Ixtlilxóchitl, Graz, Austria, 1976

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Jan 28th 2018

emoticon Q. What did Aztec warrior-musicians wear into battle?
A. Their drum kit!

Study the Aztec vertical war drum in detail...

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