A. Sutherland -AncientPages.com - The Aztec Eagle Warriors and Jaguar Warriors were without doubt some of the most skilled and feared fighting forces of the ancient world. For 200 years they were the most dominant and terrifying warrior force in Mesoamerica.
They created a huge and ruthless empire. All went well, until they came face to face with an enemy even stronger than themselves, an enemy they could never conquer. This devastating encounter was the beginning of the end.
Aztec Military Organization
The Aztecs were not peaceful people. Warfare played a central role in their society and was the driving force of their economy and religion. Every Aztec male was a warrior and received basic military training from a young age, whether trader, craftsman or farmer. In fact, military achievement, particularly the taking of prisoners, was the only vehicle for upward social movement available for commoners.
Aztec warriors often went to war in order to expand the empire and to meet the needs they had to provide sacrifices for their beliefs and rituals. The Aztecs were known to not instantly kill their enemies or victims, but to bring them home to their ruler who would sacrifice them in ritual ceremonies.
The Aztecs believed a male should become a great warrior because his duty was to “feed the Sun with the blood of their enemies”.
The Aztec army’s secret to success was good organization and well-trained and determined warriors. The Aztecs did not have a permanent or standing army but called up warriors when required. Each town was required to provide a complement of 400 men for campaigns, during which they would remain as a unit led by one of their own senior warriors and march under their own standard but also be a part of a larger group of 8,000 men. As many as 25 such divisions, or 200,000 men, could be mobilized for a large-scale campaign.
Who Could Become An Aztec Eagle Warrior Or Jaguar Warrior?
The Aztec Empire was organized with a strong central government headed by the emperor. The priests and a warrior castes came next, they were made up of nobles who enjoyed a high status in Aztec society. These warriors formed a professional core in Aztec armies and were ranked according to their achievements on the battlefield.
Statue of an eagle warrior (cuāuhtli).
Aztec Eagle Warriors and Jaguar Warriors of Mesoamerica were fighters from noble class.
Sons of nobles were expected to enter into the Eagle Warrior or Jaguar Warrior society and to progress through the ranks. Commoners who excelled in warfare would also be allowed to join the orders.
To become an Eagle Warrior or Jaguar Warrior was not easy. Training started at a very early age. The Aztecs had a tough education system. Young boys were trained in fighting, battles tactics, killing, and most importantly taking captives. The entire Aztec society was structured to simply be better at warfare than everybody else. The existence and purpose of the males focused on being a great warrior. At the age of 17, young Aztec men became warriors and entered formal military training. Aztec warriors could move up in ranking by capturing enemies.
Cotton armor and a jaguar headdress.
Death was an essential part of Aztec culture from sacrifice to burial. Warriors were an especially apart of this cycle and cultural aspect. When a warrior died either from battle or sacrifice, ceremony was involved. Captured warriors would be sacrificed to the sun god and in some cases the warrior would do the sacrifice.
Aztec Jaguar Warrior
If a warrior died in battle his corpse would be burned there on the battlefield rather than at his city-state. An arrow from the fallen warrior on the battlefield would be brought back, dress in the Sun god insignia and burned. It was believed by the Aztecs that the same place for the after life of warriors was also the place for women who died during childbirth. Mourning for fallen warriors was a long and sacred process. The mourners for eighty days straight would not bathe and groom themselves. These actions were done to wait for that fallen warrior's soul to reach the Sky of the Sun.
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To be eligible to join the Eagles or Jaguars a man had to capture four prisoners in battle. Eagle Warriors were adorned in eagle feathers and wore headgear with an eagle head on it, their faces looking out from an open beak. Jaguars wore suits made from the pelts of pumas (jaguars) and associated themselves with their god of night.
Eagles and Jaguars were largest warrior societies and they were the only types of warriors who would be considered full-time warriors. These warriors became leaders and commanders on and off the battlefield. After reaching this rank they would be considered as nobles and elite members of Aztec society.
The entrance into the inner chamber of the Eagle Warriors Temple in Malinalco. The temple has a long extended bench that covers half of its inner chamber. There are carved sculptures on the bench of eagles and a jaguar. In the center of the inner chamber there is a giant carved eagle on the floor. Some believe the centre eagle would be used as an altar or throne. Surrounding buildings around Malinalco contained several murals depicting the life of a warrior. In additions there were murals of dancing eagles and jaguars within structures in Malinalco.
This is why a warrior's path was a way to change ones social status in Aztec culture. The Aztec emperor granted a variety of rights to the warriors who advanced to the eagle and jaguar orders because of ability and achievement.
These privileges included the right to wear otherwise proscribed jewelry and daily military attire, to dress in cotton and wear sandals in the royal palace, to eat human flesh and drink octli (pulque) in public, to keep concubines, and to dine in the Royal Palaces.
The Arrival Of The Spaniards
The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire begun in February, 1519 and it was one of the most significant events in the Spanish colonization of the Americas.
Eagle and Jaguar Warriors, Florentine Codex Book
When the Spaniards entered Mexico they engaged the Aztec warriors. The Eagle and Jaguar warriors were truly courageous, but their weapons were primitive and they could not defeat the conquistadors. In a violent battle, at the “House of the Arsenal” fifteen Spaniards were captured and sacrificed.
The Aztecs resistance was good and the fighters were brave. Both men and women fought against the Spaniards, but the odds were stacked against them and they had no chance against the brutal, foreign invasion force.
Written by – A. Sutherland AncientPages.com Staff Writer
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