Aztecs were fierce warriors. They started as a small, hungry tribe on a marshy island and grew into a great empire through their ability to wage war.

They did not have a professional army but all young men trained to be warriors. From an early age, they entered schools, by neighborhood, known as telpochcalli, the “House of the Warriors.” They learned behavior, songs and dances. When they were ready, they went with an experienced warrior into battle to learn his methods. Next a small group of young men would try to capture and enemy together. If they succeeded, they advanced in rank. (Their hair was cut short except for a piece at the neck. When they captured their first enemy, whether alone or in a group, that lock of hair was cut off.) He was then called an iyac. Next they would try to capture an enemy without help. If they did bring home a captive, they advanced further in rank.

The only way to advance on the social order was through courageous acts in battle. A warrior was honored depending on how many prisoners he had taken and what rank those prisoners were. Successful warriors were allowed to wear beautiful, luxurious clothes, and were given land. (At that time having land was the same as having wealth.) On the other hand, unsuccessful warriors could fall in rank. The highest ranks of warriors were called jaguar and eagle (knights).

Warriors all had other occupations because warfare only took place in certain seasons.

The Aztecs made war against their neighbors in what was called the “flowery wars” or “blossom wars” regularly. The purpose was not to kill the enemy, but to capture men who could be sacrificed to the Aztec gods. Likely another reason for the frequent warfare was to keep their warriors in practice, and to frighten anyone who tried to rebel.

Death by sacrifice, even as a captive, was considered an honorable death.

How did they fight?

Although they had bows and arrows, those were mostly used for fishing. The main weapon was a large club (called a maqualhuitl), flat, with sharp stones (of obsidian) set into the edges. In a battle, a warrior would use the flat part of the club to stun the enemy so the warrior could wrestle him down. Warriors also carried shields and wore cotton armor that was fitted close to the body. The armor was so effective that when the Spanish came, they wore Aztec armor that they had captured instead of their own, metal armor.

(Source…Daily Life of the Aztecs, Jacques Soustelle)