Ancient Aztec Weapons
Every ancient Aztec weapon had a unique and specific use, with Aztec warriors designated to specialize in them. Aztec warfare was very organized, complex and full of ritual and tradition. We know a significant amount about some of the weapons that the Aztecs used, though much of the history has been lost. Manuel Aguilar-Moreno explains:
One finds a repetition of the most important weapons in historical sources, while other weapons receive minimal mention in only a few scattered documents. This suggests that other, less commonly known arms may be forgotten.
Below is information that we have on various Aztec weapons.
The best-known ancient Aztec weapon is the maquahuitl (macahuitl). The maquahuitl is sometimes compared to a sword; it was a powerful, in your face mellee weapon. Like the European sword, they came both one-handed and two-handed. They were about 3-4″ wide and 3-4′ long and made mostly of oak wood. The two handed versions might be slightly wider and could be as tall as a person. In the edges of the wood was lined with obsidian (volcanic stone) or flint. These sharp stones are still used today in the medical field for scalpels and can hold a Maquahuitls were incredibly deadly weapons. The Spanish would say they could chop the head off a horse with one swing. In an account by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, one of Hernán Cortés’s conquistadors, this is recorded.
“Pedro de Morón was a very good horseman, and as he charged with three other horsemen into the ranks of the enemy the Indians seized hold of his lance and he was not able to drag it away, and others gave him cuts with their broadswords, and wounded him badly, and then they slashed at the mare, and cut her head off at the neck so that it hung by the skin, and she fell dead.”
Modern recreations haven’t been able to accomplish this, however, they have been able to cut about ¾ through a pig carcass and most likely are unable to construct the weapons to the high standards of the Aztecs. Unfortunately for the Aztecs the weapons blade wasn’t able to withstand strikes against solid objects, the obsidian blades would shatter or become dislodged.
These weapons were very sharp and the best trained of the Aztec warriors employed them to great effect. The maquhuitl was used in a slashing manner, as it did not have a point for thrusting like a sword.
The maquahuitl could be used as a club, but other types of clubs were used as well. One of which was the cuauhololli, which was a mace made of wood with a ball at the end. It was used to smash and crush. Various other types of clubs were also used, sometimes just made of wood and other times with embedded stone like the maquahuitl.
Another common ancient Aztec weapon was the spear, called a tepoztopilli. They were extremely sharp and could be over 7 feet long. They didn’t have a small point as many spears do, but instead a blade of up to a foot wide made of smaller stone blades. Theses spears were known to pierce the Spanish armor, and they were sharp enough that the warriors could use them to shave.
The atlatl was a spear throwing device, for long distance combat.
An atlatl is a wooden rod with a handle on one end and a hook that engages a light spear or “dart” on the other. The flipping motion of the atlatl throws a light spear much faster and farther than it could be thrown by hand.
The atlatl was used in other parts of the world and is still used today. Aztec artists often drew the gods with atlatls. The “darts” were made of oak, single pointed with obsidian, flint, or even copper or bone. The thrown darts tended to be more powerful than arrows.
Atlatls often had a symbolic significance, and some were made very artistically. Hernan Cortes received an atlatl from Motecuhzoma II.
Bows and Arrows
Bows, known as tlahuitolli, were common among the Aztecs as well. The bows were 5 feet long and the arrows (yaomime) were pointed with flint, bone or obsidian, and kept in a quiver (mixiquipilli). As with all their weapons, the Aztecs were very skilled with the bow and arrow. It is believed that their arrows could fly 450 feet or more.
Another devastating ancient Aztec weapon, the sling, was made with fibers from the maguey plant (agave americana). The slings (tematlatl) were used to throw stones at the enemy. They were thrown so powerfully and accurately, that they could do significant damage to a soldier in full metal armor.
The Aztec warrior didn’t use just any stones, they prepared the stones ahead of time and carefully shaped them. It is believed that the stones could be thrown farther than the arrows could be shot.