Cualli teotlac, mimichtin! 🐠 Professor Citlali back finally with a new Empire thread! #StarTalk We had a good bit of fun yesterday with a trivia- and for those of you that missed it, I'll be running them on the weekends from now on. Today however! I'll be discussing a topic that maybe you've been wondering how its taken me so long to address it, well wonder no longer. Today we are talking about:
Warfare and Weapons of the Mexica Empire
Who among us doesn't know the claim to fame that has made the Aztecs perennial favorites in war games, books, and movies? A fierce people, a sprawling empire, the largest city built in the Americas all erased off the map in just 500 years.
In order to understand how and why a relatively small caravan of sickly, scrawny Spanish invaders were able to take down the robust Mexica warriors and capture Tenochtitlan, we need to start where we always do- With the beginning.
Once upon a time, as Cōātlīcue swept her temple, a bundle of feathers fell from the heavens and later she found it has impregnated her. Shamed, her eldest daughter Coyolxauhqui rallied her 400 brothers to kill their mother to preserve the family's honor but then! Fully armored and with a weapon in hand, Huitzilopochtli sprang free and beheaded his sister and chased his brothers to the sky. This is how the moon, stars, and sun came to chase each other across the sky endlessly. ☀️🌔🌠
This story and many like it are the foundations of the Mexica society that glorify honor in war and made it a vital part of religion and culture.
Huitzilopochtli chases away the night each morning so that the people may prosper, and he is aided by the souls of fallen warriors that have fought their way through Mictlan and returned in the bodies of hummingbirds to continue protecting their people. With a lore like this, how could one not admire the culture one has been born and bred into?
Therefore, the people fulfilled their duties religiously in order to keep their gods content and willing to continue protecting them. Huitzilopochtli, as we talked about previously, is the main culprit behind the persistent trope of the Mexica being blood thirsty and cannibalistic. His sustenance was the blood and hearts of warriors, after all. We know now that there was much more grey area here than we thought, but the truth mains that human sacrifices were direly needed to feed him
And how does one continually keep a god bathed in blood? By building the fiercest and most disciplined army the Americas had ever seen. An army so deeply devoted that frequently they agreed to xochiyaoyotl, Flower Wars, where one side agreed to their capture explicitly for being sacrificed, because this was the greatest good their bodies could ever do- nourish the war god that protected their family for centuries.
Xochiyaoyotl were odd for a number of reasons. Not only were they agreed upon combat for the benefit of all the Empire, they were designed in a way to prevent full scale war and tensions and it worked! ... Usually.
In 1376 CE, one of these flower conquests turned into all out war with the Chalca which didn't really end too well for them.
This aside, the aim of the xochiyaoyotl was only to take enough warriors to sate the gods, nothing more.
Right? We take only what we need, right? The Mexica were not a wasteful people, we know that. They were humble and they shunned waste! Well, the people, yes. Anyone half awake today knows that we, the people, and they, the leaders, have two wildly different agendas.
Flowers Wars, unsurprisingly, also served to prune the military might of city-states and tribes that may have revolted, rebelled, or attempted to ally together. *chorus of "Called it!" from the readership, I know I know*
A break for a question! Remember folks, you can always ask me anything. I'll get to them ASAP.
@anarchiv asks: do you happen to know if there is any archaeological evidence for woman soldiers / mercenaries / ...in the Aztec civilisation?
And the answer is sadly, no, at least none I'm aware of. There is La Malinche, a slave girl sold to Hernan Cortes who became an instrument in the downfall of the empire and my namesake, Citlali, a captive princess, but otherwise no. I will look tho!
This brings me to another point: The Mexica did not exactly practice subtly in their warfare. While spies, known as quimichtin or mice, did exist to infiltrate the enemy, there are no explicit recountings of assassins or mercenaries within the Mexica ranks.
In fact, when a slight or grievance was felt by the leaders, a diplomatic envoy was the first line of offense in dealing with the enemy. Not war drums, no theatrics, just a diplomat and their warning of what was following them
And what was in the wake of a failed diplomatic mission? An army 200,000 warriors strong.
Unlike the Spartans, a similar culture in a lot of ways, the Mexica felt no need for a full time standing army. War was not a job. Farming, hunting, smithing, forging weapons, those were jobs. War was who the Mexica were at their core and when the call came, they laid down their tools for armor and spears to answer and march into battle.
So lets go over the structure of the army a little bit. At the top we have the tlatoani, roughly translated to English as the King. Now he wasn't a KING king, but he was the ruler of his specific city-state within the Empire.
The last ruler of Tenochtitlan was Cuauhtemoc, a cousin of Montezuma that ascended to the throne in the middle of the Spanish invasion. Mexica tlatoani lead their people from the ground, meaning they threw themselves into combat with the rest of their soldiers.
Tlatoani were unafraid of death. They were death themselves, for one could not become ruler if he had not demonstrated his command of the battlefield. Cuauhtemoc was captured by Hernan Cortes' men after 80 days of total war and having no more warriors nor allies to rely on, but was spared only to be later tortured in interrogation for a fabled treasure and then executed for plotting to slaughter their Spanish captives.
As an aside for @anarchiv : During this 80 day siege, the only remaining allies left of the empire was the city-state Tlatelolco. The ensuing battle is one of the extremely few accounts of women joining the fight- their bodies found in a mass grave alongside the male warriors wearing armor and buried with weapons. Perhaps there are more accounts somewhere... 🛡️
Beneath the tlatoani was his second in command, the cihuacoatl. They were joined by the four highest ranking nobles and warriors to create the war cabinet, the tlacochcalcatl, tlaccetacatl, tillancalqui, and etzhuanhuanco. Often times these were noble birthed soldiers who had the titled passed down by their fathers, but it was possible for a commoner to claw their way to the top with enough living captives dragged in from the battle field.
From here, we have four prestigious rankings of warriors: Jaguar ("ocēlōtl"), Eagle ("cuacuauhtin"), otontin, and cuauhchique.
Jaguar and Eagle warriors were soldiers of either noble or common birth that had captures anywhere between 4 and 12 (accounts vary) live! enemy warriors for sacrifice. They were exalted as heroes and decorated in either feathered suits (Eagle) or the skins of slain jaguars, and placed at the front of the battle to terrify their enemies.
There's no clear difference between Jaguar or Eagle warriors other than their outfits. My guess is that this comes down to the deity the warrior wishes to glorify.
Huitzilopochtli, the war god, was frequently represented by the eagle while Tezcatlipoca, the god of destruction, was represented by the jaguar. It makes sense that they would find themselves on the battle field, guiding their warriors to victory.
Otontin were the level just above Jaguar or Eagle warriors but little literature exists of them, while the Cuauhchique were the elite of the elite. At this point one was considered a full time warrior and had completed no less than 20 "feats of bravery" and captured more than two dozen live enemies for sacrifice. They were given access to the tlatoani's palace, a House order, could drink pulque publicly, and have many concubines.
As for dress, the higher ranked of a warrior you were, the more flamboyant your garb could be. The Cuauhchique had shields of gold, wore ornate feathers and jewelry, specially made weapons of fine materials, and colorful capes of regional textile. At all times, they were highly visible to the enemy, but what did they care? They were the greatest warriors alive steered by their gods themselves and if they fell, they would return as hummingbirds and resume their fight.
@star thank you! I can't forget about those vikings that turned out to be women so I'm curious about other parts of the world.
@star This question is a massive aside, but: does the word ending "-atl" mean anything in its own right, or is it just a common phoneme?
@eldang I'm absolutely not an expert on the language as I'm still learning it myself, however I can tell you that while "-atl" seems to be very common (it's actually the word for "water"), I think the ending that's most important here is "-tl" which I think you would call a common phoneme along with "-in", "-li" and "-tli"
@star what an amazing discovery!
@star do you happen to know if there is any archaeological evidence for woman soldiers / mercenaries / ...in the Aztec civilisation?
@star I love reading these threads so much. I can honestly say they're my favorite part of the fediverse. I just went back and read the thread about food and am so hungry now, for crickets even. thank you so much for taking the time and energy to make these informative posts. it is so so so appreciated. hopefully soon I'll be able to afford to send a tip for your efforts but I just wanted to at least say thank you for now!
@fr33l0 thank you! Honestly that people enjoy these gives me so much excitement to do more. I'm glad you find them valuable!
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