Here are the core Aztec military orders from commoners to Aztec Eagle Warriors, Aztec Jaguar Warriors, Otontin and Cuachicqueh Aztec warrior ranks.
The Aztec Empire of the Triple Alliance was a highly militaristic society. As such, social status was both a question of birthright and military achievement. While the Aztec nobility were born into the upper echelons of society, citizens of more humble origins could climb the social ladder through outstanding personal displays in battle.
Aztec ritual sacrifice demanded live captives. The capture of an enemy by an Aztec warrior on the battlefield was a mark of martial prowess and social worth. In this way, an Aztec warrior could rise through both the military orders and society as a whole. The following are the core Aztec ranks through which an Aztec warrior could potentially rise.
Commoners – Aztec Warriors of the Macehualtin Class
Unless a noble by birth, an Aztec warrior would begin his military career in the ranks of commoners who formed the basic light infantry of the Aztec army. As part of a highly militaristic society, all Aztec youths were trained in the arts of war and received extensive Aztec military training. While nobles were trained at the exclusive and more advanced Calmecac school, commoners from the Aztec Macehualtin classes received their basic training at the Telpochcalli school.
The son of a noble could progress directly into the higher Aztec ranks. For a commoner to rise through the military ranks he would have to first prove himself in battle. Acts of valor on the battlefield, particularly involving the capture of enemies, could result in the warrior being promoted to the higher Aztec military orders and in turn securing a higher social status.
Aztec Eagle Warriors and Aztec Jaguar Warriors
The largest of the veteran Aztec military orders was that of the Aztec Eagle and Jaguar Warriors. An Aztec warrior of the commoner class could find himself honored by promotion to this warrior class after having captured more than four enemy warriors. The number of captives required before promotion would usually depend upon the military status of the captured opponent.
Young Aztec nobles would normally enter the ranks of the Eagle and Jaguar Warriors soon after completing their training at the Calmecac. Their superior military training gave them a huge advantage over Aztec warriors from the lower classes. Not only were they more educated in warfare, they could also benefit from their ties with veteran warriors from the nobility. Despite the possibility of meritocratic promotion into the Eagle and Jaguar Warrior orders, they still comprised mainly of the Aztec nobility.
Beyond a difference in military attire, historical sources do not tend to note a militaristic difference between the Aztec Eagle and Jaguar Warrior orders. Historian Ross Hassig states that “Conceptually, there appears to be no distinction between these types of warriors, and, indeed, other, less common terms were used to denote them, including cauahtlocelotl (eagle-jaguar)”.
Otontin Aztec Warriors
Otontin Aztec warriors have been perceived differently in various texts. It was at first believed that they were commoners from the Otomi tribe who served as mercenaries for the Aztec Empire. However, historians such as Hassig and Manuel Aguilar-Moreno have convincingly claimed that the Otontin were in fact an elite order of the Aztec military, second only to the Cuahchicqueh order (below).
An Aztec warrior could be considered for promotion into the Otontin order only after proving himself on the battlefield and taking at least five or six captives. As such, the Otontin order comprised fierce veterans who would often act as elite shock troops in battle.
Cuahchicqueh – Elite Aztec Warrior Ranks
The Cuahchicqueh were the Aztec military elite; a body of Aztec warriors from which the highest ranking military commanders were chosen. According to Hassig, an Aztec warrior could enter the elite Cuahchicqueh only after “taking many captives in battle and performing more than twenty brave deeds”.
The Cuahchicqueh, or the “Shorn Ones”, would have been a terrifying prospect to their enemies. Their reputation would have preceded them, and their distinct appearance would have left no opposing warrior unsure of who was closing in for the attack. Manuel Aguilar-Moreno describes the Cuahchicqueh as such: “Their heads were entirely shaved except for a piece of hair braided with a red ribbon above the left ear. They would also paint half of their heads blue and the other half red or yellow”.
The Cuahchicqueh were relentless in battle; they had sworn to never take a step back until death or victory had come. As the Aztec warrior elite, the Cuahchicqueh were also to be found at the very height of Aztec society. In a militaristic civilization such as the Aztec Empire, the greatest warriors were given both social status and power befitting their bravery on the battlefield.