Aztec warrior training provided the Aztec civilization with a continual source of skilled Aztec warriors. Two schools served the Aztec military – telpochcalli & calmecac.
The Aztec civilization was noted for its aggressive and brave Aztec warriors. Cortés and the Spanish Conquistadors may have seen the Aztecs as a primitive, indeed savage, race, but never did they underestimate their bravery and courage in battle. For the Aztecs, death was highly ritualized. Death on the battlefield, be it one’s own life lost or another’s taken, was both a glorious act and one which was performed in order to honor the Aztec gods.
Aztec Warrior Training
Aztec warriors were not simply born to battle. Training was key to the success of the Aztec military. Without training there would be neither order nor discipline. The Aztecs, like all great militaristic civilizations, knew that even the bravest warriors would not succeed in battle without being given the appropriate training.
All male Aztec youths would receive military training. Aztec society was basically divided between the Aztec nobility and the commoner classes, and this was reflected in the type of training received. The sons of Aztec nobles would generally receive their training in the calmecac academies while the bulk of the commoners would enter the telpochcalli schools.
Telpochcalli Aztec Training
At the age of fifteen all Aztec youths would begin their Aztec warrior training. For the majority, the telpochcalli schools would provide this education. While not all would become Aztec soldiers, each and every youth would receive sufficient military training to be able to fight effectively if called upon.
According to historian Ross Hassig, each Aztec youth “ate in his own home but was required to sleep at the school and work and associate with other telpochcalli youths during the day”. Building a sense of camaraderie amongst the youths was important. Equally so was the development of physical strength and endurance.
Various duties had to be performed by each student; duties which would serve to develop both discipline and physical and mental toughness. Punishment for failing in any given duty was severe. Outright acts of disobedience, such as the consumption of alcohol (forbidden to telpochcalli youths), could be punished by death.
Veteran Aztec Warriors: Instruction in the Telpochcalli
Veteran warriors would oversee Aztec military training in the telpochcalli. These veteran warriors would instruct the students in the use of Aztec weapons and prepare the students for battle. Strict discipline was combined with mental and physical bullying to harden the students to combat situations. Those who did not break and showed both endurance and discipline would be rewarded and their potential noted for future promotion.
Promising youths would be taken on campaign to carry supplies and act as shield bearers to the veteran Aztec soldiers. At twenty years of age, after five years in the telpochcalli, those youths who wanted to become fully-fledged Aztec warriors would find a sponsor to accompany them to war.
Calmecac Aztec Warrior Training
Sons of Aztec nobles, and of the political and military leaders of the Aztec civilization, were trained in the calmecac. The calmecac also specialized in the training of priests. Education in the calmecac was a more advanced form of learning to that received in the telpochcalli schools. Warrior training in the calmecac combined the rigorous Aztec military training found in the telpochcalli with more intellectual Aztec teachings.
Aztec training in the calmecac began earlier than in the telpochcalli. According to Hassig, noble sons entered the calmecac between the ages of six and thirteen, while “The king’s sons apparently entered the temple at the age of five and were raised there until they were old enough to go to war”.
Here, Aztec youths were taught the finer arts of Aztec life. However, noble sons destined to become warriors also received the finest Aztec military training available. Calmecac students (and, at times, sons of lower nobility training in the telpochcalli) would receive further military training in the houses of the Aztec military societies, specifically in the Aztec Eagle and Jaguar Warrior military orders. Access to such specialized training gave noble sons a distinct advantage over commoner youths.
Aztec Warrior Training – Calmecac vs Telpochcalli School
Those trained in the calmecac, as in the telpochcalli, would finish their training at the age of twenty and prepare to go to war. However, calmecac students would continue to benefit from their social status. They went to war better trained and better equipped than commoners trained in the telpochcalli. They would also benefit from their connections.
Noble sons would go to war under the guidance of the most experienced, and costly, veteran Aztec warriors. This continued tutelage and care received on the battlefield would allow the noble youths to progress more rapidly than their commoner counterparts. Outperforming others in battle, and taking more enemies captive for Aztec ritual sacrifice, the calmecac trainees could rise through the Aztec military ranks with greater ease.