Offensive Aztec weapons used by Aztec warriors in close and ranged combat including Aztec swords, clubs, spears, the atlatl spear-thrower, bow and arrow and slings.
At its height, the Aztec civilization was a mighty military force. All Aztec youths underwent intensive military training between the ages of fifteen and twenty. This Aztec military training familiarized each young prospective warrior with the various ancient weapon types used by Aztec warriors. Here is an overview of the most commonly used Aztec weapons.
Long-Range Aztec Weapons – Atlatl, Bow and Sling
Long-range Aztec weapons were primarily used to pepper enemy lines before the principal charge. These ranged weapons served as both hunting tools and ancient weapons of war. Aztec warriors would use their finely honed hunting skills to devastating effect upon the battlefield. Here are the standard long-range Aztec weapons:
Atlatl: The Aztec atlatl was a spear or dart throwing device used to hurl obsidian, copper or flint tipped darts (or short spears) with good range and power. This was arguably the Aztec weapon most feared by the Spanish Conquistadors. According to historian Ross Hassig, “Spanish sources attest to the effectiveness of these weapons, asserting that darts thrown with the atlatl could pierce any armor and still inflict a fatal wound”.
Bow and Arrow: Aztec bows were approximately 1.5 meters long with animal-sinew bowstrings. For hunting purposes simple fire-hardened arrows were normally used. The more effective Aztec war arrows were often tipped with obsidian or flint.
Slings: Aztec slingers complimented the Aztec archers. Aztec slings, known as tematlatls, were used to hurl stones at the enemy. Stones, preselected for weight and shape, could be slung with enough velocity to inflict wounds upon even well-armored Conquistadors.
Short-Range Aztec Weapons
Aztec battle tactics focused upon taking enemies captive for Aztec ritual sacrifice. Short-range weaponry was therefore vital for taking both live captives and securing victory.
Macuahuitl: The macuahuitl was the Aztec sword of choice. The body was usually made from oak and bladed on both sides with obsidian. The recorded length of this Aztec sword varies. Hassig states that the one-handed variety was a little over a meter long, while the two-handed macuahuitl could be “as tall as a man”. He also notes the observations of the Conquistadors: “the ability of these swords to cut the head from a horse with a single blow”.
Tepoztopilli: This Aztec weapon was basically a thrusting spear, although slashing attacks were viable (therefore it could be labeled a halberd). The spear was tipped with sharpened stone blades. The tepoztopilli was useful to Aztec warriors as the enemy were closing, but lost its effectiveness at too close a range.
Clubs: Aztec war clubs came in various shapes and sizes. Some were simple wooden clubs, while others were bladed. The cuauhololli was a wooden club with a spherical ball at the end, its top-heavy weight ideal for crushing blows.
Aztec Weapons – Tactics of the Aztec Civilization
The combination of Aztec weapon types served to weaken an enemy before the main charge. For an infantry/archer combination this is not entirely removed from basic medieval European battle tactics. Archers and slingers inflicted long-range damage upon the enemy before the main infantry closes.
Aztec Weapons and Ritual Sacrifice
However, Aztec weapons and battle tactics were also devised with Aztec ritual sacrifice in mind. The capture of live enemies was vital for honoring the Aztec gods. For an individual Aztec warrior, it was also the most certain manner in which to advance through the Aztec military orders.
Of all the short-range Aztec weapons, clubs were the most widely used and most commonly available. This is, perhaps, not without due cause. The club was also one of the Inca weapons of choice; it is, after all, an effective weapon, both simple in design and easy to use. The Aztecs, however, had a very particular need for such an incapacitating weapon.
If the macuahuitl Aztec sword could take the head off a horse, then a club as a backup weapon would seem a reasonable choice. An unconscious enemy is perfect for Aztec ritual sacrifice – a decapitated enemy is not.