Yearly Archives: 2012

Weapons in the Mexica period

29 December 2012 Comments (1)

A guest post from , an artist, painter, and web designer, a man who knows way too much about anything Mexica-Aztec related, a man who would not miss a single archeological conference in the Temple Mayor museum.

Enrique is a talented painter and I promise to link to his works later on, when his beautifully detailed and historrically accurate paintings will be properly water-marked and protected (soon, as he promised). He is also one of the founders of In Tlilli In Tlapalli – pre-hispanic blog where you can read many more fascinating articles by him, and other knowledgeable, well-versed in history people.

Weapons in the Mexica period

We all know about the military reach of the powerful Aztec civilization, whose armies dominated more than 500 different cities in the states of Tabasco, Veracruz, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Edo, just to name a few, reaching out beyond even the current Mexican borders, colonizing parts of Guatemala.

But if you wondered how those Aztec legions were armed and what weapons they used, you will find your answers in this article because today I will write about the weaponry used by the Mexica warriors.

The instruments of war are always divided into offensive and defensive.

This article will talk mainly about the offensive weapons, although I would like to mention the defensive weapons such as chimalli – a shield, which was made out of wood, reinforced with reeds, sisal fiber, then covered with leather. Also ichcahuipilli, a padded cotton armor, hardened with salt water, or made out of sisal.

Among the offensive weapons of combat first comes the ever popular macuahuitl – the obsidian sword, which consisted of a pine stick inlaid with razor-sharp obsidian. It is said that macuahuitl could cut an arm or a head without a problem, but if it was the first blow, as, colliding with a shield or another wooden item, the obsidian blade could broke or became damaged. Even by accounts of Bernal Diaz del Castillo, we know that there was a version of this weapon used to be handled with two hands (the Hispanic version of the European bastard sword). A couple of photographs taken in the late nineteenth century confirm this observation, showing a very long macuahuitl located in the Royal Armoury of Madrid which was destroyed with many other pieces when a fire occurred inside the compound previously mentioned.

Spears/javelins were also quite popular weapons used by the Aztec warriors. A great diversity of those weapons ranged from javelins, favored by light troop and called teputzopilli, to heavy lances. These were very characteristic to various Mexican civilizations, because the tip of the spear had also been inlaid with obsidian slabs. No doubt those weapons was used mainly in close combat. If in America had been existed contingents of pikemen or spearmen, Europe would certainly have used a Mexican teputzopilli.

Closely related to spears was atlatl. This weapon consisted of a piece of wood with two handles for fingers, which worked as an extension of the warrior’s arm. Using the atlatl, its owner would achieve more accuracy and cover greater distance (current experiments establish that had a range of 100 to 150 m with the ability to impale a man). The wood it was made of, was pine, due to its durability and lightness.

Atlatl and spear were linked with the ruling class of Tenochtitlan, as well as with the gods. There were numerous representations of Tezcatlipoca and Huitzilopochtli handling atlatl in one hand, and the other holding the darts to use. Ceremonial atlatls were primarily decorative, not intended to use in battle. They were inlaid with turquoise, jade, bone, gold and endless precious materials.

Another, but a less popular weapon, were a bow and arrows (made of one piece and not as the Mongolian composite bows, made out of different materials for the added strength and propulsion shooting). The arrowheads could be made from obsidian, bone, or charred wood. It is noteworthy that the primary function of this weapon was the hunt, like the blowpipe, therefore its use in a battle was not as extensive as this of atlatl or macuahuitl. Bow and arrows were valued differently among peoples of ancient Mexico. For example, the Tarascan were famous archers, inflicting heavy defeats on other nations with their use of metallurgy and their mastery of archery. For Chichimeca nomadic groups, living mainly by hunting, the bow was essential in their lifestyle.

A basic part of the arsenal of a commoner warrior would be a sling, woven from sisal or other plant fibers. In chronicles of anonymous conquistadors, the Spanish squadrons referred to groups of slingers among the Mexica forces. The ammunition was usually river rocks or slabs of stone, carved with angles to increase the impact, and the damage. Today in some populations of Mexico there are still people who know how to make these slings with one sisal cord, using it for hunting, although this traditional craft is getting closer to extinction with each passing day.

I hope this brief overview of the Mexican weaponry was of an interest. Although there is not quite enough information on this subject, it is logical that there is much more than reflected in this limited space. For example, it is interesting to note (albeit briefly) that wooden mallets barbed some obsidian were used, along with axes and copper weapons (the latter probably brought from faraway kingdom of Michoacán). Just look and you are invited to begin your own investigation into the rich culture of the people who had inhabited this country called Mexico before the Spanish arrived.

Comments, suggestions or questions by twitter account

Cheers and good night

Enrique Ortiz

Historical fiction and the trouble in the Aztec Capital

19 December 2012 Comments (0)

I am happy to announce the release of another new book

Currents of War

the fourth book of The Rise of the Aztecs series.

It wasn’t until 1426, after living for more than a hundred years and ruling for almost half of this time, that Tezozomoc, the old Tepanec emperor died, leaving many sons to rule many provinces.

His death did not plunge the Tepanec Empire into a chaos, as the conquered or oppressed nations expected. Tezozomoc’s eldest son and his appointed successor, Tayatzin, seemed to be a reasonable man and a good ruler.

Yet, not everyone was satisfied with this arrangement. Maxtla, one of the other numerous royal offspring, appointed to rule Coyoacan, apparently thought that the marble throne of Azcapotzalco would suit his talents better than the petty province of Coyoacan.

Too busy to pay attention to the discontent offspring of the royal Tepanec house, Tenochtitlan faced its own problems. The water supplies. Though the first aqueduct was built successfully, carrying fresh water into Tenochtitlan all the way from the mainland and over the lake’s waters, it also brought along much trouble. Built of clay and other inadequate materials, the water construction broke down alarmingly often, leaving the island with no fresh drinking water again and again.

The Aztec engineers worked hard, fixing the problems, maintaining the important construction, yet the lack of appropriate building materials thwarted their efforts; this and the necessity to ask for the Tepanecs permission to do the repairs each time the need arose.

The relationship between the Aztecs and the Tepanecs began to deteriorate once again, with Aztecs being much stronger this time, backed by many of the neighboring nations.

Seven years later, the Aztecs are ready to revolt against the mighty Tepanec Empire. However, while the young Emperor is trying to solve the problems peacefully, his warlords and advisers believe he is making too many mistakes along the way. A much stronger leader is needed, but is there a way to change Emperors with no bloodshed?

Kuini, now a promising leader, but still considered a pushy foreigner by some, is about to find out that meddling in the Aztec politics could cost him more than he is prepared to pay.

An excerpt from “Currents of War

The Highlander’s smile was wide, back to his light, unconcerned, cheeky self.

“I like that vision of yours, Chief Warlord. I’ll join you in this undertaking, too.” His grin widened. “That is, if you still want me among your forces.”

“You? You will take Azcapotzalco single-handedly. Of course, I will bring you along.”

“Back in that dung-filled Palace, you promised this would be the last time you would trust me.”

Tlacaelel frowned, the thought of Tlacopan’s Palace spoiling his mood. “Back in that stinking, manure-infested place, I was angry with you for going into the city without permission. I thought you were after a flask of octli.”

The Highlander’s eyes sparkled. “I did get this thing. More than a pitiful flask, too. Their octli is nice, more delicate tasting than Tenochtitlan’s brews.” He pitted his face against the wind, smiling happily. “People always talk more readily when you buy them a round of drinks. I found this out some time ago, when I finally began to get those cocoa beans in reasonable amounts.”

“You are a hopeless drunkard. What else did you hear?”

“I told you everything already. Plenty of changes our dear friend Maxtla is planning, plenty of changes.”

“Maxtla is stupid. He is nothing but a dirty son of the cheapest whore from the filthiest corner of the marketplace!” Tlacaelel clenched his teeth. “And what he doesn’t understand – but why should he, when all he knows is how to poison people or try to trap them otherwise? – is that with Itzcoatl for an Emperor he’ll have a more difficult time. He hates Chimalpopoca, because Chimal was rude to him, and because Chimal supported his brother too openly. Stupidly too, if you ask me, but they did not bother to ask me, or to listen to my advice.” He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself, watching the hills sweeping by. “But what ruler, what leader, would allow his personal passion of revenge to cloud his judgment? Only a stupid manure-eater like him.”

“So Itzcoatl is the sure thing? No chance of you taking Chimal’s place?”

“No. I don’t want any of this. Even if Itzcoatl drops dead the moment he gets rid of Chimal, I won’t take the throne.”

“Does he plan to get rid of Chimal?”

Tlacaelel glanced at the suddenly guarded face of his friend. “Who knows?”

“You, for sure.” The Highlander wiped his brow, then waved away an insistent fly. “Well, it’s too much politics for one evening. There is only a certain amount of the Lowlander’s devious activity that I can take in one day.”

“One good turn deserves another.” Making sure no one was within hearing range, Tlacaelel touched his friend’s arm. “Keep away from the politics for some time. Don’t come near the Palace, or near Itzcoatl, if you can help it.”

Prepared to gamble?

2 December 2012 Comments (3)

What wouldn’t you bet while watching a fierce ball game where the players were not afraid to hurt themselves? A kernel of maize? A good obsidian knife? A golden necklace studded with precious stones?

Well, why not? Like anywhere else around the globe, people of the Mexican Valley and its surrounding, the Lowlands and Highlands alike, loved to gamble. Throughout important altepetls, small villages and regular towns, commoners or nobles, warriors or peasants, men or women, they all could be found betting, with patolli, a bean game, being the most popular of them all.

Patolli was a game of luck and skill, requiring practice and a measure of strategic thinking, while the player depended on the caprice of the rolling beans as well.

The players would gamble whatever they felt fit – from blankets, to food, to precious stones, to their freedom even, and the onlookers would hold their breath, liking to watch the game as much as they liked to participate in it.

In the alleys of the marketplace or in the warriors’ camps, in the Palaces and the dwellings of the nobles as much as in the cane-and-reed houses of the poor, crowded neighborhoods, people would challenge each other readily, trusting Xochipilli, the god of gambling, to watch over their luck. Xochipilli – the Prince of Flowers (xochitl – flower, pilli – prince or child) – was the patron of art and beauty, gambling, dancing and music, and feasts. Before the beginning of the game he would be offered sincere prayers, and sometimes even a part of the offerings out of the betting pool.

The board, in a form of a cross, could have been drawn upon the ground, or embroidered on a reed mat, or carved on the floor or a table, and, probably, arranged in a beautiful mosaic all over the Palaces and the houses of the nigh nobility. It would always present 52 landing positions, as this number was sacred according to the calendar. And so was the number four, which would be also represented on the patolli board in the form of the four colored middle squares. A figurine of the player would better not land there for more than one round, as if caught by the figurine of the opponent it would be kicked from the board, resulting in one of the bets switching hands.

Another dangerous area were the triangles on the edges of the board, as landing one’s figurines there the player would be required to transfer to his opponent one of the bets right away.

Twelve figurines would commence the race up the board. Six for each player, unless more than two contesters were involved, and then the number of figurines would be divided accordingly.

The goal of the game was to move one’s figurines across the board, from the starting squires to the finishing ones. To do that the players would cast the beans (the word patolli means beans), that marked with a dot on one side of each bean.

In order to place one’s figurine on the board the player needed to throw his beans until it displayed only one dot, with the other four showing their blank sides. From there the players would move their figurines according to the number of dotted sides each toss of the beans displayed – two dots, two moves, three dots, three, but if all the beans would display their dots the lucky man’s figurine would jump ten squires all at once.

Each figurine that would complete its round across the board would win its owner a bet. Six figurines, six bets. And so someone would go away richer, and happier, than the other.

Totoloque was a simpler game, but one that required more skill and fitted the warriors best. The players were to toss small pellets as close to the target as possible. Each player had five tries and the one who would score more hits would win the bet.

And so, between wars and politics and betting games, the people around Lake Texcoco would not complain of boredom, most of the times.

An excerpt from “The Warrior’s Way

Tecuani cast the beans and watched them rolling over the crude wooden surface.

Three of the beans stopped, displaying their marked sides while the other two remained blank. Absently, he picked a wooden figurine and moved it three squares up.

When he leaned back against the wall, his opponent, a warrior, but of a more common type, grabbed the beans.

“Just don’t fall asleep on us, kid,” he commented to the merriment of the others.

“No. I’ll collect your bets first, then I’ll go to sleep.” Tecuani shut his eyes against the strong midmorning light, his head pounding. He shouldn’t have drunk all that octli last night.

The man snorted. His throw of beans produced only one point, one bean displaying its marked side. Not a bad throw. The man whooped and flung another figurine onto the board.

“Who is collecting whose bets now, eh?”

“No one, yet.” Tecuani shrugged and tossed the beans. This time each displayed its marked side. Five points, ten squares. A lucky throw. Contemplating which of his figurines to move up the board, he paid no attention to the excitement of the watchers – mostly market frequenters and a few of his fellow warriors.

“Lucky frog-eater,” murmured his opponent.

One of the watching warriors raised his cup of octli. “Tecuani is always lucky with beans.”

Who cared about the stupid beans? Tecuani leaned back against the wall, fighting the urge to close his eyes. It was true. His luck would usually hold whenever he played the bean game. Since he’d been a boy he would win many bets, free to spend them on the marketplace afterward. But it had nothing to do with luck. If one played skillfully, one could always manipulate the figurines to the best of one’s ability. People were stupid to assume it was up to the rolling beans and marks.

While his opponent took his time to whisper a prayer, Tecuani’s thoughts drifted. Not cheerful thoughts for once. Since the warriors had left for Lake Chalco, more than half a moon ago, he had had no moment of peacefulness and not much of that alleged luck of his. His wound had healed perfectly, but not in time for him to join the campaign. Oh, how he craved to fight with Atolli, side by side, to show his brother, that outstanding man, once and for all that he, Tecuani, was not a child anymore. What a perfect opportunity, spoiled by a filthy wound.

The Rise of the Aztecs Part VII, Nezahualcoyotl, the heir to Texcoco throne

26 November 2012 Comments (1)

In ‘The Rise of the Aztecs Part VI’, we left the Tepanec Empire ruling the lands around Lake Texcoco, holding the whole Valley of Mexico in their firm grip.

Yet, eastward to Texcoco, over the high ridges where the Nahua people were not yet present at force, one person of importance was hiding, sheltered from the Tepanecs’ wrath.
Nezahualcoyotl, the heir to Texcoco throne, a man who would matter greatly in the future, but only a youth of seventeen at those times, had managed to survive. With no choices left, he had fled into the Highlands, the traditional enemies of his people.


Surprisingly, the Highlanders, people of Huexotzinco (or Tlaxcala, according to some sources), did not harm him, giving him a shelter instead. Whether due to the Tepanec invasion and the uncomfortable necessity to grow accustom to the new dangerously aggressive and power-hungry neighbors, the new masters of the Lowlands, or for some other reason, the Highlanders, a mix of Nahua, Otomi and Mixtec were inclined favorably toward their highborn refugee.

For three or four year, the heir to the Texcoco throne had lived among the highlanders, making friends and leaving a good impression as it seemed. Good enough to make those people back him up when, a few years later, his chance to fight for his Acolhua altepetl and provinces had come.

However, neither he, nor his new-found allies, hurried the events. What they waited for was the death of the Tepanec Emperor, the mighty Tezozomoc. The ruthless, greedy, brilliant ruler was very old, so a youth like Nezahualcoyotl could afford to take their time.

And not that, while waiting patiently, Nezahualcoyotl remained idle. Although grateful for the support of the fierce Highlanders, he knew that to take his lands back he would need more than that. His own defeated people needed to be made aware of his plans, needed to be reminded that not all was lost. So, disguised and drawing no attention, he had traveled Acolhua lands, not stirring trouble, not yet, but talking to people, reassuring, letting them to arrive to all sort of ideas all by themselves.

He visited Tenochtitlan too, making friends with Chimalpopoca, Tenochtitlan’s young emperor. Whether he felt resentment at the betrayal of the Aztecs, when those sided with the Tepanecs in the war against his people, or not, he didn’t let his feelings show. At some point he even moved to live in Tenochtitlan, when Chimalpopoca interceding with the Tepanecs on his behalf. Being a grandson of Tezozomoc, Chimalpopoca seemed to be, nevertheless, inclined toward his newly acquired Acolhua friend. Together they commissioned many building projects, among those another causeway and the first aqueduct that was destined to bring fresh water to Tenochtitlan, carrying it all the way from the mainland and the springs of Chapultepec. Nezahualcoyotl was reported to design this construction personally.

Yet, the water construction was the one to bring trouble – between the Aztecs and the Tepanecs this time. Having no foothold upon the mainland, Tenochtitlan needed to acquire the Tepanec permission every time the aqueduct broke and more building materials to repair it were needed. Built from a double row of clay pipes running along the earthworks, the aqueduct ceased functioning on a regular basis, leaving the island-city with no fresh water frustratingly often. Permission to commence the repair works and the list of requested materials were forthcoming but slowly, reluctantly. The Master of the Valley felt that the Aztecs were asking for too much.

The tension grew but then, before the trouble broke, Tezozomoc had finally died, leaving the Tepanec royal house in turmoil, with multitude of heirs, some more dissatisfied than the others. Nezahualcoyotl held his breath. Did his chance to rebel was coming after all? He liked living in Tenochtitlan, enjoying the hospitality of the Aztecs, but he wanted his Texcoco back.

An excerpt from “Crossing Worlds

The man’s smile widened, yet the twinkle was back.

“Oh, I’m sure you would have learned much, given a chance. You are a smart youth and very observant. But you won’t have this chance.” He laughed while Coyotl struggled to regain his composure, banishing the stunned expression off his face. “What? Did you think you would live here in peace, hunting and fooling around with local girls until it’s time to roll down our mountains in force? Oh no, Future Emperor. You’ll have to work, to work hard. You’ll have to get things all ready for my warriors to go and take your Texcoco back. Don’t tell me you are afraid of hard work.”

“No, I’m not,” mumbled Coyotl, hating the acute sensation of helplessness. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“Well, then let me explain the situation to you. In the Lowlands people don’t know what’s happening. They don’t know where you are. They have no idea if the Emperor’s heir is dead or alive. So, first of all, they have to discover you are alive and well, and that your spirit is not broken. The Acolhua people have to see the fine, young man who was supposed to become their next Emperor.” One rough palm came up, extending one finger. “That’s the first thing – Acolhua people coming to all sorts of ideas all by themselves. Now,” another finger came up, “the Tepanecs. They also should know about your existence. This would be a more difficult task. You would have to convince them that you are completely harmless.

You would have to let them know that the only thing you crave is to live quietly somewhere around the Lowlands. They won’t let you go back to Texcoco. Not right away. But eventually they might, if convinced of your usefulness and your harmlessness.”

“Do I just go down there then?” asked Coyotl, his mouth dry. It didn’t make any sense, yet the man in front of him seemed so wise. There had to be a reason for his proposal.

The Warriors’ Leader shook his head vigorously. “No, of course not. You’d be put to death quietly and efficiently. Or maybe with great pomp. Depends on Tezozomoc’s mood.”

“Then how?”

“You’ll need someone influential and in a good stance with the Tepanecs to intercept on your behalf. Someone who would be willing to be responsible for your behavior until the Tepanec Emperor was convinced by your performance.”

Coyotl stared at the narrow, wrinkled face, refusing to ask any more questions. He had made a complete fool of himself so far, promising to be a good emperor, then proceeding to show how simple and unsophisticated his thinking was.

The amused smile playing upon the man’s lips made him understand that he did not need to utter the question to make matters worse.

“You’ll have to go to Tenochtitlan.”

Historical fiction and Tenochtitlan

27 October 2012 Comments (6)

I am happy to announce the release of another new book

The Emperor’s Second Wife

the third book of The Rise of the Aztecs series.

In 1419, having conquered Texcoco and its provinces, the Tepanecs were the undeniable masters of the whole Mexican Valley, spreading further and further, strong and invincible. Curiously indifferent, they took the coastal towns, including Coatlinchan, but the altepetl of Texcoco they had given to their worthwhile allies, the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan.

Yet, Tezozomoc , the Tepanec Emperor, who, through his enormously long and fruitful life, had achieved all that, was growing very old. His death was imminent and there were many who awaited this event with eagerness.

In Tenochtitlan the opinions varied. While benefiting from its newly gained stance with their mighty overlords, having received the rich Texcoco as a gift for good behavior, some of the leading Aztecs were not happy with the way their city was turning into yet another Tepanec province. The rich pickings may not have been worth the loss of independence.

So, by the time Nezahualcoyotl , the surviving heir to Texcoco throne, reached Tenochtitlan, after spending some time hiding in the Highlands, the island-nation was ready to receive him, quite cordially at that. Busy expanding, building another causeway and the water construction, the Aztecs still tried to keep the Tepanecs happy, but it all was destined to change.

Back in the Aztec Capital, the troubles were brewing. While benefiting from its neutrality in the Texcoco-Tepanec War, many influential Mexica-Aztecs grew wary of the way their city was becoming absorbed in the mighty Tepanec Empire.

Upon their arrival in the great island-city, Kuini and Coyotl are quick to discover that something dangerous is about to happen, and that they are expected to take a part in it.

An excerpt from “The Emperor’s Second Wife

Only when they turned another corner and he could hear no footsteps but their own, did he allow his senses to shift to the young man walking beside him. Another First Son of another Emperor? The heir to Tenochtitlan’s throne? No, it could not be true. Tenochtitlan already had an Emperor, a mere child according to Father, and Father would know. If this youth was the First Son, he would have become the Emperor upon his own father’s death, wouldn’t he?

“You are not the First Son,” he said finally as the clamor of the marketplace grew stronger.

“Of course I am.” The lifted eyebrows of his companion made Kuini want to smash the broad face into a bloody mess. Coyotl was the First Son, and the heir, and he was never arrogant or haughty.

“How come you are not the Emperor then?”

The merry laughter was his answer. “You are such a provincial. It is not that simple, you know?”

“It is simple enough in civilized places like Texcoco.”

“Oh, stop bringing up this stupid new province of ours.”

Kuini clenched his fists. “Texcoco is not your province. This altepetl is more civilized, more beautiful, more magnificent than yours will ever be. Without your betrayal they would never have lost. They were victorious for more summers than your petty altepetl ever existed.”

To his surprise, Tlacaelel did not take offense. “So you are from Texcoco, aren’t you? I would never have guessed. You look like a Tepanec, but you speak like a foreigner. And your tattoos look completely savage.” He shrugged. “Whatever the reasons, your Texcoco is our province now, and they deserved that. Pitiful losers and worthless warriors.” The deeply set eyes measured Kuini once again. “So what are you doing here in Tenochtitlan?”

Taking a deep breath to control his temper, Kuini clasped his lips. “Nothing. I just came to look around.”


“And nothing. So far, I ran into too many hostile warriors and strange royal family arrangements.” He studied his companion in his turn, taking in the broad, well-developed frame and the muscled arms. “If you were the First Son you wouldn’t be going around looking like a warrior, picking fights. That warrior was right. You would be escorted and well protected.”

“Would I?” Tlacaelel laughed again. “You obviously know nothing about Palaces and royal families. The Emperor, his wives, and his heir are moving about escorted. The rest of the royal family can do as they please.” The broad face darkened. “As long as they don’t stand in someone’s way.”

“So which son is your current Emperor?”

“The second,” said Tlacaelel lightly.

“Then why did the second son become the Emperor? Was the first one that unfitting?” Delighted, Kuini saw the deeply set eyes darkening with rage.

“You are still pushing it, aren’t you foreigner?”

“I’m curious.”

“Well, you will have to go and figure it out all by yourself. Go back to the Plaza and ask the people around. I predict by the nightfall you will learn a thing or two.”

Pleased with his companion’s obvious loss of temper and, therefore, loss of dignity, Kuini grinned.

“Weren’t we supposed to fight somewhere near your marketplace?”

Tlacaelel’s glare made him feel vindicated. “Yes! I was about to kill you, and this place will do.”

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