War and conquest

The Aztec Warrior

Many aspects of Aztec life reflected the importance of war and warriors. The calendar showed the season for war as well as the season for planting. Even childbirth was described in terms of the warrior’s battle.


Success in warfare was the main way for an individual to move up in Aztec society. For instance, a soldier who captured four enemies might then become a government official or a captain in the army. Warriors’ striking clothing and hairstyles marked their battle honours and their place in the hierarchy, and conveyed their status to others.

Nobles could belong to the elite ranks of the eagle or jaguar. The greatly-feared eagle warriors wore the regalia of these sacred animals in battle, believing this gave them supernatural powers. Eagles were associated with the sun, war, and human sacrifice - all forces of male energy. They were often portrayed in Aztec sculpture.

Aztec society was committed to war, not as an occasional heroic obligation, but chronically, and its members had to be brought to bear the social and psychological costs of that commitment.
from 'Aztecs' by Inga Clendinnen

Rewards of Battle

Success in war powered the Aztec economy by expanding markets for new goods and trade. It was also essential to religious belief. Captured enemies became sacrificial victims, their hearts and blood ritualistically fed to the god of war, Huitzilopochtli. 

Aztecs believed that slain warriors accompanied the sun on its journey through the night to confront the forces of darkness. Four years later, they returned to Earth as hummingbirds or butterflies. A song translated from the Nahuatl language describes the blood-stained battlefield as an immense plain covered with flowers. To perish there was a warrior's honour and privilege.

There is nothing like death in war,
Nothing like the flowery death
So precious to Him who gives life:
Far off I see it: my heart longs for it!
from 'Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs' by Michael D. Coe and Rex Koonz

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