Aztec Jaguar Warrior & Eagle Warrior knights were part of the Aztec military elite societies, veteran Aztec warriors who had captured at least four enemies.
As a militaristic society, the Aztec civilization placed great importance upon a citizen’s achievement in battle. The taking of enemy captives in battle could raise a warrior up into the ranks of the Eagle and Jaguar Warriors, in turn giving him the status and rights associated with the honored elite of Aztec society.
The Brotherhood of Jaguar & Eagle Aztec Warriors
Much of what is known about the Aztec Jaguar and Eagle Warriors derives from the Florentine Codex, a work compiled by Bernardino de Sahagún during his time as a missionary in the New World. Sahagún studied Aztec religion and culture, both of which were directly linked to warfare and Aztec warrior societies. He saw the Eagle and Jaguar Warrior societies as a couple, one rarely being mentioned without the other, a point of view that has not changed to this day.
Jaguar and Eagle Warriors possessed more similarities than differences. While each order had its own distinct attire, both shared an equal rank in society and fought in the same manner. They were also granted the same rights by the king. According to historian Ross Hassig, these included “the right to wear otherwise proscribed jewelry and daily military attire, dress in cotton and wear sandals in the royal palace, eat human flesh and drink octli in public, keep concubines, and dine in the royal palace.”
They were also connected on a religious level by the gods Nanahuatzin and Tecciztecatl, the sun and the moon and the mythological significance of the eagle and the jaguar. As historian Annabeth Headrick states, mythology “connects the eagle and jaguar knights with creation, the two most important celestial bodies, self-sacrifice and the admirable quality of bravery.” The two warrior types are often merged in contemporaneous references, being referred to as the Eagle-Jaguar society.
Promotion to Aztec Eagle and Jaguar Warrior Ranks
To win advancement into the military orders of the Jaguar and Eagle Warriors, an individual had to first capture at least four enemies in battle (these warriors were then known as tequihuahqueh). The emphasis was placed firmly upon taking live captives as dead enemies served no purpose in Aztec ritual sacrifice. The perceived worth of an enemy varied according to the military status given to his tribe; the capture of four highly esteemed enemy warriors was a notable feat, while a larger number of lesser captives was required for a warrior to become a Jaguar or Eagle knight.
The orders of the Eagle and Jaguar Warriors comprised mainly of hereditary nobles. However, these nobles were still required to prove themselves in battle before being promoted. Commoners could also be promoted to the Eagle and Jaguar ranks, but such an achievement was exceptional. Commoners lacked the typical Aztec warrior training given to young nobles, making them less well equipped, both in terms of weaponry and skills, to excel in battle.
War Suits of the Aztec Jaguar and Eagle Knights
The decorative war-suits worn by Aztec Jaguar and Eagle Warriors served little protective purpose, with standard cotton body armor worn beneath the battle dress. Eagle and Jaguar war-suits were made primarily from feathers, while actual jaguar skins were thought to have been used only by non-noble warriors. Animal parts such as claws, fangs, beaks and talons were used to adorn the war-suits, particularly the fearsome looking helmets.
Aztec war-suits did not necessarily utilize realistic colors in their animal designs. Historian Ian Heath states that “The Codex Mendoza shows that jaguar war-suits came in a variety of colours – mainly blue (75%), but also yellow, red, and white – though the markings were always black, the collar red, and the breechclout white.” Eagle Warrior war-suits followed a similar pattern.
Aztec Eagle and Jaguar Warrior Weaponry
Warriors gaining promotion into the ranks of the Jaguar and Eagle knights would previously have specialized in one particular Aztec weapon type, as was the way of Aztec training. It is likely that this favored weapon would have remained a warrior’s weapon of choice after promotion, though increased status may have given greater access to more advanced weaponry.
Slings, clubs, spears, the atlatl and the bow and arrow were commonly used within all of the military orders. However, the Aztec sword, or macuahuitl, increasingly became the first choice of many noble and elite warriors. Images of Eagle and Jaguar knights from the Aztec codices frequently show these warriors carrying a macuahuitl.
Elite Aztec Warriors and Battle Deployment
Aztec Eagle and Jaguar Warriors were often placed at the forefront of a battle, but behind the elite shock troops of the Cuahchicqueh and Otontin orders. Eagle and Jaguar knights were disciplined, reliable and feared by their enemies. As veterans of the battlefield, they would sometimes be placed in small numbers within units of inexperienced warriors in order to reduce the risk of the lesser soldiers breaking formation under pressure.
- Annabeth Headrick – The Teotihuacan Trinity, University of Texas Press, 2007, ISBN 9780292716650.
- Ross Hassig – Aztec Warfare, University of Oklahoma Press, 1988, ISBN 0806127732.
- Ian Heath – Armies of the 16th Century (Vol 2), Foundry Books, 1999, ISBN 190154303X.
- Frances Berdan & Patricia Rieff Anawalt – The Essential Codex Mendoza, Volume 2; Volume 4, University of California Press, 1997, ISBN 0520204549.