Aztec War Resources – Recommended Books about Aztec Warfare

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Huitzilopochtli, as depicted in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis

Recommended Aztec history books for anyone wishing to learn about Aztec war, Aztec military history and Aztec warrior and weapon types.

For the Aztecs, war was a focal point within both social and religious life. More than just a means of expanding boundaries and claiming new territories, Aztec warfare was a politically and spiritually motivated occurrence. The following three books provide a detailed understanding of the Aztecs at war, from the finer points of battlefield tactics to the role of warfare within Aztec society.

Aztec Warfare – Ross Hassig

Ross Hassig’s Aztec Warfare: Imperial Expansion and Political Control is arguably the seminal modern text in regards to Aztec war and warriors. Published in 1988 by the University of Oklahoma Press (ISBN 0806127732), Aztec Warfare covers every aspect of the Aztec military including warrior and weapon types, the social and religious aspects of Aztec warfare and the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors.

Hassig has used all available Aztec history resources in order to paint a comprehensive, balanced and detailed picture of Aztec warfare. Bringing together information gathered from 16th century chronicles, Aztec tributary lists, codices, archaeological evidence and more, Aztec Warfare attempts, where possible, to place everything within its historical sequence. Maps and illustrations help to expand upon Hassig’s already precise historical investigation.

Armies of the Sixteenth Century – Ian Heath on Aztec War & More

This is book two of Ian Heath’s Armies of the Sixteenth Century, subtitled “The armies of the Aztec and Inca Empires, other native peoples of the Americas, and the Conquistadores 1450–1608”. Published in 1999 by Foundry Books (ISBN 190154303X), this is perhaps the most comprehensive guide to the armies of the New World.

The book has 247 illustrations detailing Aztec warrior and weapon types as well as tribal military insignias. The majority of these illustrations have been taken from, or based upon, sixteenth century drawings, including the Aztec codices. Mesoamerican tribes are covered over approximately 60 pages. Beginning with the Aztecs, the section then breaks down neighboring civilizations such as the Tlaxcaltecs, Chinantecs and the Tarascans.

Various aspects of Aztec war and weaponry are covered in Armies of the Sixteenth Century, including Aztec military orders, warrior training and ranking systems. However, it is the added focus upon other tribes which makes this book especially interesting. Aztec warfare is placed alongside that of other Mesoamerican tribes, as well as those found in South America, North America and the Caribbean. The Conquistadors are also featured, providing a comprehensive guide to warfare in the New World.

The Conquest of New Spain – Bernal Diaz

For a Conquistador’s view of Aztec warfare, there is no better account than that of Bernal Diaz. The Conquest of New Spain is available in Penguin Classics (ISBN 978-014-0441239), translated and introduced by J. M. Cohen. This edition is a shortened version of Diaz’s vast and sprawling Historia Verdadera de la Conquista de la Nueva España (“True History of the Conquest of New Spain”). It focuses upon the first 157 chapters of the original tome, ending shortly after the fall of Tenochtitlan.

Bernal Diaz has his critics, but his account nonetheless offers an intriguing perspective upon Aztec warfare from a man who actually had to face it. The account moves along at a fair pace, with various campaigns and battles described in great detail.

Diaz is not the most flamboyant of writers and does not often let emotion overtake his narrative. However, there are moments in battle which he recalls vividly; in these moments, both the Conquistador’s own fear and the strength and strategic ability of the Aztec war machine is very clearly presented. The account of Bernal Diaz is frequently referenced by both Hassig and Heath, making The Conquest of New Spain an invaluable resource to go alongside both Aztec Warfare and Armies of the Sixteenth Century.