Warrior Cults of the Aztec Empire

In the midst of downtown Mexico City, formerly Tenochtitlan, there is an Aztec site lying in ruin known as Templo Mayor. This site is home to the House of Eagles, which was a sort of barracks for the eagle warrior cult. Stucco paintings along the walls depict the warriors in battle ready poses, brandishing weapons and wearing the feathered helmets associated with skill and bravery. However the eagle warriors were not the only warrior cult of the Aztec empire. There were three distinct groups that differed in several key aspects. But what distinguished these warrior cults from the rest of the Aztec soldiers? Research shows that there are four distinguishing factors: the number of enemy soldiers captured, position in society, armor, and patron deity.

The jaguar warriors (also referred to as the ocelot warriors) have become one of the most iconic symbols of the Aztec empire though, in the context of today’s U.S. military, they were really the equivalent of the Marine Corps. Murals depict them wearing full jaguar pelts over their entire bodies, including the head with their face visible through the jaguar’s open mouth. Their weapons were typically axes or clubs made with obsidian, the trademark of their people. Commoners could achieve the rank of jaguar warrior and, in turn, be given a higher standing in society. To accomplish this, a warrior would have to capture at least four enemy soldiers. It is believed that this warrior cult worshipped Tezcatlipoca, the god of the night sky.

If the jaguar warriors were the equivalent of the Marine Corps. then the eagle warriors were the equivalent of Seal Team 6. They are depicted wearing armor with feathered collars and beaked masks. They are also painted with taloned feet, though that is likely only symbolic imagery. Their weapons were likely very similar to that of the jaguar warriors: wood based weapons with sharpened obsidian additions. Commoners could achieve this rank as well by having four captured enemy soldiers to their name and would enjoy the benefits it came with. These benefits would include housing in the sort of barracks one can see today at the House of Eagles ruin of Templo Mayor in Mexico City. What truly distinguished the eagle warrior cult from the jaguar warrior cult is that the eagle warriors were believed to worship Huitzilopochtli, the god of war.

Becoming a member of the shorn ones was one of the most prestigious honors an Aztec warrior could achieve. They wore yellow tlahuiztli, Aztec war suits personalized to each warrior. Murals depict them with shaved heads, excluding one long braid on their left side, hence the name ‘shorn ones’. These warriors were always the first ones into battle as they acted as the Aztec empire’s special forces. The shock troops, in a sense, to make the enemy worry that all Aztec warriors were this skilled. Unlike the jaguar and eagle warriors, the rank of shorn one was only open to warriors of noble blood. Those who achieved this rank were greatly feared and respected.