The warrior was a Honourable position in the society. It wouldn't be surprising to find out that your son wanted to go into the army when he grew up. As we'll see, there were also significant rewards in store for the successful soldier. The Boys in the empire would receive a good education, no matter what their prospects for a career were. Astronomy, rhetoric, poetry, history, and religion would all be important subjects at school. Then there would be training on the battlefield. A boy became a man in society at the age of 17. For a commoner wanting to go to war, this meant starting out in the lower ranks in the army. There were servants, who basically just carried weapons and supplies. Then there was the youth in training, who had not yet captured his first prisoner. That first capture was an initiation into the world of the real Aztec warrior.
Rising in the ranks
Capturing prisoners was important for a warrior to rise in the ranks of the army. Capturing a few prisoners was a status symbol for a young man, and rewards would follow. "Societies" in the army are groups of knights that held a high rank and a high place in society. Sometimes they would wear wood helmets with the insignia of their order. Higher classes wore bright featherwork and quilted cotton armour. The higher the rank, the more elaborate the costume. Aztec warriors could also carry flowers, a privilege normally reserved for the nobles.
Rewards in Society
Someone who is high in the ranks had more rewards in the society. He had access to food normally reserved for higher classes. One of the most important rewards was land. The land was tax-free, and any profit made was his to keep. The land was awarded for life. The warrior was encouraged to have a family, and the estate could be passed down as an inheritance. Once a son had inherited the land, he could keep it or sell it.
The life of Aztec warriors
The life of a warrior was often verry short! The life expectancy in the empire was around 37 years. Different periods in the life of the Aztec civilization saw different amounts of war, of course. When word went out that a war was coming, the man had to prepare to leave his family and join the ranks. He may join a small group, or an army of several thousand. Provisions and weapons had to be carried. They would march between 19-32km/day (12-20mi). Of course, the Aztecs didn't ride, and sometimes the area of conflict would be quite some distance. Then the battle would begin.
Each Aztec weapon was unique, used for a specific purpose. Aztec warfare was a highly organized, complex affair, steeped in ritual and tradition.
Perhaps the best known ancient Aztec weapon is the maquahuitl (macahuitl). This is sometimes compared to the sword, and it was a powerful, close range weapon. Like the European sword, they came in two varieties - one handed and two handed. Made from wood (usually oak), they were about 3-4" wide and 3-4' long. The two handed versions might be slightly wider than and as tall as a person. Embedded in the edges was obsidian or flint. The maquahuitls were incredibly strong, and the Spanish claimed they could chop the head off a horse with one blow. They were sharp and the Aztecs knew how to use them. They could not thrust like a sword, and so they lent themselves to a different type of warfare.
The maquahuitl could be used as a club, but other types of clubs were also used. The cuauhololli was a mace made of wood with a ball at the end. It could be used to smash and crush.
Spears and lances
Another very common ancient Aztec weapon was the spear. They were extremely sharp, and sometimes over 7 feet long. They didn't have a small point as many spears you may be familiar with, but a blade a foot wide made of smaller stone blades. Theses spears were known to pierce the Spanish armour, and were sharp enough that the warriors could use them to shave. They are called tepoztopilli. Spears were used in Mexico long before the Aztec empire.
The atlatl was essentially a spear throwing device, for longer distance combat, an atlatl is essentially a stick with a handle on one end and a hook or socket that engages a light spear or "dart" on the other. The flipping motion of the atlatl propels a light spear much faster and farther than it could be thrown by hand alone. The atlatl was used in other parts of the world and is still used today. The Aztec artists often drew the gods with atlatls in their hands. Darts were used made from oak, single pointed with obsidian, flint, or even copper or bone. The propelled darts tended to be more powerful than arrows.
Bows and Arrows
Bows, also known as tlahuitolli, were used commonly as well. The bows were 5 feet long, and the arrows (yaomime) were pointed with flint, bone or obsidian, and kept in a quiver (mixiquipilli). As with all their weapons, the Aztecs were very skilled in using the bow and arrow. It is believed that the arrows could fly 450 feet or more.
Another devastating ancient Aztec weapon was the sling. It was made with fibers from the maguey plant. The slings (tematlatl) were used to send stones flying toward the enemy. They were thrown so powerfully and accurately, that they could do significant damage to a soldier in full metal armour. An Aztec warrior didn't just pick up stones on the battlefield - they would be prepared ahead of time, carefully shaped. It is believed that the stones could be thrown farther than the arrows could be shot - perhaps over 650 feet.