THE CONQUEST OF AMERICA
THE AZTEC EMPIRE
The Aztec Empire flourished between c. 1345 and 1521 and,
at its greatest extent, covered most of northern Mesoamerica.
Aztec warriors were able to dominate their neighbouring states and permit rulers
such as Motecuhzoma II to impose Aztec ideals and religion across Mexico.
Highly accomplished in agriculture and trade,
the last of the great Mesoamerican civilizations was also noted for its art
and architecture which ranks amongst the finest ever produced on the continent.
The empire continued to expand from 1430 and the Aztec military - bolstered
by conscription of all adult males,
men supplied from allied and conquered states,
and such elite groups as the Eagle and Jaguar warriors - swept aside their rivals.
Aztec warriors wore padded cotton armour,
carried a wooden or reed shield covered in hide,
and wielded weapons such as a super sharp obsidian sword-club (macuahuitl),
a spear or dart thrower (atlatl), and bow and arrows.
Elite warriors also wore spectacular feathered
and animal skin costumes and headdresses to signify their rank.
Battles were concentrated in or around major cities
and when these fell the victors claimed the whole surrounding territory.
Regular tributes were extracted and captives
were taken back to Tenochtitlan for ritual sacrifice.
In this way the Aztec empire came to cover most of northern Mexico,
an area of some 135,000 square kilometres.
The Cuachicqueh was the most prestigious warrior society and the tlacateccatl,
a very high ranking general, was always a member.
Not much is known about this unique band of Aztec fighters,
some sources mention them as being akin to the ‘berserkers’ –
and thus their ranks only included esteemed warriors
who had dedicated their lives to the pursuit of warfare,
instead of titles and land grants.
The cuachicqueh possibly comprised full-time soldiers
who had proved their flair in battles with courage,
ferocity and downright fanaticism.
They were usually excluded from holding office because of their wild nature.
They were usually recognizable by their shaven heads
which left a crest of hair that is described in text sources
as on the left side of the head,
but usually depicted in pictorial sources in the middle.
The Cuachicqueh took an oath not to take a step backwards
during a battle on pain of death at the hands of their fellow warriors.
The officers were recognizable in the battle by their wood poles (Pamitl)
with the feathers and banners flying from them.
They fastened this banner to their back,
so that they did not become hindered in battle.
They often would be at the front of the Aztec army
shouting insults and mocking the enemy in an effort to
provoke the enemy foolhardy to break ranks and attack.
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