An Eagle warrior (left) depicted holding a machahuitl (a wooden sword with obsidian blades) in the Florentine Codex.

The Infamous Eagle Warriors: Elite Infantrymen of the Aztec Empire

(Read the article on one page)

The eagle warriors, or eagle knights as they are sometimes known, were a group of elite infantrymen in the army of the Aztec Empire. Those who belonged in this warrior society were either members of the nobility or commoners who had distinguished themselves on the battlefield.

In the Nahuatl / Aztec language, the eagle warriors were known as cuāuhtli. Together with the jaguar warriors, who were known as the ocēlōtl, the two warrior societies were collectively known as the cuauhtlocelotl (meaning ‘eagle-jaguar warriors’). The eagle and jaguar warriors are said to have formed the largest elite warrior society in the Aztec army.

Selecting Warriors of the Sun

In Aztec mythology, the eagle was regarded as a symbol of the sun, hence the eagle warriors were the warriors of the sun. Members of this warrior society dressed like eagles, adorning themselves with eagle feathers, and wearing headgear with an eagle head on it. This headgear had an open beak from which the warrior could look out. Images of eagle warriors can be seen in several artifacts and features, most notably in statues made by the Aztecs and in pictures found inside codices made by the Spanish.

Every Aztec male had to undergo basic military training. The progress of each student was constantly tested by the local temples, and those who displayed exceptional talent were shortlisted to undergo further training that would turn them into eagle warriors. The majority of the boys chosen to be part of this warrior society came from the nobility, though commoners who displayed exceptional talent were also selected.

The entrance into the inner chamber of the Eagle Warriors Temple in Malinalco.

The entrance into the inner chamber of the Eagle Warriors Temple in Malinalco. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

Capturing The Enemy

Training alone was not enough to make an eagle warrior out of an Aztec soldier. In order to join the ranks of the eagle warriors, the soldiers had to prove their worth on the field of battle. In the case of the Aztecs, this meant capturing enemy warriors so that they could be used as human sacrifices.

One source states that an Aztec had to capture four enemies before he could become an eagle warrior. Another claims that the number was 12 or more, with an added condition that these captives were taken in two consecutive battles. Yet another source claims that 20 was the number of enemy warriors an Aztec warrior had to seize in order to become an eagle warrior.

To aid them in their task of capturing enemies alive, the Aztec warriors were mainly equipped with weapons designed to stun, rather than to kill their enemies, and the eagle warriors were no exception. The eagle warriors’ arsenal of weapons included bows, spears, daggers, slings, atlatls (a type of spear thrower), and machahuitls (a weapon that consists of obsidian blades sent in a wooden paddle). For protection, the eagle warriors wore a type of quilted cotton armor, and carried a round shield that was brightly colored and adorned with feathers and leather straps, in addition to their eagle headresses.

Social Status

Outside of the battlefield, the eagle warriors enjoyed a high status in Aztec society. For example, amongst other things, members of this warrior society had the privilege of wearing fine jewelry and costumes in public, were allowed to wear cotton and sandals in the royal palaces, and were given the right to keep mistresses.

Additionally, land was given to the eagle warriors. This land was tax-free, and whatever profit that was made on it belonged to the warrior. Furthermore, the grant was for life, and could be passed down to the warrior’s heirs. Although considered full-time warriors, the eagle warriors were allowed to be involved in politics as well.

A statue of an eagle warrior found during excavation of the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan.

A statue of an eagle warrior found during excavation of the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan. ( CC BY SA 2.0 )

Finally, it may be pointed out that whilst the eagle warriors belonged to a high ranking warrior society in the Aztec army, they were not exactly on the top of the hierarchy. There were two other warrior societies that were more prestigious than that of the eagle warriors. Naturally, more valor on the battlefield was required for those who aspired to join its ranks. These were the otontin (Otomies) and the  cuauhchicqueh (meaning ‘Shorn Ones’).

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Human Origins

Photo of Zecharia Sitchin (left)(CC0)Akkadian cylinder seal dating to circa 2300 BC depicting the deities Inanna, Utu, and Enki, three members of the Anunnaki.(right)
In a previous 2-part article (1), the authors wrote about the faulty associations of the Sumerian deities known as the Anunnaki as they are portrayed in the books, television series, and other media, which promotes Ancient Astronaut Theory (hereafter “A.A.T.”).

Ancient Technology

Roman glass (not the legendary flexible glass). Landesmuseum Württemberg, Stuttgart.
Imagine a glass you can bend and then watch it return to its original form. A glass that you drop but it doesn’t break. Stories say that an ancient Roman glassmaker had the technology to create a flexible glass, ‘vitrium flexile’, but a certain emperor decided the invention should not be.

Ancient Places

Face of the coffin where the mummy of Ramesses II was found. (Credit: Petra Lether, designed by Anand Balaji)
Usermaatre Setepenre Ramesses II, the third pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty, was one of ancient Egypt’s longest-reigning monarchs. In an astonishing sixty-seven regnal years – the glory days of empire that witnessed unprecedented peace and prosperity – the monarch built grand edifices and etched his name on innumerable monuments of his forbears.

Opinion

Hopewell mounds from the Mound City Group in Ohio. Representative image
During the Early Woodland Period (1000—200 BC), the Adena people constructed extensive burial mounds and earthworks throughout the Ohio Valley in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Many of the skeletal remains found in these mounds by early antiquarians and 20th-Century archaeologists were of powerfully-built individuals reaching between 6.5 and eight feet in height (198 cm – 244 cm).

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article