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 Nigel Davies fromAtti del XL Congresso Internazionale Degli AmericanistiRoma- Genova 3-10 Settembre 1972 page 213 to 221Certain Spanish portions translated by myself in
[italic brackets]
‘ The military organization of the Aztec empire
1 . General Problems
We cannot understand the communications system of Mesoamerica, unless we firstask ourselves for what purposes such routes were used, and why people travelledupon them.Clearly Mesoamericans seldom journeyed simply to pay social calls, or in the guise of tourists, to see whose pyramid was tallest. As among other ancient peoples, travel,and therefore established land routes, were connected mainly with two activities, war and trade. In Mesoamerica, commerce often preceded conquest, and the old adage thattrade follows the flag did not always apply.I intend to take as my subject one of these two activities, and will permit myself totalk in general terms of the Aztec military organization, but with particular emphasison one specific question: did the Aztecs maintain provincial garrisons and thestanding forces necessary to man them? This point, often the subject of misunderstandings, is fundamental to their whole system of territorial domination. Iam therefore grateful to be allowed to include in this symposium some remarks on asubject that at least partly affects the general problem of communications and routes.For it is surely fair to say that only if we first determine what kind of provincialmilitary organization the Aztecs possessed, can we then seek out the nature of anycommunications system that would be required.If the existence of real garrisons can be established, together with their location, weshould then be able to identify the main imperial thoroughfares, involving perhapseven storehouses and staging posts, on the Inca model.Moreover, a knowledge of such an overall picture would offer a basis for a moredetailed mapping of regional routes. For it requires to be clearly stated that, while thehistorical sources write copiously on other aspects of Aztec conquests, they arelaconic in the extreme in their descriptions of the itinerary of their victorious armies.
2. The central military organization
We must first take a look at the central military organization of the Triple Allianceand ask ourselves: what kind of forces were deployed by Tenochtitlan, Texcoco andTacuba, and the subject cities who also provided contingents? Was there any standingforce available for any task at any time, or were the required levies simply raised for specific campaigns, according to the needs of the moment?Leaving aside the deep religious motivations, and the need for sacrificial victims, war in Mesoamerica, as in Mediaeval Europe, was rather the sport of kings, and anoccasion for members of the aristocracy to show their mettle. For this exercise, the
 bulk of the manpower came, as might be expected, from the lower ranks of society,rather than from the middle, or artisan class.Most of our information comes from Tenochtitlan, and while we cannot here discussevery facet of the complicated problem of social structure and land tenure, a fewwords are necessary on such aspects as affect military organization. In more preciseterms, we must ask ourselves whether full-time soldiers existed among either  patricians or plebeians, or whether the bearing of arms was more normally a part-timecalling.As regards the ruling classes, among otherwise contradictory accounts, a certainconsensus of opinion is to be found as to the existence of two main categories of  people;Katz has made this distinction very clear (Katz: 29-32). Firstly, we have thehereditary nobles, the “pipiltzin por linaje”, or “tlazopipiltzin”, and secondly, the“tetecuhtzin” or “segundos señores”, as Zurita calls them (Zurita: 142). The land of the pipiltzin, many of whom were related to the tlatoani, was hereditary property,cultivated by mayeques, serfs tied to the fields they tilled; the owners were thus freedfrom all tasks but those of general supervision, and were able to devote themselves tothe service of the state.The same is virtually true of the second category, the tetecuhtzin. They were perhapsmore to be compared to English life peers, honoured for their own lifetime for their services to the community, but with the difference that they were also provided by theruler with lands, and with people to cultivate them (tecallec). The señor virtuallymaintained them, and they could even eat in the palace (Zurita: 143).Thus, the two divisions of the lay ruling establishment had this in common: they werein a position to give the tiatoani virtually full-time service, but not necessarily of amilitary nature. Zurita. makes it clear that they served the señor both in wars and inother public offices (Zurita: 145).When we turn to the lower classes, it becomes self-evident on the other hand that their everyday calling was the cultivation of the calpulli lands; the bulk of the armies wasclearly recruited from these macehuales or freeholders; the mayeques on the other hand did not normally serve. Pomar emphasises the dual role of the macehual: heexplains that the common people sent their sons to the telpochcalli; they and their fathers were occupied with the cultivation of their land, which constituted their  principal calling, after the bearing of arms (Pomar: 29). In other words, the latter activity, while it perhaps offered greater honour and glory, did not constitute a full-time profession. It seems that the macehuales were organized for war on the basis of the land-holding unit, the calpulli. While great emphasis was placed on militaryvalour, it would appear most unlikely that any of them were permanently under arms.The available evidence points the other way.The Anonymous Conqueror, while insisting that Moctezuma had a “guarnición” of ten thousand men to guard his person, states that in the case of provincial uprisings:“se reclutaba pronto en la ciudad y en sus confines
”. [they were recruited in a short time within his towns and boundary]
 Before departing for war, the men all went to theGreat Temple and collected their arms, apparently stored above the main entrances(Anonymous Conqueror: 65). To take another instance: when preparations for war against Soconusco were on foot, the bulk of the forces had to ‘be rapidly trained:
“Los mexicanos a gran prisa comenzaron a aderezar sus armas fuertes y cotaras y a prevenir los mancebos” (Tezozômoc: 371).
[The Mexicans in great haste began to prepare their arms, forts and cotaras (boundary posts?) and to warn the youths]
 Therecruits received daily training in the telpochcalli at the hands of the Achcauhtzin.The very nature of Mesoamerican warfare, with its emphasis on ritual exchanges before hostilities, rather than upon surprise attack, gave time for such preparations,and reduced the necessity to maintain forces constantly on the alert. Mobilizationwhen enforced was thorough., and at times included the whole male population,except for elders and boys under the age of ten. All would presumably have receivedsome previous military training in the telpochcalli, prior to this last-minute “refresher course”. It is indeed hard to see what category of citizens could have manned thelower ranks of any standing army, without which such a force could hardly haveexisted on any scale.Even the upper classes, whose duties to the state were of a more full-time nature,appear to have given their service in a dual capacity, civil and military. Again, as inthe Middle Ages, such functions were more readily interchangeable than nowadays.An exception may perhaps be made for those referred to as “tequihuaque” or “achcauhtzin” Among the different categories of people who served, these might possibly be regarded as career, or even drill ‘sergeants, according to the account of theAnonymous Conqueror. In addition, the possibility exists, but not any certainty, thatthe orders of knights, in particular the Eagles and Ocelots, might, like the KnightsTemplar, have constituted a kind of established corps d’élite. But even if anythingapproaching a permanent officer class existed, this select band could not possiblyhave been used for garrison duty.
3 . Provincial organization
The Aztecs normally left civil power in the conquered provinces in the hands of theexisting señores, with the additional presence in key centres of calpixques asrepresentatives of the central power, whose main duty was to supervise the paymentof tribute to the Triple Alliance.As to any more numerous standing presence, we possess in the first instance evidenceof two major colonies, sent from the Valley of Mexico and nearby cities, rather after the pattern of the Inca mitimaes.Oaxaca. During the reign of Moctezuma I, that indefatigable alter ego of the tlatoani,Tlacaélel,. made the proposal that a colony should be settled in Oaxaca. As a result,six hundred married men, with their wives and children were gathered together;’families from Texcoco, Chalco, Xochimilco and Cuernavaca were included. A cousinof Tlacaélel was put In charge of the new settlement (Durán, 11:23 8-239).During subsequent accounts of campaigns in that area, Durán and Tezozômoc refer onvarious occasions to these people who had been settled in Oaxaca. Probably their military organization was not dissimilar to that of Tenoçhtitlan. Thus they would have provided levies for local wars, but the existence of any standing force among themmust remain in doubt.Equally, on various occasions, the Relaciones Geogrâficas of the Sixteenth Centurymention a “guarnición” at Oaxaca, and write of contacts between its personnel and thelocal peoples (Relaciôn de Iztepexi: 16, Relaciôn de Amatlan: 120-121, Relaciôn de