Glossary of Aztec Military Terms

Indian words are in Nahuatl, and specifically Aztec, unless otherwise mentioned. Most references are from Heath (1999).

Class Structure

Tlatoani (“Speaker”)

King or paramount chief of Tenochtitlan, but also used for some of the Tributary rulers. Also called Taltoque, Hueytlatoani (“Revered Speaker”) or Tlacatecuhtli (“Chief of men”).

Teuctlatoqueh (“Judges”)

Alternative name for tributary leaders.

Cihuacoatl (“Serpent-Woman”)

Chief minister and deputy of the Mexica Tlatoani.

Tlacatecatl (“Cutter of Men”), Tlacochcalcatl (“Blood-Shedder”), Tlilancalqui (“Master of the House of Darkness”), and Quauhnochtli (“chief of the Eagle and Prickly Pear”)

Next most senior Mexica officials. Probably leaders of the city quarters.

Tlacatecatl or Tlacochcalcatl

Provincial Governors.

Teteuctin (“Chieftains”)

Senior Nobility and heads of noble houses – effectively tribal chiefs.

Pipiltin (“Nobles by Birth”)

Divided into Tlatocapipiltin – the descendents of rulers – and Tecpipiltin – the descendents of Chieftains. Also divided into Tlazopipiltin if by legal wives and Calpanpipiltin if by concubines.

Quauhpipiltin (“Eagle nobles”)

Commoners who had acquired noble status through their martial prowess.

Capolehqueh (“Headmen”)

Leaders of each town ward or Calulli (“big house”).

Pochteca (“Merchant”)

Long distance merchant. They formed a class between the commoners proper and the nobles. Because of their familiarity with foreign lands they often acted as ambassadors and spies.

Macehualtin (“Commoners”)

A mixture of free subjects, bondsmen or farm-hands (mayehqueh or tlalmaitin), and slaves (tlatlacohtin).

Military Ranks and Groups

Tlamemes (“Porters”)

Professional porters.

Cuexpalchicacpo (“Youth with a baby’s tuft”)

Derogative term for a warrior who has taken no captives after three or four campaigns.

Telpochyahqui (“Leading Youth”)

A warrior who has taken one captive, even with the help of up to six companions.

Tlamani (“Captor”)

A general term covering all warriors who have taken captives.


Warrior who has captured two enemy.

Tiachcauh (“Teacher of youths”)

Three captives.

Tequihuahqueh (“Tribute Owners”)

Four captive warrior. Although literally meaning “Tribute Owner” (in the sense they have a share of the tribute by being maintained by the state), Tequihuahqueh is usually translated “Veteran” or “Valiant Warrior”.

Telpochtatoh (“Ruler of youths”)

Four captive warrior who is the governor of a telpochcalli school.

Otontin (“Otomis”)

Warrior who has taken five or six captives.

Quachicqueh (“Scalped heads” or “Shorn Ones”)

Taken more than six captives. Also known as Momiccatlcani (“They who hurl themselves to death”).

Depending on the situation Quachicqueh and Otonin were fielded in independent units, or as captains of 100 lesser warriors, or interspersed with the lesser warriors to bolster their morale.

Quauhyahcatl (“Great Captain”)

During reign of Moctezume II this was the name given a warrior whose 5th captive was from Atlixco, Huexotzingo, or Tliliuhquitepec.

Tlacatecatl or Tlacochcalcatl

The same title as a provincial governor was given to warriors who took a 6th captive from Atlixco, Huexotzingo, or Tliliuhquitepec during reign of Moctezume II.

Quahtlocelotl (“Eagle-Jaguars”)

Member of the religious warrior society – either Quaquauhtin (“Eagle Warrior”) or Ocelomeh (“Jaguar Warrior”). Only four-captive warriors could enter these societies. Pictorial evidence suggests Jaguars were more common than Eagles, and in fact Eagle suits are only depicted worn by rulers.

Quauheuhueh (“Eagle Elders”)

Eagle-Jaguars who were too old to fight but still accompanied military expedition to act as marshals.

Military Units

The correspondence of the between the Administrative and Military units is most likely to have been:

Administrative Unit Comment Military Unit Comment
Camans (“Quarter”) Tenochtitlan was divided into four quarters; five after 1973 and the assimulation of neighbouring Tlatiloco. Xiquipilli 8,000 men. Formed from 2 to 5 Tiachcauh depending on the size of the Calpulli and the period.
Calpulli (“Ward” or “Kin-group”) Tenochtitlan had 20 in 1519. Tzontli or Tiachcauh A Tzontli was 400 men whereas a Tiachcauh comprised all men from a Calpulli; probably equivalent.
Tlaxilacalli (“Family grouping”) Probably two or three per Calpulli. ?? 200 men
?? 100 men
Pantli (“Banner”) 20 men

Each unit of 100 to 400 had a standard of its own.

Military Equipment


Captains and high-ranking units wore various back ornaments constructed of bark paper, cloth, and feathers. They were secured to a cane bakc-rack which in turn was tied across the chest with leather straps.


Tunic worn over the Ichcaphuipilli by nobles. Could be long sleeved or sleeveless.

Ichcaphuipilli (“Cotton Vest”)

Cotton armour vest

Maquahitl (“Sword”)

Obsidian edged wooden sword.

Maxtlatl (“Loin cloth”)

Loin cloth.

Tepoztopilli (“Bill”)

A kind of bill edged with obsidian blades.

Tlahuiztli (“Body Suit”)

A tight-fitting body suit constructed of woven cotton and then decorated with a variety of patterns and designs in feathers. It had an open back which could be tied up with ribbons.

Tentlapilollo (“It has a hanging border”)

Feather fringe on bottom of a shield. Between 1/4 and 1/2 of depicted shields had them.

Ihuitenzouhquichimalli (“Shield with an open feather border”)

Feather fringe all around.

Other Terms

Xochiyaoyotl (“Flower War”)

A pre-arranged battle with roughly equal numbers at a negotiated place and time undertaken to take prisoners.

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