This page covers the shield designs of both Aztecs and Texcalans (Tlaxcalans). The list below is not comprehensive and I recommend you look at the painting guides for Aztecs and their enemies for other shield patterns, or go straight to the Codices for more ideas. The nahuatl for shield is “chimalli”.
Patterns in Aztec Shields
The Aztecs had rules about the shields carried by particular classes of warrior but these are rarely apparent from the available depictions. Sometimes it seems Suit Wearers used whatever design they fancied.
About 1/4 to 1/3 of shields depicted had the feather fringe, however, my observation is that a majority of Suit Wearers used shields with the fringe. Given commoners could not wear feathers, they would not have had feather fringes on their shields nor elaborate shield patterns; commoners, of course, comprised the majority of an Aztec army.
Beyond that I’ve found two possible patterns and even these are suspect:
- Cuachicqueh Shield Pattern
- Huaxtec Shield Pattern
Cuachicqueh Shield Pattern
The Cuachicqueh Military Order might all have used the distinctive shield illustrated, however, I have seen the same shield associated with other suits in the tribute lists of Codex Mendoza.
Huaxtec Shield Pattern
Some, but not all, warriors wearing a Huaxtec style uniform had shields that matched the suit pattern. The 2 captive warrior illustrated is a good example, but there are others.
Some Huaxtec uniforms also featured a truncated form of the same hat.
Quetzalcuexyochimalli (“Quetzal feather Huaxtec shield”)
Just glancing through the various illustrations available to me it seems that patterns with nose-moons and curved bands appear to be the most common shield designs for both Aztec and Texcalan Suit Wearers. The colours vary, and the number and position of the curved bands vary, but the general look is the same
In the Codex Mendoza Shield41 is carried by a 4-captive warrior, 2/3 of those wearing jaguar suits (who by definition have also taken 4-captives), 382 of the shields in the tribute section of Codex Mendoza are of this type, making it the most common depicted (Heath 1999). 300 of these have alternating red and yellow banded rim, but the remaining ones have the plain yellow depicted. The feather fringe could also have red in place of the yellow.
Shield05 appears in a tribute list of the Codex Mendoza next to a red suit with a backbanner including a large red feather fan.
Shield02 is carried by a blue suited Jaguar Warrior in Pohl (1991, Plate B1 Triple Alliance Jaguar Warrior).
Shield04 appears in a tribute list of the Codex Mendoza next to a Jaguar suit (white with black spots)
Shield06 appears in a tribute list of the Codex Mendoza next to a blue frightful spectre suit.
Wise (1980) gives Shield01 as the shield of a Texcalan captain.
Cuextecatlchimalli (“Huaxtec shield”)
In addition to the Quetzalcuexyochimalli (“Quetzal feather Huaxtec shield”), the Aztec adopted at least two other shield designs from their Huaxtec enemy, both called Cuextecatlchimalli (“Huaxtec shield”).
Codex Mendoza describes the dress of a 2-captive warrior as a Huaxtec suit and matching shield.
Shield09 and Shield26 are from a b/w illustration from Lienzo de Tlaxcala. Carried by a suit wearers. Colours conjectural.
Shield03 appears in a tribute list of the Codex Mendoza next to a Huaxtec suit of a similar blue with darker blue hawk scratches (the parallel lines).
Variations on a slightly different theme from Lienzo de Tlaxcala. Could be carried by an Suit Wearers or ordinary Clan Warriors. Colours from Heath (1999).
Shield28 appears to be almost as popular with Texcalans as the Quetzalcuexyochimalli mentioned above. I’ve seen it illustrated many times in various Codices being carried by Texcalans, but only one instance of it being carried by an Aztec. Unlike other shield designs, the colours of this one always seem to be the same.
Heath (1999) illustrates a similar shield carried only by Aztec rulers – called a Teocuitlateteyochimalli (“Silver stones shield”). It differs by having white full and partial pellets instead of the circles and semi-circles.
Texaxacalochimalli (“thick lips shield”)
The Texaxacalochimalli (“thick lips shield”) had stylised eyes and mouth. Texaxacalochimalli were very common and occurred in various colours. The example to the left is from Heath (1999) although the colours are conjectural. Some examples take the style to extreme showing just circles and lines.
Texaxacalochimalli (“thick lips shield”) with stylised eyes and mouth
Shield07 and Shield24 are from b/w illustration from Lienzo de Tlaxcala. Carried by a suit wearers. Colours conjectural, but based on a similar shield with three circles. This is one of the shields definitely carried by both Texcalans and Aztecs.
Shield16 is a 3 circle variation on the design above. From Lienzo de Tlaxcala. Carried by a suit wearer.
Shield36 is a slightly more elaborate version again.
Quetzalxicalcoliuhquichimalli (“Quetzal [mawcaw] feather shield with stepped fret design”)
As many as 10% of the shields depicted in the tribute section of the Codex Mendoza are of this type, and it wasn’t restricted to the Cuachicqueh as a Priest with six captives is also depicted with one (Heath 1999). The type was called a Quetzalxicalcoliuhquichimalli (“Quetzal [mawcaw] feather shield with stepped fret design”). It was always in green and yellow, although either portion could be either colour. Rim always red or yellow. The codex Mendoza contains three variations on this design, and other sources contain more.
The Cuachicqueh (Seven plus captives warriors) probably all used the distinctive shield illustrated. But it was not restricted to them as I have seen the same shield associated with other suits in the tribute lists of Codex Mendoza.
Cronofus says out the yellow and green portions of the design are meant to be the same shape, like an Aztec version of the Ying-Yang symbol. The shield of the Cuachicqueh warrior in from Codex Mendoza shown above does not have this symmetrical arrangement, so I have redrawn it to have the green and yellow sections matching (Shield51).
To be honest I’m not convinced by the symmetrical nature of the stepped fret shields. This rule may have applied to some, but the examples below are clearly not symmetrical.
Shield23 is from b/w illustration from Lienzo de Tlaxcala. Carried by a Texcalan suit wearer. Colours conjectural.
Shield11 is from b/w illustration from Lienzo de Tlaxcala. Carried by a suit wearer. Colours conjectural.
Shield12 is from Lienzo de Tlacala. Carried by a Texcalan suit wearer with a large fan backbanner (the backbanner is likely to be the Quiahiztlan royal banner). Colours Conjectural.
Mixtec style / Ychimalxupil
Heath (1999) says these patterns were based on Mixtec designs. All are from Lienzo de Tlaxcala with colours from Heath. Chronofus calls this a Ychimalxupil style.
Representations of Quetzalcoatl (“Feathered serpent”)
All are rendered in black and white, usually with white dots (stars) on the black part (Heath, 1999). The number of stars could vary.
Shield19 is the shield of the 4 captive Warrior Priest. The Priest wears a black suit and Huaxtec hat, both with white dots like the shield. (see Pohl, 1991, Plate C2 Mexica Warrior Priest ).
Shield20 with a feathered serpent from a b/w illustration from Lienzo de Tlaxcala. Carried by a Texcalan suit wearer. Colours conjectural, but likely to be black and white – note the lack of stars.
Hihuiteteyochimalli (“feather pellets shield”)
Heath (1999) says the pellets are always white but the field could vary. He also mentions that this particular shield (with a yellow field and white rim) is carried by the 2-captive priest in the Codex Mendoza; I doubt this is the guy he means.
A variation is the zitlallochimalli (“Star-studded shield”) carried by Captains. It had nine pellets on a black field with a open feather border.
Apparently a traditional shield design of northern Mexico which the Aztecs brought south. Heath (1999) says most shields of this type were black and white, or red and white, but could also be in green and black, tan and black, etc.
Shield18 and Shield39 are carried by both a Coyote Warrior and another suit wearer in b/w scenes from Lienzo de Tlaxcala.
Colours based on Plate D Aztec Eagle Warrior (Wise, 1980); the shield in Wise has a feather fringe.
Shield40 is a particularly elaborate variation carried by a 3-captive priest (Heath, 1999).
Shield45 is a variation from the Codex Florentino with a chequered field rather than striped.
Poztequichimalli (“Cleft Shield”)
Design and colours from Heath (1999). Other colours were used.
Shields could be dissected in other ways. Shield48 is taken from Heath (1999).
Nezahualcoyotl of Texcoco carrying a conch-shell shield (Codex Ixtlilxochitl)).
In Heath (1999) the shell is shown pointing upward as in the next picture.
A b/w picture of ‘Tzilacatzin the mighty’ has Tzilacatzin carrying a shield with this pattern – looks to me similar to Nezahualcoyotl’s shield so I assume it is a variation on the Conch-Shell design. From the Florentine Codex. Colours Conjectural. Tzilacatzin was an Otinin Warrior who caused the Spanish some grief during the siege of Tenochtitlan.
Other shield designs
The guy is a sacrificial victim however his costume is that of the god Xipe Totec so may have been worn by Aztec Warrior Priests as well. Certainly the shield pattern looks similar to others in the illustrations.
Shield17 is carried by the shield bearer portrayed in D2 Tlaxcalan soldier (Pohl, 1991)
Shield10 is from a b/w illustration from Lienzo de Tlaxcala. Carried by a Coyote warrior. Colours conjectural.
Shield21 is from b/w illustration from Lienzo de Tlaxcala. Carried by a Texcalan suit wearer. Colours conjectural.
Shield13 is from b/w illustration from Lienzo de Tlaxcala. Carried by a suit wearer. Colours conjectural.
Shieldd22 is from b/w illustration from Lienzo de Tlaxcala. Carried by a Texcalan suit wearer. Colours conjectural.
Shields for the common man
Clan warriors carried plain shields. The Codex Mendoza always has these shields in straw yellow, however, most were apparently been whitewashed. The border could be red, blue or white (Heath, 1999). None have feather fringes. The most common plain shield was white with a blue border.
In this case both the Aztec 3 captive warrior and his most recent conquest have the same shield design.
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Anderson, J. O., and Dibble, C. E. (2012). The Florentine Codex: A General History of the Things of New Spain [Complete Set]. University of Utah Press.
Berdan, F.F. & Anawalt, P.R. (1997). The Essential Codex Mendoza. LA: University of California Press.
Durán, D. (1964). The Aztecs: The History of the Indies of New Spain. D. Heyden and F. Horcasitas (trans.). London: Cassell.
Heath, I. (1999). Armies of the Sixteenth Century 2: The armies of the Aztec and Inca Empires, other native peoples of the Americas, and the Conquistadores 1450-1608. Foundry Books.