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The Importance Of War To The Mesoamerican People History Essay


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War played an important role to the Mesoamerican people. It became their way of life, influencing the religious and political realms. The way the people fought, from the weapons and tactics they used to their overall war goals, differed for each group. However, all of that made a statement about their cultures and way of life.

The Mayas have sometimes been seen as a rather peaceful people, but that is not necessarily true. War and struggle played a major role in the Mayan culture. Language differences and a multitude of city-states resulted in a lack of political unity. This lack of unity between rival kingdoms is what caused conflict to be prevalent in Mayan society. Though most of the wars early on rarely had a definite winner and territory was rarely lost or won, they still took warfare seriously. To the Mayans war had a religious meaning which can be seen through their prewar rituals. They would spend days fasting and perform rites of purification in order to get the support of the gods. The kings and nobles also wore elaborate war costumes and war paint on their faces. These high ranking individuals did take part in warfare, but the majority of the Mayan armies were commoners, not a standing army that was well trained and well equipped with great weapons (Mark A. Burkholder, America, Iberia, and Africa Before the Conquest: The Maya). Though they were not equipped with the greatest weapons, these armies of able bodied men did carry a few beneficial weapons including shock weapons like stone clubs, short stabbing spears, and wooden axes with blades of flint or obsidian and projectile weapons like throwing sticks, slingshots, and bows and arrows. For protection, the Mayans also carried long shield of hides or smaller round shields and wore cotton vests filled with rock salt (Mayan Warfare: Weapons and Tactics). Early on in Mayan history, the goal of war was to secure captives and not territory. These captives were usually ritually sacrificed especially if they were elite captives. However during the Classic Period, the goals of Mayan warfare changed. They eventually became interested in the conquest of their neighbors. This change really blossomed under the Toltecs and Putun Maya who imposed a tribute on their neighbors through their military expansion. However, after them the Maya returned to multiple groups of dispersed city-states that did not use war for expansion purposes (Mark A. Burkholder, America, Iberia, and Africa Before the Conquest: The Maya).

Just like in Mayan culture, war and militarism run deep in Aztec culture. Warfare played a rather important role from the very beginning and really ended up shaping the way of life for Aztecs. Before they made it to the Valley of Mexico, they were just a group of nomadic warlike people who were being told by their god of war, Huitzilopochtli, to move south (Chuchiak, The Aztecs Lecture). Once this aggressive group made it to the Valley of Mexico, they immediately became involved in the conflicts going on there by serving as mercenaries. Eventually, they became a dominant military power and were more violent and militaristic than any of the other groups in the area (Mark A. Burkholder, America, Iberia, and Africa Before the Conquest: The Aztec). When their kingdom finally came together, they focused on expansion through conquest unlike the majority of the Maya. Under Itzcoatal the Triple Alliance participated in a surprise attack to gain control over a great deal of the valley, Moctezuma I expanded Aztec rule over most of Central Mexico, and Ahuitzotl allowed for serious expansion that resulted in Aztec control reaching Guatemala and the Gulf coast. The Aztec armies were huge, much larger than those of the Maya, and have been said to be some of the best armed soldiers in the Americas. Aztec warriors could be armed with bows and arrows and a 2 handled sword with volcanic glass which was effective in capturing. There were also Aztec spear throwers that could throw with great accuracy and force, and because of this, spears were their most effective weapons. For protection Aztec warriors carried a shield of wicker or hides and wore a type of quilted armor that was usually made of cotton or branches, it depended on their wealth and rank. The majority of the men were part-time soldiers, but there were a few full-time soldiers. Two important ranks of Aztec warriors included the Jaguar and Eagle warrior. There was quite a bit of order within the Aztec army (Chuchiak, The Aztecs Lecture). Just like the Mayans, the main goal of these Aztec warriors was to capture enemies (Mark A. Burkholder, America, Iberia, and Africa Before the Conquest: The Aztec). The Aztecs believed that Huitzilopochtli, the center of their lives, required human sacrifice, especially the sacrifice of a human heart, in order for the sun to rise and people to survive. As a result, they justified military expansion and the creation of a tribute empire and continued warfare to satisfy the need for human sacrifice. However, unlike the Maya, they also used war to expand their territory and gain tributes. The conquered areas each had their own tribute list and were forced to pay their most important good to the Aztecs every 80 days. Through this system, the Aztecs were able to obtain supplies and luxury goods (Chuchiak, The Aztecs Lecture).

The Inca were able to create the largest empire in the Americas through warfare. Their military efforts and political structure was very impressive and definitely more organized than the Mayas and even the Aztecs. The Inca ruler Pachacuti was the first to start expansion beyond the capital city of Cuzco. He organized a system of territorial expansion and administration that allowed the Incas to conquer the highland region near Cuzco, the highlands of north Peru, and eventually all the way to the coastal plain, southern highlands, Equator. Their conquests were more about the ability to organize and supply their large army, and not so much about new military and tactical innovations (Mark A. Burkholder, America, Iberia, and Africa Before the Conquest: The Inca). In fact, the Inca warriors were not greatly equipped, especially compared to the Spanish, but they were still an impressive fighting body because of their organization. The Inca were very great organizers. Their pyramidal system, which was put in place in war and in peace, was very effective in keeping the soldiers as well as their territory in order (Chuchiak, The Inca Lecture). The armies were composed of nobles as officers and recruited peasants as the bulk of the soldiers. Mercenaries and conquered people were also used to advance farther in to hostile regions. The Incas’ success attracted quite a few conquered people into enlisting, so they did not have to use too much force for recruitment (Mark A. Burkholder, America, Iberia, and Africa Before the Conquest: The Inca). Though the Inca were not as well equipped as the Spanish, they still carried a few beneficial weapons that included a champis which is a short bronze axe, a bola which is a sling-like weapon with three stones attached to a leather chord, and a stone mace. For protection, Inca warriors carried shields made of chonta covered with deerskin, decorated textile, or feathers and wore quilted cotton tunics, a metal plate on the chest and back, and a quilted or wooden helmet (Chuchiak, The Inca Lecture). War for the Inca was not about taking prisoners as it was for the Mayas and Aztecs and more about obtaining territory, because of this, death during battle was much more common. Expanding the territory of the empire was very important to the rulers. It was through the military expansion that they would be able to gain honor and reputation, therefore they were expected to engage in warfare (Mark A. Burkholder, America, Iberia, and Africa Before the Conquest: The Inca). Incan warfare involved quite a few interesting tactics. They did not use surprise attacks, instead they carried banners and played music as they approached the battlefield. They also sang songs to insult their enemies. Their type of fighting was very much psychological warfare. During the actual battle, the Incan warriors marched in ranks at first and then eventually broke out into one-on-one combat. When they encountered a rebellious group, they would move the group to an area unfamiliar to them. This was known as population transplantation. The great organization of the Incan society allowed for their tactics to be successful (Chuchiak, The Inca Lecture).

War also played a rather important role in the Mixtec society. There is a great deal of evidence in Mixtec writing of war. The colored chevron pattern symbolizing war appeared frequently showing that war was a constant state of life for the people. During battle the warriors carried a few good weapons including bows and arrows as well as spears. Like the Aztecs and the Mayas, the Mixtecs also aimed to capture captives during battle (Chuchiak, The Mixtecs Lecture).

Warfare played an important role in these people’s lives. Their methods of fighting and their goals shaped the way all of their societies were run. Warfare also allowed for some of the societies to expand well beyond their capital cities.

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