[May 6, 2020] I’ll be right upfront. Until last week, I’d never heard of the Flower Wars. The bias in my study of war has been colored by the classic predisposition to learn from European and Asian-centric warfare. Today, I’ll make up for this a bit by introducing Aztec warriors into my leadership blog.
From the reconstruction of their history, the Aztecs were a proud and powerful tribe from the central Mexico region. They built one of the world’s most advanced societies and controlled over 11 million people at its height during the 14th and 15th centuries.1 While much has been published on the human sacrifice of the Aztec culture and their destruction at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors, we know little about their society. We do know, however, that all adult men in the Empire had to be in the Aztec military.
Sometime in the mid 15th century, a persistent famine caused widespread destruction. To the Aztecs, this showed the gods were displeased and needed more human sacrifice. Their leader Montezuma I reigned during this great famine and determined to do something about it. The traditional war between outlying tribes had a devastating impact. Needed were new methods to obtain humans for sacrifice.
The Aztecs and local competing tribes agreed to a ritual, or ceremonial war, to provide captives for sacrifice. Flower wars differed from traditional wars in that competing armies would meet on a predetermined date and place. Actual battle tactics also differed; weapons were short-ranged, required considerable warrior skill, and close proximity to the enemy.
From time to time, the Aztecs would arrange a Flower War when the need for human captives arose. Enemies of the Aztecs were the Tlaxcala, Cholula, and Heujotzingo tribes and yet they all agreed to the Flower War concept. The losers would be used as human sacrifices.
Indeed, the Flower Wars continued for many reasons, not just to obtain sacrifices. It is believed the Aztecs, which was the larger tribe, could absorb the warrior loses more easily than smaller tribes. The wars were an efficient and effective way to train young warriors, ensure social advancement for warriors, and a way to help wear down the enemy tribes. Such wars were also a way to show the fighting spirit of the Aztec warrior and the superiority of Aztec society.
The Aztecs never conquered the Tlaxcala tribe (which is also far less famous). In the end, however, it was the Tlaxcala that delivered the final blow. They allied with the Spanish in conquering and defeating the Aztec Empire.2