Flower Wars (Aztec Warriors)

[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


  1. https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_Empire
  2. https://www.historyonthenet.com/aztec-warriors-the-flower-wars
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “Flower Wars (Aztec Warriors)

  1. Dennis Mathes

    Cool, the whole idea of the Aztec civilization is fascinating to me. More of these type of articles are fine with me.

  2. Joe Omerrod

    Another excellent installment of practical application of leadership. The Aztecs training their elite to be warriors as well. Every male was a warrior or … they just got rid of you since you had no real function. The best warriors (often trained in these Flower Wars) became the most senior leaders in their society. When the strongest become the leaders, it works.

  3. Newtown Manager

    Good article, thank you Gen. Satterfield. Today’s post was interesting and got me motivated to read more about the ancient civilians of central and south America.

  4. old warrior

    Wow, they kicked some serious butt. Admirable trait.

    1. Randy Goodman

      A little humor to start the day, huh, old warrior? Always great to see you on this leadership blog.

  5. Kenny Foster

    Aztec Religion
    The Aztec faith shared many aspects with other Mesoamerican religions, like that of the Maya, notably including the rite of human sacrifice. In the great cities of the Aztec empire, magnificent temples, palaces, plazas and statues embodied the civilization’s unfailing devotion to the many Aztec gods, including Huitzilopochtli (god of war and of the sun) and Quetzalcoatl (“Feathered Serpent”), a Toltec god who served many important roles in the Aztec faith over the years.

    1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      More good info. The Aztecs were Nahuatl-speaking people who lived in central Mexico in the 14th to 16th centuries. Their tribute empire spread throughout Mesoamerica. The Maya people lived in southern Mexico and northern Central America — a wide territory that includes the entire Yucatán Peninsula — from as early as 2600 BC. The civilization’s height was between 250 and 900 AD.

    2. Eric Coda

      The Aztec Empire was really a Triple Alliance of three Nahua altepetl city-states: Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan.

      1. Eva Easterbrook

        Good to read so much about them. I wouldn’t have wanted to live during their time.

  6. Mikka Solarno

    Hey guys and gals. Don’t forget to read Gen. Satterfield at his “Daily Favorites.” He has a great list of articles and videos (occasionally a podcast) on leadership and what’s new in the world that shows us about leadership. ?

  7. Doug Smith

    Today we would say that Aztec warriors are known for their “warrior spirit.” The warrior spirit alone, however, will not make your society successful. In fact, it can be a detriment under a particular set of circumstances like – in their case – a great famine or other world disaster.

    1. Army Captain

      Good point. That is why a balance needs to be struck between society and its guardians (warriors/soldiers). There is a cost for having warriors and a cost for not having warriors.

    2. Len Jakosky

      I believe that in the US army a few years ago there was a movement to get back to the basics of soldiering. They called it a warrior spirit or something like that. The idea was that leaders of soldiers had allowed our soldiers to drift away from a fighting spirit and nuzzle up to a bureaucratic, safe, comfortable position. Don’t know where that went but I never heard much later.

        1. Willie Shrumburger

          Thanks for the links. Very educational. I guess the US military hasn’t at least forgotten that warriors are more important than soldiers.

  8. Wesley Brown

    Cool. I enjoy reading about the Aztec civilization but it should be noted that they did not exist in a vacuum but with other highly-successful nearby tribes just as strong as they.

    1. JT Patterson

      Yeah, me too. I have been interested in the Aztecs since I was a kid and saw something on them in National Geographic.


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