The Aztec Empire flourished between c. 1345 and 1521 and, at its greatest extent, covered most of northern Mesoamerica. Aztec warriors were able to dominate their neighbouring states and permit rulers such as Motecuhzoma II to impose Aztec ideals and religion across Mexico. Highly accomplished in agriculture and trade, the last of the great Mesoamerican civilizations was also noted for its art and architecture which ranks amongst the finest ever produced on the continent.
The empire continued to expand from 1430 and the Aztec military - bolstered by conscription of all adult males, men supplied from allied and conquered states, and such elite groups as the Eagle and Jaguar warriors - swept aside their rivals. Aztec warriors wore padded cotton armour, carried a wooden or reed shield covered in hide, and wielded weapons such as a super sharp obsidian sword-club (macuahuitl), a spear or dart thrower (atlatl), and bow and arrows. Elite warriors also wore spectacular feathered and animal skin costumes and headdresses to signify their rank. Battles were concentrated in or around major cities and when these fell the victors claimed the whole surrounding territory. Regular tributes were extracted and captives were taken back to Tenochtitlan for ritual sacrifice. In this way the Aztec empire came to cover most of northern Mexico, an area of some 135,000 square kilometres.
The ATLATL, or spear thrower was about two foot long and was often ornately carved and decorated. It had a hooked end and a groove in which to rest the butt end of the dart or javelin. There was also a pair of holes or finger loops about two thirds of the way along for the index and second fingers. It enabled javelins to be thrown further and with a force many times greater than was otherwise possible.Modern tests indicate that it had a probable maximum range of about 150ft. Considerable accuracy was possible at 120ft, and modern tests show that a a four inch target could consistently be hit at this distance. The penetrative power of darts or javelins using the Atlatl was greater than that of an arrow.Bernal Diaz del Castillo commented that “they could pass through any sort of armour, and against them there was no means of protection”.
The darts or javelins which were called TLACOCHTLI, were of oak. They averaged between 3-4 feet in length, and had either a fire hardened tip, or a blade of obsidian. They were often barbed so that “it cannot be removed without making a large wound unless it can be pulled out at the other side”.