Aztec/Mexica -- DBA 105 Mixcoatl, god of the hunt

Medieval Armies DBA Page

Aztec and Enemies: DBA 105 Army and Variants

By David Kuijt

Note: all images are thumbnails, and are clickable to see the larger original.

Aztec Temple Camp Page

Aztec Temple Justification

The name "Aztec" was invented by 19th century historians to differentiate from the country that had taken their name; they called themselves Mexica. So the Mexica army is the army of the Aztec, and vice versa. In the discussion below I am going to use the term Aztec to avoid confusion with the other major cultures that lived in the area now known as Mexico and fought the Aztecs.

death After hearing wonderful things about the Gladiator Aztec range carved by Josef Ochman, and having the opportunity to buy figs by singles rather than mixed bags, I bought myself an Aztec DBA army. I had a copy of DBM book IV (which includes the Aztecs and their enemies and allies), and I wasn't impressed with the detail and specificity of the DBA list for "Mexican" armies, so I translated the DBM army lists into their DBA equivalents.

deer The DBA army lists are often a little simple; at the back of the DBA manual the authors admit that, and recommend that omissions be corrected by taking the DBM army list for a given army and translating it into a 12-element DBA army list.

Below are described three Variant Armies giving a slightly more detailed and specific Aztec (#105a) army, plus the major military and political enemies of the Aztecs: the Tarascans, Toltec-Chichimec, and Tlaxcalans (#105b), and the Mixtec or Zapotec (#105c).

Unmodified Composition of DBA Army #105 Mexican

eagle Enemies

The only historical enemies listed are #105 (Mexican) and #150 (Inca).

I have found no evidence that any of the cultures living in Mexico, including the Aztecs and their enemies, had any interaction with any of the Peruvian (Inca) cultures. Several of my sources indicate the contrary: that the Inca and Aztec cultures developed in total ignorance of each other's existence. They were separated by thousands of miles of jungles, swamps, and mountains, and the listing of army #150 as an enemy of any of the armies below is an error.


Aztec Clan Warriors

DBA #105a Mexica (Aztec) 1325 AD - 1521 AD

(based upon DBM book IV, army 63)

The Aztec list given below is very similar to the unmodified DBA #105 list. You could play this in a tournament, so long as you treated the Otomi as Ax, and the Quachic as Bd. The base sizes for 3Wb Otomi and 4Wb Quachic are already the correct ones for 3Ax and 4Bd, of course.

flint Aztec Generals Historical Notes

Aztec armies were enormous; they could often exceed 200,000 men. The primary weapon among the Aztec was a one-handed wooden club edged with razor-sharp obsidian shards, the maquahuitl. The two-handed version, cuahololli was uncommon among the Aztec. Like most Meso-american tribes, the Aztec used the atlatl dart-thrower. The Aztec used a barrage of these darts to precede a charge. Some Aztecs used a sort of polearm, a cut-and-thrust slashing spear or poleaxe of similar wood and obsidian-blade construction, called a tepoztopilli.

flower Most Aztec warriors wore a cotton quilted vest (ichcahuipilli) as their only armour. Many warriors wore tight-fitting body suits indicating their rank. These suits were not a matter of personal choice; they conveyed a great deal of information about the wearer, including his status and relative experience and ability in battle. These suits were brilliantly coloured with paint or meticulous layers of feathers, and often combined with semi-heraldic helmets.

grass The Aztecs employed peasants as light troops equipped with slings and some bows, to shower the enemy with missiles before the initial attack. Troops closed at the run, making as much noise as possible.

house Attacking from high ground was sought by experienced generals. Victory was obtained by shattering the enemies center with shock troops, or by enveloping one or both flanks. Turning a flank in battle was difficult, although the huge Aztec armies often meant they had an advantage here. Signals were made by flags. Reserve units could be assigned to weak areas of the Aztec line, or to places where the enemy line was weakening. Aztec strategies involved feints and concealment, often using a feigned retreat to bring the enemy to a chosen killing ground. Misdirection was important, sometimes involving hiding troops in prepared positions or outfitting youths as false army forces and using them to fool the enemy into moving against them, putting them in the wrong position against the real Aztec forces.

jaguar Army Notes

Eagle Suit-wearers The Aztecs had two military brotherhoods where membership was based upon ferocity and success in personal combat. These fraternities wore distinctive suits based upon their namesakes, the Eagle and Jaguars. They formed the tough backbone of the Aztec armies.

Quachic Veterans Quachic veterans were among the fiercest and most skillful Aztec warriors who refused a promotion to officer so they could remain in the front lines of combat. They were used as elite shock troops, often placed in ambush. They wore distinctive uniforms and Mohawk haircuts.

Alternatively, Quachic may be considered as Blades (4Bd). Their designation as 4Wb is based upon a literal translation of their entry in the DBM book as Warband(Superior). Since troop quality ratings don't exist in DBA, their performance in DBA might work better (i.e., more historically) as Blades rather than Warband.

monkey The Bw represent Toltec-Chichimec mercenaries. A small number of Chichimec mercenaries (one element) was fairly common in Aztec armies. For a couple of decades in the 15th century one or more Chichimec city-states were allied to the Aztecs and supplied major allied contingents to their wars; if the unmodified DBA list #105 is used with three elements of 4Bw they would represent such an allied contingent.

The Otomi were favored as mercenaries by all the Mexican city states, and widely respected for their fierceness.

peasant skirmishers Fairly large contingents of peasants, outfitted with slings or bows, were an important component of Aztec armies.

rabbit Notes on Tactics

I just painted these guys; I haven't got a good idea how to fight with them yet. One thing is certain -- they are going to be pretty poor against any mounted foe. Take the Chichimec mercenary contingent.


Tlaxcalan Warriors

DBA #105b Tarascan or Toltec-Chichimec 1168 AD - 1521 AD

(based upon DBM book IV, army 19)

This list represents one of the most common enemies of the Aztecs. The Chichimec list is easy to convert from DBM to DBA, as it is almost exclusively bow. It would not be legal in a tournament without special permission, as it has no correspondence to a legal DBA army list.

rain Historical Notes

The Tlaxcalans (a powerful Chichimec state) supported the Spaniards under Cortez in their attacks against, and eventual destruction of, the Aztec Triple Alliance. Tlaxcalans could field 50,0000 troops; similar numbers could be fielded by their allied cities of Huexotzingo and Cholula. At the time of the arrival of Cortez Tlaxcala was hard pressed by the Aztecs, and its two sister-cities had recently been defeated.

Tlaxcalan Archers reed Chichimec tactical emphasis lay on maintaining on a strong front, not upon extending the line to allow envelopment of the enemy. They waited for the enemy to attempt to turn a flank,at which point a strong reserve would attack on both flanks, attempting to outmaneuver the enemy advance on one side and attack the opposite (weakened) flank at the same time.

serpent Archers were usually deployed archers as mobile units, provoking attack in the front (at which point they withdrew to the rear) or throwing in heavy fire from flanking positions. They also placed them in fixed positions to hold off the enemy by the mass of their shooting, but this was more risky because the bowmen were often more lightly equipped than enemy soldiers, and would be ill-handled when the enemy reached their line.

vulture Army Notes

The Tarascans and Chichimec also had suit-wearers, but the bulk of their army was based upon mass archery. Many of their archers were accompanied by shieldmen who were considered very adept at blocking incoming arrows, able to protect both themselves and the archer they were assigned to protect. If you wish to represent that, alternate archer figures with shieldmen for up to four stands of archers. (The DBA combat stats don't change; this is purely cosmetic).

water Many Tlaxcalan warriors wore a distinctive red-and-white headband. Warriors of Huexotzingo wore decorative lip ornaments like a tusk through the center of their lower lip, often of gold or precious stone.

wind Notes on Tactics

With 8-10 Bw units, your deployment options are limited, and your room for brilliant tactical innovation is likewise constrained. Keep your bow grouped together; if possible use terrain to funnel the enemy into a devastating shower of deadly obsidian-tipped shafts. Concentrate your fire and roll sixes.


DBA #105c Mixtec or Zapotec 1280 AD - 1521 AD

(based upon DBM book IV, army 53)

The other major cultural group commonly fighting the Aztecs. The Mixtec/Zapotec list is a legal version of the unmodified DBA army 105, so would be completely legal in an official DBA tournament without further modification.

alligator Historical Notes

Mixtec troops used the atlatl, a two-foot long dart-thrower, as their primary weapon. Unlike the Aztecs, who used the weapon to precede a charge, the Mixtecs used a dense barrage of dart fire from a relatively long range (100 feet or more). They closed to melee after the enemy line was weakened and disordered. In close combat they used a distinctive copper axe, or a stone-headed or obsidian-studded mace. Mixtec peasants used slings almost exclusively.

monkey Army Notes

As with the Aztecs, the Mixtec and Zapotec often allied with Tarascan or Toltec-Chichimec, and sometimes included a major allied contingent of their feared bowmen. These allies could be represented by converting up to three Mixtec Auxilia for as many Chichimec Bow (4Bw). The army thus created would still be legal for tournaments (being a subset of the DBA army listing for army #105). The campaign rules already incorporate rules for allies, so Chichimec allied bow would not be appropriate for this army as part of a campaign.


movement Enemies

All the three lists above fought constantly with each other, and allied with each other as often. Civil wars were also very common. Any of the above lists could be found fighting the same list, or any other list in the above.

None of the armies listed had any contact, military or social, with DBA army #150 (Inca).


Otomi Mercenaries Figure Notes

All figures shown are Gladiator Aztec range. They are stunning figures, and the range is very complete, allowing any of the armies above (Aztec, Mixtec/Zapotec, or Tlaxcalan/Chichimec) to be constructed, as well as Mayan figures that I haven't had the chance to examine yet. Every figure code has lots of pose and weapon variations. I recommend the whole figure range very highly.

Camp Notes

The Aztec Step-pyramid I built to form the DBA camp for this army was complicated enough that I had to split its description off in a separate page, the Aztec Temple Camp Page.


dog A Few Meso-American Links

Other Sources

Osprey books covers the Aztecs; their book is an excellent starting point.

Dover has republished at least two reproductions of surviving pre-Columban codices, the Codex Zouche-Nuttall and Codex Mendoza. They are quite inexpensive ($13 or so each), and make excellent sources for shield patterns, face-paint colours and patterns, and the like. I bought mine through Amazon books.


Top of page

May 13, 1999. Added an image of the Aztec Pyramid Camp and two links to that page.

February 26, 1999. Fixed two broken image links; added the two remaining Aztec day-signs (20 total) and some links from the Aztec Pyramid page.

February 19, 1999. Added some appropriate images (a deity and 18 day-signs).

Page created: February 15, 1999.

The author may be contacted at kuijt@umiacs.umd.edu Please do not use any pictures or text from this page without permission.