Macuahuitl - Aztec Sword - Espada Azteca


A macuahuitl, a famous Aztec sword, is a wooden club with obsidian blades.

Its sides are embedded with prismatic blades traditionally made from obsidian. Obsidian is capable of producing an edge sharper than high-quality steel razor blades. The macuahuitl was a close combat weapon.

The use of macuahuitl as a weapon is attested from the 1st millennium CE.

By the time of the Spanish conquest, the macuahuitl was widely distributed in the whole Mesoamerican region. The weapon was used by different civilizations including the Aztecs (Mexicas), Mayan, Mixtec, and Toltecs.

Macuahuitls were made of wood and measured between 50 cm and 1 m long.

Macuahuitl had a narrow handle with a wider paddle at the top, lined with sharp obsidian blades set into slots along the edges. Macuahuitl could also have many blades on one side and a single sharp point on the other.

These blades, 2.5 to 5 cm long, were held in place with natural adhesives.

Early macuahuitls could be wielded with one hand, but later versions required two hands, similar to a broadsword. Warriors used them in close combat after archers and slingers had engaged the enemy from a distance.

One example of this weapon survived the conquest of Mexico. This macuahuitl was part of the Royal Armoury of Madrid until it was destroyed by a fire in 1884. Images of the original designs survive in catalogs.

Unfortunately, no actual specimens of the macuahuitl have survived to the present day. Our understanding of this weapon comes from historical accounts, illustrations, and descriptions from the 16th century and earlier.

For the reality show “The Deadliest Warrior”, a replica was created and tested on a horse head created using a horse skeleton. Actor and martial artist Eder Saul Lopez was able to decapitate the model only in 3 blows.

Macuahuitl - Aztec Sword - Espada Azteca

The word “macuahuitl” is derived from the Nahuatl and means “hand-wood”.


The macuahuitl is a type of macana, that was a common weapon used by the ancient Aztec military forces and other cultures of central Mexico. It was noted during the 16th-century Spanish conquest of the region.

The sides of the macuahuitl are embedded with prismatic obsidian blades.

Obsidian (volcanic glass) is capable of producing blades sharper than high-grade steel blades. The macuahuitl was capable of causing severe lacerations with the rows of obsidian blades embedded in its sides.

Macuahuitl is not a sword or a club, although it approximates a broadsword.

According to Bernal Diaz del Castillo, the macuahuitl had a length of 0.91 to 1.22 m and a width of 75 mm, with grooves on both edges into which pieces of flint or obsidian with sharp edges were inserted and firmly fixed.

The rows of obsidian blades were sometimes discontinuous, leaving gaps on the sides, and sometimes the rows were close together to form a single blade. The blades could neither be pulled out nor broken.

There were two versions of this weapon: the macuahuitl, about 70 to 80 cm long with six to eight blades on each side, and the mācuāhuitzōctli, a smaller club about 50 cm long with only four obsidian blades.

The macuahuitl also was made with a one-handed or two-handed grip and also had a rectangular, ovoid, or pointed shape. The two-handed macuahuitl is described as being as tall as a man.

Origins & Distribution

Macuahuitl predates the Aztecs. Tools made from obsidian fragments were used by some of the earliest inhabitants of Mesoamerica. Obsidian knives, drills, razors, drills, and arrowheads were found at Aztec sites.

Also, several obsidian mines were located near Aztec settlements and the north mountain areas in the Valley of Mexico. Among them were the Sierra de las Navajas (The Spiny Mountains), named for obsidian deposits.

The use of the macuahuitl as a weapon is attested from the 1st millennium CE.

Macuahuitl was widely used by the Mixtecs, Toltecs, Aztecs, and others. A carving at Chichen Itza shows a Mayan warrior holding a macuahuitl, depicted as a club having separate blades sticking out from each side.

Macuahuitl was also used by the native warriors in the service of Spain.

Since natives indigenous required special permission to carry European weapons, metal swords brought more prestige to the Indian auxiliaries than the Macuahuitli in the eyes of the Europeans as well as the natives.

Macuahuitl in ancient Nahua warfare

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A striking element of the Nahua culture’s warfare strategies was the significant role of human sacrifice. Capturing enemy combatants alive was paramount. The macuahuitl played a pivotal part in this intricate system of combat and ritual.

The macuahuitl’s dual purpose

The macuahuitl, an indigenous weapon, was thoughtfully designed to serve a dual purpose in the context of Nahua warfare. Its construction featured spaced blades rather than continuous ones.

This unique feature was deliberate, as it limited the depth of wounds inflicted by a single blow. This made the macuahuitl a valuable tool for capturing prisoners, as it allowed warriors to incapacitate opponents without causing lethal injuries.

A weapon of training

Interestingly, the art of using an unbladed macuahuitl as a sparring club was taught to young warriors in Aztec Tēlpochcalli schools. This training emphasized the importance of skill and precision in the use of this distinctive weapon.

Challenges in combat

While the macuahuitl had its advantages, it faced significant challenges when compared to European steel swords. Prismatic obsidian, which was used for the blade edges, was indeed sharper than steel but considerably more brittle.

Obsidian blades often shattered upon impact with other obsidian blades, steel swords, or plate armor.

Additionally, the thin, replaceable blades of the macuahuitl were vulnerable to dulling or chipping after repeated impacts on bone or wood. This highlighted the necessity for warriors to employ the weapon judiciously in combat.

Tactical considerations

Using a macuahuitl in combat required more time and space compared to the swift thrusts of European swords. As a result, Nahua warriors adopted loose formations and frequently engaged in single combat when wielding this unique weapon.

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