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Author Topic: Aztec unit composition question  (Read 391 times)

Offline OB

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Aztec unit composition question
« on: April 27, 2022, 09:13:31 PM »

Aztec units seem to have been raised from each locality in Tenochtitlan.  Accordingly they contained men of a wide range of military experience and none at all.  Now all Aztec men got military training but the cutting edge was provided by the various ‘knights’ who also provided command and control.

My question is what percentage of the unit would be comprised of ‘Knights’?  I’m currently thinking of around a third.  Any thoughts most welcome. 

Offline Bowman

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Re: Aztec unit composition question
« Reply #1 on: May 09, 2022, 04:16:51 PM »
A question close to my heart.

For starters, almost all the rules get this wrong. There were no units of Eagle Warriors, or of regular warriors or of totally green youth.

A typical fighting unit would be a Tzontli. This a 400 men that all came from the same calpul or barrio. As you correctly state, this Tzontli would consist of a variety of skill and experienced warriors. I don’t think any firm numbers have ever been determined. A good source to look at is Ross Hassig’s book:

https://www.amazon.ca/Aztec-Warfare-Expansion-Political-Civilization/dp/B00XX62XSK/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?crid=1DAXEPW45MNFB&keywords=ross+hassig&qid=1652111142&sprefix=ross+hassig%2Caps%2C93&sr=8-3

(Buy the cheaper soft cover)

Here would be my recommendations on a 400 man unit

About 200-300 green troops and low capture warriors
About 50 Eagle and Jaguar Warriors and other fancy suit wearers
The rest are higher veteran high capture warriors
The add a few Quachiques out front skirmishing

Having said all that, I’m sure your combat units have far less figures than a real Tzontli. So just use what you have. The nice suit wearers and their beautiful banners are at the front, the guys with the nice “flak jacket” chest protectors in the middle and they inarmoured green troops are the rear rankers. Easy. As long as you have a mix of troop types you’ll be good.

Now the priest warriors would be in their Tzontli. Didn’t want to mix with the non religious riff-raff. But everything else would be the same. Best guys start in front and lesser troops to the rear.

Each Calpulli would have a few regular Tzontli but probably only one priest Tzontli, depending on the population of that specific barrio.

Again, Hassig says that an Aztec innovation was rotating the lines after contact with the enemy. So after about 15 minutes of melee, musical signals (drums or horns) would signal that the front rank withdraws and the next rank moves forward. By the time the greenest troops are at the front, the Eagles, Jaguars and suit wearing officers and veterans are at their backs, looking out for them. This way the enemy always is facing fresh or rested troops.

So that’s all interesting but don’t worry about representing that on the table.

Have a smattering of Quachiques or Otomitl in front as skirmishers and have a swarm of macehualtin flunkies with slings and bows to hold the flanks.

Hope that helps. Note: this is for actual battle formations. For the more ritualized Flower Wars probably just Tzontlis were involved. But, as usual, much is speculation.
"This I have known ever since I stretched out my fingers to the abomination within that great gilded frame; stretched out my fingers and touched a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass." 

H. P. Lovecraft, "The Outsider"

Offline OB

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Re: Aztec unit composition question
« Reply #2 on: May 11, 2022, 02:41:16 PM »
All good thoughts Bowman, thank you.  I like your take on the likely composition of a Tzontli. 

Turning that into a table top unit might need a little fudging.  Half or more green troops is a good start.  I have Ross's book so time to revisit it.

In terms of figures I have far too many suit wearers and not enough ordinary warriors.  like most folk I suspect. 

I'm working on a blog post on the subject.  One of a series that will hopefully  lead to a set of rules.

Offline MGH

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Re: Aztec unit composition question
« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2022, 01:25:34 AM »
Yes interesting conversation. I too have way too many suit wearers compared to commoners. Well, I bought em and I'm gonna keep 'em.  ;)


Offline Bowman

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Re: Aztec unit composition question
« Reply #4 on: May 12, 2022, 01:33:01 AM »
I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

I have used Hail Caesar for my large battles. I have a lot of Aztecs. My 400 man Tzontli is 24 figures, 8 across and 3 deep. Yours don’t need to be that size, btw. Instead of every unit being exactly the same, I just changed the composition of my figures a bit.

More suit wearers make for a Veteran unit

More typical composition makes for a normal unit

More flunkies with only a smattering of suit wearers is a green unit

Each unit has some decreasing capabilities, depending on the rules you want to use. That way each unit isn’t just a clone of the others. You seem to be well on your way to making more Veteran units and that’s good……except for the Spanish.

I also have 1 Tzontli of 24 priests. I think I have them as Veteran but they will have a better morale rating. (Don’t know if that’s totally accurate either). It just gives some variation among my Tzontli on the table.

Plus the Conquistador player knows who he is facing. The prettier the outfits the more grief he should expect. Hope that helps.

The interesting thing is, if you read a good book on the conquest, and De Casa’s book and the Hassig book, you’ll already know more than 99.9% of the public. What we don’t know of the Aztecs would fill encyclopedias. And they are the Mesoamericans we know the best, especially concerning warfare,
« Last Edit: May 12, 2022, 01:34:32 AM by Bowman »

Offline OB

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Re: Aztec unit composition question
« Reply #5 on: May 12, 2022, 09:48:15 AM »
Yes, the suit wearers will all get used MGH.  They took too long to paint to be set aside.

All that does help Bowman, thanks again.  As you say there is so much we don't know.

I find variable quality Aztec units very plausible and I like the idea of a priest unit.  Decreasing capabilities as we go down in quality works for me as well.

Unit size is interesting.  I'm thinking of making the basic Aztec unit twice the size of a Spanish one.  Maybe 8 bases to 4 or 6 to 3.  I'll have to see what works best.

I think I can now see my way clear on prisoner taking and its morale impact on both sides.  I'll detail that and other thoughts on my blog shortly.

Offline FierceKitty

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Re: Aztec unit composition question
« Reply #6 on: May 12, 2022, 10:50:18 AM »
Don't ask for references - I live far from real libraries - but I recall Spanish references to intimidatingly uniform Mexican regiments.
The laws of probability do not apply to my dice in wargames or to my finesses in bridge.

Offline Bowman

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Re: Aztec unit composition question
« Reply #7 on: May 12, 2022, 02:29:42 PM »
Don't ask for references - I live far from real libraries - but I recall Spanish references to intimidatingly uniform Mexican regiments.

In Cortes’ letters he describes just such an incident. The Spanish were willfully ignorant of the Aztec military. However, In the Battle of Otumba, he noticed the fellows with the most beautiful and colourful suits seemed to be directing the battle. So he decided that a good cavalry charge would make short work of these colourful troops. Sure enough the majority of the command were soon on the sharp end of his lances, all by the virtue of their clothing.

Hope that’s what you meant.

Combat units were always raised from one of the many calpulli neighbourhoods of Tenochtitlan and the other major cities. This way the Aztecs maintained an Esprit de Corps, so to speak. Some of these neighbourhoods would be more populous and therefore have access to more manpower. Some would contain more veterans. Some would be richer and contain more noblemen. Some had priestly schools which would supply their own units.

I’d assume that would result in some differences in capabilities but this is well within the realm of speculation.

 

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