Due to the foremost importance of military conquests in the Aztec Empire, the elite warriors were among the most respected members of society. They were granted lands by the emperor and their status was on par with landed nobility. Becoming a warrior of distinction was also one of the surest ways of upward social mobility for the common people. The Order of the Aztec Jaguar Warriors was the order of the elite warriors and rigorous training was required for a male member of Aztec society to become a Jaguar Warrior.
The word used for Aztec Eagle and Jaguar Warriors was cuāuhocēlōtl which was a combination of the world cuāuhtli meaning “eagle warrior” and ocēlōtl meaning “jaguar warrior”. According to Aztec beliefs, the Aztec Jaguar Warriors represented the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca who was the god of the night sky. On the battlefield, their jaguar costume was also thought to give them the powers of an animal. Since they were considered the bravest of warriors, they were deployed at the battlefront during military campaigns. Their foremost purpose was not to kill enemy soldiers but to capture them to be used in human sacrifice during the religious ceremonies of the Aztecs.
Basic military training was part of education for all Aztec males. Children of the commoners were educated at schools called Telpochcalli while the children of the nobility were educated at Calmecac which were schools exclusively reserved for them. While the main emphasis of the education of the commoners was their military training, children of the nobility received education in a variety of disciplines such as government affairs, religion, and history. They were also trained to become military leaders and thus the elite orders like Aztec Jaguar Warriors mainly consisted of the nobility, although commoners who displayed exceptional talent were also sometimes inducted.
After their early years education, young men went through more rigorous training to become jaguar warriors. Their training included such tasks as cleaning areas, building walls, and digging canals etc. This gave them the required physical strength and agility needed on the battleground. These trainees often accompanied their instructors, seasoned warriors, to the battleground where they transported military supplies, food, wood, and other supplies. Strict discipline was maintained during the training of these warriors and anyone breaching the discipline was severely punished. One customary punishment was to beat them and remove their hair which humiliated them in front of everyone. In more serious cases, such as the drinking of pulque which was strictly prohibited, students could even be beaten to death.
On the battleground, Aztec Jaguar Warriors were the leaders of the military along with the Eagle Warriors. They lead the armies and formed the military strategies. Even off the battlefield, they were expected to be the leaders and were considered highly respected members of society. Their rank was on par with the Aztec nobility and they were often granted land by the emperors. These lands became their private property and their subsequent generations could inherit it. After becoming Jaguar warriors, they were also given certain other privileges such as drinking of pulque, taking of concubines, and dining at the royal palace. Another privilege of the Aztec Jaguar Warriors was participation in gladiatorial sacrifices.
A variety of images and artistic representations of Aztec Jaguar Warriors survive which show the kind of weapons they used on the battlefield. Common weapons included spears, atlatls, and macuahuitl. Atlatl was the Aztec version of bow and arrow. It was especially designed so that an arrow could be flung with more power than with an ordinary bow. Macuahuitl was a wooden sword which was studded with obsidian volcanic glass and was one of the most prized weapons of the elite Aztec warriors. Another important weapon was called cuauhololli which was a club made of hard oak with a handle made for throwing at running targets.
The costumes of the Aztec Jaguar Warriors, as the name suggest, was similar to that of a jaguar. They wore jaguar skins along with a helmet or a shroud which resembled the head of a jaguar. Behind this costume there was religious and cultural symbolism of the Aztecs. Aztecs believed that wearing the skin of a jaguar would give them the strength of that animal. There was also a religious reason behind capturing the enemy soldiers instead of killing them on the battleground. It was thought that capturing the enemy soldiers for human sacrifice was a far greater way of honoring the gods than simply killing the soldiers. Thus a warrior who killed the enemy soldiers instead of capturing them was considered lacking in skills.
Gladiatorial sacrifice was a grand event of sacrifice attended by the elite Aztec warriors such as Eagle and Jaguar Warriors. In this ceremony, Aztec Jaguar and Eagle Warriors paraded the captives on the streets and brought them to the sacrificial stone. The captives could be made to drink pulgue in order to reduce their resistance. The warriors would then attack the tied up captive and kill him. Usually, but not exclusively, an obsidian laced club was used for this purpose. Only Aztec Jaguar and Eagle warriors attended this ceremony and it was different from the usual religious ceremonies of the Aztecs. However, if sometime the captives survived the ceremony, they would be killed by the offering priests the next day.
The Aztec Empire was a military empire and any warrior of distinction was held in high esteem. Among these elite warriors of the Aztecs were the Aztec Jaguar Warriors whose status was considered on par with the Aztec nobility. Young men went through rigorous military training in order to become Aztec Jaguar Warriors. The Order mostly inducted young men from the nobility but sometimes commoners who displayed exceptional talent were also included. The main purpose of these warriors was to capture as many prisoners as possible for gladiatorial sacrifice. Aztec Jaguar Warriors were regularly granted lands by the emperors and they enjoyed privileges which were prohibited to the commoners.