Last updated
Tepoztli Codex Laud p. 43.png
Bronze axe from Mexica culture in the Codex Laud
Type Axe
Place of origin Mexico
Service history
In servicePre-classic to Post-Classic period (900–1570)
Used by Aztecs, Mayans, Purépecha, Mixtecs
Wars Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, Aztec expansionism, Mesoamerican Wars
Mass1.5–3.0 kg
Length30-45 cm

Blade  typeCurved, thick, single-edged, tapered
Hilt  typeSingle-handed swept
Scabbard/sheath unknown
Head typeTrapezoidal
Haft  typeStraight or Curved, of a single metallic piece or wooden

The tlaximaltepoztli (tlāximaltepoztli; in Nahuatl, tlaximal=carpentry and tepoztli=metal axe) or simply tepoztli was a common weapon used by civilizations from Mesoamerica which was formed by a wooden haft in which the poll of the bronze head was inlaid in a hole in the haft. It was used for war or as a tool. Its use is documented by the Codex Mendoza and the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer. Tax collectors from the Aztec Empire demanded this kind of axe as tribute from the subjugated kingdoms. In Aztec mythology, the tepoztli was used by the god Tepoztécatl, god of fermentation and fertility. [1] In Codex Borgia he is represented with a bronze axe.



The tepoztli, was a weapon used by some kingdoms in Mesoamerica, this weapon was used during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in the XVI. It was famously used by the Purépecha Empire from which many original pieces have been discovered. According to the size of the bronze axe heads exhibited by the National Anthropology Museum and also to the images of the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, the tepoztli was estimated to be 1 foot 3 inches to 3 foot long, and 1 inch and a half wide, it had a hole in the shaft where the head of the axe head was inserted and strongly attached with a natural adhesive based in pine tree sap and coal.

A decorative version of the tepoztli were the axe-monies which were highly prized in the late post-classic. However these objects were not war effective due to their small thickness and also because of their brittle or soft mechanical properties. [2]

This weapon was also used as a tool for the manufacture of wooden objects and it was a regular house hold in the Aztec homes. The axe was part of the marriage dowry between commoners in Tenochtitlan, where it was presented to the wife along with other house hold items


Mesoamerican axes were mostly made of bronze in the Post-classic period, with high Vickers Hardness values (VHN) ranging from 130 to 297 VHN in the bronze alloys. Only the old and more primitive Pre-classic copper axes the VHN value ranged from 80 to 135 [3]

Metallurgics were introduced in West Mexico via maritime trade during the Classic period, since most found objects are near the coast during this period. [4] This technology seems to have been imported due to the League of Merchants that traded articles from as far south as Ecuador to the coast of Culiacán, Mexico. [5] Ecuadorian and west Mexican objects show that not only were the artifacts were found in analogous archeological context, but they share identical chemical composition and manufacturing techniques, and their designs are very similar. [6]

The grain size of the metallic alloy is variable along the body, showing intensive cold work by hammering in the edges. [7] This cold work treatment increased the hardness of the axe in this important area, while leaving the rest of the structure more soft so it could resist the impacts of daily use.

Examples of HV values for various metals [8] and Mesoamerican bronze-alloy axes [3]
Cu-Sn Bronze 274HV
Cu-As-Sn Bronze 297HV
Cu-As Bronze 195HV
347L stainless steel 180HV
Iron 30–80HV

Historical References

During the invasion of West Mexico, it was reported that locals built boats for Hernán Cortés with the help of axes. [9] Also in the Lienzo de Jucutacato it is represented the migration of a metallurgical guild from the Golf coast to Uruapan. [10]

"Tenían cierto azófar blanco con alguna mezcla de oro de que hacían hachuelas de fundición y unos cascavelazos con que bailaban. Este azófar y otras planchas o láminas más duras las traían a rescatar los de Tabasco por las cosas (de Yucatán que eran)". They had certain white brass with some mixture of gold which they made cast hatchets and big rattles which they used to dance. This brass and other plates or more strong metal sheets were recovered from Tabasco (they came from Yucatán)

Origin and distribution

The tlaximaltepoztli was widely used in many regions of Mesoamerica since many different cultures were very specialized in metallurgics, [12] [13] they also used bronze for making tools in order to create stone sculptures and gravestones. Several copper alloy ore mines were to be found around the Purépecha state in what is now the Mexican state of Michoacan, such mines were also used by the Spanish during the New Spain rule. Bronze axes were also weapons of the Inca empire and other civilizations of South America that were also used as weapons to dominate local kingdoms or to defend from foreign invasions.

Codex Fejervary Mayer page 38. Depiction of two Aztec warriors, the warrior on the right is wielding a tlaximaltepoztli. Codex Fejervary Mayer page 38 detail.png
Codex Fejervary Mayer page 38. Depiction of two Aztec warriors, the warrior on the right is wielding a tlaximaltepoztli.

The bronze axe is mentioned in the Relación de Michoacán, in the story of the Purepecha's Princess Erendira, who resisted the Spanish invasion. In one part of the story, it is described how the local women started to dress the princess and gave her axes to cut firewood, in preparation for her wedding.

Also from the Relación de Michoacán, it is stated that a man who remarried was required to spend four days gathering wood beforehand as a kind of penance.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Purépecha</span> Indigenous group of Michoacán, Mexico

The Purépecha are a group of indigenous people centered in the northwestern region of Michoacán, Mexico, mainly in the area of the cities of Cherán and Pátzcuaro.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tzintzuntzan (Mesoamerican site)</span>

Tzintzuntzan was the ceremonial center of the pre-Columbian Purépecha capital of the same name. The name comes from the Purépecha word Ts’intsuntsani, which means "place of hummingbirds." The site includes at least 1,000 archaeological features in an area that is at least 1,075 hectares.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mesoamerican chronology</span> Divides the history of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica into several periods

Mesoamerican chronology divides the history of prehispanic Mesoamerica into several periods: the Paleo-Indian ; the Archaic, the Preclassic or Formative (2500 BCE – 250 CE), the Classic (250–900 CE), and the Postclassic (900–1521 CE); as well as the post European contact Colonial Period (1521–1821), and Postcolonial, or the period after independence from Spain (1821–present).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mesoamerican languages</span> Languages indigenous to Mesoamerica

Mesoamerican languages are the languages indigenous to the Mesoamerican cultural area, which covers southern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize and parts of Honduras and El Salvador. The area is characterized by extensive linguistic diversity containing several hundred different languages and seven major language families. Mesoamerica is also an area of high linguistic diffusion in that long-term interaction among speakers of different languages through several millennia has resulted in the convergence of certain linguistic traits across disparate language families. The Mesoamerican sprachbund is commonly referred to as the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area.

Gender roles existed in Mesoamerica, with a sexual division of labour meaning that women took on many domestic tasks including child-rearing and food preparation while only men were typically allowed to use weapons and assume positions of leadership. Both men and women farmed, but in some societies, women were not permitted to plough the fields because it was believed to symbolise men's role in the reproductive cycle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metallurgy in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica</span>

The emergence of metallurgy in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica occurred relatively late in the region's history, with distinctive works of metal apparent in West Mexico by roughly 800 CE, and perhaps as early as 600 CE. Metallurgical techniques likely diffused northward from regions in Central or South America via maritime trade routes; recipients of these metallurgical technologies apparently exploited a wide range of material, including alloys of copper-silver, copper-arsenic, copper-tin and copper-arsenic-tin.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mesoamerica</span> Pre-Columbian cultural area in the Americas

Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area that begins in the southern part of North America and extends to most of Central America, thus comprising the lands of central Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. In the pre-Columbian era, many societies flourished in Mesoamerica for more than 3,000 years before the Spanish colonization of the Americas begun at Hispaniola island in 1493. In world history, Mesoamerica was the site of two historical transformations: (i) primary urban generation, and (ii) the formation of New World cultures from the mixtures of the indigenous Mesoamerican peoples with the European, African, and Asian peoples who were introduced by the Spanish colonization of the Americas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Geography of Mesoamerica</span>

The geography of Mesoamerica describes the geographic features of Mesoamerica, a culture area in the Americas inhabited by complex indigenous pre-Columbian cultures exhibiting a suite of shared and common cultural characteristics. Several well-known Mesoamerican cultures include the Olmec, Teotihuacan, the Maya, the Aztec and the Purépecha. Mesoamerica is often subdivided in a number of ways. One common method, albeit a broad and general classification, is to distinguish between the highlands and lowlands. Another way is to subdivide the region into sub-areas that generally correlate to either culture areas or specific physiographic regions.

Mesoamerica, along with Mesopotamia and China, is one of three known places in the world where writing is thought to have developed independently. Mesoamerican scripts deciphered to date are a combination of logographic and syllabic systems. They are often called hieroglyphs due to the iconic shapes of many of the glyphs, a pattern superficially similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs. Fifteen distinct writing systems have been identified in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, many from a single inscription. The limits of archaeological dating methods make it difficult to establish which was the earliest and hence the progenitor from which the others developed. The best documented and deciphered Mesoamerican writing system, and the most widely known, is the classic Maya script. Earlier scripts with poorer and varying levels of decipherment include the Olmec hieroglyphs, the Zapotec script, and the Isthmian script, all of which date back to the 1st millennium BC. An extensive Mesoamerican literature has been conserved, partly in indigenous scripts and partly in postconquest transcriptions in the Latin script.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mesoamerican literature</span> Extensive body of literature from 1st mil. BCE times

The traditions of indigenous Mesoamerican literature extend back to the oldest-attested forms of early writing in the Mesoamerican region, which date from around the mid-1st millennium BCE. Many of the pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica are known to have been literate societies, who produced a number of Mesoamerican writing systems of varying degrees of complexity and completeness. Mesoamerican writing systems arose independently from other writing systems in the world, and their development represents one of the very few such origins in the history of writing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Purépecha Empire</span> State in central Mexico (c. 1300–1530)

The Purépecha Empire, also known by the term Iréchikwa, was a polity in pre-Columbian Mexico. Its territory roughly covered the geographic area of the present-day Mexican state of Michoacán, as well as parts of Guanajuato, Guerrero, and Jalisco. At the time of the Spanish conquest, it was the second-largest state in Mesoamerica. The state is also known as the Tarascan Empire, an exonym often considered pejorative by the Purépecha people.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Huastec civilization</span> Pre-Columbian civilization of Mesoamerica

The Huastec civilization was a pre-Columbian civilization of Mesoamerica, occupying a territory on the Gulf coast of Mexico that included the northern portion of Veracruz state, and neighbouring regions of the states of Hidalgo, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí, and Tamaulipas. The Huastec people were an early offshoot of the Maya peoples that migrated northwards.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Western Mexico shaft tomb tradition</span> Western Mexico shaft tomb tradition

The Western Mexico shaft tomb tradition refers to a set of interlocked cultural traits found in the western Mexican states of Jalisco, Nayarit, and, to a lesser extent, Colima to its south, roughly dating to the period between 300 BCE and 400 CE, although there is not wide agreement on this end date. Nearly all of the artifacts associated with this shaft tomb tradition have been discovered by looters and are without provenance, making dating problematic.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metallurgy in pre-Columbian America</span>

Metallurgy in pre-Columbian America is the extraction, purification and alloying of metals and metal crafting by Indigenous peoples of the Americas prior to European contact in the late 15th century. Indigenous Americans had been using native metals from ancient times, with recent finds of gold artifacts in the Andean region dated to 2155–1936 BCE, and North American copper finds being dated to approximately 5000 BCE. The metal would have been found in nature without the need for smelting, and shaped into the desired form using hot and cold hammering without chemical alteration or alloying. To date "no one has found evidence that points to the use of melting, smelting and casting in prehistoric eastern North America."

El Opeño is a Mesoamerican archaeological site located in the municipality of Jacona in the state of Michoacán, Mexico. It is home to a prehispanic site, mainly known from the ceramic material found in the funerary complexes of the site, which have been dated to the Late Preclassic period. The importance of this site in mesoamerican archaeology is due to its antiquity and the ample diffusion of its style, contemporary to other native culture developments such as the Capacha culture and earlier than the Chupicuaro. El Opeño tombs, the oldest in Mesoamerica, have been dated to around 1600 BCE - a similar period as Olmec culture development.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Huandacareo</span> Archaeological zone in Michoacán, Mexico

Huandacareo is an archaeological zone located about 60 kilometers north of the city of Morelia, in the state of Michoacán.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ihuatzio (archaeological site)</span> Archaeological site in Michoacán, Mexico

Ihuatzio is an archeological site in Michoacán state, Mexico. It is at the southern slopes of Cerro Tariaqueri, just north of the Ihuatzio town, in the Tzintzuntzan municipality.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Axe-monies</span> Pre-Columbian bronze artifacts

Axe-monies refer to bronze artifacts found in both western Mesoamerica and the northern Andes. Based on ethnohistorical, archaeological, chemical, and metallurgical analyses, the scholars Hosler, Lechtman and Holm have argued for their use in both regions through trade. In contrast to naipes, bow-tie- or card-shaped metal objects which appear in the archaeological record only in the northern Andean coastal region, axe-monies are found in both Mesoamerican and Andean cultural zones. More specifically, it is argued that the system of money first arose on the north coast of Peru and Ecuador in the early second millennium CE. In both regions, bronze was smelted, likely by family units, and hammered into thin, axe-shaped forms and bundled in multiples of five, usually twenty. As they are often found in burials, it is likely that in addition to their presumed economic use, they also had ceremonial value.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Traditional metal working in Mexico</span>

Traditional metal working in Mexico dates from the Mesoamerican period with metals such as gold, silver and copper. Other metals were mined and worked starting in the colonial period. The working of gold and silver, especially for jewelry, initially declined after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. However, during the colonial period, the working of metals rose again and took on much of the character traditional goods still have. Today, important metal products include those from silver, gold, copper, iron, tin and more made into jewelry, household objects, furniture, pots, decorative objects, toys and more. Important metal working centers include Taxco for silver, Santa Clara del Cobre for copper, Celaya for tin and Zacatecas for wrought iron.


  1. Michael Jordan (2004). Library of Congress (ed.). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. EE.UU. p. 309. ISBN   0-8160-5923-3.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  2. Hosler, D. (1988). "Ancient West Mexican Metallurgy: South and Central American Origins and West Mexican Transformations". American Anthropologist, New Series, 90(4), p. 832-855
  3. 1 2 Hosler, Dorothy (1994). The sounds and colors of Power: The sacred metallurgica technology of ancient West Mexico. London: MIT Press. p. 160. ISBN   0-262-08230-6.
  4. Hosler, Dorothy (1994). The sounds and colors of Power: The sacred metallurgical technology of ancient West Mexico. London: MIT Press. p. 46. ISBN   0-262-08230-6.
  5. Norton, Presley (1986). El señorío de Salangone y la liga de mercaderes. Miscelánia Antropológica Ecuatoriana 6. Ecuador. pp. 131–143.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  6. Mountjoy, Joseph (1969). On the Origin of West Mexican Metallurgy: Mesoamerican Studies 4. pp. 26–42.
  7. Hosler, Dorothy (1994). The sounds and colors of Power: The sacred metallurgica technology of ancient West Mexico. London: MIT Press. p. 76. ISBN   0-262-08230-6.
  8. Smithells Metals Reference Book, 8th Edition, ch. 22
  9. Durán, Fray Diego (1588). Historia de las indias de Nueva España e islas de la tierra firme. Vol.2 (1967 ed.). Mexico: Editorial Porrúa.
  10. Jiménez, Wigberto (1948). Historia antigua de la zona tarasca. Mexico: Sociedad Mexicana de Antropología.
  11. Landa, Fray Diego (1566). Relación de las cosas de Yucatán (11th Edition. 1978 ed.). Mexico: Editorial Porrúa.
  12. Art popular mexicano al estilo FONART/FONART's style in Mexican popular art. Mexico City: Fondo Nacional para el Fomento de las Artesanías. 1992. pp. V1–V17. ISBN   968-29-4019-2.
  13. Aprahamian, p 58