There’s absolutely no denying that when it comes to the most popular ancient civilization in popular culture, the Mayans come pretty close to the top. While the Egyptians, the Greeks, and many others are pretty popular, the reason the Mayans are so infamous is due to their Mayan calendar and its connection to the 2012 end of the world prophecy. While it was a silly prophecy, it did have the added benefit of getting people interested in Mayan culture. The cool thing is that the Mayans are actually reasonably close to our own current society, believe it or not.
That said, perhaps one of the more curious parts about Mayan culture is their take on warfare. Typically, people look into the Mayans for their achievements and inventions, but there will always be at least a passing interest toward warfare. After all, humans and war form an (unfortunate) bond, and we can’t help but be drawn to it. For those interested, here are some of the top Mayan weapons and armor used in battle.
The Bow and Arrow
When it comes to modern warfare, it’s won and lost based on projectile weaponry — or the threat of projectile weaponry. During medieval warfare, battles are won and lost based on projectile weaponry. In ancient warfare, it’s still the exact same thing. It’s the reason why the first on this list has to be the bow and arrow, as while it might not be the most unique weapon, it’s the one that tends to make the biggest difference.
Similar to many other civilizations, the Mayans made good use of the bow and arrow, as it was often used to mow down warriors before the grand melee. In many cases, guerrilla and ambush warfare made fantastic use of the bow and arrow, and the fact that the Mayans had such a weapon made them a force to be reckoned with. The coolest part is it’s only the tip of the iceberg!
Now I know what you’re thinking. Did I just read hornets? Yes, yes you did just read hornets. The Mayans are as passionate and clever as they are creative, and so they decided that the best way to defend from attacks against other Mayan armies is to have gourds filled with angry hornets. Sometimes, there would be wasps, but we’ll just classify them as hornets in this case.
These gourds would be hurled toward the attackers, and these angry murder insects would do what they do best — being angry, and murder. It worked to tremendous effect, as the defenders didn’t have too much in the way of armor to defend against hornets and wasps. Arguably one of their more effective weapons of war, unironically.
The Concept of Mayan Armor
Let’s talk a little bit about the concept of Mayan armor, and how the Mayans used it in the field of battle. The thing about armor for such a civilization is they had a habit of keeping it as light as possible. While it might not seem like such a good idea — especially with the bow and arrow — fights weren’t fought on open plains, and you needed to be agile to fight as a Mayan.
As such, their armor had a tendency to be extremely light, though durable. They would sometimes have hard cotton armor, treated with rock salt. It’s a little strange that they would treat their armor with rock salt, but they needed to do it to protect against a specific weapon we’ll be talking about below.
Macuahuitl (Bladed Club)
Did you know that the Mayans were particularly progressive in the field of medicine? They had this material called obsidian, which could make such clean cuts that they ended up promoting healing. That’s right, the Mayans were capable of performing a primitive form of surgery. That said, this obsidian material was not only used for medicine — it was also used for war.
One of the most dangerous weapons in the Mayan arsenal was the macuahuitl, which was a form of bladed club. They would place sharpened materials around the club, and it would act as a kind sword and club hybrid. They used obsidian for the macuahuitl, and it was unnaturally sharp. Such was the reason why the Mayans treated their armor with rocksalt, as it was capable of deflecting obsidian.
Alatl (Spear Thrower)
This handy little device is known as the alatl, and was the preferred weapon of choice of the Mayans when it came to mid-distance fighting. Typically, the bow and arrow would help mow down warriors as they ran toward the defenders. Past a certain point, it was often better to use the alatl, which is also known as the spear thrower. The Mayans would use this spear thrower to hurl throwing spears toward the attackers.
It’s an extremely effective weapon, especially when considering that many Mayans didn’t bother with too much armor as they needed to be agile. This agility came at a price, as getting impaled by these spears (with the aid of the alatl) became a very real possibility.
When it comes to the most common weapons of ancient civilizations, the spear would probably be at the top of the list, beating even the ever-iconic swords. The spear is a weapon of war first and foremost, and was usually the primary weapon of choice of most ancient civilizations — Mayans included. While they had an incredible array of weaponry, there’s no denying that the spear is as iconic as it is practical in battle.
Now, the reason why the picture shows this odd black spear head is because the material used for such a spear was obsidian. Obsidian had the capacity to cut and puncture with little to no trouble, making obsidian spears one of the deadlier weapons in a Mayan’s arsenal. Considering that spears had a tendency to help you fight while keeping a reasonable distance, it’s no wonder why it was so popular.
The Small/Large Ax
Considering that the Mayans employed clubs and spears, you can bet that they used axes as much as they possibly could during pitched battles. Axes are handy weapons to have as a secondary in the event that the spear got knocked out of their hands. Of course, the ax would also have an obsidian head, though they would sometimes go for stone and other materials.
The reason why the ax was so useful to the mayans was that the primary goal of the warriors during the battle was to wound, but not to kill. That way, they could capture the warriors. There were small and large axes with a sharp and blunt edge. The blunt edge was used to stun, making it a versatile tool.
The Blow Gun
We’ve already talked about how the Mayans had a tendency to be quite clever and creative when it came to all manner of things. In the case of warfare, the Mayans also employed the use of almost comically large blow guns. However, it’s crucial to note that these blow guns were not necessarily made for battle. They were handy in a fight, and could even have darts laced in poison, but they were primarily used to hunt small birds and the like.
While the Mayans had a knack for warfare, let it be known that they often used their creativity for more progressive endeavors. The blow gun might be one of their more creative weapons, but it was more a means of hunting small game than anything else.
The Mayan HeadDress
Back to the topic of Mayan armor, we already know that the Mayans had a knack for light armor to ensure they could move as quickly as possible. However, what about helmets? Surprisingly enough, the Mayans were not particularly fond of helmets — or at least there isn’t enough evidence to support that they used helmets in battle. Instead, the Mayans used flashy headdresses as part of their attire when they fought.
The headdress would usually be vibrant and colorful, and be made of all manner of feathers. As a part of their culture, it might not seem too intimidating, especially since it’s used for celebrations. However, it’s quite ominous to see the same thing used in battle. I imagine that kind of discomfort is what they wanted to showcase to their opponents.
The Mayan Knife
Last but certainly not least, one of the more culturally important weapons in the Mayan arsenal is the ceremonial knife. The Mayans — like most ancient civilizations — are a mostly superstitious and religious lot, and they took great strides to appease their gods. They had plenty of religious ceremonies, which often included a ten-inch Mayan knife.
Usually, you won’t see ceremonial weapons being used in warfare, but the Mayan knife is an exception. The Mayans were known to use this knife in hand to hand combat, and it was as deadly a weapon as you can imagine. The fact that it’s also often obsidian makes it even more dangerous.