If you discount the germs and the gunpowder, how did the average Aztec warrior match up against the average Spaniard facing him? As I understand it European metallurgy was considerably more advanced, but was it decisive or did it just give them an advantage? Were the Aztecs able to pierce Spanish armor? Were their weapons effective against Spanish tactics?

A vital part of Cortez's battle plan included rallying local tribes to his cause, but then again even a few dozen Navy SEALS wouldn't be able to stand up to a continent's-worth of angry locals, so needing allies in the New World is kind of a given. But facing off against a similarly-sized group of Aztec warriors, how likely would a Spanish victory be?


Aztec weaponry comprised wooden clubs and spears tipped with flint, obsidian and occasionally copper. These weapons could inflict blunt trauma damage to Cortez's troops, and could penetrate the gaps in the Spanish armour with a lucky blow, but had little chance of actually inflicting significant damage to the armour itself.

Combined with the natural advantages of a mounted knight over an infantryman, and the Aztec's only hope was a massive brawl in which the Spaniards lost all advantage of their superior weaponry and mobility. The best hope of generating such would of been to lure the Spaniards into an enclosed area and trapped them there.

This was a conflict of a barely out of the Stone Age culture against one that had left the Stone Age behind nearly 3,000 years earlier.


Note that the most potent weapon that the Spaniards brought with them was Old-World germs. While slow acting compared to a pitched battle, the assorted contagions that hitched a ride across the Atlantic on the ships, pests, and horse blankets of the Spaniards would kill tens of millions of native Americans over the succeeding few decades. It might not have escaped Cortez's attention, in the West Indies, that Native Americans fell sick and died in droves around Europeans - that was the origin of the need for black slaves on West Indian plantations. If Cortez simply kept talking - and kept his horses and men fit - the odds would steadily improve in his favour.

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    "The best hope of generating such would of been to lure the Spaniards into an enclosed area and trapped them there." Is that why the Spanish lost about 1,000 (out of about 3,000) troops in the initial battle at Technoctitlan, and only 100 or so on the return march?
    – Tom Au
    Jan 15 '14 at 22:28
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    Pieter, do you want to address the matter of the Spaniards typically getting some local allies "on side" in such battles? There was more to the various battles with the Aztecs than "Spaniards" on one side and "Aztecs" on the other. Sep 15 '16 at 19:45
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    Mind that they didn't bring those germs on purpose, nobody realised they were there... Medical science wasn't yet at the point where bacteria and viruses were recognised as existing, let alone as being pathogens that could be used in warfare. As to the need for black slaves, this is debatable. A major reason for the rapid death of many of the Amerindians under slavery condition was that they were on average physically weaker than black Africans and thus less capable of doing the same work. Might sound racist but that's how things were.
    – jwenting
    Sep 16 '16 at 11:26

Even without guns, the European weapons were superior. European bows and arrows were far more advanced, powerful, and accurate. A Spanish sword or pike could easily defeat Aztec armor. Conversely, Aztec weapons could dent Spanish armor but had very little effect unless very precisely placed. A difficult accomplishment in the heat of battle. The Aztecs' only hope would be to overwhelm with superior numbers in close quarters battle. While the Aztecs were a very impressive civilization, they were several thousands years behind the incoming European forces in terms of technology and tactics.

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    I'm not sure this adds anything not already mentioned in other answers. You might want to expand it and include some references to your sources.
    – Steve Bird
    Sep 15 '16 at 6:40

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