Swords in Ancient Chinese Warfare › Ahuitzotl › Ahura Mazda » Origins and History

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  • Swords in Ancient Chinese Warfare › Origins
  • Ahuitzotl › Who was
  • Ahura Mazda › Who was

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Swords in Ancient Chinese Warfare › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

Author: Mark Cartwright

Although the bow and crossbow were the weapons of choice for much of China ’s history, the sword played its part, especially when warriors were forced to dismount and face the enemy at close quarters. Widely used from around 500 BCE, swords were first made of bronze, then iron and eventually steel, undergoing various developments in design to improve their weight, cutting edge, and durability.

Eastern Zhou Swords


Most historians agree that bronze daggers, short swords, and long spearheads were used long before swords and that the true sword (typically defined as a weapon with a blade which is at least twice the length of the handle) did not commonly appear on the Chinese battlefield until the Spring and Autumn period (722-479 BCE). However, some historians maintain bronze swords were in use in the Western Zhou period (1046-771 BCE). Nevertheless, in Chinese tradition, the invention of the sword was even earlier and credited to the legendary Yellow Emperor.
Chariots were a staple feature of ancient Chinese armies and the weapons best suited to a more mobile warfare where the enemy was kept at a certain distance were the bow, crossbow, and halberd (a cross between a spear and an axe). Only when chariots began to be replaced by larger infantry armies did the sword become a more valuable asset to soldiers. This was because swords wielded from a chariot cab had only a limited striking range and exposed the soldier to stabbing from spears.
It may be, though, that the increase in sword use had more to do with improved metalworking techniques than anything else as even when chariots were present on the Chinese battlefield there were still huge numbers of infantry and these presumably preferred more traditional weapons to a sword which, at that time, had a high possibility of shattering. The point is here summarised by the military historian RD Sawyer,
The sword's thrusting ability was clearly approximated by the short hand spear, essentially a dagger point mounted on a handle, and a preference for traditional weapons coupled with technical difficulties in making strong yet resilient swords more likely retarded the sword's emergence as a critical weapon…swords with slashing power and significant blade length simply could not be fabricated until the Spring and Autumn period, and even then would not flourish until the late Warring States and Han dynasty. (Sawyer, 2017, 271)
Perhaps for these reasons - tradition and technical deficiencies - the sword, when it did appear on the battlefield, was usually left in the scabbard and used only as a weapon of last resort. A depiction of a battle in a late Spring and Autumn tombsignificantly shows opposing soldiers battling each other with spears and halberds while their swords remain in their belts. It is also true that Chinese warfare tended to avoid the toe-to-toe with the enemy scenarios that were typical in, say, the hoplitebattles of ancient Greece, and commanders preferred, instead, to engage the enemy from a distance using archers and then if need be with spearmen.
During the 6th century BCE, things were beginning to change and the Wu and Yueh used and developed the sword, "to such a high degree that they were famous throughout the realm; when unearthed today, they still retain their surface and edge qualities" (Sawyer, 2007, 365). One of the earliest battles where the use of the sword was a significant contribution to victory was in 520 BCE when the army of the Qin state defeated a Hua army by charging on foot with their swords instead of the usual halberds.


The earliest Chinese swords were, then, very long, necessitated both hands to wield and were designed not for cutting and slashing but as a weapon to stab and thrust at the enemy, just as halberds and spears had been used earlier. Indeed, the sword may have evolved not from foreign influence but from the indigenous habit of using long spearheads like stabbing swords. With the rise in the use of cavalry from the final stages of the Warring States period (3rd century BCE), a sword with the better cutting possibilities of a double edge and a less cumbersome blade became desirable. Although there is a story that King Chen (future Qin dynasty emperor Shi Huangdi ) had problems dealing with an assassin in 227 BCE because he could not draw his longsword quick enough.

Eastern Zhou Dynasty Sword

By now made with iron, another development was to coat the sword blade's core with a chromium alloy to produce a sharper edge. Experimentation with pommels also gave the sword a much better balance. Another innovation was a change in the handle shape to an asymmetrical form which stopped it swivelling in the hand. The same result was achieved by adding one or two moulded rings to the handle or a cord wrap for extra grip. When not in use the blade was kept in a scabbard of leather or lacquered wood and hung from a waist belt.
The terrible wounds that swords could inflict - much more shocking and gruesome than arrows - is evidenced in references in military literature. For example, in this extract from T'ai Kung's 3rd-century BCE Six Secret Teachings :
Within the army there will be men with great courage and strength who are willing to die and even take pleasure in suffering wounds. They should be assembled into a company and called “Warriors Who Risk the Naked Blade”.
(Sawyer, 2007, 97)
The greater use of swords in battles necessitated improvements in armour from the 3rd century BCE. Previously body armour had been made of only hardened or lacquered leather, but now it was increasingly common to add pieces of metal to afford better protection. These additions took the form of small iron or bronze plates either pierced and stitched together or riveted.Helmets and shields also improved to help meet the deadly threat of a stabbing and slashing swordsman.


In the Han period (206 BCE - 220 CE) and beyond, metalworking techniques improved, which made swords lighter yet more durable with an even sharper blade made of stronger iron than previously. The design also changed to better suit the use of the weapon by cavalry - only one cutting edge was made and a ring added to protect the hand. There is a tendency towards shorter blades with surviving examples from the 3rd century CE having a blade of around 45 cm (18 inches) in length.Although there are other types still with a very long blade - around one metre (42 inches) in length, indicating that the evolution of the sword was far from straightforward in China and traditional weapons, it seems, were only very reluctantly melted down and recast. Further evidence of this parallel use of varying designs of weapons is seen in the eclectic collections found in tombs.

Han Dynasty Sword

Another feature of the Han period was the popularity of sword experts who could not only measure the strength and usefulness of a particular weapon but who also claimed they could assess more mystical qualities such as the sword's auspiciousness. That such experts were believed and consulted is attested by the profuse Han literature on the subject.


Swords were still very much in use by the Tang period (618-907 CE) where blades became even shorter and were made of steel. There was, too, the development of another version of the weapon, the elaborately decorated ceremonial sword which often had silk -wrapped handles and jade inlay, which was kept in an even more sumptuously decorated silk-lined scabbard inlaid with precious metals and jewels.
Swordsmanship and a general fascination with swords would become even more popular in the medieval period with the development of martial arts, their symbolic use in Taoist rituals, and even a collectorship of swords which became a popular pursuit by Chinese literati. Swords and their expert handlers were regularly eulogised in poems and literature. Right up to the 19th century CE there were all types of swords still in use - straight blades, curved blades, thin, long and short blades, wicked-looking sabres, swords with elegantly curved handles, and even scabbards that held two swords, one for each hand. The history of swords in China is a tremendously long one, and they have, as in other East Asian cultures, captured people's imagination, both ancient and modern, like no other weapon.

Ahuitzotl › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Mark Cartwright

Ahuitzotl (Auitzotl) was an Aztec ruler who reigned between 1486 and 1502 CE. He was one of the greatest generals of the ancient Americas and he left to his nephew, Montezuma, an enlarged and consolidated empire which had been ruthlessly terrorised into submissive acceptance of Aztec rule. With huge building projects and victories celebrated by mass sacrifices of captured enemies to honour the gods, the reign of Ahuitzotl was the Aztec Golden Age.


Ahuitzotl ( pron. A-weet'-zot) was the third son of Aztec king Motecuhzoma I Ilhuicamina (r. 1440-1469 CE). His name, appropriately enough as it would turn out, was associated with a mythical hyper-aggressive otter that lived at the bottom of a lake and ruthlessly preyed on any creature which approached the lake's banks. The creature, often depicted with a human hand at the end of its tail, was used as the name glyph for the king in Aztec commemorative sculpture.
Ahuitzotl took over as the Aztec tlatoani (speaker) or supreme ruler from his half-brother Tizoc (r. 1481-1486 CE) who was poisoned. Tizoc had not been particularly successful in the role after being forced to quash various rebellions and famously losing a battle to the Tarascans. Lord Ahuitzotl was the 8th Aztec ruler and he is described in Aztec texts as youthful, strong, energetic, and audacious. According to the version of his accession recounted by the Spanish chronicler Fray Diego Duran, Ahuitzotl was a mere youth when he took power in 1486 CE and had to be brought from school on the death of Tizoc but he already displayed a great maturity beyond his years. We are also informed that the new tlatoani was helped in his early years by the traditional king's advisor, the Tlacaellel.
The accession of Ahuitzotl is commemorated in a green diorite slab with the year 8 Reed date glyph. On it are both Tizoc and Ahuitzotl while between them is a ball of cactus fibre with cactus needles stuck in it. The two rulers are using needles to let blood from their earlobes in offering to the gods. The blood flows down from the two figures into the gaping jaws of a stylised earth-crocodile creature representing the earth goddess Tlaltecuhtli. The slab now resides in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.


Ahuitzotl quickly established his reputation as a gifted military leader by winning his first battle in the traditional 'Coronation War ' beloved of Aztec rulers. Leading his army in person and fighting alongside his warriors as he would always do, the Toluca Valley rebellions were quashed, booty taken, and sacrificial victims procured. The victory was celebrated with the largest feast and round of gift-giving the Aztec people had ever witnessed.
Ahuitzotl then proceeded to bring the Gulf Coast territories into line after their stubborn refusal to pay tribute. This was another victory, and Ahuitzotl would go on to win many more. Conquering the central valleys of Oaxaca c. 1494 CE the Aztecs moved as far south as the Guatemalan border, or even beyond, in order to encompass lucrative cacao-producing regions. They also campaigned as far west as the Pacific coast, perhaps in a long-term strategy to outflank the Tarascan forts being established by that hostile nation. The result of this expansion was that Ahuitzotl created the largest area yet brought under Aztec control.

Expansion of the Aztec Empire

Although the Aztec armies concentrated on enemy cities and their empire would only ever be a loose collection of tribute-paying subject states, Ahuitzotl did attempt to establish a more permanent Aztec presence by building Aztec monuments in such conquered cities as Tepoztlan, Malinalco, and Calixtlahuaca. Some local gods were also incorporated into the Aztec pantheon in an effort to further bind the diverse cultures of Mesoamerica. Trade was encouraged in some areas, especially by the pocheca warrior-traders who were given the privileged right to wear jewellery and feathers by Ahuitzotl, such was their importance in his strategy to open up new territories by whatever means suited the situation. At the same time more troublesome peoples (eg the Oztoman and Alahuistan) were ruthlessly and systematically wiped out during the reign of Ahuitzotl.
Ahuitzotl also greatly increased the number of human sacrifices carried out in the various Aztec religious ceremonies designed to appease their gods and celebrate military victories. Duran famously recounts how 80,400 war captives were sacrificed over four days atop the Templo Mayor pyramid temple at Tenochtitlan. Most historians discount this number as impossibly high and impractical, settling on a figure nearer 20,000 but still quite enough to fulfil the apocalyptic descriptions by eye-witnesses of temples, plazas, and streets streaming rivers of blood. The scene of this mass sacrifice is depicted in the Codex Telleriano Remensis. Not only did sacrifices help to appease the gods and ensure a continuation of the Aztec world but Ahuitzotl used the spectacle to terrify the visiting rulers of newly conquered territories and ensure their passive compliance to Aztec rule.


Ahuitzotl, besides imperial expansion, also occupied himself with grand building projects in order to beautify the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan and, in typical Aztec fashion, establish early on that his reign would bring great prosperity to his people. The most significant such project was the expansion of the Templo Mayor. The new temple was completed in 1487 CE, and it was to inaugurate this giant monument to the rain god Tlaloc and war god Huitzilopochtli that the infamous 80,000 plus captives were sacrificed.

Temple Mayor, Tenochtitlan

Another giant project of Ahuitzotl was the construction of a large canal to bring fresh water from Coyoacan to Tenochtitlan.However, in a version recounted by Duran, the project got off to a bad start when it brought so much water that it flooded the city. The priests blamed the disaster on the fact that Ahuitzotl had rashly killed a ruler of Coyoacan, and so this was revenge from Chalchiuhtlicue, the water goddess.


Ahuitzotl's reign came to a mysterious end when he contracted a strange and fatal disease, dying in the year 10 Rabbit. In another version of events the king died from a blow to the head while he was trying to escape the flood at Tenochtitlan. Death by a wasting disease suggests that he may well have been poisoned, like his predecessor, such was the competition between members of the ruling family to possess the title which permitted the holder semi-divine status. In a lavish ceremony, Ahuitzotl was cremated on a funeral pyre atop the Templo Mayor and his ashes buried beneath the nearby sacred precinct.
Ahuitzotl would pass on a prosperous empire to the next and tragically last true Aztec ruler, his nephew Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin (Montezuma) who faced and was murdered by the visitors from the Old World in 1520 CE. During the chaos of the Spanish conquest, Ahuitzotl's son Cuauhtemoc seized power and resisted the invaders until 1525 CE. Even after his death, the legend of Ahuitzotl the great warrior held strong for his son dressed one of his men in the regal clothes of his father, which inspired the Aztec army to a rare, if only temporary, victory during the long siege of Tenochtitlan.

Ahura Mazda › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Radu Cristian

Ahura Mazda (also known as Ahuramazda, Harzoo, Hormazd, Hourmazd, Hurmuz, Ohrmazd, 'Lord' or 'Spirit') is the highest spirit worshipped in Zoroastrianism, the old Mede and Persian religion which spread across Asia predating Christianity.Ahura Mazda is the creator of the universe and all the things in it, being at the same time wise and good.


As with all supreme deities, Ahura Mazda carries a long list of titles and characteristics. He is the supreme being in Garothman (heaven), the uncreated spirit. Beyond, apart and without him, there is nothing in existence. He is changeless, moving all while not being moved by anyone. Has no equal and no one can take the heavens from him. He favors the just man, upholding the truth and proper behavior. Ahura Mazda created the twin spirits, Angra Mainyu, the destructive spirit, and Spenta Meynu, the good spirit.
Mazda, or the Avestan form of the Mazdā, reflects the proto-Iranian word Mazdāh which is a feminine noun. Considered the proper name of the god, it may also come from the Sanskrit word medhās, meaning 'intelligence' or 'wisdom'. During the Achaemenid era, the name was Ahuramazda, during the Parthian the form of Hormazd was used and, finally, in the Sassanian we find the name Ohrmazd.


Ahura Mazda was revealed to the prophet Zoroaster /Zarathustra through a vision he had when he was 30 years old. When Zoroaster was 15, then, according to local custom, he was considered an adult and took up adult duties. Because he was born during violent times he grew up questioning the concept of righteousness and the conflict of good versus evil. As a result he left his home, living in solitude, between the ages of 20 to 30, on a mountain. When he was 30 he participated in a spring festival as a member of a priestly family and one of his duties was to draw water from the deepest and purest part of the stream for the morning ceremony. Here at the Daytia river, he met the angel Vohu Mana. The entity asked Zoroaster who he was and what was the most important thing in his life. To which Zoroaster answered that he wanted most of all to be righteous, pure and wise. By this answer, he was granted a vision of Ahura Mazda and his archangels from whom he learned the principles that would lead to the religion known late as Zoroastrianism.


Achaemenid Empire
During the Achaemenid Empire (c. 550 – 330 BCE) the prophet, Zoroaster/Zarathustra is not mentioned in the inscriptions of the Achaemenid kings while Ahura Mazda is mentioned in opposition with the daeva. There are no solid links between the teachings of Zoroaster and the Achaemenid kings besides the emphasis on moral behavior.

A Faravahar symbol in a Fire Temple

Darius I
An inscription was made on a cliff at Naqsh-i Rustam, near Persepolis, the summer palace of Darius I (r. 522–486 BCE).Here Ahura Mazda is named creator of the world, creating the earth, the sky, and man, and also making Darius the king. The most important mention of Ahura Mazda from this period is the Behistun Inscription written by Darius I in 516 BCE. The inscription accompanies a bas-relief depicting the victory of Darius over the pretender Gaumata, where the victor stands over the fallen and above them hovers Ahura Mazda represented here as a king within a winged solar disc. The text of the inscription mentions how Ahura Mazda helped the victor defeat his enemy and that he, Darius, was chosen to lead his kingdom by the "grace of Ahura Mazda".
Parthian Empire
In the time of the Parthian Empire (247 BCE - 224 CE), Zoroastrianism was embraced by its rulers, many temples were rebuilt which were previously destroyed during the campaigns of Alexander the Great in 330 BCE. Also, Parthian rulers were more tolerant, besides Zoroastrianism religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jews, Christians are also present. Ahura Mazda was worshipped among deities like Mithra, an older god turned archangel in Zoroastrianism, and Anahita, a female deity. Also, towards the end of the Parthian era, Ahura Mazda was represented as a male figure standing or on horseback, an image that will dominate the next era.
Another form of Zoroastrianism, known as Zurvanism, formed during the Sassanid Period (224-651 CE). During the reign ofShapur I, the message of Zoroaster was discarded, Zurvan was named the supreme being and Ahura Mazda, now a created spirit, becomes a son of Zurvan besides Angra Mainyu/Ahriman. During the reign of Bahram II, Ahura Mazda was given the title which after would become one of his names, Ohrmazd-mowbad.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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