Administration of justice. – Justice was administered by a hierarchy of officials presided over by the cihuacoatl, senior criminal judge, belonging to the tlalocán, having civil and criminal jurisdiction over all the people; if the magistrates failed to fulfill their duties they were punished with death. There were also two courts of first and second instance. There are numerous lower judges with special powers, such as that of entering into marriage, regulating divorce, settling small and large disputes; these were reported every four months (80 days) to the major councils, since no more time could pass for the handling of any matter. There were also commercial judges to oversee contracts. In the courts, only witness evidence was valid; however, the oath was taken into account; the accused had to defend himself.
The criminal laws were, for the most part, very severe; generally they consisted of fines, rod strokes, limb mutilation and even death; the prisoners awaiting their sentence were closed in strong wooden cages, guarded by guards. Here are some crimes and the relative punishment: procured abortion: death of the woman and of the possible accomplice; adultery: death of the two guilty ones; however, the union of a celibate or married man with a married woman was considered such, not of a married man with a single woman; assault and injury: death; rape: death; witchcraft – death; murder: death; incest: death; pederasty: death for both guilty; brawl: imprisonment, the wounded man had to compensate the wounded; petty theft: obligation to return or a certain time of slavery for the benefit of the injured party; theft of weapons or military insignia: death; sedition,
The very common death penalty varied according to the crime; by hanging, drowning, stoning, impalement, quartering.
Of the immense pictographed judicial material that must certainly have existed, unfortunately almost nothing has reached us; only a small part has remained in the Mendocino Code and in some manuscripts preserved in the National Museum and in the State Archives of Mexico.
The war. – Every young Mexican was a warrior because he was trained in arms, but there was a real professional class of fighters who had had a more thorough preparation. Each district of the city (calpulli) gave a certain number of fighters according to the population, commanded by a leader, a pupil of the calmecac, where the children of the nobles destined for command posts were educated. The chosen warriors were divided into: achcauhtin (princes) with scarlet insignia, cuauhtlin (eagles) with a helmet shaped like an eagle’s head, ocelotl (tigers) with a large and thick cotton garment to defend, mottled like the skin of the jaguar; these three classes lived near theTlacatecuhtli and followed him closely in war.
The supreme head of the army was the king, on whom both the forces of Mexico and those of the two confederate states of Tetzcoco and Tlacopán depended; he was followed by minor leaders. Dignity and classes were life-long with the warriors and gave them very great rights and privileges. Special formalities and procedures were used to declare war. The king and his advisers discussed the opportunity and the possible consequences; ambassadors were sent to the enemy people; by means of special informers or spies they tried to get any information, the army was gathered, atoning sacrifices were celebrated, weapons and provisions were distributed. The army was divided into xiquipiili, ie bodies of 8,000 warriors; a large number of tlamanehe was in charge of the baggage wagons. The assault, accompanied by the sounds of warlike instruments and shouts, was very violent, on several occasions. There was neither a real strategy nor a proper tactic, however ambushes, false retreats, bypasses were used; more than killing, they tried to take opponents prisoner to sacrifice them in honor of the gods. The fighters took shelter behind palisades defended by ditches, or behind real dry stone or lime walls; numerous and important fortification works have remained to show us the high degree reached by military engineering, p. ex. the great wall of stone and a kind of bitumen, 6 miles long, m. 2.50 and thick 6 which defended the republic of Tlaxcala towards Mexico; the fortresses near Mitla, Monte Albán and many others.
The defensive weapons were: the wooden or wicker shield, adorned for the nobles with their “exploits” as we can see in the beautiful Florentine manuscript of Sahagún, preserved in the Laurentian Library and in the work of Crane (Ancient Mexican Heraldry, in Science, XX, New York 1891) the cuirass, often of thick cotton or of tapir or deer leather; helmet or helmet, mostly in the shape of an animal’s head (coyotl) of wood, leather, or cloth with a very rich plume or fantastic crest sprinkled, for the noble or the rich, with carved stones and engraved precious metals.
The offensive weapons were: the spear with a bone, stone or copper tip, the wooden sword with sharp edges of obsidian or flint, the bow with arrows, the slingshot, the dart propeller (atlatl), the javelin, which was vibrated by means of a string like the “telum amentatum” of the Romans. The clothing of the chosen warriors, chiefs, kings, large banners up to 2 meters high, adorned with feathers often bearing the effigy of the tribal totem or the weapon of the calpulli, preceded the warriors who gave them a value. mystical (tiacochcalco) almost supernatural. All weapons were stored in vast, jealously guarded arsenals.
Prizes to the bravest were the place in one of the three aforesaid orders; insignia, garments, ornaments. A very strict military code regulated discipline; the cowardly, the disobedient and those who claimed to be prisoners made by others were condemned to death. POWs were either sacrificed to the gods or kept as slaves.