Pre-Columbian Military

Jan 2019
Before the Europeans landed in the Caribbean what was the native american military like? Were there militaries beside the Aztec and Inca that stand out and what were there weapons. With there military did they stand a chance against European powers if they were immune to diseases?


Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
I can't speak about the Inca and Aztecs, but the smaller tribes and nations like the Apache, Sioux, Iroquois, etc had a militia. Every man was expected to serve although Indians had great respect for the individual and were reluctant to tell someone what to do. There was a lot of peer pressure on Indians to meet societal expectations, but there was little legal apparatus to enforce anything like a draft. Most Indian men fought when called upon.

Every Indian man was familiar with weapons. When a man was not fighting, his primary purpose was hunting, using the same weapons. Indian tactics often resembled those of the hunt, such as ambush or driving or luring the enemy into a trap. Most Indian names for their own tribe was something like "The Human Beings" while their names for other tribes were usually sub-human. This may have contributed to the tactics of hunting their enemies, as if they were animals. Raiding and stealing property from the enemy was also common.

Warfare was perpetual. Most tribes were continually at war with most of their neighbors. There were a few examples of tribes that always maintained peaceful relations with each other, but these were the exception, not the rule.

Indians lived in small communities where everyone was either a relative or a close friend. The loss of even one member of the community had severe personal consequences for the leaders. Tactics were therefore designed to minimize casualties. Battle plans were often made with the desire to intimidate the enemy rather than to inflict casualties. Conversely, younger Indians often saw war as an opportunity to prove their courage. They would often ride or run close to an enemy, giving him an opportunity to strike. If the charging Indian could close and escape without harm, then this was seen as a great deed - the equivalent of what would earn a modern soldier a medal. There was often tension between the older leaders who wanted to minimize casualties and the younger men who wanted to prove their bravery.

Because the Indians were almost never united (Tecumseh's Confederacy was an exception) it was unlikely they would ever defeat the Europeans. The English colonies learned very early that the easiest way to defeat Indians was to get the different tribes to fight each other. The Indians also suffered from severe technological shortcomings - they could not produce their own firearms or ammunition. They also did not understand logistics and could not undertake lengthy operations like sieges.


Ad Honorem
May 2016
Before the Europeans landed in the Caribbean what was the native american military like? Were there militaries beside the Aztec and Inca that stand out and what were there weapons. With there military did they stand a chance against European powers if they were immune to diseases?
In the Caribbean region we had several “tribes/peoples”, mostly the Taínos in Hispaniola/Puerto Rico, the Ciboneyes in Cuba, and in the Southwest of current Haiti, the Subtaínos in the west part of Cuba, the Lucayos in what is currently the Bahamas, the Caribes in the smaller islands (smaller Antilles), south and east of Puerto Rico, and finally the Igneris in the area of Trinidad.

We don’t know much about them, so… we don’t know much about their military. Naturally the Spanish written sources are the best ones to understand these peoples. But those areas are inhabited since at least 4000 to 2500 BC.

In the 15th century of these groups the more culturally and technically complex seem to be the Taínos, and the more aggressive the Caribes that made constant raids against the Taínos for boot and slaves.

The Caribes could be related with the Ciboneyes from Cuba. Both used long bows and the warrior painted their body with a black paint, used long black hairs with some kind of hair “nets”.

The Caribes had an important coastal navigation (with canoes) and seemed the last of these peoples to arrive to the area. The canoes (piraguas) could have 40 or 50 warriors and could be very quick. Their bows were as big as the ones used in England and France, in the words of the Spanish chroniclers, and had arrows had poison. The war was their main activity, and they were in an expansive period when the Spanish arrived.

They kidnapped women from the Taíno villages to work for them and men that would be ritually killed and eaten. Let me joke a little bit and compare these raids with the Viking on the European coasts.
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Likes: Motecuhzoma


Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
Probably besides, Incas and Aztecs, another complex military system was the Muisca, his armies were based on a "shock heavy infantry unit", the Guecha, with formed the elite for the principalities that formed the confederation, it is interesting to note that although they formed a military elite class, the position of Guecha was not hereditary but based on the merit and selection.
The moche look to had a interesting warrior culture, they even have metal armors, but we know nearly nothing about the organization.
But talking about pre-Columbian militaries they were developed to fight other pre-columbians, not old world military techniques and technology, the most successful native nations in resisting the Europeans were the ones that adapted to the new situation, like the horse, iron, fire weapons.

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