Stirrup Spout Bottle with Warriors, 4th–7th century
Ceramic; H. 11 1/4 in. (28.6 cm), W. 6 3/4 in. (17.2 cm)
Gift of Nathan Cummings, 1967 (67.167.4)
War, battle, and warriors in processions are major themes in Moche art. However, the archaeological record shows little evidence of warfare. Moche sites are not fortified. Weapons such as clubs and lances, as well as warrior garments, are present in few high-status burials. Moche warfare did exist, but scholars do not agree on its nature. Some maintain that Moche warfare was primarily secular and expansionist. Moche warriors would have fought against members of different coastal or highland ethnicities in order to gain new territory and irrigable land. Other scholars argue that Moche warfare probably had a strong ritual character; combats would have involved Moche men from different valleys and led to the capture of prisoners perhaps destined to be sacrificed during religious ceremonies. Both types of warfare might have existed in Moche society. Whereas some painted scenes show combats that involve warriors dressed differently, as if they belonged to distinct ethnicities, other scenes involve pairs of Moche protagonists. This bottle shows only Moche warriors. They hold triangular war clubs and square or circular shields similar to those found in burials of the Moche elite. They also wear typical Moche metal backflaps and crescents on top of their headdresses.