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The Warrior Narrative of the Moche

State Religion of the Moche


Moche Ritual Combat

Moche Ritual Combat

Drawn by Donna McClelland
The Warrior Narrative is a term used by archaeologists to refer to a sequence of ritual events that was illustrated in Moche iconography drawn on ceramic vessels and sculptured on stone walls at sites such as Pañamarca, Huaca de la Luna and El Brujo. Based on archaeological evidence, archaeologists believe the Warrior Narrative was also ritually enacted by the Moche on a recurring basis at several cities in the cultural area.

The Warrior Narrative begins with scenes of warriors, prepared for combat, dressed in elaborate clothing and ornaments and holding war clubs, shields, spears, and atlatls, marching off to war. Next, the warriors are shown combat, almost always hand-to-hand combat, one warrior fighting another. Next, there are scenes of vanquished warriors, their weapons, clothes and ornaments fallen away, and their hair grabbed by their opponents.

The Sacrifice Ceremony

In the next scene, the weapons and clothes of the loser are bundled together and carried off by the winner, who parades the loser with a rope tied around his neck and bleeding from the nose. The captives are herded into the ceremonial precinct where the Sacrifice Ceremony is enacted. There, the captives, with their hands tied behind their backs and their weapon bundles to one side, have their throats slit. Goblets catch the blood which is consumed by priests and priestesses. Finally, the bodies of the losing warriors are dismembered.

Archaeological evidence supporting the acting out of the Warrior Narrative has been discovered at several sites, including Sipán, Huaca de la Luna and el Brujo. For more information on this interesting aspect of Moche culture, see the Moche Sacrifice Ceremony.


Donnan, C.B. & D. McClelland. 2000. Moche Fineline Painting: Its Evolution and Its Artists. UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, Los Angeles.

Donnan, Christopher B. n.d. Moche State Religion: A unifying force in Moche political organization. Unpublished mss.

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