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Aztec codices

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Aztec codices

Detail of first page from the Boturini Codex, depicting the departure from Aztlán.
Codex Féjervary-Mayer (Lacambalam 2014)

Aztec codices (Nahuatl: Mēxihcatl āmoxtli Nahuatl pronunciation: ) are books written by pre-Columbian and colonial-era Aztecs. These codices provide some of the best primary sources for Aztec culture. The pre-Columbian codices differ from European codices in that they are largely pictorial; they were not meant to symbolize spoken or written narratives.[1] The colonial era codices not only contain Aztec pictograms, but also Classical Nahuatl (in the Latin alphabet), Spanish, and occasionally Latin. Some are entirely in Nahuatl without pictorial content.

Although there are very few surviving pre-conquest codices, the tlacuilo (codex painter) tradition endured the transition to colonial culture; scholars now have access to a body of around 500 colonial-era codices. Colonial-era Nahuatl language documentation is the foundational texts of the New Philology, which utilizes these texts to create scholarly works from the indigenous viewpoint.


  • Codex Borbonicus 1
  • Boturini Codex 2
  • Codex Mendoza 3
  • Florentine Codex 4
  • Codex Tlatelolco 5
  • Codex Osuna 6
  • Codex Aubin 7
  • Codex Magliabechiano 8
  • Codex Cozcatzin 9
  • Codex Ixtlilxochitl 10
  • Oztoticpac Lands Map of Texcoco, 1540 11
  • Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis or the Badianus Manuscript 12
  • Other codices 13
  • See also 14
  • References 15
  • External links 16

Codex Borbonicus

Page 13 of the Codex Borbonicus.

The Codex Borbonicus is a codex written by Aztec priests around the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Like all pre-Columbian Aztec codices, it was originally pictorial in nature, although some Spanish descriptions were later added. It can be divided into three sections:

  1. An intricate tonalamatl, or divinatory calendar;
  2. A documentation of the Mesoamerican 52-year cycle, showing in order the dates of the first days of each of these 52 solar years; and
  3. A section of rituals and ceremonies, particularly those that end the 52-year cycle, when the "new fire" must be lit.

Codex Bornobicus is held at the Library of the National Assembly of France.

Boturini Codex

The Boturini Codex was painted by an unknown Aztec author some time between 1530 and 1541, roughly a decade after the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Pictorial in nature, it tells the story of the legendary Aztec journey from Aztlán to the Valley of Mexico.

Rather than employing separate pages, the author used one long sheet of amatl, or fig bark, accordion-folded into 21½ pages. There is a rip in the middle of the 22nd page, and it is unclear whether the author intended the manuscript to end at that point or not. Unlike many other Aztec codices, the drawings are not colored, but rather merely outlined with black ink.

Also known as "Tira de la Peregrinación" ("The Strip Showing the Travels"), it is named after one of its first European owners, Lorenzo Boturini Benaduci (1702 – 1751). It is now held in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City.

Codex Mendoza

Part of the first page of Codex Mendoza, depicting the founding of Tenochtitlan.

The Codex Mendoza is a pictorial document, with Spanish annotations and commentary, composed circa 1541. It is divided into three sections: a history of each Aztec ruler and their conquests; a list of the tribute paid by each tributary province; and a general description of daily Aztec life. It is held in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford.

Florentine Codex

The Florentine Codex is a set of 12 books created under the supervision of Bernardino de Sahagún between approximately 1540 and 1585. It is a copy of original source materials which are now lost, perhaps destroyed by the Spanish authorities who confiscated Sahagún's manuscripts. Perhaps more than any other source, the Florentine Codex has been the major source of Aztec life in the years before the Spanish conquest even though a complete copy of the codex, with all illustrations, was not published until 1979. Before then, only the censored and rewritten Spanish translation had been available.

Codex Tlatelolco

This pictorial codex was produced around 1560, showing royal ceremonies involving Spanish monarchs Charles V and his son and successor Philip II. The pictorials show the ‘’jura’’ (oath) ceremony of swearing the oath of allegiance to the new Spanish monarch, Philip II following the abdication of his father in 1556, performed in the Plaza Mayor of Zócalo in 1557. There are depictions of Charles V and Philip II, as well as the indigenous rulers of Tlatelolco and Tenochtitlan, (former altepetl and now parts of the Spanish capital of Mexico City), who along with all officials took the oath of allegiance. There is a written account in Spanish that differs from that depicted in the pictorial. The pictorial account omits the presence of the Spanish cabildo members. Its depictions of Nahua dances and nearly full-body feather costumes make it particularly important for understanding indigenous cultural continuities in the early colonial period.The manuscript is held in the National Library of the Mexican Museum of Anthropology and History in Mexico City.[2]

Codex Osuna

Section of page 34 (folio 496) of Codex Osuna showing the glyphs for Texcoco, Tenochtitlan, and Tlacopán.

Codex Osuna was named after the Spanish nobleman, Mariano Tellez Grion y Beufort, twelfth Duke of Osuna, in whose library the codex was held until his death in 1882 and then became part of the collection of the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid.[3] It is part of a lawsuit by the indigenous of a Nahua community against Spaniards, and a fragment of a much larger Mexican text; the first numbered folio in the facsimile is 464.[4] It is a set of seven separate documents created in early 1565 to present evidence against the government of Viceroy Luis de Velasco during the 1563-66 inquiry by Jerónimo de Valderrama. In this codex, indigenous leaders claim non-payment for various goods and for various services performed by their people, including building construction and domestic help. A modest black and while facsimile was published in Mexico by the Instituto Indigenista Interamericano in 1947, reproduced from the 1878 edition published in Madrid. The Mexican edition includes 158 pages of documentation in Spanish found in the Archivo General de la Nacion (Mexico) added by Luis Chávez Orozco.[5] The Codex was originally solely pictorial in nature. Nahuatl descriptions and details were then entered onto the documents during its review by Spanish authorities, and a Spanish translation of the Nahuatl was added. The Nahuatl text was translated by Ignacio M. Castillo and the Spanish paleography rendered into modern Spanish by María del Carmen Camacho.[6] The pictorial on folio 471v (p. 198 of the Mexican edition) shows the Viceroy Don Luis de Velasco, with indigenous lords in colonial attire for their rank, as well as a nahuatlato or Nahuatl translator in Spanish attire. The illustration is the cover for Charles Gibson's monumental publication, The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule.[7] Other important pictorials include depictions of Spaniards punishing indigenous (folio 474v, page 204), lists of encomienda holders, including ones reverting to the Spanish crown (folios 496v - 498r; pages 250-253); cultivation of cacti for the production of the red dye cochineal (folio 500v, p. 258), and indigenous men laboring in a textile workshop or obraje (folio 500v, p. 258). The last pictorial is of indigenous men laboring to extract and transport stone for the construction of a church (folio 501 v., p. 342), with a written complaint that they had not been paid.

The 1947 Mexican edition is augmented by documentation in Spanish found by Luis Chávez Orozco in the Mexican archives (Archivo General de la Nación), Ramo Civil, tomo 644, giving contextual information for the pictorial Codex Osuna, and is perhaps the "lost portion." The Spanish documentation includes the review of an indigenous official's tenure, or residencia, and is typical of Spanish official documentation of the era.[8]

Codex Aubin

The Codex Aubin is a pictorial history or annal of the Aztecs from their departure from Aztlán, through the Spanish conquest, to the early Spanish colonial period, ending in 1607. Consisting of 81 leaves, it was most likely begun in 1576, it is possible that Fray Diego Durán supervised its preparation, since it was published in 1867 as Historia de las Indias de Nueva-España y isles de Tierra Firme, listing Durán as the author.

James Lockhart has published an extract of Codex Aubin in Nahuatl and English dealing with the section on the conquest of Mexico.[9] According to Lockhart, the internal evidence is that the author was a man from the Mexico-Tenochtitlan sector of San Juan Moyotlan, writing around 1562, who wrote from collected material on the earlier era, including the conquest, and then began writing in his own voice about current events of the late sixteenth century.[10] Unlike the account of the conquest of Mexico in the Florentine Codex, which is primarily from the Tlatelocan viewpoint and denigrates the Mexica of Tenochtitlan, Codex Aubin is from the Tenochtitlan perspective and makes no reference to events in Tlatelolco.[11] Lockhart sees Codex Aubin as an authentic account likely from oral sources.[12]

Among other topics, Codex Aubin has a native description of the massacre at the temple in Tenochtitlan in 1520.

Also called "Manuscrito de 1576" ("The Manuscript of 1576"), this codex is held by the British Museum and a copy of its commentary is at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. A copy of the original is held at the Princeton University library in the Robert Garrett Collection. The Aubin Codex is not to be confused with the similarly named Aubin Tonalamatl.[13]

Codex Magliabechiano

Reverse of folio 11 of the Codex Magliabechiano, showing the day signs Flint (knife), Rain, Flower, and Crocodile.

The Codex Magliabechiano was created during the mid-16th century, in the early Spanish colonial period. Based on an earlier unknown codex, the Codex Magliabechiano is primarily a religious document, depicting the 20 day-names of the tonalpohualli, the 18 monthly feasts, the 52-year cycle, various deities, indigenous religious rites, costumes, and cosmological beliefs.

The Codex Magliabechiano has 92 pages made from European paper, with drawings and Spanish language text on both sides of each page.

It is named after Antonio Magliabechi, a 17th-century Italian manuscript collector, and is held in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence, Italy.

Codex Cozcatzin

The Codex Cozcatzin is a post-conquest, bound manuscript consisting of 18 sheets (36 pages) of European paper, dated 1572, although it was perhaps created later than this. Largely pictorial, it has short descriptions in Spanish and Nahuatl.

The first section of the codex contains a list of land granted by Itzcóatl in 1439 and is part of a complaint against Diego Mendoza. Other pages list historical and genealogical information, focused on Tlatelolco and Tenochtitlan. The final page consists of astronomical descriptions in Spanish.

It is named for Don Juan Luis Cozcatzin, who appears in the codex as "alcalde ordinario de esta ciudad de México" ("ordinary mayor of this city of Mexico"). The codex is held by the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

Codex Ixtlilxochitl

The Codex Ixtlilxochitl is an early 17th-century codex fragment detailing, among other subjects, a calendar of the annual festivals and rituals celebrated by the Aztec teocalli during the Mexican year. Each of the 18 months is represented by a god or historical character.

Written in Spanish, the Codex Ixtlilxochitl has 50 pages comprising 27 separate sheets of European paper with 29 drawings. It was derived from the same source as the Codex Magliabechiano. It was named after Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxochitl (between 1568 & 1578 - c. 1650), a member of the ruling family of Texcoco, and is held in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

Oztoticpac Lands Map of Texcoco, 1540

The pictorial on native paper (amatl) from Texcoco ca. 1540 is held by the manuscript division of the Library of Congress, measuring 76 x 84 cm. The contents are both pictorial and alphabetic text in Nahuatl in red and black ink. The glosses indicate it deals with lands that Texcocan lord Ixtlilxochitl I may have given to Don Carlos Chichimecatecatl of Texcoco and with litigation over the lands' ownership. Don Carlos was tried and executed by Bishop Juan de Zumárraga's under his inquisitorial powers in 1539. The Oztoticpic Lands map was likely created between 1540 and 1544, as part of an effort to reclaim land held by Don Carlos. The map indicates a palace held by Don Carlos in Oztoticpac. In the schematic cadastrals of particular pieces of land, the map shows Nahua families who farmed the land as well as the measurements of the plots. A number of these properties were rented by tenants with standard glyphic representations of the rents. The names of the pieces of land are indicated with toponymic glyphs. The Oztoticpac Lands Map has been linked to another indigenous pictorial, the Humboldt Fragment VI held by the Staatsbibliothek of Berlin. One of the most interesting and important features of the map is depictions of fruit trees, both European and local, many of them grafted. Pears, quince, apple, pomegranates, peaches, and grapevines are shown Income from the sale of fruit would have increased the value of the property. The importation of European fruit trees is part of the Columbian Exchange, but what is especially significant is that not just the trees were integrated into local horticulture, but the practice of grafting to increase the health and yield of the plants.[14][15]

Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis or the Badianus Manuscript

A page of the Libellus illustrating the tlahçolteoçacatl, tlayapaloni, axocotl and chicomacatl plants.

The Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis (Latin for "Little Book of the Medicinal Herbs of the Indians") is a herbal manuscript, describing the medicinal properties of various plants used by the Aztecs. It was translated into Latin by Juan Badiano, from a Nahuatl original composed in the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco in 1552 by Martín de la Cruz that is no longer extant. The Libellus is better known as the Badianus Manuscript, after the translator; the Codex de la Cruz-Badiano, after both the original author and translator; and the Codex Barberini, after Cardinal Francesco Barberini, who had possession of the manuscript in the early 17th century.

Other codices

See also


  1. ^ Elizabeth Hill Boone, "Pictorial Documents and Visual Thinking in Postconquest Mexico". p. 158.
  2. ^ Barbara E. Mundy, "Indigenous Dances in Early Colonial Mexico City," in ‘’Festivals & Daily Life in the Arts of Colonial Latin America, 1492-1850: Papers from the 2012 Mayer Center Symposium at the Denver Art Museum’’, edited by Donna Pierce. Denver: Denver Art Museum 2014, pp. 20-26.
  3. ^ Howard F. Cline, review of Codex Osuna in Hispanic American Historical Review vol. xx, 580-81.
  4. ^ Pintura del Gobernador, Alcaldes, y Regidores de México. Códice en geroglíficos mexicanos y en lenguas castellana y azteca, existente en la biblioteca del Exmo. Señor Duque de Osuna. Publicase por vez primera con la autorización competente. Madrid, Imprenta de Manuel G. Hernández, 1878
  5. ^ Codice Osuna, Reproducción facsimilar de la obra del mismo título, editada en Madrid, 1878. Acompanada de 158 páginas ineditas encontradas en el Archivo General de la Nacion (Mexico) por el Prof. Luis Chavez Orozco. Ediciones del Instituto Indigenista Interamericano, Mexico, DF 1947
  6. ^ Howard F. Cline, review of Codex Osuna in Hispanic American Historical Review vol. xx, 580-81.
  7. ^ Charles Gibson, The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule. Stanford University Press, 1964
  8. ^ Howard F. Cline, review of Codex Osuna in Hispanic American Historical Review vol. xx, 580-81.
  9. ^ James Lockhart, We People Here: Nahuatl Accounts of the Conquest of Mexico, translated and edited. University of California Press, 1991, pp.274-279; commentary p. 314
  10. ^ James Lockhart, We People Here: Nahuatl Accounts of the Conquest of Mexico, translated and edited. University of California Press, 1991, p. 43
  11. ^ James Lockhart, We People Here: Nahuatl Accounts of the Conquest of Mexico, translated and edited. University of California Press, 1991, p. 43
  12. ^ James Lockhart, We People Here: Nahuatl Accounts of the Conquest of Mexico, translated and edited. University of California Press, 1991, p. 43
  13. ^ Aubin Tonalamatl, Trafficking Culture Encyclopedia
  14. ^ Howard F. Cline, "The Oztoticpac Lands Map of Texcoco, 1540," in The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, April 1966, pp. 77-115. Cline also cites a lawsuit by Pedro de Vergara against the Holy Office of the Inquisition in the Archivo General de la Nación, Inquisición vol 139, expediente 11, fols 60-72v over trees owned by the late Don Carlos, executed by the Inquisition in 1539.
  15. ^ Howard F. Cline, "The Oztoticpac Lands Map of Texcoco, 1540," in A la Carte: Selected Papers on Maps and Atlases, Washington, DC: Library of Congress 1972, pp. 5-33.
  16. ^ Hans J. Prem, Matrícula de Huexotzinco. Graz: Druck und Verlagsansalt 1974.
  17. ^ M. Jorge et al. (2011). Mathematical accuracy of Aztec land surveys assessed from records in the Codex Vergara. PNAS: University of Michigan.
  18. ^ Barbara J. Williams, Harvey, H. R. (1997). The Códice De Santa María Asunción : Facsimile and Commentary : Households and Lands in Sixteenth-century Tepetlaoztoc. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. ISBN 0-87480-522-8
  19. ^ Sigvald Linné, El valle y la ciudad de México en 1550. Relacíon histórica fundada sobre un mapa geográfico, que se conserva en la biblioteca de la Universidad de Uppsala, Suecia. Stockholm: 1948.

External links

  • Bibliography of Mesoamerican Codices
  • Detailed interpretation, with annotated photos, of the last pages of the Boturini Codex
  • Page-by-page views of Codex Ixtlilxochitl
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