Our knowledge of the Aztecs and their contemporaries comes in
large part from the rich legacy of indigenous and Spanish accounts scattered
in archives and museums around the world. Textual accounts can be divided into
indigenous pictorial documents and those written
in the Roman alphabet. However, this distinction was frequently blurred,
since many of the pictorial documents were annotated with Spanish and native
glosses, while a number of the more ambitious written works were accompanied
by drawings in the native style (e.g., Sahagun's General History, Duran's
History of the Indies, the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca,etc.).
Although most of the alphabetic works were in Spanish, a number were also written
in Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) and other tongues, providing an important
counterperspective to official accounts of the period.
According to the authoritative census by John Glass (HMAI
vol. 14), some 434 pictorial documents have survived (including Maya examples).
Only 14-17 of these are definitely precolumbian, the rest having been eradicated
by Spanish civil and religious authorities. The pictorial tradition did not
die with the conquest, however, since historical accounts, land maps, devotional
instruction (Techialoyan) manuals, and other documents continued to be made
into the XVI century. Below are some of the more accessible documents.
Central Mexican pictorial documents
- Codex Borbonicus
- Codex Cozcatzin
- Codex Azcatitlan
- Codex Boturini (Tira de la Peregrinacion)
- Codex Telleriano-Remensis
and the Codex Vaticanus A 3738 (Codex
Rios) are probably copies of a lost original,
nicknamed the Codex Huitzilopochtli.
- Codex Magliabecchiano
- Codex Mendoza (Mendocino)
and the Matricula de Tributos (Codex
Moctezuma). The Codex Mendoza contains
a chronicle of Aztec history from the founding of Tenochtitlan, depictions
of daily life, and a tribute list of the Aztec Empire. The Matricula de
Tributos is a copy of the latter section; three pages are missing and
a few place signs are omitted.
- Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca
- Tonalamatl Aubin (possibly from Tlaxcala)
- Codex Azoyu I & II (from the state of
Borgia Group - a group of ritual
texts probably from the Puebla-Mixteca area. All are thought to be precolumbian.
- Codex Borgia
- Codex Laud
- Codex Ferjervary-Mayer
- Codex Vaticanus B
- Codex Cospi
Mixtec Historical Codices - precolumbian or
nearly so, treat of the history and genealogies of the Mixteca dynasties.
- Codex Nuttall
- Codex Vienna (Vindobonensis)
- Codex Bodley
- Codex Selden
- Codex Columbino (known as C. Alfonso Caso
when combined with C. Becker II)
Other Mixtec Documents
Thousands of documents of various types
have survived, including official relaciones, legal documents, land titles,
correspondence, etc. The list below includes only the most important works available
in English (with a few exceptions).
Conquistadors and Administrators
- Hernán Cortés
- Bernal Diaz de Castillo
- Anonymous Conquerer
- Bernadino de Sahagun (1499-1590)
The greatest of the Spanish chroniclers, Sahagun came to Mexico as a Benedictine
monk just a few years after the Conquest in 1529. Sahagun became expert in
Nahuatl language and literature while occupying several positions in Central
Mexico. Sahagun employed a number of native informants, scribes, and painters
to create his monumental encyclopedia of Aztec life. His work was innovative
in employing questionnaires and the compartive method, as well as parallel
texts in Spanish and Nahuatl. Subject to various interdictions from his superiors,
his works survive in various manuscript stages.
- Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España ([Rare Bks]
- General History of the Things of New Spain : Florentine Codex (972.01
S131hi, 1970). An extensive (12 volumes!) account of all aspects of Aztec
life, from social life to natural history to religion and philosophy.
- Diego Duran (1537-1588) Duran
was a Dominican friar who came to Mexico as a child. His three books, of greatest
importance for understanding the history and religion of the Aztecs, date
to 1581, although they were only rediscovered in 1867. His books were based
upon interviews and examinations of earlier Nahuatl and Spanish works, including
painted sources. His work shares strong similarities with that of Tezozomoc
and Tovar; it has been hypothesized that all drew upon a now-lost Nahuatl
manuscript referred to as "Cronica X".
- Book of the Gods and Rites and The Ancient Calendar (299.8
- The History of the Indies of New Spain (972.01 D948h-T)
- Juan Tovar (1541-1526) Born
in Texcoco, Tovar became a Jesuit in 1573. Commisioned to write a history
of the Aztecs, his study was sent to Spain and disappeared, but was apparently
consulted by Duran before it left. Tovar later drew upon his memory and Duran's
History to write a synopsis of his earlier work. This apparently is
the manuscript known as the Codex Ramirez, which was extensively plagiarized
- Bartolome de las Casas
- Toribio de Motolinia (1481/91-1569)
- Juan de Torquemada
- Codex Chimalpahin : society and politics in Mexico Tenochtitlan, Tlatelolco,
Texcoco, Culhuacan, and other Nahua altepetl in central Mexico.(972.5
C538 ) . Two volumes of a projected six have been published.
- Alvarado Tezozomoc, Fernando Tezozomoc's
maternal grandfather was the tlahtoani Motecuzoma Xocoyotzin. His Crónica
mexicana (1609) is related to the Duran-Crónica "X" set
of manuscripts. Written in Nahuatl, it treats Mexican history from Aztlan
- Crónica mexicana - in Spanish (972.01 A472c )
- Alva de Ixtlilxochitl
(1578-1648). A descendant of the royal house
of Texcoco, Ixtlilxochitl's histories reflects a Texcocan perspective on events
in the basin. Unfortunately, his works have yet to be translated into English.
- Diego Munoz de Camargo (1525-1613) A
mestizo descended from Tlaxcalan royalty on his mother's side and himself
later governor of the area, Munoz's work is the best source on Tlaxcalan history.
Not yet translated into English.
- Compendia of Nahua texts
- History and Mythology of the Aztecs : the Codex Chimalpopoca (Anales
de Cuauhtitlan, Leyenda del Sol) (translated J. Bierhorst) (972.01 C669h
) The first of these is Nahuatl document written from the perspective of the
Basin community of Cuauhtitlan, though with ample information on Tenochtitlan,
Tula and the Toltecs, and other communities. The second is a very important
Nahuatl account of the stages of creation, the history of Tollan, and a brief
history of the Aztecs.
- We People Here: Nahuatl Accounts of the Conquest of Mexico (ed. J.
Lockhart) (972.02 W361)
- Fifteen Poets of the Aztec World (ed. M. Leon-Portilla) (897.4 Q7-T)
- The Broken Spears; the Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico (ed.
M. Leon-Portilla) (972.02 L579v-T)
- Cantares Mexicanos (ed. J. Bierhorst) (897.4 C229-T)