aztec codex


Books have been invaluable sources of information for centuries. For those who study the colonial era, the Aztec codices are some of the only resources about Aztec culture. Some contain the Aztec language, called Nahuatl, and almost all display a marked difference from contemporary European texts in their heavy use of images rather than words to convey meaning.

This limited edition facsimile of the Codice Veitia, published in 1986, details the Aztec calendar and ceremonies. The original 1755 manuscript resides in the Royal Palace of Madrid, and was itself made by copying an older codex called the Codex Ixtlilxóchitl (1550).

-Lauren Galloway, student employee


The Codex Borgia / Yoalli Ehecatl is a PostClassic Mexican manuscript which dates from the 13th - 15th centuries. Written in a highly complex pictorial script, the codex recounts the religious beliefs of the Nahua peoples and outlines the ritual behaviors associated with particular calendar dates.

Azteca Book List

A book list for people who want to study more of the Aztecs. (I linked them to their Amazon listing in the states.)

Daily Life of the Aztecs

The Broken Spears: The Aztec account of the conquest of Mexico

Treatise on the Heathen Superstitions

The Illustrated dictionary of the gods and symbols of ancient Mexico and the Maya

Codex Chimalpopoca

Codex Borgia

The Dialogue of the Earth and Sky

The war of Witches: A Journey into the underworld of the contemporary Aztecs (I have not read this one yet, I’ve read all the others or have had them. I heard this one is a must read, especially if you’re into Aztec magic/witchcraft. It’s made by the same ethnographer, Timothy Knab who did Dialogue.)

If you’re a bibliophile or lover of knowledge, the largest primary source on the Aztecs is the Florentine codex. It’s often the most referenced as well, because it’s comprised of 12 books in total that covers the entirety of the ancient Aztecs. However, it’s very expensive in English, even buying all together a few years back was about 500 bucks if not more so. It’s better to buy them individually, even though it’s a tad more expensive.


The Codex Fejérváry-Mayer / Tezcatlipoca is a PostClassic Mexican manuscript dating from the 13th - 15th centuries. It is one of only a few surviving indigenous Aztec manuscripts and records the religious practices of the Nahua people. The name Codex Tezcatlipoca means “Book of the Smoking Mirror” and was given to this manuscript based on the importance of the deity of the Smoking Mirror in the codex.

Illustrating Wikipedia

Right now, over 400 Wikipedia articles feature images uploaded by @bodleianlibs of items from our collections. Here are just four of our many favourites.

Firstly, here’s a page of Opusculum de ratione spere, an anonymous, four volume Latin compilation on astronomy, geography and astrology.

This wood engraving of Elizabeth Gurney Fry reading to prisoners in Newgate Prison, London, comes from the John Johnson collection of ephemera.

This is The Descent of the Holy Ghost from the Illuminated Armenian Gospels with Eusebian canons.

And finally, a spotted jaguar warrior-costume and shield shown in a detail of folio 20r from the Aztec Codex Mendoza.


The text follows in English after the Spanish

Aqui está la Teotl Tlazolteotl, como aparece en el Codice Borgia. Tlazolteotl significa “la divinidad de Tlazolli.” Tlazolli es un concepto que incluye desorden, basura, vicio, y sexualidad; es el parte desordenado del cosmos. Ella es la que governa estos aspectos del ser humano; pero a la vez, es la Teotl de purificacion, el temezcal, y parteras. Asi es que ella govierna e inspira desorden, especialmente desorden sexual, tanto como la limpieza del mismo desorden. Tambien se conoce como “Tlaelquani,” o, “Ella quien come basura,” como es ella quien come, y as purifica, nuestro desorden y pecado.

Justo por esto tiene su boca pintada negro, lo cual significa el Tlazolli que ella ha comido. Ella lleva la luna como naricera, como simbulo de la obscuridad y energias femeninas. Sus aretes estan hechos de algodon crudo, lo cual es tambien un simbolo de Tlazolli; desorden, esperando estar tejido y asi ordenado. Lleva en su tocado un huso, porque es ella quien teje nuestros destinos. El huso tambien es un simbulo sexual, como  el hilo va creciendo en el palo, parece al estomago de una mujer que va creciendo con el hijo adentro. Lleva plumas de guacamayo y cuervo, como simbulo del sol en la noche, o sea, el sol muerto que va atrevezando el inframundo. Con frecuencia aparece desnunda, como es la patrona de sexualidad y del parto.

Here is painted Tlazolteotl, as she appears in the Codex Borgia. Her name signifies “divinity of Tlazolli.” Tlazolli is a concept which includes disorder, filth, sexuality, and vice; it is the disordered element in the cosmos. She governs these aspects within humanity. However, she is at the same time the Teotl of purification, the steam bath, and midwives. She thus brings both order and disorder, for as she who inspires disorder in the human heart, only she can purify us. Thus, she is also known as Tlaelquani, “the filth eater,” for she consumes the Tlazolli of which we are formed.

Precisely because she is the “Filth Eater,” her mouth is painted black, darkned with the filth of our Tlazolli which she has consumed. She wears the moon as a nosering, which waxes and wanes like a pregnant stomach, and has as earrings spools of unspun cotton, which are also symbols of Tlazolli; the cotton is born in an un-ordered state, which is useless, but when spun becomes thread and than cloth, thus making the useless useful. For Tlazolli is not bad in and of itself, but rather exists to be ordered and made fruitful. In her headdress she wears a spindle wound with thread, for she spins our destinies. Furthermore, the spindle is a sexual symbol; it grows with the spun thread, as a woman’s stomach grows with pregnancy, and furthermore “dances” in the whorl, in an obvious sexual metaphor. She sometimes wears a feather headpiece of red macaw and black crow feathers, which symbolizes the sun at night; the sun in its nightly journey through the underworld, awaiting rebirth into the order of day. Finally, she is often nude, symbolizing her role both as mother (her bared breasts), and Teotl of sexuality.

Without beginning, without end, heart of all being, encompassing all existence, Giver of Life, Consummate Destroyer, is Teótl. Teótl is that which is, and that which shall ever be. All being is a mask, and the mask is divine Teótl.

Teotl is the unified totality of all being, Teótl is the ultimate source of all being, Teótl is identical with all being. There is no here or no there, no inside or outside, no animate or inanimate, for all being is Teótl.

Teótl is the immanent. Teótl is the transcendent. Teótl is the immanent for He permeates and exists within all created things. Teótl is transcendent for He is all created things.

All that is is divine, for all is one in Teótl. Teótl is the truth, and the truth is one with Teótl. Teótl is the sacred, and therefore all that is is sacred.

Teótl is not conscious. Teótl does not think. Teótl is. Like truth, the essence of Teotl, which is not conscious, and does not think, but is.

Teótl neither is nor is not, and yet he both is and is not.

Teótl is truth eternal and unchanging, but his masks are the principle of change itself, for all made things, be it humble or great, be it a star, a mountain, or a man, must change; the mask of Teótl is the principle of impermanence. Teótl, perfect unto Himself, generates and regenerates all being. Teótl encompasses, penetrates, and creates all that is, for all that is is identical with Teótl. Teótl is process, movement, transformation, and change. Teótl is the endless division, who becomes god, who becomes matter, who becomes man. All being is a mask, truth revealed as divine Teótl.

Here a page from the Codex Borgia, in which Mictlantecuhtli and Quetzalcoatl, Teteo of Death and Life, respectively, sit back to back. They share the same backbone, and demonstrate the fundamental unity of Teótl, of life and death, of being and not being, as one.

Xipe Totec “our lord the flayed one” as pictured in the codex Borgia. He’s also known as Red Tezcatlipoca. His direction is east. He is a god of agriculture, life-death-birth, and fertility.

He represents renewal and spring, as well as the growth to manhood for young men. Worshiped especially during the rainy season in March. The sacrificed were foreign warriors, often captured, and forced to participate in a gladiatorial games. He was then tied to a rope and given little to defend himself while he fought off four richly dressed Aztec warriors.

After the gladiator lost, he would be cut open and his still beating heart would be given to Xipe Totec according to Sahagun of the Florentine codex.

The Codex Borgia (Codex Yoalli Ehēcatl). Mictlantecuhtli & Quetzalcoatl. 1898. 

Mictlantecuhtli (left), god of death, lord of the underworld, and Quetzalcoatl (right), god of wisdom, life, knowledge, morning star, patron of the winds and light, the lord of the West. Together they symbolize life and death in this Aztec ritual and divinatory manuscript written before the Spanish conquest of Mexico.