Top Ten South American Codices

Top Ten South American Codices

       Maya codices (singular codex) are folding books stemming from the pre-Columbian Maya civilization, written in Maya hieroglyphic script on Mesoamerican bark cloth, made from the inner bark of certain trees, the main being the wild fig tree or amate. Paper, generally known by the Nahuatl word āmatl, was named by the Mayas huun. The folding books are the products of professional scribes working under the patronage of deities such as the Tonsured Maize God and the Howler Monkey Gods. The Maya developed their huun-paper around the 5th century, which is roughly the same time that the codex became predominant over the scroll in the Roman world. However, Maya paper was more durable and a better writing surface than papyrus. The codices have been named for the cities where they eventually settled. The Dresden codex is generally considered the most important of the few that survive. In the words of Michael Coe, “Our knowledge of ancient Maya thought must represent only a tiny fraction of the whole picture, for of the thousands of books in which the full extent of their learning and ritual was recorded, only four have survived to modern times (as though all that posterity knew of ourselves were to be based upon three prayer books and Pilgrim’s Progress).”

  1. The Dresden Codex (Codex Dresdensis)

           The Dresden Codex (Codex Dresdensis) is held in the Sächsische Landesbibliothek (SLUB), the state library in Dresden, Germany. It is the most elaborate of the codices, and also a highly important specimen of Maya art. Many sections are ritualistic (including so-called ‘almanacs’), others are of an astrological nature (eclipses, the Venus cycles). The codex is written on a long sheet of paper that is ‘screen-folded’ to make a book of 39 leaves, written on both sides. It was probably written just before the Spanish conquest. Somehow it made its way to Europe and was bought by the royal library of the court of Saxony in Dresden in 1739. The only exact replica, including the huun, made by a German artist is displayed at the Museo Nacional de Arqueología in Guatemala City, since October, 2007. The Venus cycle was an important calendar for the Maya and much information in regard to this is found in the Dresden codex. The Maya courts employed skilled astronomers, who could calculate the Venus cycle with extraordinary accuracy. There are six pages in the Dresden Codex devoted to the accurate calculation of the location of Venus. The Maya were able to achieve such accuracy by careful observation over many centuries. The Venus cycle was especially important because the Maya believed it was associated with war and used it to divine appropriate times (electional astrology) for coronations and war. Maya rulers planned for wars to begin when Venus rose. The Maya may have also tracked the movements of other planets, including Mars, Mercury and Jupiter.
    Links: Top Ten Mayan Artifacts, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_codices,
  2. Madrid Codex (Tro-Cortesianus Codex)

    Although of inferior workmanship, the Madrid Codex (Codex Tro-Cortesianus) is even more varied than the Dresden Codex and is the product of a single scribe. This codex was likely written after Spanish arrival, and was the result of hastily absorbed imagery and text from several sources. It is in the Museo de América in Madrid, Spain, where it may have been sent back to the Royal Court by Hernán Cortés. There are 112 pages, which got split up into two separate sections, known as the Troano Codex and the Cortesianus Codex. These were re-united in 1888. This Codex’s provenance has been suggested to be Tayasal, the last Maya city to be conquered in 1697.
    Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_codices,

  3. The Paris Codex (Peresianus Codex)

    The Paris Codex (also or formerly the Codex Peresianus) contains prophecies for tuns and katuns, as well as a Maya zodiac, and is thus, in both respects, akin to the Books of Chilam Balam. The codex first appeared in 1832 as an acquisition of France’s Bibliothèque Impériale (later the Bibliothèque Nationale, or National Library) in Paris. Three years later the first reproduction drawing of it was prepared for Lord Kingsborough, by his Lombardian artist Agostino Aglio. The original drawing is now lost, but a copy survives among some of Kingsborough’s unpublished proof sheets, held in collection at the Newberry Library, Chicago. Although occasionally referred to over the next quarter-century, its permanent “rediscovery” is attributed to the French orientalist León de Rosny, who in 1859 recovered the codex from a basket of old papers sequestered in a chimney corner at the Bibliothèque Nationale where it had lain discarded and apparently forgotten. As a result, it is in very poor condition. It was found wrapped in a paper with the word Pérez written on it, possibly a reference to the Jose Pérez who had published two brief descriptions of the then-anonymous codex in 1859. De Rosny initially gave it the name Codex Peresianus (“Codex Pérez”) after its identifying wrapper, but in due course the codex would be more generally known as the Paris Codex. De Rosny published a facsimile edition of the codex in 1864. It remains in the possession of the Bibliothèque Nationale.
    Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_codices,

  4. Codex Borgia

           The Codex Borgia (or Borgia Codex or Codex Yoalli Ehecatl) is a Mesoamerican ritual and divinatory manuscript. It is generally believed to have been written before the Spanish conquest of Mexico, somewhere within what is now today southern or western Puebla. The Codex Borgia is a member of, and gives its name to, the Borgia Group of manuscripts. The codex is made of animal skins folded into 39 sheets. Each sheet is a square 27 cm by 27 cm (11×11 inches), for a total length of nearly 11 m (35 ft.). All but the end sheets are painted on both sides, providing 76 pages. The codex is read from right to left. The Codex Borgia is named after the Italian Cardinal Stefano Borgia, who owned it before it was acquired by the Vatican Library. In 2004 Maarten Jansen and Gabina Aurora Pérez Jiménez proposed that it be given the indigenous name Codex Yoalli Ehecatl, Nahuatl for “Night and Wind,” although it is not certain that its creators were Nahuas.
    Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Borgia,
  5. Codex Borbonicus

           The Codex Borbonicus is an Aztec codex written by Aztec priests shortly before or after the Spanish conquest of Mexico. The codex is named after the Palais Bourbon in France. It is held at the Bibliothèque de l’Assemblée Nationale in Paris. In 2004 Maarten Jansen and Gabina Aurora Pérez Jiménez proposed that it be given the indigenous name Codex Cihuacoatl, after the goddess Cihuacoatl. The Codex Borbonicus is a single 46.5-foot (14.2 m) long sheet of amatl “paper.” Although there were originally 40 accordion-folded pages, the first two and the last two pages are missing. Like all pre-Columbian codices, it was originally entirely pictorial in nature, although some Spanish descriptions were later added. There is dispute as to whether the Codex Borbonicus is pre-Columbian, as the calendar pictures all contain room above them for Spanish descriptions. Codex Borbonicus can be divided into three sections: The first section is one of the most intricate surviving divinatory calendars (or tonalamatl). Each page represents one of the 20 trecena (or 13-day periods), in the tonalpohualli (or 260-day year). Most of the page is taken up with a painting of the ruling deity or deities, with the remainder taken up with the 13 day-signs of the trecena and 13 other glyphs and deities. With these 26 symbols, the priests were able to create horoscopes and divine the future. The first 18 pages of the codex (all that remain of the original 20) show considerably more wear than the last sections, very likely indicating that these pages were consulted more often. The second section of the codex documents the Mesoamerican 52 year cycle, showing in order the dates of the first days of each of these 52 solar years. These days are correlated with the nine Lords of the Night. The third section is focused on rituals and ceremonies, particularly those that end the 52-year cycle, when the “new fire” must be lit. This section is unfinished.
    Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Borbonicus,
  6. Codex Fejérváry-Mayer

           The Codex Fejérváry-Mayer is an Aztec Codex of central Mexico. It is one of the rare pre-Hispanic manuscripts that have survived the Spanish conquest of Mexico. As a typical calendar codex tonalamatl dealing with the sacred Aztec calendar – the tonalpohualli – it is grouped in the Codex Borgia group. Its elaboration is typically pre-Columbian: it is made on deerskin parchment folded accordion-style into 23 pages. It measures 16.2 cm by 17.2 cm and is 3.85 m long.
    Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Fej%C3%A9rv%C3%A1ry-Mayer,
  7. Aubin Codex

    The Aubin Codex is a pictorial history 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. Among other topics, the Aubin Codex 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 at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. A copy of the original is held at the Princeton University library in the Robert Garrett Collection there. The Aubin Codex is not to be confused with the similarly named Aubin Tonalamatl.
    Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boturini_Codex,

  8. Codex Magliabechiano

           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 Magliabechi 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 presently held in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence, Italy.
    Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boturini_Codex,
  9. 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 – 1650), a member of the ruling family of Texcoco, and is held in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.
    Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boturini_Codex,

  10. Grolier Codex

    While the three famous Mayan codices were known to scholars since the 19th century, the Grolier Codex only surfaced in the 1970’s. The codex, said to have been found in a cave, is really a fragment of 11 pages. It is currently in a museum in Mexico, but is not on display to the public (scanned photos of it are available on the web). Each page shows a hero or god, facing to the left. At the top of each page is a number, and down the left of each page is what appears to be a list of dates. The pages are much less detailed than in the other codices, and hardly provide any information that is not already in the Dresden Codex. Mayanists continue to debate its authenticity.

  11. Bonus: Manuscript of 1558

    In Aztec mythology, the Centzonmimixcoa (or Centzon Mimixcoa, the “Four Hundred alike Mixcoatl”) are the gods of the northern stars. The Aztec gods of the southern stars are the Centzonuitznaua. According to the Manuscript of 1558, section 6, these 400 ‘Cloud-Serpents’ were divinely slain [= transformed into stars] in this wise :- of 4 their protagonists, Quauhtli-icohuauh (‘Eagle’s Twin’) “hid inside a tree”; Mix-coatl (‘Cloud Serpent’) “hid within the earth”; Tlo-tepetl (‘Hawk Mountain’) “hid within a hill”; Apan-teuctli (‘River Lord’) “hid in the water”; their sister, Cuetlach-cihuatl, “hid in the ball court.” From this ambuscade these 4 slew the 400.
    Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centzonmimixcoa,

  12. Bonus: Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis

           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 Tlatelolco in 1552 by Martín de la Cruz that is no longer extant. The Libellus is also 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.
    Links: Health, Top 100 Plants, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boturini_Codex,
  13. Bonus: Florentine Codex

           The Florentine Codex is the common name given to a 16th century ethnographic research project in Mesoamerica by Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún. Bernardino originally titled it: La Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva Espana (in English: the General History of the Things of New Spain). It is commonly referred to as “The Florentine Codex” after the Italian archive library where the best-preserved manuscript is preserved. In partnership with Aztec men who were formerly his students, Bernardino conducted research, organized evidence, wrote and edited his findings starting in 1545 up until his death in 1590. It consists of 2,400 pages organized into 12 books with over 2,000 illustrations drawn by native artists providing vivid images of this era. It documents the culture, religious cosmology (worldview) and ritual practices, society, economics, and natural history of the Aztec people. One scholar described The Florentine Codex as “one of the most remarkable accounts of a non-Western culture ever composed.” Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J. O. Anderson were the first to translate the Codex from Nahuatl to English, in a project that took 30 years to complete.
    Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florentine_Codex,
  14. Bonus: Codex Bodley

           The Codex Bodley is an important pictographic manuscript, and example of the native Mixtec historiography. It was named after the colloquial name of the Bodleian Library, where it has been stored since the 17th century. While the exact dates of its creation are difficult to establish, judging from its content, it was completed shortly before the 1521 Spanish conquest of Mexico.
  15. Boturini Codex

           The Boturini Codex was painted by an unknown Aztec author sometime 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 Bernaducci (1702 – 1751). It is now held in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City.
    Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boturini_Codex,
  16. Codex Mendoza

           The Codex Mendoza is an Aztec codex, created about 20 years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico with the intent that it be seen by Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. It contains a history of the Aztec rulers and their conquests, a list of the tribute paid by the conquered, and a description of daily Aztec life, in traditional Aztec pictograms with Spanish explanations and commentary. The codex is named after Antonio de Mendoza, then the viceroy of New Spain, who may have commissioned it. It is also known as the Codex Mendocino and La coleccion Mendoza, and has been held at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University since 1659. It was taken off of public exhibition on December 23, 2011.
    Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Mendoza,
  17. Codex Cozcatzin

    The Codex Cozcatzin is a post-conquest, bound manuscript consisting of 18 sheets (36 pages) of European paper, dated 1572 although 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 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 presently held by the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

  18. Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boturini_Codex, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_codices,