Codex Mendoza; the greatest chronicle of Mexico-Tenochtitlan


The Codex Mendoza consists of 71 pages: a list of tlatoanis, a register of the subjugated peoples and a narration of the daily life of the Mexica. The codices were tools used by ancient Mesoamerican peoples to preserve and transmit their knowledge, traditions and wisdom.

They were documents made up of images that conformed a communication system radically different from the one we use today, as it was based on orality, memory and codes that could only be interpreted by those who possessed this ability. For their elaboration, deerskin or amate paper was used and they were mounted as a screen for reading.

After the irruption of the Spaniards in the territory, the codices attracted the attention of the conquerors, ecclesiastical authorities and civil authorities; so at that time multiple copies of ancestral codices were made to communicate to the Spanish empire on various aspects of indigenous cultures. Unfortunately, many original pieces were lost or destroyed.

One of these reproductions is the Codex Mendoza or Codex Mendocino, named after Antonio de Mendoza, the first viceroy of Mexico, who had this document made so that King Charles V could learn about the history and social organization of the Mexica through this type of elaboration.

The copy was made in 1542 with the help of the tlamatinime (indigenous sages), who made an explanation of the content, which was translated and transcribed into Spanish on previous sheets and successive sheets with pictograms, or even on them.

The codex is made up of 71 pages divided into three sections, through which a list of the Mexica tlatoanis is presented, a record of the subjugated peoples is made and a narration about the daily life of the Mexica is included.

The first section begins with the history of the foundation of Mexico-Tenochtitlan and the legend of the eagle perched on a tunal as a divine sign sent by the god Huitzilopochtli to establish its settlement; among other characters appears Tenoch, a priest who is shown sitting on a petate while appreciating the portent.

In this section the period in which each one of the tlatoanis was in power from the foundation of Mexico-Tenochtitlan and until the fall of Moctezuma Xocoyotzin is marked; likewise, the towns that conquered the Mexica empire are enlisted.

The second section presents the extent of Mexica power, the conquered peoples and the tributes they paid, such as corn, beans, weapons, eagles, quetzal feathers, gold, among other things.

Finally, the last section includes more specific features such as social organization and customs. It describes the education in schools and the instruction in the Army; it breaks down the types of warriors, their weapons and alludes to their triumphs; various trades, festivals, ceremonies, games and traditions are presented; there are even laminas that show the interior of the palace of Moctezuma. Likewise, its system of justice is exposed listing great crimes and the way to punish them.

Unlike other codices, this one was not made on deerskin but on Spanish paper and was not mounted as a screen, but was bound so that the king of Spain could understand it. These are some of the oppositions between systems of thought that are concentrated in this codex; however, it is one of the most important documents to understand the history of Mexico before the conquest.

Considered by several scholars as one of the best Mesoamerican codices, this document is currently in the Bodleian Library of Oxford, in the United Kingdom, where it has been housed since 1659. Likewise, in 2015 the National Institute of Anthropology and History launched, as a form of virtual repatriation, a platform where the codex can be consulted in its entirety digitally.

By Mexicanist