How We Know About the Aztec Past

Unraveling Aztec history is like piecing together a vibrant mosaic. Indigenous sources include pictorial codices and Latin-written narratives, bridging two worlds. Spanish chroniclers like Sahagún and the likes capture the essence, while native accounts reveal a captivating past.

How We Know About the Aztec Past
Aztec codex page, where images speak volumes with their intricate storytelling.

In the dimly lit corridors of history, the Aztec civilization looms like a mystery shrouded in enigma, beckoning us to uncover its secrets. As we delve into the annals of time, we can't help but ask ourselves: How do we truly understand the histories of this fascinating culture? The answer, my dear time-traveling readers, lies in the curious interplay of indigenous and Spanish sources. Strap on your time machines and let's embark on a journey to decode the world of Aztec history.

Our tale begins with a distinction that's as clear as the Mesoamerican sky: there are two main sources that weave the Aztec history. On one side, we have the indigenous sources, and on the other, the Spanish sources. But, even within these categories, there are more nuances than you can shake a feathered serpent staff at.

The indigenous sources are like time capsules from the past, offering a unique glimpse into the Aztec world. These sources come in two flavors: pre-Hispanic and post-Spanish conquest. Imagine dusty codices, which are essentially ancient picture books with a twist – some images can be read like words. For instance, picture a mountain (a sign they already had) with an eagle perched on top, and voilà, it's not just a landscape but the Aztec version of “Welcome to Quauhtepec!”

After the Spanish arrived, indigenous folks went to school, the Spanish kind, with a special focus on Latin characters. Missionaries played a big part in this Aztec linguistic remix, mapping Aztec sounds to Latin letters. As a result, many Indians began writing their stories in a blend of Nahuatl and Latin, preserving their cultural heritage amidst the Spanish wave.

These indigenous accounts aren't just dry historical records; they're vibrant pieces of art, with colorful illustrations that help narrate the story. But the fun doesn't end there; they also reveal an intriguing bridge between the Indo-Hispanic and Hispanic-Indian worlds.

D. Fernando de Alva Ixlilxochitl, a descendant of Texcoco royalty, turning up in court, eloquently presenting his case in Latin characters, invoking Aztec sounds, and making judges scratch their heads. Now that's a courtroom drama that could give Perry Mason a run for his codex!

But the Spanish didn't just stand by and watch the show. They also played a part in preserving Aztec history, albeit with their twist. Some went out of their way to actively seek informants, jot down old hymns, and capture the essence of Aztec heritage. These tireless scribes ventured so far as to write in the Aztec language itself. The Franciscan Bernardino de Sahagún is a standout character here, with his monumental work, “Historia de las Casas de la Nueva España,” a treasure chest of Aztec knowledge.

Then, there's the second type of Spanish chronicler, who, with all the determination of a treasure hunter, collected stories from the natives. They listened intently to the elders and wise priests, reciting their memories by heart, and then wove these tales into Spanish, preserving the Aztec narrative. Think of them as the Indiana Jones of Aztec history – Fray Toribio de Benavente, Motolinia, and Fray Diego Durán, chronicling the wonders of the Aztec world.

In the end, the histories of the Aztecs are a fascinating puzzle that requires a mix of indigenous and Spanish sources to unlock. It's a story that speaks to the complicated relationship between two worlds, where indigenous traditions and Spanish influence entwine in a way that's as complex as a mosaic from a centuries-old codex.

So, as you embark on your own time-traveling adventures, remember that beneath the layers of history, the Aztecs offer a colorful narrative waiting to be unveiled. Who knows what other secrets lie hidden in the dusty pages of time?

Historical manuscripts written by Spanish chroniclers capture the essence of Aztec heritage.
Historical manuscripts written by Spanish chroniclers capture the essence of Aztec heritage.

Key Facts

  • Indigenous sources are either pre-Hispanic or written during the Spanish domination.
  • Spanish sources are either those who actively seek informants or those who write histories based on reports from the natives.
  • There is always a bridge or point of contact between the Indian and Spanish sources.
  • Indigenous sources: codices, written during the Spanish domination in Nahuatl.
  • Spanish sources: Bernardino de Sahagún's Historia de las Casas de la Nueva España, Fray Toribio de Benavente or Motolinia's and Fray Diego Durán's histories.