Codex Borgia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Page 71 of the Codex Borgia, depicting the sun god, Tonatiuh.

The Codex Borgia or Codex Yoalli Ehēcatl is an Aztec ritual and divinatory manuscript dating from the 16th century. It is one of a handful of codices that some scholars believe to have been written before the Spanish conquest of Mexico, somewhere within what is now southern or western Puebla, though some scholars also argue that it was produced in the first decades after the conquest as a copy of an earlier Precolumbian codex. 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 by 27 cm (11 by 11 in), for a total length of nearly 11 metres (36 ft). All but the end sheets are painted on both sides, providing 76 pages. The codex is read from right to left. Pages 29–46 are oriented perpendicular to the rest of the codex. The top of this section is the right side of page 29, and the scenes are read from top to bottom, so the reader must rotate the manuscript 90 degrees in order to view this section correctly. The Codex Borgia is organized into a screen-fold. Single sheets of the hide are attached as a long strip and then folded back and forth. Images were painted on both sides and painted over with a white gesso. Stiffened leather is used as end pieces by gluing the first and last strips to create a cover. The edges of the pages are overlapped and glued together, making the sheet edges hardly visible under the white gesso finish. The gesso creates a stiff, smooth, white finished surface that preserves the underlying images.

The Codex Borgia features eighteen pages of an astronomical narrative that shows the yearlong alteration of the rainy and dry season.

The codex is named after the 18th century Italian Cardinal, Stefano Borgia, who owned it before it was acquired by the Vatican Library.

Codex Borgia. Modern reproduction.


The Codex Borgia was brought to Europe, likely Italy, some time in the early Spanish colonial period. It was rediscovered in 1805 by Alexander von Humboldt among the effects of Cardinal Stefano Borgia. The codex is presently housed in the Apostolic Library, the Vatican, and has been digitally scanned and made available to the public.



The first eight pages list the 260 day-signs of the tonalpohualli (day sign), each trecena of 13 signs forming a horizontal row spanning two pages. Certain days are marked with a footprint symbol. Divinatory symbols are placed above and below the day signs.

Sections parallel to this are contained in the first eight pages of the Codex Cospi and the Codex Vaticanus B. However, while the Codex Borgia is read from right to left, those codices are read from left to right. Additionally, the Codex Cospi includes the Lords of the Night alongside the day signs.

Images of pages 1–8


Pages 9 to 13 are divided into four quarters. Each quarter contains one of the twenty day signs, its patron deity, and associated symbols.

Page 14 is divided into nine sections for each of the nine Lords of the Night. They are accompanied by a day sign and symbols indicating positive or negative associations.

Images of pages 9–14


Pages 15 to 17 depict deities associated with childbirth. Each of the twenty sections contains four day signs.

The bottom section of page 17 contains a large depiction of Tezcatlipoca, with day signs associated with different parts of his body.

Images of pages 15–17


Images of pages 18–21


Pages 27 and 28 center on the Postclassical period central Mexican rain god Tlaloc, surrounded by pictures related to the planting season. Susan Milbrath (curator of Latin American Art and Architecture department at the Florida Museum of Natural History) and Chris Woolley (a University of Florida history graduate student) compare these to farmer’s almanacs that record actual climate events, with real dates in relation with weather patterns.[1]

Images of pages 22–28


Pages 29 through 46 of the codex constitute the longest section of the codex, and the most enigmatic. The pages refer to different veintena festivals. Together these images represent a 20-day period for the veintena cycle. The glyphs refer to dry and rainy seasons. They apparently show a journey but the complex iconography and the lack of any comparable document have led to a variety of interpretations ranging from an account of actual astronomical and historical events, to the passage of Quetzalcoatl—as a personification of Venus[citation needed]—through the underworld, to a "cosmic narrative of creation".[citation needed] Pages 37 and 38 depict Xolotl holding a Xiuhcoatl or "fire serpent" descending into the underworld with lightning. The sequence apparently ends with a New Fire ceremony, marking the end of one 52-year cycle, and the start of another.

Images of pages 29–46


Pages 47 through 56 show a variety of deities, sacrifices, and other complex iconography.

Images of pages 47–56


Pages 57 through 60 allowed the priest to determine the prospects for favorable and unfavorable marriages according to the numbers within the couple’s names.

Images of pages 57–60


Pages 61 through 70 are similar to the first section, showing various day signs winding around scenes of deities. Each of the 10 pages shows 26 day signs.

Images of pages 61–70


Page 71 depicts Tonatiuh, the sun god, receiving blood from a decapitated bird. Surrounding the scene are the thirteen Birds of the Day, corresponding to each of the thirteen days of a trecena. Page 72 depicts four deities with day signs connected to parts of their bodies. Each deity is surrounded by a serpent. Page 73 depicts the gods Mictlantecuhtli and Quetzalcoatl seated back to back, similar to page 56. They likewise have day signs attached to various parts of their bodies, and the entire scene is encircled by day signs.

Images of pages 71–76


Milbrath, Susan (2013). Heaven and Earth in Ancient Mexico: Astronomy and Seasonal Cycles in the Codex Borgia. The Linda Schele Series in Maya and Pre-Columbian Studies. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-74373-1. OCLC 783173291.
Boone, Elizabeth Hill (2007). Cycles of Time and Meaning in the Mexican Books of Fate. Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long series in Latin American and Latino art and culture. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-71263-8. OCLC 71632174.
Brotherston, Gordon (1999). "The yearly seasons and skies in the Borgia and related codices". Arara: Art and Architecture of the Americas. vol. 2. ISSN 1465-5047. OCLC 163473451. Archived from the original (eJournal online text) on 2008-02-21.
Díaz, Gisele; Alan Rodgers; Bruce E. Byland (1993). The Codex Borgia: A Full-Color Restoration of the Ancient Mexican Manuscript. New York: Dover. ISBN 978-0-486-27569-7. OCLC 27641334.
Jansen, Maarten (2001). "Borgia, Codex". In David Carrasco (ed.). The Oxford encyclopedia of Mesoamerican cultures: The civilizations of Mexico and Central America. vol. 1. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 94–98. ISBN 978-0-19-514255-6. OCLC 44019111.
Jansen, Maarten; Gabina Aurora Pérez Jiménez (2004). "Renaming the Mexican Codices" (PDF). Ancient Mesoamerica. 15 (2): 267–271. doi:10.1017/S0956536104040179. hdl:1887/16354. ISSN 0956-5361. OCLC 89722889.
Nowotny, Karl Anton (2005). Tlacuilolli: style and contents of the Mexican pictorial manuscripts with a catalog of the Borgia Group. George A. Everett, Jr. and Edward B. Sisson (trans. and eds.), with a foreword by Ferdinand Anders. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3653-0. OCLC 56527102.

External links[edit]

  1. ^ Danielle Torrent (February 1, 2012). "Using tree-ring data to test climate events". Florida Museum news. Climate Change. Retrieved March 23, 2020.