Aztec, Mixtec & Early Spanish Codices and Histories
To see digital versions of the originals, see ‘Codices of Mexico‘ by the INAH (Historical Archives of the Mexican Government)
To see a pretty good list of most if not all known atztec, mixtec and maya codices, see this wikipedia article & its links.
Historia Chichimeca by Fernando de Alba Ixtlilxochitl (~1600?)
Born 1568; died 1648. The most illustrious of the native Mexican historians and the great-grandson of Don Fernando Ixtlilxochitl II (c.1500-1550), contemporary of Moctezuma II, king of the Aztec Empire at the conquest, and fifth son of Netzahualpilli, King of Texcoco, and of his wife Doña Beatriz Panantzin, daughter of Cuitlahuac, last but one of the Aztec emperors. He was educated in the college of Santa Cruz de Tlaltelolco, but, notwithstanding his illustrious birth, education, and ability, he lived for a long time in dire poverty, and the greater part of his works were written to relieve his wants. He gives a detailed account of the important part played by his great-grandfather Don Fernando in the conquest of Mexico and the pacification of the Indians of New Spain, praising him in every possible way, and blaming the ingratitude of the conquerors. “His descendants”, says the writer, “were left poor and neglected, with scarcely a roof to shelter them, and even this is gradually being taken from them.” In “La Entreaty de los Españoles en Texcoco” he again remarks: “The sons, daughters, grandchildren, and relations of Netzahualcoyotl and Netzahualpilli are ploughing and digging to earn their daily bread and to pay ten reales and half a measure of corn to his Majesty. And we, the descendants of a royal race, are being taxed beyond every lawful right.” Partly owing to the appeal made in his works, and partly to the favour of Fray Garcia Guerra, who afterwards became Archbishop and Viceroy of New Spain, some land concessions were granted Don Fernando, and he was appointed interpreter in the Indian judiciary court. The “Historia de la Nación Chichemeca” was his last work, but this he left unfinished, having reached only the period of the siege of Mexico. This is the best of his works. The facts are fairly well defined, the chronology is more exact, the editing much better, and more care is taken in the orthography of Texcocan names. His other works contain very important data for the history of Mexico, but they are written without order or method, the chronology is very faulty, and there is much repetition. For his writings he availed himself of the ancient Indian hieroglyphic paintings, and the traditions and songs of the Indians; he indicates those which he has consulted—all of them more than eighty years old.
Original written manuscript: Ixtlilxochitl, Fernando de Alba. Historia Chichimeca, ~1580-1615 (never published, archived in Spain or Italy)
First official printing: Kingsborough. Antiquities of Mexico. Vol. IX London 1848 (in Spanish, available here)
Chavero, Alfredo (ed.), Obras históricas de D. Fernando de Alba Ixtlilxochitl. México, 1891-92. (in Spanish, available here, or download pdf here)
Brian, Benton, Villella & Loaeza. History of the Chichimeca Nation: Don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s Seventeenth-Century Chronicle of Ancient Mexico, 2019 (in English hardcopy available here)
An index of chapters in Spanish available here.
My sloppy English translation here and here.
Good translation of first few chapters here.
Outline of Contents
- SUMARIA RELAClON (Summary Accounts of the Toltecs), etc., in 5 sections. A summary of all the events that occurred in New Spain and of many things known and accomplished by the Tultecas from the creation of the world to their destruction, and from the coming of the third Chichemeca settlers up to the invasion of the Spaniards, taken from the original history “La Nueva España”.
- History of the Chichimeca Lords, etc.; in 12 sections (relaciones). To this is added the continuation of the events of Netzahualcoyotl until the Xochimilco war; a list of 154 names of cities subject to the 3 kings Mexico, Tlacopan, and Texcoco. Another section of the history of Netzahualcoyotl; The Ordinances or Laws of Netzahualcoyotl; Account of Netzahualpilli, son of Netzahualcoyotl.
- The order and ceremony to make a Lord, etc. Established by Topiltz, Lord of Tula.
- The coming of the Spaniards to this New Spain. (C: p.437)
- Entry of the Spaniards into Texcuco.
- News of the settlers (pobladoras), etc. In 13 accounts.
- Brief accounts, in 11 sections (relaciones). As a continuation of it there are two news items entitled, one Relation of the other Lords of New Spain, and the other account of the origin of the Xochimilcas.
- Summary Accounts (relaciones), etc. Also in volume 30 of the manuscripts in the Archive there are two pieces, one is the Songs of Netzahualcoyotl, and the other is the Historical Fragments of his life. Although they are attributed to Ixtlilxochitl, there is no way to confirm it.
Note that Kingsborough puts the 95 chapters first (p.205-316). But Chavero re-orders things and puts them later.
- I. History of the Chichimeca Lords..
- II. Continuation of the History of Mexico..
- III. Painting from Mexico.
- IV. Painting from Mexico.
- V. Ordinances of Netzahualcoyotl.
- VI. Order and ceremonies to make a Lord.
- VII. The coming of the Spanish.
- VII. Entry of the Spaniards in Texcuco.
- IX. News of the settlers, etc.
- X. Brief relationship.
- XI. Summary Relationship.
- XII. Chichimeca history, in 95 chapters.
- XIII. Songs of Netzahualcoyotl.
- XIV. Fragments of his life.
Anales or Relaciones by Chimalpahin (~1614?)
Domingo Francisco de San Antón Muñón Chimalpahin Quauhtlehuanitzin (1579-1660) wrote from 1589 through 1615. He makes it to the top of the list because in addition to writing close to the conquest, he was an independent researcher whose work is not associated with the catholic church. A proud Nahua native of the altepetl Chalco, Chimalpahin’s work is immensely important and has only recently been translated into English. Chimalpahin wrote about the history of Mexico spanning from pre-conquest times to the time in which he was living. Chimalpahin had access to sources that are no longer available to us and perhaps more importantly interviewed indigenous people who lived through many of the historical events he wrote about. He was also interested in genealogy, and was himself a direct descendant of the founder of Chalco. He witnessed many important historical events such as the moment the Spaniards began taxing the Mexica population in Tenochtitlan in the late 1500s, the arrival in Mexico of African slaves, and the visit of Japanese samurais to Mexico. Chimalpahin is relatively unknown and his work has not yet been thoroughly researched because Mexico only recently recovered his original books that were held in European libraries gathering dust for hundreds of years.How to Get a Hard Copy of the Book:
Volume 1 : Major Post-Conquest Events
Volume 2: History of the Chichimeca Nation
Volume 3: The Calendar and Various Genealogies
How to Get a Digital Copy of the Book: http://www.codicechimalpahin.inah.gob.mx/
A Table of Contents Directly Linking to Specific Sections of the Above Digital Copy is Available Here
The Florentine Codex by Bernardino de Sahagun (1590)
The Florentine Codex was written by Nahua scribes who were supervised by a Spanish priest named Bernardino de Sahagun (1499-1590). The codex contains over 2,000 pages of text and is thus a gold mine whose breadth is unmatched by any other source. The authors worked on the codex from 1545 to 1590. Its close proximity to the Spanish Conquest and also the confirmation of much of the work through other methodologies makes it very accurate. The trustworthiness of the authors however is problematic. Sahagun’s stated purpose of producing the book was to document Nahua history and culture but also to create a manual which the catholic church could use to weed out paganism. Fortunately the original codex was written in Nahuatl and Spanish which allows the reader to easily identify Spanish attempts at modifying the Nahuatl text. For example in book 12 there is an entry that described the Spanish attempt to take gold from Tenochtitlan as: ‘Like monkeys they grabbed the gold’ in Nahuatl yet the corresponding Spanish text states: ‘their gifts were received with great joy.’ Clearly Sahagun was attempting to change the narrative so that the actions of his fellow Spaniards would be seen in a more positive light. The Nahua scribes were Sahagun’s students and were thus already Christianized.Two aspects of the codex work to counteract the trustworthiness issues of its authors: much of the text is composed of direct translations of interviews of Native informants who lived before the conquest and the Nahuatl portions of the Florentine codex has since been translated into English thus bypassing the Spanish distorted translations. The Florentine Codex is perhaps the most widely quoted book in the field for good reason however the reader must be careful to take into account the context of the writings and compare them to other sources whenever possible. There are parts of the book where it is clear that the Nahua scribes are interpreting concepts through a Christian lens whereas in other parts such as Book 6 (widely considered to be the most valuable book in the codex) they are quoting Native elders directly.How to Get a Hard Copy of the Book:
0. Introduction and Indices
1. The Gods
2. The Ceremonies
3. The Origin of the Gods
4. The Soothsayers
5. The Omens
6. Rhetoric and Moral Philosophy
7. The Sun, Moon and Stars, and the Binding of the Years
8. Kings and Lords
9. The Merchants
10. The People
11. Earthly Things
12. The Conquest
Book 12 Most chapters (Conquest) available online here.
How to Get a Digital Copy of the Book: Florentine Codex Searchable PDF,
English Print version from University of Utah Press.
Section on the Journey of Quetzalcoatl. English translation.
Letters from Hurnan Cortes (1521)
These letters tell the story of the conquest from Cortes’ perspective. Much of the exact same events from Chapter 12 (The conquest) of the Florentine Codex. Its very informative to see the differences in perspective which can serve as a good launch point to understand the Spanish Christian bias in many codices. Of especial note is his perspective on the Masacre at Cholula here.
Digital Copy available here.
The Codex Mendoza by Unknown Nahua Scribes (1541?)
The Codex Mendoza was produced in the year 1541, remarkably close to the Spanish conquest. The codex also contains a copy of the Matricula de Tributo which we know was produced between the years of 1522-1530, greatly increasing its overall accuracy. The codex was produced for the Spanish crown which requested detailed information about the politics, tribute system, and culture of the Native people in Mexico. The codex is named after Don Antonio de Mendoza, the viceroy of New Spain at the time. To complete the codex, he commissioned several Nahua scribes from the Tlatelolco college. This codex is absolutely critical for research into Mexica political structure, economy, daily life, and also linguistics as many intricate pictographs can be found throughout the codex which together form a complex written system.How to Get a Hard Copy of the Book:
The Essential Codex Mendoza (Out of Print So Very Expensive!)
How to Get a Digital Copy of the Book: http://www.calmecacanahuac.com/amoxtin/CodexMendoza.pdf
The Codex Borbonicus by Unknown Nahua Scribe
The Codex Borbonicus is an extremely important codex because it is written in the native style from the Mexica perspective (unfortunately no pre-conquest codex form Tenochtitlan has survived to the present day). In addition, it contains Spanish annotations which can thus help us in reading other pre-conquest codices. This codex is most likely pre-conquest in origin or a direct copy of a pre-conquest codex due to its structure. The resulting work is a complete tonalamatl (book of the days of the tonalpohualli) which does not exist in such intricate detail in any other codex. Ceremonies related to both the months of the xiuhpohualli (year count) and the 52 year new fire ceremony are also depicted in amazing detail in the second part of the codex.How to Get a Hard Copy of the Book:
How to Get a Digital Copy of the Book:
History of the Indies of New Spain by Diego Duran (1581)
Diego Duran (1537-1588) was a Spanish friar whose two other works (Ancient Calendar and Book of the Gods and Rites) were written to help other friars identify and destroy pagan practices. Duran was raised in Texcoco and was fluent in Nahuatl. Because of this, he was able to earn the trust of the Native people and thus had access to a wealth of information that he referenced in his works. In addition, since he was a member of a Native community he often provided unparalleled insight into the daily life of the people. He also often went out of his way to provide Nahuatl translations for many of the words he referenced in his books. Duran published the History of the Indies of New Spain some time in the 1500s.The main reason why this book is listed is because it seems as though everyone with a pen (Spaniards and Natives alike) chose to write a history of the Mexica people from Pre-Conquest times to the Spanish conquest. This makes finding an objective account a very difficult task as everyone who wrote, utilized their own perspective. Chimalpahin for example wrote about the Spanish conquest through the lens of a Chalco native whereas Ixtlilxochitl, another native writer, wrote through the lens of a Texcoco native. Reading so many different accounts on the same historical events can quickly become overwhelming to the casual reader. Duran painstakingly gathered all of the Native and Spanish historical accounts that he had available to him and wrote with the goal of providing an objective account of the Spanish conquest. The resulting work is invaluable as he identifies Spanish exaggerations and other inaccuracies for the reader – so much so that the book was heavily criticized by the Spaniards of his time. He worked really diligently to reconcile contradictory accounts on such important events as the death of Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin and cites his sources.How to Get a Hard Copy of the Book:
History of the Indies of New Spain
How to Get a Digital Copy of the Book:
Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca by don Alonso de Casteñeda? (1546)
This manuscript was probably created at the behest of an indigenous noble, don Alonso de Casteñeda, who lived in the town of Cuauhtinchan in central Mexico. It includes alphabetic writing, glyphs, and painted images—a combination often used in the sixteenth century to remember and record pre-Hispanic history.
In New Spain, pre-Hispanic history had political uses. Because don Alonso could trace his ancestry to this primordial cave, he could justify his status as one of the ruling elite of his community. Pre-Hispanic history also had social uses. Because this history painting carefully distinguished among the different ethnic groups inhabiting the cave, it provided a historical rationale for ethnic divisions between Cuauhtinchan and neighboring communities, and within Cuauhtinchan itself.
The document, the so-called “Historia tolteca-chichimeca,” was written around 1550-1560 in the town of Cuauhtinchan, east of Puebla. It details the socio-political antecedents of Cuauhtinchan, starting with the breakup of old Tula, followed by migrations of some of the Toltecs to Cholula and their spread from there to surrounding areas, of which Cuauhtinchan was one. The first portion of the text, dealing with the Toltecs in general, is strongly mythical-legendary; the second part consists of annals of the Cuauhtinchan people, bringing them year-by-year, ruler-by-ruler, past their relations with Cholula to the splintering of their domain under the Aztecs and on to the first years of the Spanish conquest. The Nahuatl text carries the main burden of the narration, but numerous glyphs, pictures, and maps are integrated into the account. It appears that the sixteenth-century document coming down to us rests on earlier versions in which only the glyphic portion was written and the rest was oral. While the contents of the document bear on innumerable topics, they especially illustrate the extreme importance of the sub-imperial level and microethnicity just at the time when scholars are turning to serious regional investigation of late preconquest central Mexico.
A book translating and showcasing much of the text is found here.
Anonimo Mexicano by Juan de Torquemada (1615)
His monumental work “Monarquía indiana”, likely just copied the unpublished work of Diego Camargo. Born 1562; died 1624. Contemporary to Don Fernando Ixtlilxochitl. Referenced extensively by most later chroniclers, including Yeytia. A Franciscan friar, active as missionary in colonial Mexico and considered the “leading Franciscan chronicler of his generation.” Administrator, engineer, architect and ethnographer, he is most famous for his monumental work commonly known as Monarquía indiana (“Indian Monarchy”), a survey of the history and culture of the indigenous peoples of New Spain together with an account of their conversion to Christianity, first published in Spain in 1615 and republished in 1723. Monarquia Indiana was the “prime text of Mexican history, and was destined to influence all subsequent chronicles until the twentieth century.” It was used by later historians, the Franciscan Augustin de Vetancurt and most importantly by 18th-century Jesuit Francisco Javier Clavijero.
Many segments of the travels and settlements of the Toltec and Chichimec’s are in this English translation. Get it here. Read it in the JSTOR viewer here. And the original Spanish Version here.
Historia Antigua by Mariano Fernandez Veytia (~1770)
Born 1718. Died 1780. He is considered the first historian of Puebla with his work Historia de Puebla de los Ángeles , and was also the author of a work entitled Historia Antigua de México , which was the continuation of the unfinished work of Lorenzo Boturini. Boturini assembled the largest collection of Mexican antiquities assembled to that time, and spend considerable time with Veytia who finished and wrote down much of his work. Veytia’s book was likewise published post mortem by yet another author, Francisco Ortega in 1836. He copied, preserved and passed on several ancient codices, a few of which are named after him. See Codex Veitia. He also wrote a detailed history of Puebla I haven’t been able to find online yet. Much like Ixtlilxochitl’s work’s Veytia’s work shares absolutely incredible similarities to the Book of Mormon.
The first printing 1836 Spanish version of his Historia antigua de Méjico can be found here. A newer English translation is available here.
Historia antigua de México and Historia de la Antigua o Baja California by Francisco Javier Clavijero (1731-1787)
Note that Ixtlilxochitl’s (1568/80-1648) library or ‘native archive’ passed to his son Juan de Alva Cortés who then gave it to the contemporary Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora (1645-1700) who combined it with many Spanish histories (often called the ‘creole archive’), then willed it to the College of San Pedro and San Pablo after his death. There, Jesuits like Veytia & Clavijero had access to it. It is likely that Boturini’s collection also ended up there. I haven’t yet figure out where the library went when the Jesuits were expelled and the college fell to ruins (by 1767-1816). Apparently some of it was transferred to their other Mexico City college of San Ildefonso. By the early nineteenth century Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s writings and collected documents had been dispersed to various parts of the world, forcing Creoles to work with transcriptions the Milanese scholar Lorenzo Boturini Benaduci (1698–1755) had made at San Pablo y San Pedro in the eighteenth century.