John Pohl, THE CODICES John Pohl's

ANCIENT BOOKS: Mixtec Group Codices

Image - Page from the Selden Codex, Oxford University
Page from the Selden Codex, Oxford University. Click on image for more detail.
Thanks to the writings of the Spanish Colonial historians, we know that the Mixtec nobles:

"…had many books…that the historians inscribed with characters so abbreviated, that a single page expressed the place, the site, province, year, month, and day with all the names of the gods, ceremonies, and sacrifices, or victories that they celebrated, and recorded in this way by the sons of the lords…their priest had instructed them since infancy to illustrate the characters and memorize the histories…I heard some elders explain that they were accustomed to fasten these manuscripts along the length of the rooms of the lords for their aggrandizement and vanity, they took pride in displaying them in their councils."

(Friar Francisco de Burgoa, A.D. 1674)

Mixtec goblet painted with scene from codex.
Mixtec goblet painted
with scene from codex.
Image - Codex Zouche-Nuttall, British Museum
Codex Zouche-Nuttall, British Museum.
Click on image for more detail.

After the conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521, a few learned Spaniards began to collect pictographic books and sent them back to Europe. There are eight pre-Conquest style codices attributed to the Mixtec-speaking people of Oaxaca. They were made of animal hide and covered with a gesso-like foundation upon which figures were painted and then folded so that they could either be stored compactly or opened to reveal all of the pages on one side. The fact that the Mixtecs painted scenes from codices on drinking goblets is a testament to the role the recitation of the sagas played at royal banquets.

There are eight principal pre-Conquest style codices:

  • Codices Zouche-Nuttall and Egerton (British Museum, London)
  • Codices Bodley and Selden (Bodleian Library, Oxford)
  • Codex Vindobonensis (National Bibliotek, Vienna)
  • Codex Colombino* (Museo Nacional de Antropología, México City)
  • Codices Becker I and II (Museum Für Völkerkunde, Vienna)

*Codices Colombino and Becker I are two parts of the same manuscript.

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