Nahua documents

These three Nahua documents illustrate how indigenous writing in Central Mexico was transformed over the course of the sixteenth century. The earliest text, the circa 1519 Matrícula de Tributos, was created by the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan. Although painted in the Valley of Mexico, the pages of the Matrícula record the pan-Mesoamerican scope of the Aztec Empire, from Veracruz to Guerrero to Oaxaca to Guatemala. In contrast, the 1552 Lienzo de Tlaxcala was created by enemies of the Aztecs—the Tlaxcalans—who lived one valley to the east. The Lienzo uses images and alphabetic captions to tell how an alliance of Tlaxcalans and Europeans overthrew the Aztec Empire. Like the Matrícula, the Lienzo presents a pan-Mesoamerican vision. But its geographic scope is even greater, going as far north as Sinaloa and as far south as El Salvador. Finally, the Vocabulario of friar Alonso de Molina was published in Mexico City in 1555, only three years after the Lienzo was comissioned. Although illustrated with a few woodcuts, this printed book is above all an alphabetic text, translating Castilian words into Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs and Tlaxcalans.

Matrícula de Tributos

  • Aztec
  • c. 1519
  • 29 cm x 42 cm sheets
image description

The Matrícula de Tributos (‘Register of Tribute’) consists of 16 sheets (‘folios’) of paper made from the bark of the amate tree. Although some of the early folios are heavily damaged, whole sheets measure 29 × 42 centimeters. These pieces of amatl paper were‘¦

Lienzo de Tlaxcala

  • Tlaxcalan
  • 1552
  • 200 cm x 500 cm
image description

The original Lienzo de Tlaxcala was a painted cotton sheet approximately 2 meters wide and 5 meters long. It was probably created around 1552. A large scene at the top depicted the political structure of the Central Mexican kingdom of Tlaxcala. Below, a‘¦

The Molina Vocabulario

  • Nahua/Franciscan
  • 1555
  • 14.5 cm x 19.6 cm
image description

Fray Alonso de Molina’s Vocabulario en la lengua Castellana y Mexicana was published in 1555 at the Mexico City printing house of Juan Pablos. It consists of a title page (with a woodcut showing Saint Francis receiving the stigmata: Molina was a Franciscan‘¦