FIGURE 1. A ficus tree, source of amate bark paper.
FIGURE 2. How the six scribes (a-f) of the Matrícula de Tributos represented mountains, bundles of cloth, and the head of Xolotl (a canid supernatural), as argued by Juan José Batalla Rosado.
The Matrícula de Tributos (“Register of Tribute”) consists of 16 sheets (“folios”) of paper made from the bark of the amate tree (Nahuatl amaquauitl, Latin ficus)(Figure 1). Although some of the early folios are heavily damaged and missing parts, whole sheets measure 29 × 42 centimeters. All of the folios are painted with images front and back.1
Generally speaking, the reading order of each of the Matrícula’s folios begins in the lower left-hand corner and then moves up the page. The painted signs show towns (through drawings of hills, rivers, temples, trees), different kinds of tribute (warrior costumes, bundles of feathers, jars of honey), and human faces (representing frontier governors, long-dead kings, and human captives). Small differences in the details of these drawings reveal that the images of the Matrícula were painted by a number of different scribes—as many as six, according to Juan José Batalla Rosado.2 In Figure 2 you can see how the different scribes represented hills, pieces of cloth, and the face of a canine deity called Xolotl.
In addition to these painted images, the Matrícula’s folios contain alphabetic notes. These “glosses” or brief summaries are written in both Spanish and Nahuatl (an indigenous language spoken in Central Mexico). They were added after the arrival of the Europeans, and explain (more or less, as we shall see) the painted images. It seems that the Nahuatl glosses were written first, and the Spanish glosses are based on a translation of these comments (and not on a careful observation of the painted images themselves).3
The manuscript has had an active history (as we shall see in the next section). It is currently housed in the Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City (Manuscript 35-52).
1 For basic information on the Matrícula, see Berdan 1980a; Berdan 1980b; and Reyes Garcia 1997.
2 Batalla Rosado 2007. Earlier estimates of the number of scribes are given by Berdan 1980a, 9 note 5; and Reyes Garcia 1997, 19, 97, 133.
3 Reyes García (1997, 26, 165) suggests the Nahuatl glosses were added around 1554, and the Spanish glosses in the eighteenth century.