An Aztec Noble’s Sacrifice for his Country


The Tovar Codex, attributed to the 16th-century Mexican Jesuit Juan de Tovar, contains detailed information about the rites and ceremonies of the Aztecs (also known as Mexica). The codex is illustrated with 51 full-page paintings in watercolor. Strongly influenced by pre-contact pictographic manuscripts, the paintings are of exceptional artistic quality. The manuscript is divided into three sections. The first section is a history of the travels of the Aztecs prior to the arrival of the Spanish. The second section, an illustrated history of the Aztecs, forms the main body of the manuscript. The third section contains the Tovar calendar. This illustration, from the second section, shows an episode during the war against the Chalco in the mid-15th century. Moctezuma I is shown sitting on his throne pointing at the scene. Below him a soldier in yellow dressed in the feathered headdress of the nobility is being taken prisoner by the soldiers of Chalco. A prisoner dances on a platform while beneath him another prisoner lies with his arm and head severed. At the far left a lord of Chalco sitting on a throne watches the dance with two of his subjects. At top center is the glyph of a flowering cactus representing Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City). Military aspects shown include war clubs and shields. The hero of this story is Ezhuahuacatl, cousin of Moctezuma, whose story is told in another important manuscript, the Codex Durán. Ezhuahuacatl was offered the chance to become the ruler of the Chalco, but instead he danced on a pole and threw himself off it to his death to save his people from being slaves of the Chalco.

Last updated: June 18, 2015