Codex Mendoza and its Unusual History

Codex Mendoza
List of the tribute that towns were required to pay to the Aztec empire. Wikipedia

The interesting document, called Codex Mendoza, is an Aztec codex, created about twenty years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico. It was made for Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain.

The Codex Mendoza was painted on European paper and in European style, unlike the indigenous pre-Columbian books of Mexico, which were painted on bark paper or deer skin and folded like a screen.

The founding of Tenochtitlan, and the conquest of Colhuacan and Tenayucan. Wikipedia

It contains the whole history of the Aztec rulers and their conquests, a list of the tribute paid by the conquered, and a description of daily Aztec life, in traditional Aztec pictograms with Spanish explanations and commentary. It is named after Antonio de Mendoza, the viceroy of New Spain at the time, who may have commissioned its creation. It was made in Mexico City and was sent by ship to Spain. The fleet, however, was attacked by pirates, and the codex, along with the rest of the booty, was taken to France.

The rule and conquests of Axayacatl. Wikipedia
The rule and conquests of Axayacatl. Wikipedia

There it came into the possession of André Thévet, cosmographer to King Henry II of France. Thévet wrote his name in five places on the codex, twice with the date 1553. It was later bought by the Englishman, Richard Hakluyt. Sometime after 1616 it was passed to Samuel Purchase, then to his son, and then to John Selden.

The codex was deposited into the Bodleian Library at Oxford University in 1659, 5 years after Selden’s death, where it remained in obscurity until 1831, when it was rediscovered by Viscount Kingsborough and brought to the attention of scholars.

The palace of Motecuhzoma. Wikipedia
The palace of Motecuhzoma. Wikipedia

The colorful document is a key source for our understanding of the Aztec culture and society, and it is also important because only few codices survived the conquest.