Visual Lexicon of Aztec Hieroglyphs

Welcome to the free, online, searchable database of Aztec (Nahua) hieroglyphs. Currently, the bulk of our data is from the Codex Mendoza (c. 1541). Please try 1) a "Quick Search" (see the upper left corner of this page), inserting any word--in English, Nahuatl, or Spanish; or, 2) visit our "Advanced Search" page; or, 3) ask to "See All," and scroll through pages of thumbnails. If you click on a particular glyph title or thumbnail image, you will see more information about that glyph. We also offer some preliminary studies about this visual language in the list of "Articles" (in the navigation bar here on the left).

Image to the Left: This is a calendrical symbol from the Codex Mendoza, representing a varying number of days [ilhui(tl)]. This one comes from folio 19 recto, where there are four in a horizontal row, and the gloss explains in Spanish that each symbol represents 80 days. As Gordon Whittaker (Deciphering Aztec Hieroglyphs, 2021, 72) notes, we see the same symbol on folio 57 recto standing for one day. Marc Thouvenot argues that the glyph, in both cases, represents simply "ilhui(tl)," leaving the viewer to understand that this could be 1 or more days (e.g., cempohualilhuitl, or 20 days), and that the spoken language might also have had that ambiguity. Four 20-day periods (80 days) represented a tribute (taxation) cycle. While Spanish-language glosses and texts can be helpful, challenges to interpretation remain.

The fabric design relating to the Lord 5 Roses features this symbol, too, according to the Codex Magliabechiano. Note the quadripartite (quincunx) arrangement, with concentric circles, connecting the image to conceptualizations of the cosmos. Another group of images that share some of these dimensions also comes from the Codex Magliabechiano, page 4. We know that the cardinal directions had associations with colors, and here one might ask whether time periods also had specific color associations. Time and space had important conceptual overlaps. But, as Dr. Élodie Dupey García, a specialist in the history of color in Aztec society, notes,"reaching the meaning of colors in these codices is a delicate exercise." See her article, "Colour and Culture among the Aztecs," published in Mexicolore. This Visual Lexicon will be monitoring the use of colors and shapes, and we will track visual language use by comparing it with alphabetic Nahuatl, linking glyphs to our online dictionary whenever possible. Please consult the brief introduction to this project for further information about our goals and methods.

Acknowledgements: We gratefully recognize the support provided by the Library of Congress, 2022–2023, which is underwriting this project in the form of the Kislak Chair given to the project editor, Stephanie Wood. We also wish to acknowledge the financial contribution of the National Endowment for the Humanities by way of a subcontract on the Scholarly Editions and Translations grant, “The Corpus Xolotl Project: Indigenous History and Performance in Aztec and Colonial Texcoco, Mexico,” October 2018–September 2021, of Benjamin Johnson at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. We additionally thank Professor Gordon Whittaker at the University of Göttingen, Germany, for hosting a week-long seminar on Aztec hieroglyphs in 2017, for helping shape the visual lexicon, and for contributing his analysis of glyphs. Ben, Gordon, María Castañeda de la Paz. Michel Oudijk, Lori Boornazian Diel, and Juan José Batalla Rosado are also sharing their valuable research and scholarship in glyph analysis to this database. Other scholars are invited to contribute in various ways, so please reach out if you are interested. Ed Trager, Joseph Scott, Crystal Boulton-Scott, and David Elliott have contributed SVG versions of the atomic glyphs for the database. Invaluable technical expertise has been provided by Ginny White, Len Hatfield, and David Elliott. Xitlalli Torres, Randall Rodríguez, and Jeff Haskett-Wood have provided expert data entry, and Juan Carlos González, Leo Wickham, Kelly Schooler, Brianna Iberty Treviño, and Jeff Haskett-Wood have worked with image capture and editing. Thank you one and all!

Further use of images published here is allowed for academic projects, but please cite this project along with the host repository as indicated in the Image Rights field. Descriptions and comments of glyphs published here are attributed individually and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Project Citation: Visual Lexicon of Aztec Hieroglyphs, ed. Stephanie Wood (Eugene, Ore.: Wired Humanities Projects, University of Oregon, ©2020-present). Version 1.0.