Visual Lexicon of Aztec Hieroglyphs

Welcome to the free, online, searchable database of Aztec (or better, Nahuatl) hieroglyphs. Currently, the bulk of our data is from the Codex Mendoza (c. 1541) and the Matrícula de Huexotzinco (1560). We are striving to improve the "Quick Search" (above, left). Meanwhile, we recommend starting with the Advanced Search (straight up above). A good place to search any string of letters in Nahuatl, English, or Spanish, is the "Any Field Contains" option in the Advanced Search."See All" (below the Quick Search) will allow you to 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 (ilhuitl). This one comes from folio 19 recto, where there are four of these glyphs in a horizontal row, and the gloss explains in Spanish that together the four symbols add up to 80 days. Four 20-day periods (80 days) represented a tribute (taxation) cycle. Cemilhuitl could refer to one day, and ilhuitl could be what is called a veintena in Spanish (20-day cycle, or "month" equivalent). While Spanish-language glosses and texts can be helpful, challenges to interpretation remain. 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. We see the same symbol on folio 57 recto standing for one day. As Gordon Whittaker (Deciphering Aztec Hieroglyphs, 2021, 72, and in a personal communication) notes, the relative size of the glyph is important for distinguishing between the number of days it represents.

The fabric design relating to the Lord 5 Roses features this symbol, too, according to the Codex Magliabechiano. Note the quincunx arrangement, with four small circles on the perimeter that, if connected, would form an X (quatrefoil), but the center is also significant, connecting the image to conceptualizations of the cosmos, the four cardinal directions on Earth plus a vertical axis connecting the sun at its zenith with the sun in the center of its underworld journey. The body of the glyph involves concentric circles. and a spiraling design around the center of beautiful, multiple colors. 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 Nahua 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 underwrote this project in the form of the Kislak Chair given to the project editor, Stephanie Wood. Google Summer of Code grants supported Lisardo Pérez Lugones in 2021 and 2022 to create a tool for scholars to upload a glyph to be compared against our database for possible use in decipherment using visual recognition. (Give the beta version a try at: 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 Nahuatl 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, Barbara Mundy, Juan José Batalla Rosado, and Lisardo Pérez Lugones are all sharing their valuable published scholarship in glyph analysis for this database. Robert Haskett has begun contributing his analysis of Nahuatl hieroglyphs, especially some taken from the sixteenth-century maps of the Relaciones Geográficas (hosted by the University of Texas at Austin). 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 isolated elements from compound glyphs for the database. Invaluable technical expertise has been provided by Ginny White, Len Hatfield, and David Elliott. Xitlalli Torres, Randall Rodríguez, Jeff Haskett-Wood, and José Aguayo-Barragán have provided expert data entry, and Juan Carlos González, Leo Wickham, Kelly Schooler, Brianna Iberty Treviño, Emily Mehler, Daniel Chayet, and Jeff Haskett-Wood have worked with image capture and editing. Native speaker Ofelia Cruz Morales has consulted on some of the Nahuatl to Spanish translations of the glyphs from the Codex Quetzalecatzin. 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.