coatl (Mdz20v)

Glyph or Iconographic Image Description: 

This element for a snake or serpent (coatl) has been carved from the compound sign for the place name, Tezcacoac. The snake here is only half a body, somewhat upright, with its head shown in profile, looking to the viewer's right. Its yellow and red, bifurcated tongue is protruding.

Description, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Added Analysis: 

The appearance of the serpent's tongue recalls the glyph for (tletl) (fire or flame) (see below, right). Perhaps the snake's bite caused awe, much as fire did. Serpents did have an association with fire and the fire divinity, Xiuhtecuhtli, as explained by Esther Pasztory (paraphrased by Ian Mursell). The presence of rattles is also important, even if artists often omitted them, because rattlesnakes ware significant in Mesoamerican cultures, as the study of rattlesnakes by Ian Mursell of Mexicolore also elaborates. A wooden, turquoise-mosaic pectoral in the shape of a snake is held in the British Museum, whose curators have written: "The Mexica considered serpents to be powerful, multifaceted creatures that could bridge the spheres (the underworld, water and sky) owing to their physical and mythical characteristics." Besides being an animal that was common in the central highlands, the coatl is the name of the first day of a thirteen-day calendrical cycle.

Added Analysis, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Source Manuscript: 
Date of Manuscript: 

c. 1541, but by 1553 at the latest

Creator's Location (and place coverage): 

Mexico City

Semantic Categories: 
Cultural Content, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood


culebras, víboras, serpientes

Glyph or Iconographic Image: 
Relevant Nahuatl Dictionary Word(s): 
Additional Scholars' Interpretations: 

serpent or snake

Glyph/Icon Name, Spanish Translation: 

el serpiente

Spanish Translation, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Image Source: 

Codex Mendoza, folio 20 verso,, image 51 of 188.

Image Source, Rights: 

The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, hold the original manuscript, the MS. Arch. Selden. A. 1. This image is published here under the UK Creative Commons, “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License” (CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0).