huitztli (Mdz19r)

huitztli (Mdz19r)
Element from a Compound

Glyph or Iconographic Image Description: 

This element for a thorn (huitztli) has been carved from the compound sign for the place name, Huitznahuac. The spike is vertical with a sharp point and additional, smaller thorns along one side (on our left). Its principal color is turquoise, but the edges are red.

Added Analysis: 

Attestations of the use of the term in manuscripts from the sixteenth century, published in our online Nahuatl Dictionary entry for huitztli, mention several spines that came from the metl, or maguey (an agave plant). Others have suggested that the thorn came from the biznaga cactus. Anyway, such spines were extremely common in the homes of Aztecs, according to Bernardino de Sahagún. They were often used to draw blood in a self-sacrificial ritual, or they were sprinkled with blood. This spike or spine is turquoise (the color of some maguey plants, but also generally a color associated with preciosity) and it has red edges, suggesting that it has been used for bloodletting. Given the association with blood, it is not a coincidence that the Nahuatl verb huitzmana, to offer up thorns, referred to offering up warriors or victims on the field of battle. [See: John Bierhorst, A Nahuatl-English Dictionary and Concordance to the Cantares Mexicanos (1985), p. 143.] But the act of offering up thorns, huitzmanaliztli, is also attested in association with the act of obtaining maguey nectar for making pulque (vino nuevo, "new wine"), when the new maguey plants were castrated. [See: Anales del Museo Nacional de México, v. 6 (1898), p. 89.] This may be how huitztli also serves as a synonym for pulque. [See: Edward Payson Vining, An Inglorious Columbus (1885), p. 762.] The suggestion of a bloody thorn here, however, seems to point to autosacrifice.

Source Manuscript: 
Date of Manuscript: 

c. 1541, but by 1553 at the latest

Creator's Location (and place coverage): 

Mexico City


thorns, spines, blood, sacrifice, sacrificio, ofrendas, sangre

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

horn or spine

Image Source: 

Codex Mendoza, folio 19 recto,, image 48 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).