tlachtli (Mdz36r)

tlachtli (Mdz36r)
Simplex Glyph

Glyph or Iconographic Image Description: 

This simplex glyph for tlachtli (ball court), doubles as the simplex glyph for the place name Tlachco (modern Taxco), represents the horizontal capital I-shaped ball court that is so ubiquitous in archaeological sites across Mesoamerica (even if the game itself varied from place to place). This one is outlined in a band of yellow. It is divided horizontally in two halves, and each half is further divided in two. The upper left section is red, lower left is green, the upper right is turquoise, and the lower right is yellow. In the middle are two orange rings, with concentric circles, and the inner part of these circles is left white.

Description, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Added Analysis: 

The ball court was a sacred space in Nahua (and, more generally, Mesoamerican) belief systems. The colors and quadripartite divisions may well have a cosmic reading. The varying location of the four colors associated with the quadrants is notable (see the attestations for some examples), even if the four colors remain the same (red, yellow, turquoise, and green). The presence of rings, through which balls likely passed, is an important detail to notice. Not all ball courts have or had rings (see for example this court at Monte Albán, Oaxaca). In our glyph image here, the rings appear to be horizontal, perhaps something like a basketball hoop today, but more often they were vertical, and the ball went through the hoop from the sides. For various images of vertical rings, see our blog. The ball was rubber and it bounced through the court somewhat symbolically, reminiscent of the sun in movement. Decapitated heads also had an association with the ball and ball game, and skull racks (tzompantli), too. See our online Nahuatl dictionary for further information about the term tlachtli.

Added Analysis, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Gloss Analysis, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Source Manuscript: 
Date of Manuscript: 

c. 1541, or by 1553 at the latest

Creator's Location (and place coverage): 

Mexico City

Cultural Content, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

SVG of Glyph: 
SVG Image, Credit: 

Crystal Boulton-Scott made the SVG.


ballcourt, ball game, ballgame, capital letter I shape, balls, courts, pelotas, canchas, games juegos

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

ball court

Glyph/Icon Name, Spanish Translation: 

la cancha de pelota

Spanish Translation, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Image Source: 

Codex Mendoza, folio 36 recto,, image 82 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).