tonalli (Mdz12r)

tonalli (Mdz12r)
Element from a Compound

Glyph or Iconographic Image Description: 

This element has been carved from the compound sign for the place name, Tonalli Imoquezayan. This element consists of a quadripartite arrangement of four circles, each one with a concentric circle, and each of these smaller circles is filled in with red paint. The outer rings are white.

Description, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Added Analysis: 

A tonaili with four circles in a similar arrangement can be found in the Códice Matritense on the shield of Ixtlilton. (See Thouvenot 2008, 99.) The quadripartite arrangements found in glyphs often relate to the cardinal directions or to divisions of time (with calendrical implications). The color red likely has a significance relating to the sun and its warmth, given that tona meant "to make warm with the sun." The meaning of tonalli is both day and sun, which makes sense since the passing of the sun over the earth takes place once per day. The sun was essential for agriculture and therefore for life.

Tonalli also a type of energy collected inside a person's head. James Maffie (personal communication, 2022) suggested the exploration of the relationship between tonalli and ilhuitl. Marc Thouvenot (2019, 86) suggests that we think of tonalli, when referring to a "day," as having a qualitative aspect, and ilhuitl, when referring to a "day," as having a quantitative one.

The human head is the location where the animal spirit might attach, too. See the examples below. The colorful skull, also below, shows a kind of target on the crown of the head, which suggests it is a special spot.

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

Cultural Content & Iconography: 
Cultural Content, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Museum & Rare Book Comparisons: 
Museum/Rare Book Notes: 

A presumed tonalli sign. This is one of two groups of four circles that seem to stand for tonalli on a pottery bowl. Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Salón Mexica. Photograph by Robert Haskett, 14 February 2023.

Glyph or Iconographic Image: 
Relevant Nahuatl Dictionary Word(s): 

tonal(li), day or sun, or animating force in the human head,

Additional Scholars' Interpretations: 


Spanish Translation, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Image Source: 

Codex Mendoza, folio 12 recto,, image 34 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).