tonalli (Mdz7v)

tonalli (Mdz7v)
Element from a Compound

Glyph or Iconographic Image Description: 

This element for tonalli has been carved from the compound sign for the personal name, Atonal. It consists of a quadripartite arrangement of four circles, each one with a concentric circle, and all four filled in with red paint.

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. Elizabeth Hill Boone sees this sign as representing "day." (See: Stories in Red and Black, 2000, 35.) James Maffie (personal communication, 2022) has suggested the exploration of the relationship between tonalli and ilhuitl.

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


suns, days, quincunx

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

A presumed tonalli sign. This is a detail from a pottery vessel, Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Salón Mexica. On the vessel there are two such groupings of these circles one on either side of the bowl. Photograph by Stephanie Wood, 14 February 2023.

Glyph or Iconographic Image: 
Relevant Nahuatl Dictionary Word(s): 
Glyph/Icon Name, Spanish Translation: 

el día o el sol

Spanish Translation, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Image Source: 

Codex Mendoza, folio 7 verso,, image 25, 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).