tonatiuh (Mdz34r)

tonatiuh (Mdz34r)
Simplex Glyph

Glyph or Iconographic Image Description: 

This simplex glyph for tonatiuh (sun) doubles as the place name Tonatiuhco. It is a circular symbol in multiple colors—yellow, red, turquoise, green, and white—with black lines to delineate the different components. Yellow predominates in the outer circular band, then concentric circles appear as we look from there toward the center, seeing first a band of sectioned white, then a circular band of green, then red, then turquoise, and finally a solid red center. There are four red points, evenly spaced, reaching from the middle red ring to the far edge of the outer yellow ring. These have almost an A shape (just missing the cross bar), with curls at the base, sitting on the red middle ring. The green ring is broken up by these red points. Also emanating from the middle white ring are four feather-like shapes (with the calumus marked, as Allison Caplan pointed out in a personal communication, 2022) that end with a round circle in white (with a small concentric circle) sitting on the outside of the yellow external ring.

Description, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Added Analysis: 

This glyph is the full version of the disk that is seen frequently as a half disk and equated with teotl), divine or sacred force(s). The full solar disk can also be read teotl and tlaca ("at midday"), according to Gordon Whittaker (Deciphering Aztec Hieroglyphs, 2021, 79). For more on the relationship between the teotl and tonatiuh glyphs, see Hansen and Helmke, New World Archaeology, 2019 (in our bibliography). They note that the half sun is usually the upper half, as we noticed independently. Only one of the half-sun examples of teotl from the Codex Mendoza is upside-down. (See below).

The Hansen and Helmke article explains through a linguistic study of calques how "gold" was once "deity excrement" and then it became, for the Nahuas, "sun excrement." This shows a strong cultural relationship, through language, between teotl and tonatiuh especially in association with gold. Thus, it makes sense that the hieroglyphs could be interrelated, too. The sun sign has iconographic characteristics that resonate with the sign for gold, and the deity sign is just half but otherwise nearly identical to the sun sign. Allison Caplan sees "the green-red-and-white bar extensions from the sun disk as the same fringe that surrounds the chalchihuitl glyph--a red contour line, a fringe of white feathers with the calamus marked, and a jade bead." She has also wondered "whether this edge for jade is a way of evoking its sensoriality." (Personal communication, January 2023.)

Also of note here is the sign for ilhuitl, which has been seen in the Codex Mendoza to intend either day or month (even though month is metztli). The sign for ilhuitl appears on the front page of this project. It is circular and multi-colored, with four small circles on the perimeter, making it something of a quincunx (quadripartite, with a center), as well. Worth exploring are sun rays, temporal symbols, symbols of preciosity, the meaning of the colors, possible floral and feather elements, etc.

The Nahua Sun Stone has iconography that is much more elaborate, but it echoes this tonatiuh glyph to some degree. Also, at the center of the Sun Stone is a Nahui Olin glyph, which can be compared to the olin glyphs in this collection.

Our Online Nahuatl Dictionary cites the Florentine Codex reference to a "quetzal feather sun" (quetzaltonatiuh), which had a circle of quetzal feathers in the middle; this could possibly have some significance in the color choices in this glyph for tonatiuh. We also quote the Florentine Codex reference to, "the soaring eagle, the turquoise prince, the god," which could also be important for understanding the turquoise circular band in this glyph. Likewise, the Florentine Codex relates how women carried the sun on its descent in a litter covered with quetzal feathers.

Sun shapes are pervasive across Aztec and colonial Nahua visual culture, such as we see in these spindle whorls published by Mexicolore. Each of the four red points on this glyph from the Codex Mendoza, possibly doubling as sun rays, have a shape reminiscent of the A-O year sign in the Mixtec zone, if we were to extract the O. See, for example, the symbol as published by John Pohl in the FAMSI website. It is significant that these shapes in both the day/sun sign and the A-O year sign convey a calendrical significance. The four points connect to the cardinal directions; see also the four-pointed glyph for olin and the sun stone in the National Museum of Anthropology. The latter has what some see as a "double quincunx," as this glyph does. Page 1 of the Codex Fejérváry also has a double quincunx that is reminiscent of this sun sign. To these symbols James Maffie adds the glyph for olin, calling them "motion-change" symbols. (See his article, "Weaving the Aztec Cosmos: The Metaphysics of the 5th Era" in Mexicolore.) Nahui Olin (Four Movement or Four Earthquake) was the date of the start of the Fifth Sun (present era) in Aztec belief. Below, right, we include two examples of a glyph for the word tonalli (day), which also involve four small concentric circle sets. The glyphs for tezcatl, chalchihuitl, and xihuitl, also seen below, right, have these four sets of concentric circles around their perimeter. Given this coincidence and the meaning of these gems, the peripheral circles might have something to do with brilliance or shine.

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

SVG of Glyph: 
SVG Image, Credit: 

Joseph Scott and Crystal Boulton-Scott


suns, soles, days, días

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

Photograph by Robert Haskett, Sala Mexica, Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City, summer 2005.

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

el sol

Spanish Translation, Credit: 

Alonso de Molina

Image Source: 

Codex Mendoza, folio 34 recto,, image 78 of 188.

Image Source, Rights: 

Original manuscript is held by the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, MS. Arch. Selden. A. 1; used here with the UK Creative Commons, “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License” (CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0)