An Aztec Domesday Book?

Warwick Bray on a new illustrated edition of a colonial 'Domesday Book' for the Aztec world.

First page of Codex Mendoza
First page of Codex Mendoza

At some time during his administration (1535-50) Antonio de Mendoza, Viceroy of newly conquered Mexico, commissioned a report for the Spanish crown. The aim was to describe the condition of Mexico before the European arrival, and the document listed the conquests of successive Aztec rulers, gave an inventory of the tribute paid to Moctezuma by his imperiaI provinces, and concluded with a description of everyday life as the Indians remembered it.

At first glance the report looks like any other bound volume, but this was no ordinary government document. It was compiled, on European paper, by Indian scribes who used the indigenous pictorial script. The native informants then explained the drawings to a Spanish commentator who annotated the pictures with brief descriptions in Roman script and provided longer Spanish texts summarising the content of each page. Parts I and II, dealing with history and taxation, were probably direct copies from lost prehispanic originals; the third, ethnographic, section has no parallel in native Mexico and must have been specially commissioned.

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