Codex Borbonicus

Codex Borbonicus Facsimile Edition

Mexico — 16th century

Created on the eve of the Spanish conquests: an Aztec divination calendar and invaluable testimony to the language, religion, and culture of Mexico before the Europeans arrived

  1. Created on the eve of the Spanish conquest and still completely free of European influence

  2. Rare Aztec priest's manuscript with priceless pictograms on the language, religion, and culture of Mexico

  3. Includes an aztec fortune telling calendar with some parts still to be deciphered and explored

Codex Borbonicus

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Codex Borbonicus

One of the most interesting documents about pre-Hispanic Mexico from the 16th century: since few original Aztec documents survived the Spanish conquest of Mexico beginning in 1519, the Codex Borbonicus is invaluable. It represents an exceptionally rare Aztec priestly manuscript that is still completely free of European influence. Fascinating pictograms tell of the language, religion, and culture of Mexico when delved into; an Aztec divination calendar bears witness to the mystical side of this advanced civilization that to be destroyed by the Europeans so soon thereafter. Finally, some parts remain incomprehensible so far and are just waiting to be explored and deciphered. The value of the codex for Mexican studies is underlined once again by the fact that it comes from the immediate vicinity of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán.

Codex Borbonicus

The Codex Borbonicus is a copy of a pre-Spanish illuminated manuscript from the early colonial age, which is now lost today. Therefore, this copy represents the only surviving specimen of this invaluable source on pre-Spanish Mexico and belong among a very small number of Aztec codices to survive the Spanish Inquisition in colonial New Spain. The value of the codex as a source of information about the Mexican language is emphasized by the fact that it serves not only as an illuminated manuscript for calendar information, but also as a work that with certainty originated from the strong influence of the Aztec capital, almost devoid of any European influence. This manuscript is critical for the analysis of Mexica calendric constructions, deities, and rituals. Its name is derived from its former repository in the Palais Bourbon in France but is stored today in the Bibliothèque de l'Assemblée Nationale in Paris.

An Aztec Unicum

The Codex Borbonicus is one of the most interesting documents about pre-Hispanic Mexico from the 16th century. This large format illuminated manuscript brings a lot of news that has not been preserved anywhere else. The fact that it also poses riddles that have not yet been solved makes it even more interesting.
The style of the illuminated manuscript is that of the high valley of Mexico at the time before the conquest by the Spaniards. The decoration of the Aztec manuscripts of this late period must have been immensely sumptuous. To assess this style, one must rely on copies from the colonial period because no original has been preserved in this region, which was exposed above all others. The Codex Borbonicus is a copy of a pre-Hispanic illuminated manuscript from the early colonial period.
The value of the codex as a source of Mexican studies is underlined by the fact that it is the only illuminated manuscript of calendrical content almost untouched by European influences and that it certainly originates from the closer sphere of influence of the Aztec capital.

History of the Manuscript

In their impatience to convert the peoples of Mexico to Christianity and “Europeanize” them, Spanish Inquisitors destroyed entire libraries full of thousands of indigenous manuscripts, which must be one of the great cultural atrocities in history and represents a tremendous and irrevocable loss of knowledge. The Codex Borbonicus was one of the few manuscripts to be spared from this fate, but when and under what circumstances it came to Europe are not known. It was first mentioned in the El Escorial Library in 1778 but appears to have been stolen sometime during the first quarter of the 19th century. It reappeared at a French auction in 1826 and was acquired by Pierre-Paul Druon, curator of the library of the National Assembly for 1,300 gold francs. The Codex Borbonicus was officially designated as a National Treasure of France in 1960. Two facsimiles of the original have been made, a color lithograph of a handmade copy from 1899 and this high-quality photographic reproduction created in 1974.


Size / Format
38 colored pages in leporello folding / 39.0 × 40.0 cm
16th century
36 miniatures
Ritual ceremonies and divination calendar of the Aztecs
Previous Owners
El Escorial

Available facsimile editions:
Codex Borbonicus – Bibliothèque de l´Assemblée Nationale (Paris, France) Facsimile Edition
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1974
Detail Picture

Codex Borbonicus

Teotleco Ceremony

Teotleco means "God has come" in the Nahuatl language and is also the name of a festival dedicated to all the Aztec gods. This scene shows the ixiptla or human impersonator of Chicomecōātl, goddess of corn and the harvest, lying on freshly harvested ears of corn covered by white paper with black spots. The blue nose ring and the huipil, a loose-fitting tunic, are typical of this goddess. A gloss below this image says: "Goddess of spells who became a lion and a tiger and other things."

Codex Borbonicus
Single Page

Codex Borbonicus

The 13th Trecena

The 260-day year of the Aztec calendar was divided into 20 trecena, a 13-day period. The 13th trecena was under the auspices of the goddess Tlazōlteōtl, a deity of vice, purification, steam baths, lust, filth, and a patroness of adulterers who is shown on the upper left wearing a flayed skin and giving birth to Centeōtl, the male maize deity and one of the most important figures of the Aztec religion.

By both encouraging sin and presiding over purification, Tlazōlteōtl played an important role in the confession of wrongdoing through her priests. The 13 day-signs of this trecena, starting with 1 Earthquake, 2 Flint/Knife, 3 Rain, etc., are shown on the bottom row and the column along the right side with explanatory glosses in Spanish.

Codex Borbonicus
Facsimile Editions

#1 Codex Borbonicus

Binding: 38 color pages in Leporello folding Commentary and facsimile in book case with leather spine.
Commentary: 1 volume (40 pages) by Karl Anton Nowotny and Jacqueline de Durand-Forest
Languages: English, French, Spanish

K. A. Nowotny, Cologne (in German); codicological description by J. de Durand-Forest, Paris (in French); summaries in English, French and Spanish. 40 pp.
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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