Explore the Florentine Codex: A Brilliant 16th Century Manuscript Documenting Aztec Culture Is Now Digitized & Available Online

The Span­ish con­quista of the Amer­i­c­as hap­pened long enough ago — and left behind a spot­ty enough body of his­tor­i­cal records — that we tend to per­ceive it as much through sim­pli­fi­ca­tions, exag­ger­a­tions, and dis­tor­tions as we do through facts. What we now call Mex­i­co under­went “essen­tial­ly an inter­nal con­flict between dif­fer­ent indige­nous groups who saw the arrival of strangers as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to resist hav­ing to pay trib­ute to the Aztec Empire,” says Uni­ver­si­dad Nacional Autóno­ma de Mex­i­co his­to­ry pro­fes­sor Berenice Alcán­tara Rojas. “When the Spaniards ini­tial­ly attacked the Mex­i­ca cap­i­tal, they were swift­ly dri­ven out.”

“Only when aid­ed by var­i­ous groups of Indige­nous allies, as well as by the spread of a ter­ri­ble small­pox epi­dem­ic, did they man­age to force the ruler Cuauhte­moc and oth­er Mex­i­ca lead­ers to capit­u­late,” Rojas con­tin­ues, draw­ing upon details pro­vid­ed in the ver­sion of the events laid out in the Flo­ren­tine Codex.

That ency­clo­pe­dic series of twelve 16th-cen­tu­ry illus­trat­ed man­u­scripts lav­ish­ly doc­u­ments the known soci­ety and nature of that land at the time — and has now, near­ly 450 years lat­er, been acknowl­edged as “the most reli­able source of infor­ma­tion about Mex­i­ca cul­ture, the Aztec Empire, and the con­quest of Mex­i­co.”

“In 1547, Bernardi­no de Sahagún, a Span­ish Fran­cis­can fri­ar who com­mit­ted most of his life to work­ing close­ly with the Indige­nous peo­ples of Mex­i­co, began col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion about cen­tral Mex­i­can Nahua cul­ture, life, peo­ple, his­to­ry, astron­o­my, flo­ra, fau­na, and the Nahu­atl lan­guage, among oth­er top­ics,” says the Get­ty Research Insti­tute. “Nahua elders, gram­mar­i­ans, scribes, and artists worked with Sahagún to com­pile a three-vol­ume, 12-book, 2500-page illus­trat­ed man­u­script, mod­el­ing its con­tent on Euro­pean ency­clo­pe­dias, espe­cial­ly Pliny the Elder’s Nat­ur­al His­to­ry,” all of which has been dig­i­tized, trans­lat­ed, and made avail­able at the Get­ty’s web site.

A thor­ough­ly mul­ti­cul­tur­al project avant la let­tre, the Flo­ren­tine Codex (named for the Medici fam­i­ly library in Flo­rence, where it was sent upon its com­ple­tion) has only just become acces­si­ble to a wide online read­er­ship. Though it’s “been dig­i­tal­ly avail­able via the World Dig­i­tal Library since 2012, for most users it remained impen­e­tra­ble because read­ing it requires knowl­edge of six­teenth-cen­tu­ry Nahu­atl and Span­ish, and of pre-His­pan­ic and ear­ly mod­ern Euro­pean art tra­di­tions.” By offer­ing search­able text in mod­ern ver­sions of both those lan­guages as well as Eng­lish — to say noth­ing of its brows­able sec­tions orga­nized by peo­ple, ani­mals, deities, and even by Nahu­atl terms like coy­ote and tor­tilla — the Dig­i­tal Flo­ren­tine Codex re-illu­mi­nates an entire civ­i­liza­tion.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Codex Quet­za­le­catzin, an Extreme­ly Rare Col­ored Mesoamer­i­can Man­u­script, Now Dig­i­tized and Put Online

Native Lands: An Inter­ac­tive Map Reveals the Indige­nous Lands on Which Mod­ern Nations Were Built

Explore the Codex Zouche-Nut­tall: A Rare, Accor­dion-Fold­ed Pre-Columbian Man­u­script

How the Ancient Mayans Used Choco­late as Mon­ey

Peru­vian Schol­ar Writes & Defends the First The­sis Writ­ten in Quechua, the Main Lan­guage of the Incan Empire

How the Inca Used Intri­cate­ly-Knot­ted Cords, Called Khipu, to Write Their His­to­ries, Send Mes­sages & Keep Records

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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