The New Fire Ceremony of the 52-Year Calendar Ritual Integrated in the Biography of the Tlatoani

Symbolic dates of important events of the life of the tlatoani are connected with the date of the New Fire Ceremony, Ome Acatl (2 Reed), in carvings on several stone monuments.

A greenstone xiuhcoatl, now at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington D.C., incorporates the carved name of Motecuzoma [II] and date Ome Acatl (2 Reed) in a cartouche, which refers to the New Fire Ceremony of 1507 AD according to Umberger. Nicholson has made Umberger aware of the existence of another greenstone xiuhcoatl in Chicage with an Ome Acatl (2 Reed) date probably alluding to the New Fire Ceremony of 1507 AD (Um- berger 1981a: 97).

More interesting is a relief fragment, categorised by Umberger as “The Metro Block” (Umberger 1981: 132-133), which was discovered during the excavations of the Metro in Mexico City in the 1960s. The fragment may have been placed within the temple precinct of Tenochtitlan. This artefact displays an unidentified man who performs a blood self sacrifice and a sacrificed figure. Umberger has correlated the sign Matlachtli Tochtli (10 Rabbit), above the individual’s head, to 1502 AD, the year of tlatoani

Ahuitzotl’s passing (Umberger 1981: 132). 1502 AD is also the year of the accession of Motecuzoma [II]. Klein argues that the dress and the date Ce Mazatl (1 Deer) indicate that the image refers to the inauguration of Motecuzoma [II]. The carved Ome Acatl (2 Reed) sign may therefore allude to the year of the New Fire Ceremony that found place five years after the inauguration of Motecuzoma [II] (Umberger 1981a: 132-133; Klein 1987: 325326). The date of the New Fire Ceremony is accordingly associated with important dates in the life of Motecuzoma [II].

This is outlined more explicitly on the “Chapultepec cliff sculpture”, which commemorates a historical-military event, accession and the New Fire Ceremony (Nicholson 1971a: 42-43). Chapultepec (“grasshopper hill”) was the pleasure garden of the Aztec sovereigns. It enclosed temples, palaces and cliff relief. This place, at the west shore of Lake Texcoco, was also a shrine for the rulers. Chapultepec was the first settlement of the Aztecs in the Valley of Mexico according to Codex Boturini. It was here they chose their first tlatoani and conducted the first human sacrifice. Chapultepec was therefore associated with the royal ancestors. Portraits of the tlatoque, after Itzcoatl, were carved there according to Cronica X, Duran and Tezo- zomoc. We know of two sculptures, which carry two portraits of ruling lords. It is deplorable that only one of them embody readable signs (Umberger 1981a: 147; Pasztory 1983: 127-128). Motecuzoma [II] is portrayed in life-size in a Xipe Totec battle dress on the now much destroyed “The Chapultepec cliff sculpture”. The calendar signs indicates probably the year Ce Acatl (1 Reed) which was the birth date of Motecuzoma [II], his inauguration on Ce Cipactli (1 Crocodile/Caiman), the “apparently undersigned” Matlactli Tochtli (10 Rabbit), 1502 AD, presumably the place sign of one of his conquests or the commemoration of a temporary alliance with an old enemy, Huexotzinco, and the year of the last New Fire Ceremony on Ome Acatl (2 Reed), 1507 AD. These recorded historical dates reveal a memorial of the major events in the life of the ruler: his birth, instalment as tlatoani, a probable peace making between the Aztec empire and one of its enemies and possible, through now eroded symbols, of its important conquests, and the New Fire Ceremony of his early reign, (Nicholson 1961: 402-415, 419; 1971a: 42-43). Nicholson maintains that it can be many interpretations of the reference of the various calendar dates.[1] For instance can Ce Acatl (1 Reed) allude, not only to the birth of Motecuzoma [II] but also to the year the statue was carved, which probably took place in 1519 AD, exactly 52 years after the birth of Motecuzoma [II]. It could also refer to the date of the calendar name of the legendary ruler Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, whose natural successor was Motecuzoma [II], and it could be the actual day of the New Fire Ceremony of 1507 AD. There is also a slight possibility that all four associations were intended (Nicholson 1961: 410-411).

Having a somewhat alternative interpretation, Umberger maintains that there are six signs around the figure and not five as Nicholson originally claimed. The left side contains the signs Ome Acatl (2 Reed), Ce Itzcuintli (1 Dog) and Ce Cipactli (1 Caiman/Crocodile) while on the right side the signs Ce Acatl (1 Reed), Ce (1) ? and ? Tecpatl (flintknife) are carved (Umberger 1981a: 147-148). The sign with the speech-scroll, identified by Nicholson as the difrasismo atl-tlachinolli or speech of sacred warfare (Nicholson 1961: 411-412), which seems to illustrate a dog or a jaguar, represents in reality the name of Motecuzoma [II] (Umberger 1981a: 148). The interrelation between the signs can be read as days, years and calendar names. The signs function as symbolic dates demarking major ritual dates in the life of the ruler. The calendar signs were also calendar names of deities who were associated with the tlatoani. Ome Acatl (2 Reed) was the mythical date of the invention of fire, the date of the New Fire Ceremony, the introduction date of the 52-year Calendar Round, and the calendar name of Tezcatlipoca. Ce Cipactli (1 Caiman/Crocodile) constitutes the first day of the 260-day cycle. Ce Acatl (1 Reed) was the date of the birth of Quetzalcoatl and also his calendar name. The signs on the “Chapultepec cliff sculpture” could well symbolise the names of deities since they also accompany the name of Motecuzoma [II]. He is here, as Nicholson observed, impersonating Xipe Totec (Umberger 1981a: 149). The calendar dates could allude, as Nicholson argues, to crucial incidents in the life of Motecuzoma [II] as well. Ome Acatl (2 Reed) refer to a New Fire Ceremony he celebrated in 1507 AD, Ce Cipactli (1 Caiman/Crocodile) was his coronation date and possibly Ce Acatl (1 Reed) his birth date (1467 ad). The statue itself could be carved with the intention of celebrating the 52-year calendar ritual, corresponding to the completion of a Calendar Round cycle in 1519 AD (Ce Acatl, 1 Reed) (Nicholson 1961: 410-411).[2] If Ce Acatl (1 Reed) refers to the dedication of the monument (1519 ad) Motecuzoma [II] was depicted when he was 52 years old, which may had held a significant (symbolic) meaning to him. The large date sign of Ome Acatl (2 Reed), which refer to the year 1507 AD of when Motecuzoma [II] observed the New Fire Ceremony of the 52-year calendar ritual “so lavishly commemorated on sculptures such as the Temple Stone that Motecuzoma clearly considered it the major event within his reign” (Pasztory 1983: 127-128).

This suggests that the date Ome Acatl (2 Reed) of the New Fire Ceremony and perhaps also the associated ritual at the end of the 52-year calendar cycle was not only held in high regard but also structured the biography of the tlatoani. The New Fire Ceremony had accordingly a substantial importance in the life and reign of the tlatoani.[3] We shall now see that the same principle might heve been applied to the historiography of the postclassic Aztec state.

  • [1] Cf. Nicholson for an in depth interpretation and analysis of the calendar signs carvedon “The Chapultepec Cliff Sculpture” (1961: 402-415).
  • [2] But Umberger assert that since the date Matlactli Tochtli (10 Rabbit)—the year ofthe accession of Motecuzoma [II]—is not recorded the supposed birth date, Ce Acatl(1 Reed), is only symbolic. Therefore are not registered personal events in the life-story ofMotecuzoma [II] (Umberger 1981a: 149-150).
  • [3] Another theory for the carving of the Ome Acatl (2 Rabbit) sign was that it functionedas propaganda for the calendar reform of the New Fire Ceremony of 1506 ad - 1507 ad whichwas executed by Motecuzoma [II] (Umberger 1981a).
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