The New Fire Ceremony of the 52-year Calendar Ritual Integrated in the Historiography of the Aztec Nation

Quite a few Aztec manuscripts integrate the date of the New Fire Ceremony (Ome Acatl, 2 Reed) within their historiography.

Codex Aubin (Folio ryv & 15r) illustrate the New Fire Ceremony in the migration history of the Aztec natives. The Aztecs stopped at Tecpayoacan and waged war there from Matlactli Omome Tecpatl (12 Flintknife) to Ome Acatl (2 Reed), the date of the New Fire Ceremony. Later on Eyi Tecpatl (3 Flint knife), the Aztecs arrived in Pantitlan where they stayed for about four years (Boone 1992: 43-44).

The pictorial chronicle of Codex Telleriano-Remensis records over three and a half centuries of Aztec history from the late twelfth to the mid-sixteenth century. It consists of three subsections: the migration account, a dynastic chronicle and a colonial chronicle. The New Fire Ceremony of Ome Acatl (2 Reed) is incorporated in the historical annals (xihuiamatl or xihuitlapoualamoxtli,” book of years”) of section three (folio 25v-folio 5or). The New Fire Ceremony is recorded on Folio 27v; 32v; 42R (Quinones Keber 1995: 191-201). The story of the Aztecs is told in Codex Telleriano-Remensis year by year incorporating the New Fire Ceremony as a historical event.

Folio 27V depicts the New Fire Ceremony with the sign for the fire drill beneath the Ome Acatl (2 Reed) date (1247 ad) but attached to the Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) sign of the year 1246 AD (Quinones Keber 1995: fol. 27V, 58; 208; Hassig 2001:114). This was the time of the migration. Three place names Coatepetl, Tecontepetl and Piazcontepetl moreover are illustrated (Quinones Keber 1995: fol. 27V, 58; 208; 271).

Folio 32V represents the New Fire Ceremony—by a smoking fire-board sign under the year sign Ome Acatl (2 Reed), by the white individual representing the sacrificed victim, and probably by the ilhuitl sign which conceivably refers to the veintena when the ritual was performed[1]—observed on Ome Acatl (2 Reed) in 1455 AD under the rule of Motecuzoma [I]. The end of the drought of the year before is symbolised by six plants. In the annotations to the picture “Hand 1” comments that a sacrificed individual symbolises “The binding of the years” which took place every 52-years and that the year 1455 AD was an excellent agricultural year (Quinones Keber 1995: fol. 32v, 68; 217-218; 272).

As noted above, Folio 42R depicts the New Fire Ceremony of 1507 AD (Ome Acatl, 2 Reed) which came about on the hill Huixachtitlan. The place sign of Tecuhtepec of the crowned head of a lord atop a hill is connected by a line to the symbol of a solar eclipse above and an earthquake (Ollin) symbol below. A line connected to the sign for the hill Huixachtitlan, where the New Fire was drilled, represents 2000 soldiers drowning at the Tozac River. The militarism of the early years of Montecuzoma [II] was hence associated with the New Fire Ceremony of 1507 AD. The commentator to the manuscript, “Hand 5”, miscalculates the number of soldiers drowned to 1, 800 on their way to conquer some provinces of the Mixteca. He mentions that a “church of the new fire” on the hill Huixachtitlan was completed. A new fire was ignited every 52-year and later carried through the empire. Misfortunes would happen to those who kept a fire in his house of this day (Quinones Keber 1995: 228-230).

The sign and date of the New Fire Ceremony is illustrated on folios 2r, 3v, 7v, 15v of Codex Mendoza. Year signs along the margins of the pages illustrate the four Year Bearers—Calli (House), Tochtli (Rabbit), Acatl (Reed) and Tepetl (Flintknife)—combined with the numbers 13 (Berdan 1992: 94-95). War and conquest are thus also here connected with the New

Fire Ceremony. In Codex Mendoza Aztec history is organised by the reigns (Boone 2000: 208). The first sixteen folios of Codex Mendoza is an early Colonial xihuamatl (“year book”) or xihutlapohualamatl (“year-count book”). The imperial and dynastic history of Tenochtitlan is narrated in Codex Mendoza. The founding of Tenochtitlan and the 51 year reign of Tenoch is followed by the reigns and conquests of nine rulers. The years of each sovereign and the conquered towns from Acamapichtli, the founder of the dynasty, to Motecuzoma [II] are related. Each regent is illustrated, represented by the years of their time in office, with a symbol of warfare and their conquest of towns. In addition, they are all portrayed wearing a turquoise, xihuitzolli, or royal headdress (Boone 1992: 35-36). The conquests are not dated in the year count. Only the New Fire ceremonies and an incident in the war of Acamapichtli against four towns are the only events dated in Codex Mendoza. A “res gestae” narrative (see below for an elaboration of this concept) is consequently combined with a year-count annal (Boone 1992: 48; 51).

Codex Mendoza[2] embodies an Aztec pictorial and signs (logographs) with a written text in Nahuatl and Spanish in Latin script. Codex Mendoza was most certainly copied by Indigenous scribes within Indigenous traditional canon. The pages were commented upon and interpreted in Nahuatl translated into Spanish by a friar who also wrote an additional Spanish commentary adding Spanish glosses alongside the pictorial images explaining the depictions of the codex. Comments are also added by the cosmog- rapher of the French king Henri II, Andre Thevet. Native scribes and experts with firsthand acquaintance of the Aztecs’ way of life were used as interpreters. But Viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza writes in a letter in 1541 AD that the “natives” disagreed on their interpretations.

Codex Mendoza encompasses 72 annotated pictorial leaves and 63 pages of associated commentary in Spanish. Folios 2r, 3v, 7v and 15v belong to Part 1, of three sections, which consist of 19 pictorial pages. It accounts the history of the founding of the capital Tenochtitlan and the history of the conquest of 202 city-states, told chronologically, of each individual ruler. The 39 pictorial pages of part 2 related an associated account of the tribute the defeated 371 city-states had to deliver to their Aztec overlords. Codex Mendoza presents these vanquished city-states, in 38 provinces, from north, to west, to south and to east, north-east. Part 1 and part 2, conceivably drawn after a pre-European manuscript, are both complementary but not complete stories of conquests and later economic over-lordship. Part 3, “The Daily Life Year to Year” is a post-European creation of 15 pictorial pages with no relation to Part 1 and Part 2 (Berdan and Anawalt 1997: xi- xii).125

The frontispiece of Codex Mendoza (folio 2r) represents the founding of Tenochtitlan symbolised by an eagle perched atop a prickly pear cactus on a rock. The four centres of the city are demarked surrounded by calendar signs. The date Ome Acatl (2 Reed) is painted at the bottom right-hand corner. Folio 2r narrates Tenochtitlan early history, its officials and structure. It also records two conquests and the calendar notation of an early regent’s reign (Berdan and Anawalt 1997: 3). The city is divided on folio 2r in four main wards, Motoytla, Teopantlaza, Aztacualco and Cuepopan. Duran and Alvarado Tezozomoc have recorded a story where Huitzilo- pochtli commanded the Aztecs to execute this division (Berdan and Anawalt 1997: 4). The house, in the upper quadrant, in all probability represents a temple of the patron deity Huitzilopochtli. This could well be the first construction phase of the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan. There is a skull rack, tzompantli, in the right-hand quadrant. The four sections of the city contain the ten, named, founders of Tenochtitlan. The central figure, named as Tenuch (“Stone Cactus Fruit”), is the title of one of the four religious specialist leaders of the Aztecs after their arrival to the Valley of Mexico (Berdan and Anawalt 1997: 4-5). A calendar band memorise the fifty-one years of Tenuch’s rule by the count of the four Year Bearers. The two mentioned cities, Colhuacan and Tenayucan, were conquered during his reign (Berdan and Anawalt 1997: 5). Berdan and Anawalt maintain that The New Year Ceremony indicated on folio 2r must have taken place in 1351 AD (Berdan and Anawalt 1997: 6).

Folio 3v represents the reign of Huitzilihuitl (“Hummingbird Feather”) from Chiucnahui Calli (9 House) (1397 ad) to Eyi Calli (3 House) (1417 ad). The New Fire Ceremony is expressed to be held on Ome Acatl (2 Reed) (1403 ad) by a symbol of an arrow drawing smoke or fire. Folio 3v attributes eight victories in war to tlatoani Huitzilihuitl. The conquest is symbolised by a burning, toppling temple attached to its place sign (Berdan and Anawalt 1992, II: 10-11). The sign for the New Fire Ceremony is also incorporated in the scene illustrating Huitzilihuitl and his victories. [3]

Folio 7V portrays Motecuzoma [I]. He acceded on Ce Calli (1 House) (1441 ad) and ended his reign, according to folio 8v, in Eyi Calli (3 House) (1469 ad). The New Fire Ceremony did probably take place in 1455 AD, Ome Acatl (2 Reed). The scribe has omitted to draw the fire stick sign. The sign of shield, arrows and atlatl symbolise his 33 conquests, some of these are represented by place signs (Berdan and Anawalt 1992, II: 16-17).

Folio 15v show Motecuzoma [II]. He acceded in the year Matlactli Once Acatl (11 Reed) (1503 ad). The original year sign dates his reign until the year Matlactli Omeyi Tochtli (13 Rabbit) (1518 ad). The New Fire Ceremony is to take place in affirmed 1507 AD, Ome Acatl (2 Reed) symbolised by an arrow drawing smoke or fire. 44 towns were conquered, some of these are named on folio 15v (Berdan and Anawalt 1992, II: 24-25).

It is interesting that every Ome Acatl (2 Reed) compartment in the Codex Mendoza has the attached fire sign, except folio 7v where only the connecting line was pictured. Althought, this might be because of oversight, by error or that there was no room left for the artist (Berdan and Anawalt 1997: 7, note 42).[4]

Part 2 of Codex Azcatitlan (Folio 14 verso & 15 recto) illustrates, without dates (no year count), the imperial history of the Aztecs. There is not a chronological sequence in the events given but a res gestae narrative. Various incidents are shown within a temporal time range. Folio 14 verso & 15 recto, from left to right, portrays the accession of Huitzilihuitl, depicts the conquest of Texcoco, the birth of the later ruler, Nezahualcoyotl of Tex- coco, the death of the Tlatelocan regent Cuacuauhpitzahuac, the inauguration of his successor Tlacateotl, a probable conquest of Tepanec, the death of Maxtla, the death of Huitzilihuitl and the New Fire Ceremony. But these episodes are not chronologically narrated (Boone 1992: 47-49).

The cartographic history of Mapa de Sigtienza accounts the Aztec migration from Aztlan to Tenochtitlan. The story begins by a ‘res gestae moving’ in undefined space (itinerary). When they reach the Valley of Mexico the Azecs are shown to move from one specific place to another. Eight bundles of reeds, each symbolising a 52-year cycle, are attached to various topo- nyms. Other cultural groups than the Aztecs are named on this map. Bundle of reeds are depicted as a full plant with roots and root balls. The foliage is bound by a knotted rope. Many of the named sites are connected to a number of small blue disks. They indicate the number of years the Aztecs stayed at each location. Year bundles, symbolising the end of a 52-year cycle, are only associated with a number of sites. The Aztec nation was commanded by Huitzilopochtli to migrate: They erected a temple at Azta- coalco, there were various wars, military defeats and the eviction at Chapultepec which is especially emphasised, captivity, supplication of land from the Culhua ruler, a daughter of a leader gives birth at Mixiuhcan (place of childbirth), building of a sweat bath at Temazcaltitlan, and several other incidents took place before the Aztecs finally came to Tenochtitlan. There are two temporal guides: blue disks to mark years of duration and year bundles of 52-year cycles. But these two time systems does not correspond for the reason that the year bundles suggest a migration of over 400 years whereas the blue disks indicates less than 200 years (Boone 2000: 166-173; 196).

The places of migration associated with The New Fire Ceremony of the 52-year calendar represents so-called chronotopes. Chronotopes (Gr. khro- nos ‘time.’; Gr. topos, place) is a concept—originating from the theory of relativity developed by Albert Einstein but later adapted by Mikhail Bak- thin.[5] [6] Bakthin writes that they comprise:

points in the geography of a community where time and space intersect and fuse. Time takes on flesh and becomes visible for human contemplation; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time and history and enduring character of a people .... Chronotopes thus stand as monuments to the community itself, as symbols of it, as forces operating to shape its members’ images of themselves (quotation in Basso 1996: 62).

This concept is employed by Keith Basso in order to outline the symbolic concept of geographical places of the Western Apache (Basso 1996: 62), but correspond quite well with philosophy of the spatial-temporal as represented in Mesoamerican manuscripts.

Time and history were accordingly structured through the New Fire Ceremony in Codex Aubin (to a lesser degree however) and Codex Telleria- no-Remensis. An order of Aztec historical time was here constructed through a commemoration of New Fire Ceremonies.128 The narrative technique of res gestae (“deeds done”) orientated on the other hand the histories of Codex Mendoza, Codex Azcatftlan and the cartographic history of Mapa de Siguenza. The res gestae narrative structures a sequence of re?lated events, irrespective of time and place. It is the sequence of episodes and not the passage of time which are important in a res gestae story. Dates and places can be added when the narrator found it appropriate (Boone 2000: 70-71). Thus the New Fire Ceremony as a ritual undertaking, and not as a time marker, was emphasised here. This suggests the importance of this ritual, as a reverence to the deities who had originally created the sun and the moon of the present world age in order to make human existence possible, to the postclassic Aztec and their ruler.

  • [1] This can be either the veintena of Tecuilhuitontli or Hueytecuilhuitl according toNicholson in personal communication with Quinones Keber (Quinones Keber 1995: 334,note 53).
  • [2] Codex Mendoza resides in the Bodleian Library, Oxford University, England. The 71folios of Codex Mendoza was compiled and copied in 1541 ad under the supervision ofSpanish priests after the initiative of the first viceroy of Mexico, Don Antonio de Mendoza(Berdan and Anawalt 1997).
  • [3] See Nicholson (1992) for the history of the Codex Mendoza manuscript.
  • [4] Cf. Boone for an analysis of the pictorial history (1992) and Berdan for the scripturalconventions of the Codex Mendoza (1992).
  • [5] Cf. the work of Federico Navarrete (anonymous reviewer).
  • [6] The same narrative principle applies to alphabetical histories like Fernando AlvaradoTezozomoc’s Cronica Mexicayotl and Francisco de San Anton Munon Chimalpahin Cuauh-tlehuanitzin’s Codex Chimalpahin.
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