Florentine Codex, 1555

One Flower ceremony, from the 16th century Florentine Codex
An illustration of the "One Flower" ceremony, from the 16th century Florentine Codex. The two drums are the teponaztli (foreground) and the huehuetl (background).
Source: Wikimedia

Created by Father Bernardino Sahagun (1499–1590)

Translated by James Lockhart in We People Here: Nahuatl Accounts of the Conquest of Mexico, University of California Press, 1993

Background

Father Bernardino Sahagun was a Spanish missionary who produced twelve volumes of information about geography, climate, crops, customs, and key events in Mexico during the 1540s and early 1550s. He travelled around interviewing people, accompanied by local assistants who spoke Spanish and were also able to write the sounds of their own languages using the Spanish alphabet. Many of the people interviewed had witnessed the conquest of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán. They answered questions by speaking with Sahagun’s assistants or by writing in Aztec pictograms. The assistants then transcribed the responses using the Spanish alphabet and helped translate them into Spanish.

View

An introduction to the Florentine Codex at the World Digital Library. You can also hear an audio version.

An introduction to Book XII about the Spanish Conquest. You can also hear an audio version of this, and see a digital version of Book XII. Take a close look at the illustrations.

Read

Pages 114 to 122 from Chapters 16 and 17 of Lockhart’s translation (PDF, 3MB) describing the meeting of Cortés and Montezuma.

Watch

Mexican-American scholar David Carrasco discussing the question ‘just how did the Aztecs see the Conquistadors?

Ask

  • How is the behaviour of Cortés and Montezuma depicted in these chapters? What differences do you notice?
  • How does Montezuma present himself to Cortés in this account? Why? What does the phrase ‘all the different things for greeting people’ (end of page 14) mean?
  • What motive is suggested for the Spaniards’ actions?