Acamapichtli, holding a spear or scepter, stands on a reed mat. Above him is a hand holding reeds. To the right are jaguar skins.
Acamapichtli (reigned 1376-1395), whose name means handful of reeds, was a descendant of the Toltec emperors; his selection as the first ruler of the Mexico-Tenochtitlan dynasty gave authority to the Aztec rule. He is dressed in the clothes of the highest priests. The designs on his sandals are associated with Quetzalcoatl and his Toltec ancestors. The jaguar, along with the eagle and serpent, were potent symbols of Aztec religion.
The Tovar manuscript (also known as the Ramírez Codex) consists of three main sections: an historical account of “the ancient Mexicans from their first migration into the central valley of Mexico, to their conquest by the Spaniards”; an illustrated history of the Aztecs (most images above); and the Tovar Calendar – an attempt to combine the Nahuatl calendar with christian Saint days. The manuscript dates to about 1585. Juan de Tovar (1543-1623) was born in Mexico from conquistador stock. He trained as a Jesuit priest and was known as the Mexican Cicero because of his eloquent preaching style and mastery of several indigenous languages.
At the request of the Spanish Court, Tovar set about preparing a pre-conquest ethnographic history of the Aztec peoples. He travelled widely, interviewing native Indians, from whom he also commissioned traditional pictographic sketches.
As Fray Bernardino de Sahagún observed: the Mexicans “are held to be barbarians and of very little worth; in truth, however, in matters of culture and refinement, they are a step ahead of other nations." We explore the history and legacy of the Nahua and Maya civilizations, both of which challenge our preconceptions.