Human sacrifice. An anonymous priest holding a spear presides over the sacrifice of a man whose heart is removed by an assistant. In the background, another assistant on the steps of a temple or pyramid holds an incense burner.
The offering of the victim’s heart to the gods satisfied the Aztec belief that the sun would rise again nourished by the hearts of men. The “Flowery Wars” or xochiyaoyotl were conducted to acquire the offerings needed for the gods.
Juan de Tovar 1543-1623) was born in Mexico from conquistador parents. 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 traveled widely, interviewing native Indians, from whom he also commissioned traditional pictographic sketches.
The above image is from the Tovar manuscript (also known as the Ramírez Codex), one of Juan de Tovar’s many works. The Tovar manuscript 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 from about 1585.
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.