An eagle devours a bird while perched on a flowering cactus. The cactus grows from a rock in the middle of a lake. Footsteps of the Mexicans are shown approaching the base of the cactus. On the right is Tenoch (known from his glyph of a flowering cactus) who led the Aztecs to Tenochtitlán. On the left is Tochtzin, or Mexitzin (known from his glyph of a rabbit), from Calpan (known from the glyph of a house with a flag), Tenoch’s co-ruler. The two rulers sit on basket-work thrones. At upper right is the symbol of Copil, son of Malinalxochitl, or five dots with crossed arrows, on a shield.
The Aztecs, guided by the prophecies of Huitzilopochtli (the god of the sun and war), ended their migration by building Tenochtitlán, on an island in a lake where an eagle held a snake perched on a flowering nopal cactus. The cactus grew, according to their mythology, from the heart of Copil, son of Huitzilopochtli’s sister, which had been flung onto the island. His symbol of five dots represents the Aztec belief that the world was a flat surface divided into five directions (north, south, east, west and the center where their capital was located).
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.