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The Nuttall Codex



The Nuttall Codex is a prehispanic pictorial manuscript, painted by Mixtec scribes before the arrival of the Spaniards. It is also called the Zouche-Nuttall Codex. The name Zouche comes from the Baron Zouche of Harynworth in England, a collector of antique books. Later, the director of Harvard University´s Peabody Museum of American Archeology and Ethnology gave it the name of Nuttall Codex in honour of the work of the investigator Zelia Nuttall.

The codex was kept in the San Marcos Monastery in Florence (Italy), where it appeared in 1859. No-one knows how it got there. It is possible that it was originally sent to king Charles V by Cortez himself. Cortez mentioned in his first letter to the king, that he was sending him “two books, belonging to the Indians”.

The codex was made of tanned deer skin, which was covered with a fine stucco layer. It is folded in an accordeon-like fashion, containing 47 plates, painted on both sides. However, 8 pages are left blank, so that there are 86 pages in total. Each page is 25.5 cm long and 19 cm wide. The overall length of the codex is 11.2 meters. The images were painted with a fine brush with colours of mineral and vegetable origin. The line of the manuscript figures shows great discipline within the ancient Mixtec-Puebla tradition. The Nuttall Codex is notable not only for its magnificent beauty and craftmanship, but also for the important historical information which it has preserved. The Nuttall Codex contains two sections which are clearly identifiable. The obverse narrates the historical apogee of some of the most important kings of the Mixtecs in the present day state of Oaxaca over a period of some 500 years of history (from 890 to 1382AD), such as the chronicles of the dynasties of Tilantongo, Teozacualco-Zaachila and Tututepec. The entire reverse side of the Nuttall Codex is dedicated to the life of the most celebrated ruler of the Mixtecs: a legendary king named Eight Deer, also known as Jaguar Claw (1063 – 1115). This great sovereign, compared even to Quetzalcoatl, was the only Mixtec ruler who during his reign achieved the unification of the 3 Mixtec empires: the Upper, Lower and Coastal, but not without great exertion, marriages, alliances, wars and bloodshed.

His life is also narrated in other prehispanic codices of the Upper Mixtecs, like the Codex Colombino (Mexico), the Codex Becker I and Codex Vindobonensis (Viena), and the Codex Bodley and Codex Seldon (Oxford). As was the custom among the prehispanic people, every newborn took the name of the day of the calendar when it was born. Later on they could acquire one or more names according to their character. Lord Eight Deer did not descend from a dynasty of rulers, rather he was the son of Tilantongo´s high priest with his second wife. The father of 8 Deer was 5 Crocodile “Sun of Rain”. It seems that he was the first to succeed in keeping the Upper Mixtec Area under a single dominion, with Tilantongo as capital. He was also the originator of the calendar reform which started on the day 7 Movement in 1025. He married Lady 9 Eagle “Cocoa-Flower” in the year 6 Flint (1044). She was the Lady of the Hill of the Jaw of Stone, probably Tecamachalco. Her first-born was Lord 12 Earthquake “Bloody Jaguar”, who was a great warrior and companion of 8 Deer. This prince was born in the year 1045, which made him 18 years older than 8 Deer. One of the daughters of 5 Crocodile was 6 Lizard “Jade-Fan”. She was born in the year 1047. In 1061, at the age of 15, she got married to 11 Wind “Bloody Jaguar”, who as the king of Xipe´s Bundle. Throughout the whole of his life, 8 Deer tried to conquer this place, since the descendents of 11 Wind had the right to the throne of Tilantongo. Lord 5 Crocodile´s other offspring was 3 Water “White Heron”, born in 1049. He was sacrificed in the place Quetzal, probably in 1074. Lord 5 Crocodile got married again, this time to Lady 11 Water “Blue Bird-Jewel”, in the year 10 House (1061). Four children were born from this marriage. Lord 8 Deer “Jaguar Claw” was born in the year 12 Reed (1063). The second child was Lady 9 Monkey “Cloud of Quetzal”, born in the year 13 Flint (1064). She got married to Lord 8 Crocodile “Bloody Coyote” who was from the important place called Skull. Lord 8 Deer got married to one of their daughters: 6 Eagle “Jaguar Spiderweb” in 1105. The third child was Lord 9 Flower “Copalball with Arrow”, born in the year 3 Reed (1067). He also was a faithful companion of 8 Deer. The last child was a girl named 12 Grass “Hand with Golden Arrow”, born in the year 5 House (1069). Lord 5 Crocodile died at the age of 61 on a day 7 dog in the year 5 Rabbit (1082), when 8 Deer was 19 years old and his half-brother 12 Earthquake was 37.

Lord 8 Deer was a very bold and ambitious man. There are records of his conquests at the age of 8, and then at the ages of 16 and 18. When he was 20 years old, 8 Deer visited the famous Temple of Death together with his fiancee Princess 6 Monkey of Jaltepec, to ask the powerful priestess 9 Grass “Cihuacoatl” for advice. She was the sovereign of the Place of the Skull, a place which probably corresponds to Dzandaya, today also known as Mictlantongo. This important sanctuary exercised a strong influence in the region, in a magical-religious sense as well as in a political and even military sense. Some say that 8 Deer went there in order to ask for riches, power and success, in exchange for the delivering of his soul to dark forces. As it seems, here begins a dramatic story, which will bring its protagonist supreme power, but eventually will end in a tragic and bloody conclusion. The guardian of the Temple of Death ordered 8 Deer to go to the coast where he quickly procured the kingdom of Tututepec. But tragic events are already taking their course when 8 Deer must accept that he cannot marry the princess 6 Monkey. She will later join matrimony with his archenemy 11 Wind, who had previously been married to 6 Lizard, the half-sister of 8 Deer.

The marriages of 8 Deer are all directed at strengthening his right to the throne. He marries first of all 13 Serpent, the daughter of his half-sister 6 Lizard. When 8 Deer finally conquers the place of Xipe´s Bundle in the year 11 House (1101), the brothers of his wife (10 Dog and 6 House) must suffer torture and humiliation, and a year later death. The Nuttall Codex shows 8 Deer taking captive a boy named 4 Wind, the son of his former love 6 Monkey. However, this is obviously an act of propaganda, which does not correspond to the truth. We know from other codices, that 4 Wind, who was barely 10 years old, was hiding in the cave of the bats during his brothers´ defeat. In the same year he asks the famous priestess 9 Grass and other kings for help in apprehending and sacrificing 8 Deer in the year 12 Reed (1115). Lord 4 Wind finally marries two of 8 Deer´s daughters (10 Flower and 5 Wind), just like his younger brother 1 Lizard, who also marries two daughters of 8 Deer (6 Wind and 6 Flint).

Lord 8 Deer´s fame is based mainly on his achievements as warrior and conqueror. In the Nuttall Codex alone, we have records of 94 conquered places, marked with an arrow in the symbolic language of the Mixtecs. Other places surrender voluntarily. Other codices mention even more conquered places. In the year 7 House (1097), Lord 8 Deer established a prestigious alliance with the Toltecs, directed by a priest-conquerer, the Lord 4 Jaguar “Face of the Night”. This priest had established a Toltec dynasty in Cholula, Puebla. There, 8 Deer is honored with a turquoise nose ornament as a symbol of his new status as a Toltec noble. With this new status, 8 Deer went back to Tilantongo, where in the presence of 112 lords he was hailed as a king, together with his half-brother 12 Earthquake. In the year 9 Reed (1099), 8 Deer and 12 Earthquake together with the king of the Toltecs, began a great campaign of conquests which among others brought them to an island with a construction painted in red and black colours, a synonym of the Maya area. Some investigators believe that they had reached Chichen Itza. A somewhat obscure aspect in the story of 8 Deer is the death of his older half-brother 12 Earthquake. Some believe that at the pinnacle of his glory the heroe became the tyrant; pursuing a monopoly of power and therefore having his half-brother murdered in a temazcal. It seems exagerated to believe that he wished the death of his faithful companion of so many years, he who had taught him the tactics of battle since he was a child. On the other hand, it has to be remembered that he even confronted the Toltec king. The Nuttall Codex hides the names of those responsible, the same as with the tragic end of 8 Deer himself.

The codex is read from right to left. Each plate is divided into sections by red lines, which indicate the manner the codex is to be read. One starts reading it in the bottom right-hand corner and continues moving above and then to the left in a zig-zag formation.

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