Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home
Close Aztec Books Aztec Books
An Aztec book was called a codex. Made of "amatl," which was made from the bark of fig trees or animal skins, the codex was one long strip, sometimes 40 feet long, folded accordion-style. Scribes painted glyphs on the codex using bright red, yellow, blue, and green paints. The size and color of the glyphs had special meaning. For example, an important person was painted with a larger glyph, and different colors of paint were used to show rank. Since many of the Aztec codices told about the Aztec religion, many were burned by the Spanish during the Conquest.
Example of a typical codex

Aztec Dictionary of basic words:

Tenochtitlan (ten-ohch-teet-LAHN) capital city of the Aztec empire
Huitzilopochtli (weetz-ill-oh-PACHT-lee) Aztec god of war
Cacao (cah- KAY-oh) seed from which chocolate is made
Codex, codices (COH-dex, COH-deh-sees) Aztec folded books
Quetzalcoatl (ket-zahl-COAT-ull) Aztec goc whose name meant "feathered serpent"
Chalchiuhtlicue (chal-chee-oot-li-cue) Aztec goddess who watched over lakes, rivers, and the ocean
Quetzal (KET-zahl) bird native to Mexico with colorful long green tail.
Montezuma, Moctezuma, Motecuhzoma (mon-tuh-ZOO-ma) name of the Aztec emperor when Cortes arrived
Nahuatl (na-WATT-ull) the language the Aztecs spoke, which is still spoken in parts of Mexico today
Tlatoani (til-at-oh-ani) Nahuatl word meaning speaker, the title given to Montezuma. Typically translated as emperor
Hernan Cortes (air-NAHN core-TESS) Spanish conquistador who conquered the Aztecs between 1519 and 1521

Top Image: Codex scribe
Center Image: Example of a typical codex