Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan, as told pictorially. Aubin fol. 42r.

Codex Aubin_Fol.42v-43r.jpg

The Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan, told through Nahuatl text. Aubin fols. 42v-43r.

Storytelling can come through literal pictures of the events and through signs which are numerous and can be read and understood similarly to modern-day western non-alphabetic signs. Some important signs include calendric names of the persons depicted, the use of speech scrolls to indicate a ruler, the depiction of one ruler holding another by the hair as a sign for conquest, and the use of footprints to show sometimes lineage and sometimes literal travel for warfare.[i]

The Codex Aubin is a strong example of the change in format from Mixtec manuscripts and presumably pre-conquest Aztec manuscripts— it is concise in pictographic writing and is accompanied by Nahuatl text explaining the history, and it follows the European standard of book formatting with bound pages, necessitating the modification of standard Mesoamerican storytelling. Western history consistently structures history as a series of narrative arcs, retroactively branding time periods as self-conscious ‘movements.' Mesoamerican histories, in general, are much less focused on creating a narrative arc. For Aztec codices, including the Aubin, the only true narrative, featuring a beginning, middle, and conclusion, is the migration history of the Aztec people from Aztlan, leading to their eventual settlement in the Central Valley and the founding of Tenochtitlan. After this, time is constructed as a constant moving forward, emphasized by the structures used to tell history, with years listed and drawn depictions of events lining up with the year in which they occurred.

History was also a performative and social act, including orators who would tell the histories to an audience. The pre-conquest format of screenfolds facilitated the performance and display of histories, allowing the pages to be unfolded to display the whole story at once, if desired.



[i] Smith, Picture Writing from Ancient Southern Mexico, 33-40.