Madrid Codex (Maya)
by: Castrovilli Giuseppe • 3
The Madrid Codex (also known as the Tro-Cortesianus Codex) is one of three surviving pre-Columbian Maya books dating to the Postclassic Period of Mesoamerican chronology (c. 900–1521 AD). The Madrid Codex is held by the Museo de América in Madrid and is considered to be the most important piece in its collection. However, the original is not on display due to its fragility; a faithful copy is displayed in its stead.
The Codex was made from a long strip of amate paper that was folded up accordion-style. This paper was then coated with a thin layer of fine stucco, which was used as the painting surface. The complete document consists of 56 sheets painted on both sides to produce a total of 112 pages. The Troano is the larger part, consisting of 70 pages comprising pages 22–56 and 78–112. It takes its name from Juan Tro y Ortolano, its original owner. The remaining 42 pages were originally known as the Cortesianus Codex, and include pages 1–21 and 57–77. Each page measures roughly 23.2 by 12.2 centimetres (9.1 by 4.8 in).
The Madrid Codex is the longest of the surviving Maya codices. The content of the Madrid Codex mainly consists of almanacs and horoscopes that were used to help Maya priests in the performance of their ceremonies and divinatory rituals. The codex also contains astronomical tables, although less than are found in the other two surviving Maya codices. Some of the content is likely to have been copied from older Maya books. Included in the codex is a description of the New Year ceremony.
The Codex is stylistically uniform, leading Coe and Kerr to suggest that it was the work of a single scribe. Closer analysis of glyphic elements suggests that a number of scribes were involved in its production, perhaps as many as eight or nine, who produced consecutive sections of the manuscript. The religious content of the codex makes it likely that the scribes themselves were members of the priesthood. It is likely that the codex was passed down from priest to priest and that each priest that received the book added a section in their own hand.
The images in the Madrid Codex depict rituals such as human sacrifice and invoking rainfall as well as everyday activities such as beekeeping, hunting, warfare and weaving.Some scholars, such as Michael Coe and Justin Kerr, have suggested that the Madrid Codex dates to after the Spanish conquest but the evidence overwhelmingly favours a pre-conquest date for the document. It is likely that the codex was produced in Yucatán. The language used in the document is Yucatecan, a group of Mayan languages that includes Yucatec, Itza, Lacandon and Mopan; these languages are distributed across the Yucatán Peninsula, including lowland Chiapas, Belize and the Guatemalan department of Petén. J. Eric Thompson was of the opinion that the Madrid Codex came from western Yucatán and dated to between 1250 and 1450 AD. Other scholars have expressed a differing opinion, noting that the codex is similar in style to murals found at Chichen Itza, Mayapan and sites on the east coast such as Santa Rita, Tancah and Tulum. Two paper fragments incorporated into the front and last pages of the codex contain Spanish writing, which led Thompson to suggest that a Spanish priest acquired the document at Tayasal in Petén.
The Codex was discovered in Spain in the 1860s; it was divided into two parts of differing sizes that were found in different locations. The Codex receives its alternate name of the Tro-Cortesianus Codex after the two parts that were separately discovered. Early Mayanist scholar León de Rosny realised that both fragments were part of the same book. The larger fragment, the Troano Codex, was published with an erroneous translation in 1869–1870 by French scholar Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, who found it in the possession of Juan de Tro y Ortolano in Madrid in 1866 and first identified it as a Maya book.