Does a symbol for “Teotl” exist in the codices?

[ Kurly Tlapoyawa ]

In my book Our Slippery Earth: Nawa Philosophy in the Modern Age, I discuss the concept of Teotl and how it relates to the Mesoamerican philosophical worldview of “Nepantlakayotl.”

As a result, I am often asked if a symbol for Teotl exists in any of the surviving Mesoamerican codices, whether pre-Kuauhtemok or post-Kuauhtemok. While I am not aware of any graphic depictions of Teotl in Pre-Kuauhtemok sources (sadly, few of these codices remain), we do in fact have numerous examples of Teotl being depicted in post-Kuauhtemok codices. Namely, the Florentine Codex, Codex Xolotl, and the Codex Mendoza.

In all of these, the concept of Teotl is depicted graphically as the sun:

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 8.51.47 pm

In book 8 of the Florentine Codex (above), we see the name of Tlacateotl, the second Tlahtoani of Tlaltelolco, depicted with a sun representing the word “Teotl.”


In the Codex Xolotl (above), Tlacateotl is once again represented by a glyph utilizing the sun as “Teotl.”

The largest collection of place-name glyphs in which Teotl is represented by a sun is in the Codex Mendoza. This source is invaluable, as it is a collection of place-names that were conquered by Mexika forces. In this case, a half-sun symbol is used to represent Teotl:

A Half-sun symbol used to symbolize Teotl.

This half-sun is used in conjunction with a glyph representing the second half of the name of the city, while an upended and burning temple represents conquest:

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The Conquest of Teotenanco – Codex Mendoza, Folio 10r

In other instances, the Teotl symbol is used for placenames without the burning temple:

screen shot 2019-01-23 at 5.49.27 pm
(a) Teotenanco fol. 10r; (b) Teoatzinco fol. 16r; (c) Teonochtitla fol. 42r; (d) Teoxilocan fol. 49r (e) Teotlalpan fol. 51r

And another half-sun symbol is used in the Codex Xolotl to depict the name of the famous city of Teotihuacan:

The half-sun symbol for Teotl sitting atop a large temple.

So there you have it, a multitude of examples showing that Teotl was graphically symbolized as the sun. I hope this helps!

Kurly Tlapoyawa is an archaeologist, filmmaker, author, and ethnohistorian. His research focuses primarily on the interaction between Mesoamerica, Western Mexico, and the American Southwest. Kurly has lectured at UNLV, University of Houston, and Yale University on topics related to Mesoamerica. His book, “Our Slippery Earth: Nawa Philosophy in the Modern Age” was published in 2017. Kurly lives in New Mexico.

Follow Kurly on twitter @KurlyTlapoyawa

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