Take My Heart, Take My Head: Death among Gods in the Codex Borgia

Author(s): Susan Milbrath

Year: 2021


This is an abstract from the "New Perspectives on Ritual Violence and Related Human Body Treatments in Ancient Mesoamerica" session, at the 86th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Ritual violence is well represented in the Codex Borgia, a masterpiece from early sixteenth-century Central Mexico. Narrative scenes depict Venus gods alongside deities honored during seasonal *veintena festivals known from the Valley of Mexico and Tlaxcala. The Aztec Tlacaxipehualiztli festival featured sacrifice of Xipe Totec’s impersonators during March. In the Codex Borgia, the god himself is represented as the victim stretched out on a round stone. Venus gods appear alongside, indicating the planet plays an important role. The 18-page narrative references specific *veintena festivals to provide a chronological framework for events involving the changing Venus phases. Another page in the narrative represents Quecholli, a November festival honoring Camaxtli. Here, we see this hunting god on a *tzompantli, evoking a decapitation ritual described in the Aztec festival of Quecholli, when severed heads were placed on Mixcoatl-Camaxtli’s skull rack. The Codex Borgia shows Camaxtli merged with the skeletal “lord of dawn” at a time when Venus was transiting the underworld during Quecholli. Alongside, Quetzalcoatl extracts Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli’s heart, meaning one Venus god kills the other, representing a transition in Venus phases. Then below we see Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli’s decapitation, symbolizing the final underworld transformation of Venus, just prior to the Evening Star’s reappearance.

Cite this Record

Take My Heart, Take My Head: Death among Gods in the Codex Borgia. Susan Milbrath. Presented at The 86th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. 2021 ( tDAR id: 466555)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 18.48 ; max long: -94.087; max lat: 23.161 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 31956