The History and Content of the Madrid Codex

Housed in the Museo de las Americas in Madrid, Spain, is the Maya codex known as the Madrid (or Tro-Cortesianus) Codex. The longest of the four known Maya codices, this painted book is yet another testament to the broad writing tradition of the ancient Maya. 

The Madrid Codex was likely brought to Europe during the Colonial period of New Spain. The manuscript appears to have been split into two pieces at one point, and the two pieces were given the names “Codex Troano” and “Codex Cortesianus”, respectively. However, in the 1880s, Leon de Rosny realized that the two pieces actually belonged together, and helped join them into one manuscript. This manuscript was subsequently brought to Madrid, and given the name “Madrid Codex”, which remains its most common name today. 

Discovered after both the Dresden Codex and the Paris Codex, the Madrid was likely created after both of these manuscripts as well, although recent scholarship has suggested that it was still created prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century (Vail and Aveni 2009). It is estimated the the Madrid Codex was created between 1250 and 1450 AD. 

Like the Dresden Codex, the Madrid contains astronomical information key to understanding the movement of the stars and planets, as well as a careful count of the days belonging to the 260-day calendar. However, it differs from the Dresden in a couple of key ways.

First, the Madrid Codex devotes considerable time to agricultural tables, as well as deer hunts and beekeeping. In this sense, the manuscript shows a very practical application of the information contained within it. Additionally, the Madrid Codex evidences signs of influence from Central Mexican codices, namely those of the Borgia Group. Some of the pages, primarily pages 75 and 76, contain an almanac that looks intriguingly similar to the one seen in the Codex Fejervary-Mayer from Central Mexico. This has caused some scholars to suggest that Maya scribes were copying a Central Mexican almanac that was entirely new to them (Vail and Aveni 2009). 

The original Madrid Codex is held at the Museo de las Americas in Madrid, Spain. The original is not on display; however, a faithful replica is on display to the public.

You can also view the codex online by clicking the link below!

View Online:

Sources Used: Vail, Gabrielle, and Anthony Aveni. The Madrid codex: new approaches to understanding an ancient Maya manuscript. University Press of Colorado, 2009.

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