The History and Content of the Paris Codex

Over the past few months I have walked you through the history and content of the Dresden Codex, the Madrid Codex, and the Maya Codex of Mexico. Today’s blog post is all about the last of the four known Maya codices: the Paris Codex. 

The Paris Codex. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Although ideas of a Maya “zodiac” have been exaggerated, the Paris Codex does show that a few important animals were associated with stations of the Sun, and that people were believed to have certain personality traits based on the day in which they were born. This is a concept that we’ll explore more in detail in a month, when I will teach you how to read the Central Mexican Borgia Codex. 

The story of how the Paris Codex arrived in Europe is still a mystery, but it was most likely sent over by the Spanish during the Spanish-Aztec war or during the colonial period. Either way, the codex found its way to Europe, where it ended up in the Bibliothèque Impériale in Paris. It was studied periodically, but was “rediscovered” in 1859 by Léon de Rosny. Tragically, the document had been stuffed in a basket of other old papers and left in the corner of an office near a chimney, all but forgotten for decades. The document has suffered significant damage, which resulted in the loss of a few glyphs; however, the fact that we even have it at all today is something to be grateful for. It is currently housed in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, France, which gives it its name as the Paris Codex.

Like all of the Maya codices, it is unclear where the Paris Codex would have been made. The most likely theory is Mayapan, a Postclassic site in Western Yucatan. The Paris Codex is dated to around 1250 – 1450 AD, although scholar Bruce Love has suggested a date as early as 1185 AD for its creation. Because of the early material it documents (from the 8th to 10th centuries AD), scholars believe that parts of its content were copied from even earlier manuscripts. 

The Paris Codex contains mostly ritual information, revolving around a series of 13 k’atuns (20-year period). One section contains a list of animals associated with Maya constellations that lie along the ecliptic, including a scorpion and a peccary. This has been referred to as a Maya “zodiac” of sorts. Although in practice it is different from the Zodiac we use today, we have found evidence that suggests that, for ancient Mesoamericans, the day you were born did affect your personality! Check out my upcoming post on the Codex Borgia for more details!

The original Paris Codex is held at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, France. You can also view the codex online by clicking the link below!
View Online:

For more reading, be sure to check out Bruce Love’s 1994 book, “The Paris Codex: Handbook for a Maya Priest”, available online!

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