General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 22 Sep 2017/11 Vulture
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Professor Juan José Batalla

Question for March 2007

When did the 5 ‘useless’ days come in the Aztec calendar? Asked by The Orchards County Middle School. Chosen and answered by Professor Juan José Batalla.

 Pic 1 from the Florentine Codex, Book 4
Pic 1 from the Florentine Codex, Book 4 (Click on image to enlarge)

English:The Aztec world was governed by 3 different types of calendar. These were called ‘tonalpohualli’, ‘xiuhpohualli’ and ‘xiuhmolpilli’. The ‘tonalpohualli’, commonly used for prediction and prophecy, comprised 260 days, made up of the 20 fate/day signs and numbers from 1 to 13 - giving rise to the idea of ‘trecenas’ or 13-day periods. The ‘xiuhpohualli’ was a civil as well as religious calendar comprising 365 days. These were divided into 18 ‘months’ of 20 days each, giving a total of 360 days. To complete the year, a group of 5 days called ‘nemontemi’ or seriously unlucky days was added. Finally, they had another calendar for counting the years, the ‘xiuhmolpilli’, which comprised 4 signs combined with the numbers 1 to 13. In this way, the ‘xiuhmolpilli’ consisted of a cycle of 52 years, at the end of which a new cycle began.

 Pic 2 from the Florentine Codex, Book 4
Pic 2 from the Florentine Codex, Book 4 (Click on image to enlarge)

The 5 ‘nemontemi’ useless days or days of ill fortune formed part of the 365-day calendar and during this ‘week’ no activity of any kind was carried out, in the belief that only misfortune would result. During the ‘nemontemi’ nobody cooked, engaged in trade, got married, made love with a partner, etc. At present researchers do not agree as to when in the 365-day calendar the ‘nemontemi’ occurred. Some believe they were added at the beginning of the year, others at the end, still others maintain they were dotted throughout the year. The main thing is that all the evidence points to the presence of these 5 days, which of course were vital in order to complete a full solar year of 365 days.

Español:Los aztecas se regían por tres tipos de calendarios distintos. Estos se denominaban tonalpohualli, xiuhpohualli y xiuhmolpilli. El tonalpohualli, que tenía un carácter augural y adivinatorio, estaba formado por 260 días pues componían los 20 nombres de los signos diarios con un numeral del 1 al 13, dando lugar a lo que se denomina “trecenas” o grupos de trece días. El xiuhpohualli era un calendario civil y religioso que constaba de 365 días. Estos días se repartían en 18 meses de 20 días, lo cual les daba un total de 360 días. Por ello, unían un grupo de 5 días, hasta completar los 365, que se denominaban días nemontemi y se consideraban de muy mala suerte. Finalmente, tenían otro calendario para contar los años, el xiuhmolpilli, que se formaba combinando cuatro nombres con un numeral del 1 al 13. De este modo, el xiuhmolpilli constaba de un ciclo de 52 años, terminado el cual la cuenta volvía a comenzar.

Los 5 días nemontemi o inútiles o de mala suerte pertenecían por tanto al calendario de 365 días y en el transcurso de los mismos no se llevaba ningun tipo de actividad, pues pensaban que nada les saldría bien. Durante los días nemontemi no cocinaban, no llevaban a cabo ninguna actividad económinca, no se casaban, no mantenían relaciones sexuales, etc. Actualmente los investigadores no se ponen de acuerdo para fijar cuándo aparecían estos días en el calendario de 365 días. Algunos opinan que se añadían al comienzo del ciclo, otros mantienen que al final del mismo, y por último hay quien piensa que se intercalaban día a día entre los distintos meses. La cuestión es que todas las informaciones que tenemos de la época recogen su presencia, puesto que además eran necesarios para completar el ciclo de 365 días.

Illustrated: the importance of horoscopes. According to the Florentine Codex ‘On 8 Death, it was evil; likewise 9 Deer was in no way a good day sign. For, as it was said, the day signs taking 9th. place were in no way a time of good. For whatsoever was born on it, man or woman, nothing became one’s fate.... [So] the readers of the day signs bettered and remedied the nature of the day sign on which the useless one was born. They arranged that later, upon 10 Rabbit, he would be bathed and given a name.’

Professor Juan José Batalla has answered 7 questions altogether:

Physically how were the skulls stuck into the skullracks?

Was there any contact between the Aztecs and the ancient Egyptians?

Did most words in the Aztec language end in -tl?

When did the 5 ‘useless’ days come in the Aztec calendar?

Are Spanish children taught in school about what happened to the Aztecs?

Is it true the Aztecs made a sacrifice (on average) every 10 minutes?

How did scribes get rid of mistakes when they wrote their books?

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