General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 24 Nov 2017/9 Rain
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We’re trying to find pictures of what the Aztecs ate

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Robin: We are trying to find some really good examples of what the Aztecs ate. We know what they ate from various websites but would like some good pictures to help our 10 year old with her project. Could you help please. (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Feasting during ‘The Eating of Tamales Stuffed with Amaranth Greens’, Florentine Codex, Book 2
Feasting during ‘The Eating of Tamales Stuffed with Amaranth Greens’, Florentine Codex, Book 2 (Click on image to enlarge)

We hope that what you’re looking for are primary sources of imagery rather than ‘generic’ close-ups of specific foodstuffs, such as avocados, tomatoes, chillies, tortillas, turkeys, beans, cocoa, squash, vanilla, etc.

Maize is brought to the temples during the festival of the fourth month, Florentine Codex, Book 2
Maize is brought to the temples during the festival of the fourth month, Florentine Codex, Book 2 (Click on image to enlarge)

You’ll already find on our website pages with detailed information - and, of course, pictures - on maize, chocolate, algae, pelicans, edible dogs and turkeys and more (links below, for example, take you to our page in ‘Ask the Experts’ on why the Aztecs worshipped maize, and to the mini-feature on Spirulina). Here we focus on evidence in the Florentine Codex that talks of foods prepared specially for particular festivals...

Food offerings to Chicomecóatl (‘Seven Snake’), goddess of maize, during the ‘Great Vigil’ festival, Florentine Codex, Book 2
Food offerings to Chicomecóatl (‘Seven Snake’), goddess of maize, during the ‘Great Vigil’ festival, Florentine Codex, Book 2 (Click on image to enlarge)

Which better to focus on than the ‘Great Vigil’ festival in the fourth ‘month’ of the Aztec farming year, a festival dedicated to the god (Cinteotl) and goddess (Chicomecóatl) of maize? According to the Codex, ‘In this feast... they went about the maize fields and brought stalks of the maize (which was still small), and they garnished them with flowers and went to place them before their gods, in the house called calpulli; and also they set food before them... They went in procession, to present them to the goddess Chicomecóatl [”Seven Snake”], and they returned them once more to their houses as blessed things; and from them they took the seed to plant next year. [They made an image of dough of the goddess]... and before her they offered all kinds of maize, and all kinds of beans, and all kinds of chía. For they said that she was the maker and giver of all those things which are the necessaries of life, that the people may live.’

Diego Rivera’s mural ‘Cultura Huasteca’, National Palace, Mexico City
Diego Rivera’s mural ‘Cultura Huasteca’, National Palace, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

In Chapter 23, the Florentine Codex goes on to stress just how central this goddess of maize was to the Aztecs’ view of the world:-

‘And, it was said, it was indeed this Chicomecóatl who made all our food - white maize, yellow maize, green maize shoots, black maize, black and brown mixed, variously hued; large and wide; round and ball-like; slender maize, thin; long maize; speckled red and white maize as if striped with blood, painted with blood- then the coarse, brown maize...; popcorn; the after-fruit; double ears; rough ears; and maturing green maize; the small ears of maize beside the main ear; the ripened green maize.’

Life-giving corn, Codex Borbonicus
Life-giving corn, Codex Borbonicus (Click on image to enlarge)

‘Then the beans - white beans, yellow beans, red beans, quail-coloured beans, black beans, flesh-coloured beans, fat red beans, wild beans; amaranth... and also chía... All of these things, so they say, all of them they offered to the goddess.

We’ve rather concentrated on maize/corn, but hope you’ll at least have some authentic information and images to offer your daughter for her project... Good luck!

Picture sources
• Florentine Codex (original in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence): images scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994
• Codex Borbonicus (original in the Bibliotheque de l’Assembée Nationale, Paris); scanned with permission from our own copy of the ADEVA facsimile edition, Graz, Austria, 1974
• Photo of Rivera mural by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

Learn more about why the Aztecs worshipped maize...

Learn about Spirulina...

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Mexicolore replies: Thank YOU, Katie!