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General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 30 May 2016/12 Vulture
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Tying the knot

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The idea of ‘tying the knot’ when we get married is a very old tradition - in ancient Mexico and around the world. This famous scene from the Codex Mendoza reveals much about the background to a wedding in Aztec days...
Aztec wedding ceremonies took place at night, with a torch-lit procession which escorted the bride to the groom’s house. The bride was carried on the back of a ‘matchmaker’ (a woman with the very important job of choosing who would marry who...)
A favourable day was chosen by a ‘soothsayer’ from the calendar, and PLENTY of food and drink prepared; here the feast is shown by a basket full of corn ‘tamales’ and a tripod bowl containing the head and drumstick of a turkey...
Once the young couple were seated together on the wedding mat, the boy’s mother put a new blouse on the bride, but laid the girl’s wedding-gift skirt on the mat before her. The bride’s mother tied a cape on the groom but placed his new loincloth before him. The matchmakers tied the bride’s new blouse and the groom’s cape together...
An Aztec groom was usually several years older than his bride, because he had to complete his education and training before taking on the responsibilities of marriage...
We’ve shown pictures here of Mixtec as well as Aztec couples getting married. The Mixtecs were a great artistic people who lived south-west of the Aztec highlands
emoticon The matchmaker had a crucial job to do in ancient Mexico: choose the wrong partner and you could be making a bad Mixtec. Az Tec would say ‘No, you nit, not that knot...’

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Aztec wedding ceremony, Codex Mendoza

Carrying the bride and tying the knot...

The idea of ‘tying the knot’ when we get married is in fact a very old tradition - not just in the Old World (the idea of binding two people together in a lifelong contract) but also in ancient Mexico. This famous scene from the Codex Mendoza reveals much about the background to a wedding in Aztec days... (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

The wedding scene is the lower section of folio 61r of the Codex (original in the Bodleian Library, Oxford) and it’s devoted to the major event in the life of a young woman: her wedding, which usually occurred when she reached the age of 15. This description is taken from The Essential Codex Mendoza by Frances F. Berdan and Patricia Rieff Anawalt (University of California Press, 1997, p. 167)...

Aztec (left) and Mixtec (right) brides being carried to the wedding...
Aztec (left) and Mixtec (right) brides being carried to the wedding... (Click on image to enlarge)

The ceremony, which takes place at night, begins at the bottom of the page, where a torch-lit procession escorts the bride to the groom’s house. According to the Florentine Codex, the bride is carried on the back of a matchmaker... In putting together a marriage, it was the matchmaker who, at the request of the prospective groom’s parents, initially contacted the family of the chosen girl to discuss the possibility...
The Florentine Codex describes the many events leading up to the wedding feast, some of which you can see in the Codex Mendoza picture -

Food and drink - essential elements!
Food and drink - essential elements! (Click on image to enlarge)

First the soothsayers had to be consulted in order to set the marriage under a favourable day sign; the good days were Reed, Monkey, Crocodile [Alligator], Eagle and House. [Then came] the myriad preparations for the feast itself, including the grinding of quantities of maize... [in the picture] the wedding feast is represented by a basket full of tamales and a tripod bowl containing the head and drumstick of a turkey...
The day before the marriage, invitations to the banquet were issued. By midday all the guests were assembled, gifts were placed before the hearth, and the old men and women were well on their way to becoming drunk on pulque, the fermented juice of the maguey plant.

Above the wedding couple is the hearth with a bowl of copal incense before it
Above the wedding couple is the hearth with a bowl of copal incense before it (Click on image to enlarge)

[In the picture] four aged wedding guests are all shown talking, perhaps giving sage [wise] advice. In the foreground, a large pitcher of pulque stands beside a small bowl that also contains [the drink - look for the pulque foam at the top of the bowls...]
In the background of the wedding feast scene is a hearth, in front of which sits a bowl of copal incense, intended to honour the fire god, Xiuhtecuhtli. An offering of incense was a common ritual at Aztec feasts. Directly below the incense bowl, a large mat is spread out, upon which the girl is seated with her groom.
A young man was, of necessity, several years older than his bride, because he had to complete his education and training before taking on the responsibilities of marriage...

Once the young couple were seated together on the mat, the youth’s mother put a new huipilli [blouse] on the bride, but laid the girl’s wedding-gift skirt on the mat before her. An equivalent gift was given by the bride’s mother, who tied a cape on the groom but placed his new loincloth before him. It was the matchmakers who tied the bride’s new huipilli and the groom’s cape together... The matchmakers then led the young couple to a bedchamber, where they remained for four days...

The wedding of 3-Flint and 12-Wind, Codex Zouche-Nuttall, f.19
The wedding of 3-Flint and 12-Wind, Codex Zouche-Nuttall, f.19 (Click on image to enlarge)

Another famous pre-Hispanic wedding scene can be found in the Codex Zouche-Nuttall (original in the British Museum): that between 3-Flint (bride) and 12-Wind (groom), shown in some detail on double-folio 19 of the Codex. The major difference here is that it’s a royal wedding, and the lucky couple are Mixtec (from a great culture famous for its artisans, south-west of the Aztec highlands). In the codex picture (not all of which is shown here) many of the details point to the marriage as the great event that will give birth to a new dynasty (ruling marriage line).

Making love in the palace! The names on either side tell you who’s who...
Making love in the palace! The names on either side tell you who’s who... (Click on image to enlarge)

Look for:-
• the line of footprints tracing the road to the ceremony
• 3-Flint being carried to the wedding by a priest bearing an incense bag and sacred staff
• a line of important guests, each bearing valuable gifts
• two women giving the bride and groom a ritual pre-wedding bath, in a cave marked by rainbow-coloured bands
• the bride and groom consummating their marriage[making love] in their palace (look for their names painted on the walls)
• to the right of the palace a priest named 10-Rain makes offerings to the gods, praying for fertility and abundance for the couple.

The date of the wedding, by the way, is 957 BCE in our calendar. Scholars disagree as to the place where the ceremony took place: it may have been Tilantongo or Monte Albán (both important Mixtec sites).

Even today some couples use a knotted rope to represent the new bond between them
Even today some couples use a knotted rope to represent the new bond between them (Click on image to enlarge)

Picture sources:-
• Images from the Codex Mendoza scanned from our own copy of the 1938 James Cooper Clark facsimile edition, London
• Images from the Codex Zouche-Nuttall scanned from our own copy of the 1987 ADEVA facsimile edition, Graz, Austria
• Photo of the ‘Nuptial Knot’ from www.thenuptialknot.com

emoticon The matchmaker had a crucial job to do in ancient Mexico: choose the wrong partner and you could be making a bad Mixtec. Az Tec would say ‘No, you nit, not that knot...’

Learn about ‘tying the knot’ in world folklore

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